Comparison: US and Foreign 6-pdr Guns

Those of us with Cold War experience may fondly recall the old ASCC reporting names for aircraft and missiles.  For those who were not gifted with such experiences, in short the NATO countries, along with allied nations around the world, standardized an artificial set of names for Soviet hardware.  Those artificial names served as a framework when discussing the perceived capabilities of the aircraft or missiles.  But not knowing with precision exactly what the Soviets called their weapons lead to a lot of misidentification and incorrect perceptions.  For the historian dealing with such things, we have to work from a perspective of “what did they know at that time?”… furthermore we must ensure that knowledge, or lack thereof, is used as the context when interpreting the sources.

In the 19th century, armies “looked over the shoulder” of their potential adversaries – and allies – just the same as today.  While perhaps not cloaked an air of “James Bond” and all, there was indeed some technical intelligence gathering going on.  With respect to field artillery, we find that manifested in a section within the US Army’s Ordnance Manuals with a title something like “Cannon of Foreign Countries.”

From the 1841 edition:

The materials for the following table have been collected, with few exceptions, from the latest manuals of artillery in England, France, Prussia, and Austria, and from memoranda obtained in Russia and Sweden.

The dimensions and weights are given in our own measures.

The column of exterior length shows the length from the rear of the base ring to the face of the piece, and the length of bore includes the chamber, when not otherwise mentioned.

In England, France, and Sweden, howitzers and mortars take their denominations, as with us, from the diameter of the bore, or from the caliber of a gun of corresponding bore; in Austria and Prussia, from the weight of a stone ball of the caliber of the bore; in Russia, from the true weight of the shell.

This introduction identifies the sources used, to which I would add some data was undoubtedly derived from examination of cannon – particular those captured from the British during the Revolution or War of 1812.  And that point is one good reason to have data on the cannon of other countries – should the situation arise that American officers need to use captured or otherwise acquired weapons.

The introduction also lets us know the data was converted to American standards.  Though at the same time we see just settling on “the name of a thing” was as difficult then as it is today.

In the past, I’ve used the tables to compare foreign and American 24-pdr howitzers.  There we were focused more on weapons imported during the Civil War.  If we switch over to the 6-pdrs, there were certainly some imports to consider.  But also we might use those tables to compare US weapon development to that of Europe.  Much of the American’s research, development, and test programs focused on the 6-pdr caliber between 1815 and 1855.  And some of the data, which made its way onto those Ordnance Manual tables, was used to assess American work.  That in mind, let us consider the data:

6pdrForeignComp

Please note the color coding here.  Green lines are field guns (many, even heavy types, specifically labeled field gun in the tables).  Rose colored lines are siege, garrison, seacoast, or naval guns.  And that one yellow line is for a mountain gun, included simply because the caliber rating in the manual. Entries from England, France (only the earliest manuals), Spain, Belgium, Austria, Prussia, Saxony, Russia, and Sweden.  To that I added listings for US models from 1919 up to the Civil War.  And for good measure, the experimental Griffen wrought iron gun.

As alluded to in the manual’s introduction, the table included bore diameter, exterior length (minus the knob), bore length, and weight.  There were also columns that rated the windage allowed.  While that was an important factor with field artillery, a lot of variables played in there. Worth discussion at a later time perhaps.

The columns for focus in our discussion today are those detailing the length and weight.  And to narrow that focus more, I’ve added a column to show the ratio between the length of bore (in inches) to the weight of the gun (in pounds).  In other words, how much metal was allocated against the length of travel down the bore?

Why that?  Well, length of bore factors into the interior ballistics of the weapon.  And interior ballistics in turn begets exterior ballistic performance.  Guns have longer bores than howitzers, of course.  But beyond that, when comparing a gun of shorter bore to one with longer bore, there are performance differences to keep in mind. And there are limitations that govern the practical length of the bore.  One of those is the weight of the weapon.  In a simple equation, one would desire the longest bore possible within a given weight.  But… we are reminded the thinner the metal, the more susceptible the gun to bursting or other metal performance problems.  All this said… and again, running the risk of over simplification for sake of brevity… the optimum 6-pdr gun would be one with the longest bore, yet with just enough metal thickness (around the breech, mostly) to ensure good performance and reliability.  But not one pound of metal more!  (lest we start discussing the ratio of horse power to pound of gun…)

But not all metals are the same, you say!  Correct.  In the scope of mid-19th century conversations, there was cast iron and bronze (steel, wrought iron, and other options, we’ve discussed before… were more novelties at that time).  Furthermore, prior to the 1840s, copper, the necessary base for bronze, was mined in only small quantities (Vermont was the leading producer, BTW).  But the early United States had plenty of iron!  Later, after the big Michigan copper rush, the War Department realized the US was gifted with plenty of both metals.

All that background in mind, what do we see with the ratio of bore length to weight?  Well, the Model 1819 “Walking Stick” cannon, of cast iron, had a lower ratio than many European bronze weapons.  In fact, it was almost as low, in ratio, to the British light bronze 6-pdr (which the Americans were very familiar with).   A longer bore, and with a much denser metal, yet the Americans left it relatively thin around the breech.  Only 75 pounds heavier and with about five inches more bore.  Would have been interesting to see range trials between those weapons.

