Category Archives: Artillery

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 Vern 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.

Anatomy of an Ordnance Return: Battery B, 5th US Artillery, December 1863

A common line of inquiry I receive is in regard to identifying the history of a specific artillery piece.  As we can often read the registry number, along with manufacture and inspection details, there is a tantalizing lead to start with.  It’s the paper trail for what happened after that origin that we need.  And unfortunately, that’s where the trail usually goes cold.

We find, from time to time, registry numbers or other identification information in official reports, letters, or diaries.  For instance, a report of weapons captured at Reams Station leads us to a handful of survivors of that action.  But that is generally the exception and not the rule.  The most important piece of the paper trail that we look for, and is most often missing, would be the ordnance returns from a specific battery.

You might ask… what is an ordnance return?  Well, the Army’s Ordnance Department, being a bureaucracy which needed paperwork to survive, required all batteries to submit a periodic report (quarterly in most cases) that detailed all equipment on hand.  Kidding about the bureaucracy aside, these served a valuable purpose – providing raw data from the field that the ordnance officers could use to determine the durability and other properties of the procured materials.  And one of those data points that the officers considered was the durability of the cannons.  The tracked the number of rounds fired from each cannon, by registry number.  That, by itself, makes the returns useful for those inquiring about a specific weapon’s history.

But there’s more to the return than just a registry number and rounds fired.  Let me walk through an example.  I’ll pull up some snips from an ordnance returned filed on December 31, 1863 for Battery B, 5th US Artillery.  I cannot recall who sent this return my way.  But of the several I’ve collected over the years, it is the best to present the form.   And it was written by 1st Lieutenant Henry A. duPont, making it a nice bit of history by itself.

Let’s start with the header.  The return started as a circular sent out from Washington.  The header in this case briefly lays out the purpose for the return:

B 5th US_1

You see this particular circular went out under the authority of Brigadier-General George Ramsay, Chief of Ordnance at the time.  And as seen in the last line, Ramsay pressed the need for “full, accurate, and reliable” returns.

In the next section, the battery commander provided his unit information:

B 5th US_2

As this does not have a date received in Washington, this might be a copy that duPont retained for his records.

The next section is the “cool” part for those looking for cannon histories:

B 5th US_3

So Battery B had six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles at this time in the war.  All were from early production lots – 1861 and 1862.  And the registry numbers – 36, 158, 278, 309, 362, and 381.  For those looking, #36 is at Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania.  #158 is now part of a gate at Fort Washington, Maryland.  And #381 is at Gettysburg.  I should post some pictures of these… but I’m being lazy… .

But beyond the registry numbers, take note of the number of rounds fired.  DuPont must have taken care to “balance” his activities between the guns.  Keep in mind what sort of activity that Battery B saw in the last three months of 1863.  They were posted in the Department of West Virginia.  So not as much campaigning and action as, say, their fellow 5th regiment batteries attached to the Army of the Potomac.

That section also had a set of questions about the vents:

B 5th US_4

As mentioned a time or two here on this blog, vent erosion was one of the durability constraints with Civil War artillery.  And the last inquiry invited the Lieutenant’s opinion about the guns.  Favorable, as one might imagine.  I would point out that this was a return from one battery, reflecting one officer’s opinion.  And, one would hope, also the opinion of the other battery officers.  While it is tempting to take some comments from this return and apply across the board, keep in mind (particularly for the later sections) we are seeing opinions from just a few.

What did the guns set upon?  Carriages, which received their own table:

B 5th US_5

And what pulled those carriages?  Caissons:

B 5th US_6

We know, based on this information, who produced the rolling stock, where it was issued, and who was the issuing officer.

The return continued with general questions about the other rolling stock supplied to the battery:

B 5th US_7

Notice the focus of the questions here are towards the durability of the wagons.

Leaving the “wheeled” equipment, the return asked about ammunition:

B 5th US_8

Again, my intent here today is not to revel in the wealth of details, but rather demonstrate the format of the return.  But by all means, these are worth reading.  And again, remember that du Pont is reporting his personal experiences with the shells and fuses in this particular time frame for the return.  Very likely a large portion of the shells fired were during live fire drills.

This section also asked questions about the friction primers, powder, and ammunition chests:

B 5th US_9

I think it is important to consider the source of the primers and powder – particularly if any defects are noted.  None are mentioned here.

The last sections of the return asked about implements, harnesses, and tarpaulins:

B 5th US_10

A lot more questions about the harnesses than anything else.  I would submit that is because harnesses were vital for mobility of a field battery, yet the most likely item to wear out.  And these questions were scoped to find out about durability.

The last question in the return asked “have you lost any guns?”

B 5th US_11

du Pont had not, and signed his return.

There are several variations I’ve seen for ordnance returns, but this is a typical format.  There was a different format for batteries assigned to fixed fortifications.  Obviously the lack of rolling stock and horses changed the questions.

Ordnance returns were one of those “necessary evil” forms that had to be completed.  Otherwise the guys in Washington didn’t know if the items they were procuring were sufficient for the rigors of the field.  The ordnance return was a common chore for all battery commanders during the war.  So there were hundreds of these filed during the war.

But, perhaps because these were so common and deemed routine most of the returns were discarded after they were compiled.  Every time I do research in the Ordnance papers in the National Archives,  there is some hope that the “long lost stash of returns” will be found in some forgotten section.

In the mean time, my focus has been on a product the ordnance officers complied from these ordnance returns.  That would be a roll-up of materials showing all items assigned to a specific battery.  Sort of a large spreadsheet indicating how many cannons, carriages, caissons, and… even buckles and screws, by battery.

A few years back, my friend Bret Schulte passed along a digital copy of the microfilm of those from the National Archives, so I’ve been able to browse those sections without having to make the drip to downtown DC.  I’ve found it useful to confirm what batteries had which types of guns at particular points in time.  Although, I would still point out that a lot of data is missing from those compilations.  And the long, wide sheet format is difficult to follow. Still, it is useful for what it does offer.  Seeing that useful information is a good thing to share, I’m going to package up some of that data – particularly the cannons reported by battery – for posting here on the blog.