Henry Hunt on “short howitzers for vertical fire”

When discussing artillery’s ballistic properties, the terms “horizontal fire” and “vertical fire” come into play.  As the names imply, these refer to the path of the projectile relative to the earth’s surface.  Due to gravity and other natural forces, horizontal fire is not ruler-straight, but a flat curve.  Vertical fire, likewise, is not straight up (or one hopes not), but rather a tall curve.  The early gunners of the first artillery pieces learned that different trajectories offered advantages that could be applied to a tactical situation.  In a nutshell, horizontal fire worked well to batter an obstacle while vertical fire could put projectiles over and beyond the obstacle.  Tactical application of basic physics.

By the time of the Civil War, vertical fire had become somewhat a “specialty” technique.  Field artillerists were certainly aware of vertical fire and employed it on occasion.  But on the open battlefields, field artillery fired directly on targets – or horizontally.   The hausse sight saw more use than the gunners’ quadrant.

That in mind, consider correspondence from Brigadier-General Henry Hunt, Artillery Chief, Army of the Potomac, to Brigadier-General George Ramsay, Chief of Ordnance for the US Army:

Artillery Headquarters, Army of the Potomac,
April 21, 1864.
Brig. Gen. George D. Ramsay,
Chief of Ordnance, Washington, D.C.:

General: I have at your request examined the proposition of Capt. [Adolph] Schwartz, aide-de-camp, for the introduction into our service of short howitzers for vertical fire.

As to the necessity, there are but few occasions in which the light 12-pounder gun will not, by reducing the charge and giving high elevations, perform the service required of the short howitzers. The caliber being smaller, a greater number of guns must be brought into requisition and a greater number of shells used, but these field batteries can supply.

In the few cases in which the 12-pounder field gun cannot accomplish the work of the proposed howitzers, from the enemy occupying hollows or low grounds which cannot be seen, or where he is behind works or cover at short ranges which the shells of the gun cannot reach, a few Coehorn mortars would answer the purpose required. These mortars form a part of our system of artillery. Four of them, with their bed, can readily be carried in a common wagon; they have ranges from 500 to 1,000 yards, and eight or a dozen of them, with 50 or 60 rounds each of ammunition, would, with the 12-pounders of an army corps or of an army, answer all the purposes likely to be required.

I do not undervalue the howitzer for its special service, but I think the evil of adding to the number and variety of our kinds of guns and ammunition would outweigh the advantage.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,
Henry J. Hunt,
Brigadier-General, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac.

“Captain” Adolph Schwartz was at that time of the war “Major” Adolph Schwartz, a staff officer serving in the Thirteenth Corps, posted on the Mississippi.  And Schwartz is an interesting character.  Early in the war Schwartz commanded Battery E, 2nd Illinois Artillery (though formed in St. Louis, Missouri).  He served with distinction on many early war battles in the west, in particular at Shiloh.  His wartime service was closely linked to Major-General John A. McClernand.  From Belmont to Vicksburg, Schwartz served as McClernand’s adviser, artillery chief, ordnance chief, and at times adjutant.  The congratulatory order issued after Arkansas Post, which angered William T. Sherman and to some degree U.S. Grant, came from Schwartz, by order of McClernand of course.   (However, I am at a loss to put together Schwartz’ pre-war background.  If any readers have leads, I would appreciate it.)

I’ve looked far and low for a copy of Schwartz’ suggestion.  As an “artillery historian” I have long wanted to see the details suggested and determine what tactical observations Schwartz offered.  And at the same time, this particular letter from Schwartz might help explain the context of Hunt’s response.  I suspect Schwartz suggested use of short-length howitzers of 24-pounder caliber (basing that on the details offered in Hunt’s response).

Because Hunt was asked to respond, one might assume the suggestion was directly addressed to the Army of the Potomac.  But the first strike against that is the reference to “Captain” Schwartz. I doubt that Hunt knew Schwartz directly.  And thus was probably using the rank he saw on the referenced document.  I’m not certain when Schwartz received promotion to major, but do know in January 1863 he was signing orders as a major.   Thus the suggestion likely dated from 1862 or earlier.

So was this a general observation offered by a lowly captain, sent directly to the Ordnance Department following field experience in the Western Theater?  Or was this a suggestion passed up the chain of command, slowly, and eventually landing at the Ordnance Department for comment?  Or does it really matter?  OK… I’ll leave that determination until Schwartz’s suggestion is available.

But let us focus on Hunt’s dismissal of the proposal.  He offered that 12-pdr Napoleons and Coehorn mortars would fill the needs.  And the bottom line, echoing Hunt’s experience from several major campaigns – there was no need to introduce yet another “system” to the field artillery.  He preferred to keep the guns, their trains, and their support arrangements very simple and uniform.