On the other end of the time line, the last mass produced American 6-pdr, the Model 1841, was much heavier, by ratio, than the Model 1819 iron gun.  Nearly four pounds per inch of bore heavier!  This made the Model 1841 heavier, again by ratio, than the Napoleonoic era British and French guns.  (And that is a fine point that I lack space to fully develop here – the French and British move to 12-pdr guns as the century progressed.. topic for another day.)  Yet, the Model 1841 does not stand out as overly heavy compared to the other European powers. Particularly when considering the Belgian guns.

The thumb I’d put on the scales here is with respect to the model numbers.  We have documented efforts by the Americans to develop an acceptable (Secretary of War Joel R. Poinsett might say “perfect” in the sense of perfection being the enemy of good in this case) field gun.  Acceptable in 1819 was a cast iron gun of relatively light weight.  By 1841, even a bronze gun needed more mass of metal – more than a third more, by ratio of bore to overall weight.

Why?  One word – gunpowder.  Despite having few wars during that first half of the Pax Britannica period, the technology of warfare did not sit still.  By 1861, there was nearly a half century of innovation and refinement to apply towards the grim task of warfighting.

Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – Batteries of New Hampshire and New Jersey

For this installment of the summary reports, we will look at the contributions of two states – New Hampshire and New Jersey.   Between the two, by June 1863 were only three batteries of light artillery:

0201_1_Snip_NH_NJ

Just one battery from the Granite State.  For the New Hampshire battery:

  • 1st Battery: Reporting at Taneytown, Maryland with four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. After the Chancellorsville Campaign, Captain Frederick M. Edgell’s battery transferred from First Corps to Third Volunteer Brigade, Artillery Reserve, Army of the Potomac.  If we go to Edgell’s official report of the Gettysburg Campaign, we find his battery expended 105 rounds on July 2nd (at ranges of 2,000 yards or more!) from a position off the Taneytown Road, in what is today the National Cemetery.  On July 3, they fired counter-battery and later helped repulse Longstreet’s assault, with 248 rounds.  The battery fired a total of 353 rounds, with Hotchkiss time shell and Schenkl percussion mentioned specifically.  Edgell complained about the Schenkl combination fused case.

And from the Garden State, two batteries (three more batteries would muster in September 1863, but are outside our scope here):

  • Battery A: In Maryland with six 10-pdr Parrotts. The battery was, after Chancellorsville, moved from the Sixth Corps to Fourth Volunteer Brigade, Artillery Reserve, Army of the Potomac.  Lieutenant Augustine N. Parsons remained in command, with the absence of Captain William Hexamer.  On June 30, the battery was, like most of the Artillery Reserve, near Taneytown.  On July 3, Battery A went into action near the present day Pennsylvania Memorial, and thus on the opposite flank of Longstreet’s assault from the New Hampshire battery mentioned above.  Parsons reported firing about 120 rounds of case against the infantry charge.  Afterward, he fired an additional 80 rounds of shell at Confederate batteries, for a total of around 200 on the day.
  • Battery B: Reported at Brandy Station, Virginia with six 10-pdr Parrotts, reflecting a March 1864 receipt date. Of course the battery was with the Third Corps, Army of the Potomac, on June 30, 1863, and between Emmitsburg and Taneytown.  Captain A.Judson Clark commanded the battery.  However, at least at the start of the Gettysburg Campaign, Clark was listed as a divisional artillery chief, a position that should have been redundant with battery consolidation at the corps level.  Captain George E. Randolph, Battery E, 1st Rhode Island Artillery, was the corps artillery chief (somewhat confusing, even on the tablets at Gettysburg list both Randolph and Clark).  While Clark was serving as chief, Lieutenant Robert Sims had charge of the battery.  But all reports have Clark in command of the battery on July 2nd, when the battery advanced to support infantry at the Peach Orchard salient.

Thus we can place all three batteries in action at Gettysburg.  Writing these summaries, I have an urge to discuss so much of the “rest of the story.”  But for the moment, let us focus on the summaries and not the deeds (which most would agree are more interesting).

No smoothbores on hand, so no smoothbore ammunition to report.  Turning to the Hotchkiss projectiles:

0203_2_Snip_NH_NJ

  • 1st New Hampshire: 80 canister, 158 fuse shell, and 238 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

Keep in mind Edgell fired 353 rounds at Gettysburg.  And we’ll revisit the totals below.

On the next page, we can trim down to focus on the Parrott projectiles:

0204_1A_Snip_NH_NJ

The two New Jersey batteries reporting:

  • Battery A, New Jersey: 130 canister for 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • Battery B, New Jersey: 568 shell, 360 case, and 120 canister for 10-pdr Parrotts.

Parsons’ battery seems to be missing a large quantity of ammunition.  And that cannot simply be accounted for by that expended in battle in July.

