Gorgas sends “Long Tom” to Wilmington

On January 5, 1864, Major-General W.H.C. Whiting wrote Colonel Josiah Gorgas, at the Confederate Ordnance Department, requesting assistance:

Colonel Gorgas: My 30-pounder Parrott burst yesterday fighting the enemy at Lockwood’s Folly, killing 1 man and wounding officer in charge.  It was at third fire.  This is all the Parrott gun I have.  Hurry the others.  All the guns I have seen lately are defective; should be tested and examined.  Send this to General [Samuel] Cooper.

On January 3, the blockade runner Bendigo ran aground at Lockwood’s Folly.  While making a run north along the coast, the captain of the Bendigo mistook the wreck of the Elizabeth, a blockade runner which had ran aground in late September 1863, for a Federal blockader. The captain tried to run between the shore and what he thought was a threat, but ran into another – the shallow waters of the inlet.

The Bendigo lay on a shoal close enough inshore for the Confederates to attempt recovery of the cargo, but far enough off shore to allow Federal gunboats to obstruct any recovery.   Over the next couple of days, both sides sparred over the wreck.  The Federals finally damaged the wreck sufficiently to prevent Confederate recovery.  But the lure of further salvage brought the USS Iron Age into those shallow waters a week later, ultimately resulting in her demise.  (All in all, a fantastic series of events, but one I must leave to a correspondent with better footing in regard to the Wilmington sector.)

The 30-pdr Parrott mentioned by Whiting was part of the force deployed to support the recovery operations.  It was a Confederate copy of the original 30-pdr Parrott rifle, patterned after one of Robert P. Parrott’s 30-pdr rifles captured at First Manassas in July 1861. The captured Federal gun received the nickname “Long Tom,” due no doubt to the length of the barrel (and I would add such christening is not unique among artillery pieces). Unable to replicate the coiled band technique used at West Point Foundry, Tredegar opted to use a series of welded wrought iron bands.  The (composite) band over the breech is about 10-inches longer than the guns produced by West Point Foundry.

This was not the first time the Tredegar 30-pdr Parrotts had failed in action.  Recall just over a year earlier, one of these guns failed at Fredericksburg, in very close proximity to General Robert E. Lee and other senior officers.  Perhaps with the failure rates in mind, Gorgas responded on January 6 with the offer of something better than another Tredegar gun, “There are arms on the way to him, and I have asked Colonel [Walter] Stevens for the gun known as “Long Tom,” now on the defenses here.”

The declarative in Gorgas’ response leaves little doubt – this is the “Long Tom” from the artillery section commanded by Lieutenant Peter C. Hains at First Manassas, which had fired the first shot of the battle, and which was later captured by Confederates.  The Confederate Ordnance Department described this gun, in The Field Manual for the Use of the Officers on Ordnance Duty, as:

The 30-pounder Parrott gun (captured at Manassas) has a caliber of 4.2 inches; weight 4190 lbs.; entire length 132 inches; five grooves.  The wrought iron band at breech is 19 inches in length and 2 inches in thickness.  It is rifled with one turn in 24 feet.

These particulars are important for those track the history of “Long Tom.”  The weight given – 4,190 pounds – was about ten pounds less than standard. The dimensions match, within a half inch here or there, those of Parrott’s specifications. The only major discrepancy is the reported rifling.  Parrott used increasing-pitch rifling.  That indicated in the manual is about twice that specified for Federal use.  Then again, I don’t think anyone climbed down the bore of the gun to verify the rifling.

“Long Tom” had to be one of six of its type received by the Federals prior to the battle of First Manassas.  Of those six, only one survives today – registry number 4, located in Cleveland, Ohio (in Woodlawn Cemetery, if anyone cares to pass along a photo or two). Its weight is reported at 4,175 pounds, ruling it out but offering a comparison figure.  The variation of the weight reported, by the Confederates, for “Long Tom” as compared to the design specification and single survivor of the lot leads to the conclusion that 4,190 pounds was the actual weight of the gun.  The writers of Big Guns, looking at ordnance receipts retained at National Archives, concluded that based on the reported weight, “Long Tom” was registry number 2.

Setting aside for the moment the administrative details identifying “Long Tom,” the gun went to Wilmington to serve in the batteries defending Cape Fear River and covering the blockade runners.  And at least one report indicates “Long Tom” burst like its Confederate cousins.  Colonel William Lamb noted such in a diary entry from December 1864:

December 17 – Bought two dozen eggs at $20.  Came down the river with General Whiting in the Cape Fear.  The Long Tom rifle exploded in Battery Anderson last night.  Went up to see it.  The carriage was torn to pieces and the gun was broken into over seven large pieces.

However, contradicting Lamb’s entry is a catalog of weapons captured by Federals near the end of the war.  General Henry L. Abbot, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, reported that Captain Samuel Hatfield, his ordnance officer, made a complete inventory of weapons captured at Fort Fisher in January 1865.  In that list appears a line for “4.2-inch Parrott (No. 2)” indicated as in “good order.”  A separate line tallied a disabled “4.2-inch banded” rifle.  The nomenclature used on that second line matches the identification of Confederate rifled and banded guns of other calibers listed in the table.

So the indication is that Hatfield inventoried a U.S. gun of the Parrott pattern with registry number 2.  He didn’t offer weights or other details.  However, the circumstantial evidence points to this being “Long Tom.”  Maybe not a water tight conclusion, but strong enough for me.  I conclude that “Long Tom” that opened the action at First Manassas ended up at Fort Fisher at the end of the war.  Unfortunately, the Federals recapturing the gun failed to appreciate its history.  Thus, if you go with Lamb or Hatfield, “Long Tom” ended up on the scrap heap… literally and figuratively.

(Sources OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, page 1066; Volume 46, Part I, Serial 95, page 167.  ORN, Series I, Volume 11, page 746.  The Field Manual for the Use of the Officers on Ordnance Duty, Confederate Ordnance Department, Richmond: Ritchie & Dunnavant, 1862, pages 20-21.  Edwin Olmstead, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker, Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast, and Naval Cannon, Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997, page 114.)