The disposition of ordnance after the Civil War has always fascinated me. The Federals produced enough cannon and projectiles to fight a couple of wars. Add to that mountains of weapons and ammunition captured from the Confederates. In short, enough to carry the nation through several wars… provided that no advances in technology rendered the stockpile obsolete… which, well, is pretty much what happened.
The large quantity of obsolete cannon and projectiles was a boon, somewhat. We have some surviving cannon on the battlefields, in front of courthouses, and in cemeteries across the land as result. In a few cases, those weapons were resold to other nations. However, reading newspapers from the second-half of the 19th century, it seems rumors of such weapons sales far outnumbered actual sales. Surplus dealers were another outlet for disposing the obsolete ordnance.
Most notabe was Francis Bannerman IV, who amassed a fortune reselling anyone desirous of old Army equipment. A browse through one of Bannerman’s Catalog offers tantalizing deals… a dozen decades after the fact. Imagine Sharps Carbines for a couple bucks! Or an original Gatling gun complete with carriage!
While rare in number, heavy ordnance appeared in the pages of Bannerman’s, indicating the Army occasionally disposed of large projectiles as scrap. So what would one do with a large caliber shell? Well aside from sitting it out on the front porch to impress visitors…
Well, a notice in the New York Evening Post from March 15, 1875 alludes to one other, more practical, use for a heavy shell:
A 500-pound Parrott shell, lately used for breaking iron in Peekskill, was filled with water which froze solid and burst the shell into three pieces, although the iron was upwards of three inches thick.
A 500 pounder? The 10-inch Parrott, among the heaviest used in the Civil War, only rated 300-pounder. Well assuming the weight is not some typographical error and assuming the type of projectile is properly attributed to Parrott, that leaves a question. There were 12-inch Parrott projectiles produced for heavy rifle tests. The bolts for such rated as 600-pounders. So it is not hard to figure the shell in the same caliber being lighter at 500 pounds… give or take. Just a swag that might substantiate the story. But that’s just me being a cannon-guy trying to get all technical.
What’s important is someone was using a very large projectile to break up iron! Presumably filled with water to add more force to the impact.. as if a 500 pound conical mass of iron needed more “umph!” Oh, and that water froze, expanded, and cracked the shell, ending its useful second life. From shell to wrecking ball to scrap… such is the life-cycle for a Parrott shell… one enormously large Parrott shell, mind you.