But wait… Coehorns?  Those were not part of the Army of the Potomac’s formal artillery park.  Hunt said, “These mortars form a part of our system of artillery.”  I read that to mean the “big Army’s system of artillery” as in that approved by the War Department and posted to the manuals.  I don’t think he is saying, as of that date, the Army of the Potomac had formally incorporated Coehorns into the artillery park.  There are several references, by Hunt, including Coehorns in the siege train setup to support the Army of the Potomac.  One of which was in April 1864, when Hunt requested twenty Coehorns set aside in Washington as part of the siege train to support the army.  But that siege train was not included with the force about to crash into the Wilderness, but rather a force held in reserve, should the situation call for formal siege operations.

So why am I picking on this response from Hunt about some letter written by an obscure artillerist from the west?  Here’s the point – Hunt didn’t have Coehorns on hand to “answer the purpose required” as a formal part of his artillery reserve when he wrote in April.  However, he did have Coehorns on hand in May.  To be exact, “eight 24-pounder Coehorn mortars with 100 rounds each of ammunition were served by a detachment of Fifteenth New York Foot Artillery.

So… did Schwartz’s suggestion have some influence on Hunt’s inclusion of two wagon loads of Coehorns?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, page 935.)

150 Years Ago: At Fredericksburg, one shot clears the tannery

The battle of Fredericksburg might have “effectively” ended with the stalled assaults on Marye’s Heights at sunset on December 13, 1862. But the Federals continued to occupy the city and ground in front of Marye’s Heights for two more days.  The battle lines exchanged fire throughout those days. Among the shots fired on December 15 came from 24-pdr field howitzers in Captain George V. Moody’s Madison Light Artillery (Louisiana). Lieutenant Colonel E. Porter Alexander directed those shots.

I’ve cited this before when discussing the use of the heavy howitzers during the war, but as this matches nicely with the 150th narrative, allow me to recite it once more –

… Monday morning was again thick and hazy, but when the sun was about an hour high the nest of sharpshooters in the tanyard announced their ability to see by opening a very lively fusillade. I happened to be nearby, & I at once determined to try & route them. But the building was so nestled in the hollow, & hidden by intervening low hills & trees, that only one gun, one of Moody’s 24 pr. howitzers, could even the peak of its roof be seen. But I knew that if I only skimmed the top of the low intervening hill the shell would curve downward & probably get low enough for the loop holes. The howitzer was on the south of the Plank Road & some 400 yards off. I got the line of the obnoxious corner of the roof & sighted in that line, & then fixed an elevation which I thought would just carry the shell over the low hill, aiming myself, & taking several minutes to get all exact. Then I ordered fire. Standing behind we could see the shell almost brush the grass, as it curved over the hill, & then we heard her strike & explode. At once there came a cheer from our picket line in front of the hill, & presently there came running up an exited fellow to tell us. He called out as he came – “That got ’em! That got ’em! You can hear them just a hollering & a groaning in there.”

Alexander’s detailed description offers a ready example of the advantages of the howitzers’ low velocity and high angle trajectory when applied to the battlefield. The 24-pdrs were designed with this type of fire effects in mind. Given the reference about distances and the time taken to set the shot, I would assume Alexander had good measures of the field and was able to properly set the fuse for just the right time.

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24-pdr Field Howitzer at Petersburg

Alexander wasn’t done with Moody’s big howitzers that day. And again, he used the ballistic capabilities of the howitzers to achieve an effect:

… we discovered that quite a little body of the enemy were lying down in a shallow depression about 400 yards from another of Moody’s 24 pr. howitzers, which were my favorite guns. Partly to make the enemy unhappy, & partly to show my companions how effective the gun was, I carefully aimed & fired four shrapnel (each of which contained 175 musket balls) so as to burst each one about 15 feet above the ground & about as many yards in front of the little hollow. While we could not see into it, the bullets & fragment would probe it easily. From the very first shot, we saw, at the far end, men helping three wounded to get out to the rear, but our infantry sharpshooters opened on them & ran them back. The next day, [Lieutenant Colonel Briscoe G.] Baldwin & [Captain Samuel] Johnston visited the spot together to study the effects, & told me that they found 13 dead which they were sure from the fresh wounds & blood were killed by those four shrapnel.

Yes, a remarkable demonstration of the effectiveness of Alexander’s “favorite guns.” Part of me visits this passage and takes hold of the details about how the weapon was used. Certainly a ready example of a “textbook” employment of the howitzer. Yet another part of me reads this and recoils at the detachment of men in combat from the normal moral conventions.