Moving to the next page and the Schenkl columns:

0204_2_Snip_NH_NJ

  • 1st New Hampshire:  322 shells for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery B, New Jersey: 152 shells for 10-pdr Parrotts.

We find here some of the Schenkl shells that Edgell complained about.  The total for that battery, on the summaries, is 798 rounds.  Again, the question here – was that “as of June 30, 1863”?  Or on hand as of the day the report was generated?  Or quantity on hand sometime after the great battle?

Moving to the small arms section:

0204_3_Snip_NH_NJ

By battery:

  • 1st New Hampshire: Thirteen Navy revolvers and nine cavalry sabers.
  • Battery A, New Jersey: Fifteen Army revolvers and twenty-seven horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery B, New Jersey: Sixteen Navy revolvers and fifteen horse artillery sabers.

Three batteries from two different states.  All three playing in action at Gettysburg.

Robert E. Lee: Good, Bad and Human

For your consideration:

In Memory of Robert E. Lee Marker

The photo is from a Historical Marker Database entry, by my late friend Mike Stroud.  I might make the case this is more a “monument,” but the opening line says “in Memory of….” so maybe we put it in the memorial column.

Regardless of how we categorize the object, there is a story to tell here.  And it is one of a positive contribution to the community by a historical figure – one Robert E. Lee.

In short, a problem developed in front of St. Louis in the 1830s. A shift to the river channel caused the city’s harbor to silt up.  Unchecked, that would isolate the city from commerce, the Gateway to the West would become just another bypassed river town, and steamboats would ply their trade somewhere else.  City officials used their political clout to secure the services of the US Army Corps of Engineers, who sent a First Lieutenant named Robert E. Lee (along with Second Lieutenant Montgomery C. Meigs, but now I’m name dropping, at the expense of brevity).

The core problem was with Bloody Island, laying opposite St. Louis.  The river was slipping to the east side of that island, leaving more sediment on the Missouri side.  Lee’s solution was to let the river do the bulk of the work. He proposed a series of dikes and revetments that would entice the river to push to the west channel and thus clear out the sand bars deposited in front of St. Louis.

MapNo3StLouisLee(Map source:  Birmingham Public Library, Digital Collections)

Lee’s plan was never completely adopted.  Political influence prevented the dike construction on the north (upstream) end of Bloody Island.  But on the dike on the south end was enough.  The river soon gouged out a deep channel close to the Missouri shoreline.  The City of St. Louis continued to prosper.  And Lee was their hero.

Of course, one great irony here –  Lee had ensured St. Louis would be a thriving center of commerce and industry that would later support the Federal war effort in the west… twenty something years later.

A lesser sidebar, with all those trivial connections we enjoy- Lee’s efforts saved Bloody Island as one of those of those “in between” locations where laws were loosely enforced.  The island remained a favored spot for dueling.  On September 22, 1842, James Shields dueled Abraham Lincoln, with cavalry sabers, there on Bloody Island. It turned out a bloodless duel with both parties agreeing to a truce.

Lee did other work along the Mississippi to improve navigation, but the solution at St. Louis had the most impact.  And that impact was not forgotten.  Moving forward to 1977, the memorial shown above was placed on the waterfront, aptly in front of the Gateway Arch.  Moved a few feet in recent years, the memorial now sits between a bike trail and Leonor K Sullivan Boulevard.

But here we stand today, with a lot of talk lately about Robert E. Lee’s legacy and its place of prominence in our cultural landscape.  There can be no distancing of Lee from the Confederacy.  And by that connection, there should be no quibbling over Lee’s connection to slavery.  We cannot pretend Lee’s hands were not sullied in the matter. He was a direct participant in the system, benefited from the system, and fought to preserve that system.  Regardless of what he may, or may not, have personally felt, Lee served a country, and thereby a cause, that defined slavery as a necessary institution.

Yet, does that become the only factor in assessment of Robert E. Lee? Do we only measure him with the letters R-A-C-I-S-T?

Or, are there other factors to consider in the net assessment of Lee?  We have a preponderance of evidence that says he was a capable military leader.  He was a capable school administrator, at a time when Washington University needed one.  And, with respect to the Mississippi River at St. Louis, we can say he was a good public engineer (I’ve been known to debate his skill as a military engineer, but we shall table that for today).  Beyond that, at the personal level, we have many vignettes that indicate Lee possessed many admirable qualities… at a personal level.  None of which, of course, can, should, or would overshadow the connections Lee had to the system of slavery.   Yet these facets to the man do tell us he was a human being, just like the rest of us.  Maybe even more human than some of us.  (And certainly not the “Marble Man”.)

In his four volume biography of Lee, historian Douglas Southall Freeman closed:

That is all. There is no mystery in the coffin there in front of the windows that look to the sunrise.

Far be it for me to disagree with Freeman, who probably knew more about Lee than anyone save Lee himself. But I must say we cannot close the story of Robert E. Lee, simply looking out the windows.  He’s a complex figure, mixing good with bad, distasteful with the honorable, and repulsive with attractive.  And there’s a lot of mystery left to explore.

Then again, we can well say that about any figure we are apt to meet in history…or out on the street today.