CSS Pee Dee update: Two Brooke Rifles and a Dahlgren pulled out of the PeeDee River

News broke yesterday of the successful recovery of three Civil War cannon from the PeeDee River, all from the gunboat CSS Pee Dee.  In case you missed it, here’s a few of the reports:

South Strand News

The State (Columbia SC)

South Carolina Now

The Florence County museum offered a post and album of photos on their Facebook page.  The guns are 7-inch and 6.4-inch double banded Brooke rifles along with a IX-inch Dahlgren.  All these weapons are of historical significance and rare in their own right.  But the Dahlgren perhaps a little more so.  And one of the photos shows markings from the Dahlgren:


Registry number 513.  That should, if I’m reading my references correct, be from a lot produced by Fort Pitt Foundry.  But what makes this weapon of real interest is that some sources connect it to the USS Southfield, sunk at Plymouth, North Carolina on April 19, 1864.  The Confederates recovered the Southfield’s armament (which also included a 6.4-inch Parrott rifle which I believe was later used in the Cape Fear defenses).  So you might say this Dahlgren has a bit of a story to tell from both sides of the lines.

The articles tell us these guns already have a home:

After conservation, artifacts will be exhibited at the Florence County Veterans Administration building at the Florence National Cemetery.

A win-win, if you ask me.

Summary Statements from Ordnance Reports: The bureaucrats labor is our information gold mine

Working forward from last week’s introduction to Ordnance Reports, as mentioned the individual battery reports were consolidated by the Ordnance Department into summary statements.  While we don’t have a lot of ordnance reports to work from, we do have a fair number of these summary statements.  And these can tell us something about the batteries, their equipment, and general trends in the Federal artillery arm.  It’s information that comes in handy for certain lines of study.  Again, let me thank Brett Schulte for forwarding a copy of the the roll he acquired from the National Archives.

These summaries worked in the way you would imagine any bureaucratic bean-counting record-keeping process.  After receiving the ordnance returns for a given quarter, the Statistical Division of the Ordnance Department extracted the details for entries into a large ledger style book.  Each units’s data spanned across at least twelve pages.  The data from the returns was split into the following classes, considered “Part I” of the summary:

  • Class I: Cannon
  • Class II: Artillery carriages
  • Class III: Artillery implements and equipments
  • Class IV: Artillery projectiles unprepared for service
  • Class V: Artillery projectiles prepared for service
  • Class VI: Small arms
  • Class VII: Accouterments, implements, and equipments for small arms, and horse equipments for cavalry
  • Class VIII: Powder, ammunition for small arms and materials
  • Class IX: Parts or incomplete sets of any articles in Classes I-VIII
  • Class X: Miscellaneous

Following this was Part II, which included tools and materials… and was very lengthy and detailed.  Columns in section for Part II included hammers, punches, and pounds of horseshoe nails.  Yes indeed, the sort of detail that requires a staff of bean-counters three months to compile.  Suffice to say, these large sheets are difficult to demonstrate without straining eyes:


Not to downplay the need for opium for horses (Battery H, 1st US Artillery reported 16 ounces on hand as of December 31, 1862… if you need to know that little tidbit), the stuff most of us are interested in is under Part I, Class I – the cannons.  That class was further subdivided between serviceable and unserviceable cannons, which were even further subdivided by bore type, metal used, and pattern.  The columns included:

  • Bronze smoothbores – 6-pdr field guns, 12-pdr Napoleons, 12-pdr heavy field guns, 12-pdr mountain howitzers, 12-pdr field howitzers, 24-pdr field howitzers, and 32-pdr field howitzers.
  • Iron rifled guns – 3-inch Model 1861 (Ordnance) rifles, 10-pdr Parrotts, and 20-pdr Parrotts.
  • Steel rifled guns – 3-inch types, 6-pdr Wiard, and 12-pdr Wiard.
  • Bronze rifled guns – 6-pdr rifles (3.67-inch), 6-pdr “James” rifles (3.80-inch), and 12-pdr James (4.62-inch).
  • Miscellaneous types – Union repeating guns (Agar Coffee Mill Guns), Bilinghurst-Requa guns, and, written in at times, 4.5-inch siege rifles.

First point to make is that these summaries didn’t track the siege, garrison, or seacoast weapons.  I have not seen a reason for this in writing, but implied is that another mechanism existed to track those type of weapon.  In most cases, the heavy ordnance was issued not to a battery organization but to an installation – be that a fort, garrison, or armory.

Secondly, the field batteries were the place the bean-counters needed the most clarity when accounting for government equipment.  Unlike a fort’s assigned Rodman guns, the Napoleons of a given field battery moved around a lot, sometimes replaced with different weapons, cross leveled or consolidated with other batteries when organizational needs required, and, sometimes, lost in battle.  But that said, I haven’t seen any policy statements from the Ordnance Department as a reference to confirm my speculation.