Was this war? Or was this murder?

———————————

Citations from Edward Porter Alexander, Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, edited by Gary Gallegher, University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Pages 181-2. The account, written after the war, generally follows with the shorter description of the activity of that day offered by Alexander in his official report (OR, Series I, Volume 21, Serial 31, pages 576-7) written in December 1862. However, in the wartime account Alexander states 12-pdr guns fired on the troops in front of Marye’s Heights.

How long have those howitzers been at the Castillo de San Marcos?

How can I be done with St. Augustine and the Castillo de San Marcos?  There’s just TOO much to discuss!  History at every turn!

St. Georges Street scene, circa 1910

Within the resources indexed by the Library of Congress, hundreds of photos from St. Augustine provide us glimpses of the city and the fort at different times in history (or at least the last 150 years or so).

Shrimp Fleet at St. Augustine

The photographs include some remarkable composite panoramic views of the Castillo de San Marcos / Fort Marion.

Looking from the South at Fort Marion

Among the many photos of the fort are a handful identified from the Civil War period.  I offered one on the earlier blog post showing soldiers and artillery in the fort’s courtyard along with tents on the roof.  And there is another photo from that same set, also showing troops in the courtyard.

Ramp and Courtyard of Fort Marion, 1863-5

OK… a rather boring study at best.  But there is the badly worn ramp to consider along with other signs of deterioration.  At first glance, my eyes were drawn to the stacked cannons under the arch.

Stacked Cannon

These are certainly old 18th century types, given the low set trunnions.  The rings and other ornamentation lead me to consider these similar to, if not the same guns as, those on display at the Castillo today.

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18th Century Iron Cannon at the Castillo today

But look to the left of the archway.

Howitzer against the Wall

There’s enough resolution to make out the exterior form of this howitzer.  It has a base ring, a step at the end of the reinforce, a flared muzzle swell, and a lip on the muzzle face.  And there are rimbases for the trunnions.  In other words, just like this howitzer on display at the Fort Marion water battery today:

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24-pdr Model 1819 Field Howitzer

No 24-pdr field howitzers are mentioned in the inventory cited by Captain William Maynadier in January 1861.  Either the 24-pdrs were not at Fort Marion at the outbreak of war, or they were not considered worth reporting (although Maynadier felt the need to mention 31 obsolete foreign guns in the inventory).

There’s another photo with the iron 24-pdr field howitzers to consider.  The weapons appear in a view of the courtyard taken around 1910.

Interior of Fort Marion, circa 1910

The Army moved the stacked cannons out from the archway, and fixed the steps on the ramp.  Just to the left are three stubby iron forms.

Three Field Howitzers

So what are the odds that these three howitzers are the same three on display at the Water Battery today?

Short and Stubby – Old American 24-pdr Howitzers

Some time back I traced the origins of the 24-pdr field howitzer, which saw limited field service during the Civil War.   The type evolved from short, stumpy weapons used during the Revolution to, by 1841, heavy cannons requiring eight-horse teams to maneuver.  However, the role of these howitzers remained essentially unchanged – to place explosive projectiles on enemy positions firing at higher trajectories than guns.  In The American Artillerist’s Companion (1809), Louis de Tousard wrote:

[The howitzer’s] object is to first produce the effect of a ball fired à ricochet, and afterwards to burst like the bombs…. The howitzers are pointed at six, ten, and fifteen degrees, to produce the ricochet; at thirty and forty-five degrees the howitzers will not ricochet.

Similar descriptions appeared in the 1863 Course of Instruction in Ordnance and Gunnery used in the West Point curriculum and the 1865 Handbook of Artillery by Joseph Roberts.

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Revolutionary War Period 8-inch Howitzer at Yorktown

At the close of the Revolution, the American army possessed a variety of mostly European field howitzers.  Calibers inventoried included 3-1/2-inch, 5-1/2-inch, 8-inch, and 10-inch howitzers.  Of these American artillerists favored the 5-1/2- and 8-inch calibers as they fired projectiles with useful payloads, but not so heavy as to impair tactical maneuver.

9 July 2011 817
British 5-1/2-inch Howitzer at Yorktown

These European howitzers were a few calibers longer than mortars (usually 5 times the diameter of the bore) and generally conformed to contemporary exterior molding standards.  Internally, the howitzers used a sub-caliber powder chamber.  The bore size factored “windage” variations for the day and actually measured about 5-5/8ths (about 5.625 inches).

