For Sale: Fifty Batteries of Field Artillery, Complete!

There are hundreds of artillery enthusiasts right now looking at their check book balances, just in case…. No, I’m not selling artillery, but in 1870 the Ordnance Department was:

CommercialAdvertiser_NY_29Oct1870_P3

This advertisement appeared in the October 29, 1870 edition of the Commercial Advertiser (New York).

This is like a dream list for collectors.  Thousands of muskets, carbines, and pistols along with accouterments and ammunition.  Then the artillery… “50 Batteries of Field Artillery, complete, with ammunition.” This quantity was deemed surplus and to be sold for disposal.  As detailed in the paragraph that followed:

Bids will be entertained for any one, or all of the foregoing lots.  The bids to specify the price offered for the Arms with Ammunition, for Accoutrements by them-selves. The bids for Artillery will be for Batteries complete, with Ammunition; so much for a Battery of light 12-pounders, and so much for a Battery of Parrott 3-inch Rifle Guns, or for Batteries and Ammunition separately.

Yes, it was a different time… one could just buy a whole battery of artillery with ammunition without so much as a photo ID.  Send a bid in the mail to Alexander B. Dyer.  If your prices are good, the good Chief will accept the offer.

But what would you do with a battery of artillery?  In 1870 there was very little interest in Living History or “reenacting” the Civil War (some might argue the war was still being “enacted” even at that late date).  One might post the battery on the lawn to intimidate neighbors.

But fifty batteries?  That’s enough for an army!  And that might be what some had in mind:

EveningPost_NY_NY_14Jul1870_Vol69_P2

This ad appeared on the same day (October 29, 1870) in the New York Herald. It is mostly coincidental, I think, the Ordnance Department ad ran the same day as Starr & Frazier’s.  I suspect one source for Starr & Frazier’s batteries was from an earlier sale, by the Navy:

NYHerald_27Jan1870_VolXXXV_Iss27_P9

You read that correctly, 390 guns, 354 carriages, and over 95,000 projectiles.  A lot of iron for sale!  And this lot includes the 20- and 30-pounders calibers that Starr & Frazier offered.

Let me run some numbers for you on Parrotts and their production.  Might be a little boring, but follow the numbers here:

  • Number of 10-pdr (2.9-inch bore) Parrotts produced for Army contracts during the war – 276 guns.
  • Number of 3-inch bore Parrotts produced for Army contracts during the war – 279 guns.

So an aggregate total of 555 Parrott rifles in the 2.9-inch and 3-inch caliber range. One quirk to the caliber, however. We know that 119 of the 2.9-inch rifles were taken in hand for conversion to 3-inch.  I’ve written on that before. If we need a refresher, drop a line.  But long story short, none of those 119 guns survive today… as far as we know.

Keep in mind those are “Army contracts.”  As we well know there were many Parrotts produced for state or other customers in the early days of the war.  The ad from the Army does not break down the number of Parrotts and Napoleons for sale.  But fifty batteries is somewhere between 200 and 300 guns, depending if those were assessed as four or six gun batteries.  You see, that sale might account for a rather large portion of the Army’s wartime-purchase Parrott rifles.

The numbers for the Navy for the advertised calibers:

  • 20-pdr Parrott rifles on Navy registries – 336.
  • 30-pdr Parrott rifles on Navy registries – 407.

Of those two calibers, a total of 743.  And of that total, we see the Navy selling off 390… more than half…. in 1870.

But wait… there’s more….Was there some event, perhaps, in 1870 that may have generated a market for Parrott rifles?  Um… well there was this:

collage_franco-prussian_war

The Franco-Prussian War erupted in mid-1870.  And the newspapers indicate indeed France was very interested in those Parrott rifles.  Rather accusatory, in May 1871 the Daily Albany (New York) Argus ran:

The radical administration of Washington and the majority of their organs throughout the country, have expressed the most profound sympathy for Prussia in the recent war.  Grant went so far as to congratulate the Emperor William on the near resemblance between the institutions of Germany and the United States. While loud in the expressions of love and admiration for the Germans, they were busily engaged in sending arms to the French.

So… our government worked both sides of the street?  Tell me something new.  What is interesting are the details and “naming of names” in the Argus article. The Remington arms company was singled out for providing $14 million to the French that included over 200,000 sand of arms.  The article did not single out a specific source, but indicated “50 Parrott batteries, six guns each” were sold to the French.

That’s a good, round number – 300 guns.  And it is a rather convenient correlation to those being sold in the fall of 1870.  Just soak that a bit…Those were not all 10-pdrs, and some 20-pdrs were mixed in.  But regardless that is a significant number of weapons taken from the US and boxed up for shipment to France.

And I want to ensure you catch that qualification… this is the number “sold” to France, but not necessarily the number delivered. The Daily Albany Argus later reported, on February 16, 1872, that some of the sales to the French fell through:

Another large contract with which the French Government found special fault as involving fraud… .  From General Dyer’s statement of sales, it appears that the [C.K.] Garrison purchase from the war department was 26 guns, Parrott batteries, with 10,000 rounds of fixed ammunition. This by contract, was to have been delivered in 35 days from the 24th of December, 1870. Afterward the French Government refused to pay on the ground that the contract was not performed in time, and that the charges were exorbitant.  The French authorities claim they were charged at the rate of $15,000 for batteries that cost $1,000.

Hey, war-profiteering mark-up of fifteen times the cost is somewhat reasonable (don’t get me to going on the rates the French charged in 1917, OK? They didn’t give away those Chauchat machine guns, don’t you know.).

Clearly, however, we have a link between the Ordnance Department ad of October 1870 and the sales of Parrotts to the French.  And that connection was rather evident to many on Capitol Hill in 1871… and Dyer was soon sworn in for testimony.  Had there been a 24/7 news cycle, the story might have dominated the media for a week or so.  But it was, after all, a minor affair in the end.  As there are some nice technical details thrown around, the record is interesting, to me at least, for that discussion.

In closing, let me circle back from the 19th century politics… because darn it, this is “To the Sound of the Guns” not “Fancy Politicians” blog.

Consider there are somewhere between 115 and 120 surviving Parrotts of the 10-pdr/3-inch calibers.  Again, that’s counting guns with a “US” acceptance, and not considering those with New York, Pennsylvania, or Navy acceptance marks.  Subtract that surviving number from the quantity of guns purchased on Army contracts during the Civil War (555).  That gives us roughly 435 to 440 Parrotts that were “lost” to scraping or other means over the last 150 years.  Of that number, I ask, how many ended up in France?  And of those that might have reach France, do any survive today?

One thought on “For Sale: Fifty Batteries of Field Artillery, Complete!

  1. Interesting post and a topic I looked into briefly a couple years ago. From Jules Marie Joseph Challéat’s Histoire technique, vol. 1 (available on the web), it appears that the French had some Parrotts for trials, but were not at all impressed. The main complaint seems to be that the Parrotts had an inferior muzzle velocity, described as little superior to 300 mps. They did field some Whitworths, which they used for defensive purposes in Algeria (not a war theater), probably to snipe at bedouin. They were much impressed by these guns but ultimately didn’t acquire them.

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