So we have the header of the first page of the summary with the columns (mentioned above) for the serviceable cannons on hand at time of the report:


And even that section requires reading glasses.  But hopefully you get the gist of this. You see the summary groups the data by regiment.  In this case the 1st Regiment, US Artillery is tabulated by battery, being A through M (there was no J).  Furthermore, you see these were hand written so there are questions about entries.  Things like “is that a four or eleven?” and “is that Murfreesboro or Mumfordville?”   Also, the data needs to be bounced off other sources (such as the official records) for validation.  I’ve run into several issues, such as the annotation of “steel” 3-inch rifles where I know none were in use.

My challenge now is to display this information in a useful format for the web… on a blog post….  A form that 150 years ago would have been Jules Verne crazy talk to the bean-counters in the Statistical Department.

As a start, what I plan to do is post a snip for each regimental organization.  With that I’ll provide what my read is for each.  Then use the comments where questions may be answered and corrections noted.   If successful, then we have a start for a database depicting what batteries had what guns at certain times during the war.

More cold steel: “just so much he trusts to his sword, his morale will be raised”

Last week, I discussed the use of the cavalry’s melee weapons – the pistol and the saber.  (And I do apologize, as that post from last Monday was botched!  I’d not paid sufficient attention while editing, so have revised it with the correct quoted passages.) Writing almost fifty years after the Civil War and but a handful of years before Flanders Fields, Alonzo Gray contended the mounted arm, with sabers in hand, still had a place on the battlefield.  One of the sources Gray used to frame his conclusions were the words of Frederick Whittaker’s Volunteer Cavalry:

So far as the author’s observation goes, he never remembers an instance which the saber charge, resolutely pushed, failed to drive the pistols.  But the individual fancy of the colonel seemed to regulate the matter for his regiment. If he were an enthusiastic swordsman he always managed to infuse the same spirit into his men, and such men depended upon their sabers with just confidence. The saber is a weapon that requires constant practice to keep one’s hand in, and our cavalry officers as a class are entirely deficient in the practice.

In all the instances during the war in which the saber proved ineffective it may be safely asserted that it was owning to two things – want of fencing practice and blunt sabers.

In Whittaker’s view, the saber was one area in which the American mounted arm should have improved.  While lauding the performance of the American cavalry, to the point of alleging superiority over European powers in its application as a raiding force, Whittaker took a dim view of the results when limited to edged weapons.  He predicted:

Had one of our cavalry regiments been put on a level plain with no arms but sabres, opposed to like force of European heavy cavalry, especially cuirassiers, they would in all probability have been routed.

Why such a dire prediction?

The reason was that our men had little or no confidence with the sabre.  The reason of that again was that they were never taught to use it properly.  The ultimate reason of all – our system of sabre exercise, as laid down in the tactics, is radically bad, and our men never fenced together.

And Whittaker offered refinements and emphasis on drill as a remedy.  Such would install confidence in the weapon while ensuring leaders were well acquainted with the means to employ the weapon.

But there was one other aspect of the saber (or, as Whittaker preferred, sabre) which needed attention – the edge.

It is a strange fact, that after all that has been said and written about sharp sabres, by every one who has written on the subject of cavalry they still remain, in every service known, as blunt as ever….

Sabres are issued blunt enough to ride on to San Francisco.  The steel is hard.  Grindstones are not to be found. The soldiers lose confidence in the weapon, and prefer the revolver.

So Whittaker suggested that all new saber contracts carry the requirement that the weapon be “sharp enough to cut a sheet of paper, by striking the paper on the sword lightly….” Speaking from personal experience:

The writer has stood at a grindstone turned by steam, and tried to grind an Ames sabre for over an hour.  He can testify that it is hard, the hardest kind of work.  But if ground while soft in temper, at the factory, the hardening temper  subsequently received would leave them sharp still, and easily kept so.

To ensure that edge was maintained, each trooper should have a whetstone.  Whittaker felt such would go a long way to instill confidence:

Soldiers are fond and proud of good weapons, and take good care of them.  All men are apt to be vain of bodily strength and skill.  It gives a man a braver feeling to cut down an adversary than to shoot him, and by just so much he trusts to his sword, his morale will be raised.

Morale!  Morale!  Confidence in the weapons always translated to higher morale in the ranks.  And this greatly increased the impact of the weapon.

Now the moral effect of a charge is tremendous. The fierce charging yell, rising and swelling higher and higher till it overtops the sound of musketry, frightens more men than the bullets.  Very, very few troops will stand up against a charge unsupported by works; we might say none.  One side or the other is sure to give way, not from the force of weapons, but simply because they’re afraid.  And anything which encourages men to charge home doubles their morale, and morale is everything.

Whittaker’s conclusion was, as with Gray’s, that the saber’s value lay in the positive morale instilled within the ranks of those wielding the “three-foot razors” and in the shock effect on the enemy.

There are two perspectives we should take from Whittaker and Gray in regard to the saber.  Both men were writing about how the saber was used during the Civil War.  As such both provide context to the tactical actions the student of the war will study.  Yet, considering that both authors offered these “lessons” to be applied to what would be future conflicts (as of 1871 and 1910, respectively), we need to apply these as opinions of the time in regard to tactical employment.  We gain some perspective as to what the military mind thought at those places in time.

(Citations from Frederick Whittaker, Volunteer Cavalry: The Lessons of the Decade, New York: printed for the author, 1871, pages 5-7, 10-12.)