9 July 2011 823
Bore Measure of 5-1/2-inch Howitzer

Eventually, the US Army would phase out these old 18-th century weapons seeking to both standardize and improve the artillery arm.  While no surviving regulations or instructions (that I know of) state such, the Army likely adopted a slightly larger bore field howitzer to reduce the number of projectile sizes in the inventory.  The 24-pdr bore, at 5.82-inches, allowed the howitzers to share projectiles with the 24-pdr siege and garrison guns.

The design history of the 24-pdr field howitzer in the first half of the 19-th century parallels that of the 6-pdr field guns.   The Army and militia received some new production iron 24-pdrs prior to and during the War of 1812, but documentation of the particulars is non-existent.  Two howitzers at St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos exhibit features that lead artillery experts to tentatively identify them from this period.

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Early American 24-pdr Howitzer

Resembling those British weapons in size, the American iron howitzers have a simplified, but certainly not plain, form.  These howitzers lack rimbases and show superfluous lines that are dispensed on later American artillery castings. The bore of these guns measure 5.90 inches by my ruler.

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Early American 24-pdr Howitzer

Photos of the bore and chamber didn’t turn out well.  So I cannot confirm secondary sources which indicate the howitzers have 6-pdr (3.67-inch diameter) powder chambers.

Next to these two pieces is a howitzer which is a bit easier to identify.

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24-pdr Model 1819 Field Howitzer

The exterior form of this howitzer is an extreme variation of its contemporary Model 1819 gun designs (a.k.a. the “Walking Sticks”).  Absent are the additional rings and lines.  But present are rimbases and a sharp muzzle swell.

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24-pdr Model 1819 Field Howitzer

I could find no markings on the piece, but secondary sources cite Columbia Foundry, in Washington, D.C. as the manufacturer and a foundry number of 420.

While the Model 1819 field howitzer demonstrated some evolution with regard to exterior form, the length of the piece retained the proportions of the Revolutionary period weapons.  At some point between 1820 and around 1835, ordnance officers altered the proportions.  Without doubt, the increased length was driven by requirements for better range and accuracy.  But that narrative is lacking proper sources to complete the picture.

And that is not all which is lacking.  Of nearly seventy-five 24-pdr field howitzers ordered by the Army from 1834 to 1841, none survive today.  Instead I must offer a dashed line between the Model 1819 and the Model 1841.

24-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1841, Alger #5 at Shiloh

Turning dashed lines, like those of the 24-pdr field howitzer’s design history, into solidly documented narratives is what keeps me engaged in the study of Civil War artillery.

The George Washington and a 24-pdr Howitzer

Yes another howitzer story!

24-pdr FH Model 1841 – Beaufort Arsenal

The Beaufort, South Carolina Arsenal Museum has on display a 24-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1841 with an interesting history.   The scanned 35mm photo must suffice for now, as good friend Mike Stroud relates the Arsenal is currently undergoing renovations.  His entry for the marker on site offer views of the arsenal and grounds.

N.P. Ames of Springfield, Massachusetts produced this particular weapon in 1847.  Field notes from a trip there in 1995 indicate no other visible markings.  But the howitzer conforms to the regulation dimensions of the pattern in all respects.  The exterior of the piece is badly corroded, so I could not identify a specific registry number at that time.

According to historian and journalist Warren Ripley, the howitzer in Beaufort came from the wreckage of the U.S. Army steamer George Washington, sunk by Confederate batteries on April 9, 1863 [see Ripley, Arms and Artillery of the Civil War, p. 47-8].   However, I would point out that other secondary references indicate the combatants recovered the weapons during the war, and cast in doubt the origin of the howitzer [see L. Craig Gains, Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks, p. 146].   Over the years I’ve found Ripley’s accounts of events well researched, but in this particular case I feel several bits of evidence cloud the story regarding the recovery of the howitzer in the photo above.

Built in New York in the 1850s as a 240-ton side wheel steamer, the Army requisitioned the George Washington early in the war as a transport.  By 1862 she operated in the waters around Port Royal Sound and Hilton Head, crewed by a detachment from the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery.  Armament included a 20-pdr James Rifle and two 24-pdr bronze howitzers.  My guess is the 20-pdr was actually an old 12-pdr smoothbore gun, banded and rifled to the James system.  But the 24-pdr howitzers certainly were the Model 1841 type.  Captain Thomas B. Briggs, of the 3rd Rhode Island, commanded the ship.

