Howitzers recovered from Legareville

When the Confederates withdrew from their positions around Legareville on December 25, 1863, they left behind two 8-inch siege howitzers among other equipment.  Later that day, Brigadier-General George Gordon, commanding a Federal division posted to Folly Island, sent Captain Henry Krauseneck, of the 74th Pennsylvania Infantry, with 250 men to clear the Confederate positions.  With reports of Confederate forces returning to the batteries, Krauseneck had his men recover what equipment could be carried.  But the Federals had no way to pull off the howitzers.  Instead they damaged the carriages sufficiently to prevent Confederate recovery.  That night, Major John Jenkins, 3rd South Carolina Cavalry, sent scouts to the position and found the howitzers dismounted.

The problem facing both sides was the 2,600 pound (give or take) weight of the howitzers.  Even when mounted on a carriage, the howitzers were hard to handle in the marsh.  The Confederates ordered up sling carts with the intent to recover the howitzers under cover of the night.  But the Federals didn’t give them the time to work out those arrangements.

Commander George Balch ordered Lieutenant-Commander Richard Meade, of the USS Marblehead, to recover the howitzers on December 28.  Meade set out mid-afternoon with eight boats and some ninety men, including twenty-two marines to provide security.  Meade first landed men at the Lower Battery location to recover the howitzer there.  He and the rest of the party went to the Upper Batteries.

The marines were thrown well out in advance as pickets, to prevent surprise. The gun in the most northern work being dismounted, it proved an immense labor to raise it and lash it on the siege carriage; the trail of the carriage was then lifted by the main force of 30 men onto the 12-pounder howitzer carriage, brought for the purpose, then lashed there.  A rude wagon was thus formed.

It being impossible to drag the gun through the marsh (knee deep in stiff mud), which was the way we came in, a detour of over a mile was necessary.  Plank was laid along the edge of the marsh and the gun was hauled with great exertion to the bayou and gotten into the Marblehead’s launch. ….

Remarkable improvisation by the sailors. By 4 p.m. both howitzers were on the launches and proud trophies for the naval party.  As Meade put it, “The expedition returned in good order, and the rebels can boast two guns less than they had on December 24, 1863.”  Wartime photographs place one of these two trophies on the USS Pawnee:

Though it is erroneously identified as a 24-pdr howitzer (result, I think of identification in Meade’s initial report).  The howitzer is definitely an 8-inch Siege Howitzer Model 1841.  The two howitzers ended up as part of the Navy’s trophy collection at Washington Navy Yard. This howitzer is likely the same photographed on the Pawnee‘s deck:

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The other howitzer in the pair exhibits considerable damage:

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Both carry an inscription on the breech describing the action at Legareville in short words:

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But aside from the inscription, there are only traces of some markings on the muzzle.  Nothing that might better identify the source of these howitzers.  Prior to the war, four vendors produced forty-six howitzers of this type (with Fort Pitt Foundry adding four more in 1861 to make it an even fifty).  Survivors of that lot exhibit standard markings as prescribed in pre-war ordnance instructions – inspector initials and registry number on the muzzle; foundry on the right trunnion; year of manufacture on the left trunnion; and weight stamp under the cascabel.

Looking carefully at the muzzle and trunions in the wartime photograph on the Pawnee, I see no markings.  So very likely these howitzers never had the standard set of markings.  That said, just after the war began, Tredegar Foundry produced two dozen of the same make and model for Confederate orders. Four of those went to Charleston in September 1861:

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Signed over to Major, later Brigadier-General, J.H. Trapier in fact.  Tredegar foundry markings are notorious for being shallow and easily eroded with time.  And of course, Tredegar disregarded the “Yankee” ordnance instructions for markings early in the war.

Four 8-inch howitzers sent to Charleston in 1861.  Four howitzers of the same type used in the Christmas Day ambush in 1863, with two abandoned and captured.  Now two unmarked howitzers at the Washington Navy Yard.  While not positive proof, there’s enough to suggest the trophies were of Confederate manufacture and not of pre-war Federal stocks.

Regardless of origin, those two howitzers are surviving artifacts from the action at Legareville.

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Those speak to the action for which four Medals of Honor were awarded, to include the first to an African-American sailor.

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 194-6.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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