Captured at Fort DeRussy: A Navy trophy with the wrong inscription

On this day (March 14) in 1864, Federals under the command of Brigadier-General Andrew Jackson Smith attacked and seized Fort DeRussy on the Red River in Louisiana.  In terms of blood spilled, the action was one of the war’s smaller actions, with less than sixty total casualties.  But, with the fort in Federal hands, the lower Red River was open for the gunboats of Rear-Admiral David D. Porter.   The Friends of Fort DeRussy maintain a website (recently revamped website I would add) with many articles and resources about the battle.

There is one surviving “witness” of that battle, which now resides at the Washington Navy Yard:

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However the trophy inscription would lead you to believe this gun was not at Fort DeRussy during the battle on March 14, 1864.

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The inscription reads:

Army 32-pdr //Banded and Rifled by Rebels // Captured from them by // Admiral D.D. Porter // At Fort DeRussy // May 4, 1863

But that inscription is in error.   The Fort DeRussy website has an article explaining this error in great detail.   The short version of that story is the reference found in the naval reports (ORN, Series I, Volume 26, page 26), under a listing of “guns captured at Fort DeRussy water battery.”  Line six of that list is:

One 32-pounder U.S. rifled, marked W.J.W. No. 289. This gun is an old Army 32-pounder, rifled, with band shrunk on the breech.

The muzzle markings leave no doubt.  This is that particular gun.

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The inspector’s mark, “W.J.W.” for William Jenkins Worth, appear at the top of the face.  The registry number, 289, appears at the bottom.

The trunnion tells a little more of the weapon’s history.

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“I.M” and “C.F.” are John Mason and Columbia Foundry, respectively.  This weapon was cast across town in Georgetown, D.C.   On the other side, a sample scar cuts into the stamp showing the year of manufacture, which was 1834.

The gun was cast as a smoothbore 32-pdr Seacoast Gun Model 1829.  As with many obsolete weapons, during the war its owners rifled and banded the gun.

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Seven grooves in what I consider a “sawtooth” pattern.  While no definitive markings or documentation pin this as a Confederate modification, the rifling and profile of the band lend to that conclusion.

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The band extended over the breech face.  And it was built up with rings of wrought iron.  However the gun retained the ring over the cascabel.

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The gun itself offers an interesting study.  While I cannot firmly state the banding and rifling were done by Confederates, the physical attributes give that indication.  But where and who did the modifications?  Eason & Brothers in Charleston did such modifications.  But most of their work stayed in the Charleston or Savannah areas.  Tredegar also modified weapons along these lines.  Shops in Vicksburg and New Orleans had the capacity to do this work. Skates & Company, based in Mobile, Alabama, also may have done some modifications.  But all those sources remain speculative without firm documentation or some unseen mark under the paint of old 289.

As to the question raised in the article on the cannon about relocating the gun to Fort DeRussy (linked above), I’d say that would be an excellent “loan” should the particulars be worked out.  However, keep in mind this gun is now very close to its “birthplace,” if we can say such for a cannon.  It was, after all, cast a few Metro-train stops over in Georgetown.  Columbia Foundry was a vital weapons production facility for the early decades of the 19th century.  Perhaps some interpretation on that aspect of the weapon’s history would also serve the public.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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