On the morning of April 8, Briggs departed Beaufort and linked up with the Navy gunboat U.S.S. E.B. Hale. The Hale, skippered by Acting Lieutenant Edgar Brodhead, was a 220-ton screw vessel, armed with four 32-pdr guns.  Orders called for the two ships to patrol around Port Royal Island, with the Hale stopping for guard duty covering Whale Branch of the Coosaw River.  After reaching the vicinity of Brickyard Point, the Hale ran aground on a shoal.  When efforts to free the ship failed, Briggs opted to continue the patrol and return by nightfall to protect the Hale.  Both commanders then waited for the tide to return.   All went according to plan, and by 11 p.m. the tide lifted the Hale free, and Brodhead remained near the Washington through the night.  After 4 a.m. on the morning of the 9th, Brodhead decided it best to move out of hostile waters and pulled up anchor.  Brodhead did not signal Briggs of this move.

When morning dawned, Briggs found his ship alone in enemy waters.  Shortly after getting under way, Briggs noticed activity on the north bank of the Coosaw River, at Chisolm Island.  This turned out to be Confederate field artillery which had moved up during the night with the aim of ambushing the Federal ships – four guns of the Beaufort (S.C.) Artillery and two guns of the Nelson Artillery, commanded by Captain Stephen Elliot of the Beaufort Artillery.  The Confederates, armed with 6- and 12-pdr field pieces, opened fire upon the Washington as she began to move with telling effect.  One of the first shells fired struck the stern, disabling the rudder.  Another hit the magazine, causing an explosion which dismounted one of the howitzers and started a fire.

Briggs recovered from the stun of the explosion to find his command in a hopeless situation.  He ordered the white flag run up to save his crew.  The Washington, while disabled and on fire, lay closest to the south banks of the river, which at the time was under Federal control.  Faced with the flames, the crew abandoned the ship and fled to the marshes.  From the Confederate perspective, of course, this appeared as a breach of protocol.  As such, the gunners on the north bank re-opened fire on the fleeing Federals.  Briggs ordered some of the badly wounded casualties cast off in one of the ships boat, which was later captured by the Confederates.  But the remainder of the surviving crew labored through the marsh to gain safety.

Brodhead, receiving word of action at Brickyard Point, made his way back to the site.  Along the way he assisted the steamer U.S.S. Planter in resisting a Confederate patrol.  Passing back into the Coosaw River he made preparations to assist the Washington, but found the vessel burned to the water line.  Some of the Washington‘s crew hailed from the shore, and after white flags broke out on all sides, the Hale recovered the remaining survivors including a number of wounded.  The Washington suffered two killed, ten wounded, and two missing.

When the Hale returned to port, Brodhead received scathing rebukes from General Rufus Saxton, commanding the District of Beaufort.   To which the Navy officer responded,

If Captain Briggs supposed that I would hazard my vessel by lying there until after sunrise, after having been aground from 1 till 11 p.m., long enough to get a dozen field batteries in position, his ideas of proper precaution differ from mine.  We passed within 10 feet of the Washington when we came off the shoal, and could be plainly seen (as we were) by her, getting underway in the morning.

A later court of inquiry by the Army found “…the destruction of the boat is chargable to the desertion by the Hale of her consort, and the surrender of the boat due to the culpable excitement and lack of presence of mind of Captain Briggs.”  The Navy, in a separate court, found “…that the conduct of Acting Lieutenant Edgar Brodhead, commanding the U.S.S. E.B. Hale, in connection with the loss of the army steamer George Washington, is irreproachable, and that no further military proceedings are necessary in the case.”

While the finger pointing continued at the Federal courts, the Confederates attempted to recover the captured guns.  Captain Elliot reported his men raised one 24-pdr howitzer, the bell, and an anchor.  But the howitzer was buried in the marsh due to Federal activity.  Elliot was not able to recover the pivot gun, which he described as a Parrott rifle.  He further stated the Federals had already recovered the other 24-pdr howitzer.  However, no federal records indicate such recovery.

I would propose, first, the pivot gun described by Captain Elliot was in fact an iron 12-pdr siege gun which was rifled and banded, presumably with the “James system.”  Such a weapon, when viewed in murky water, might be mistaken for a Parrott pending detailed examination.  And such would match Federal accounts indicating the presence of a James Rifle on the ship.

Second, that the howitzer dismounted by the magazine explosion ended up outside the ship’s wreckage.  When the Confederates did not find it, they assumed the Federals had made off with the weapon.  Years later, as Warren Ripley related in his book, a fisherman noticed the cannon, which was recovered.

I further wonder if the James rifle and the remaining 24-pdr sit along the Coosaw River, awaiting recovery.  Until such, only the 24-pdr at the Beaufort Arsenal serves as a reminder of the sinking of the George Washington.

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Aside from field notes and those linked above, I consulted the following sources in composing this article:

Report of Capt. Thomas B. Briggs, Third Rhode Island Artillery, April 9, 1863,  Army Official Records, Series I, Volume 53, Serial 111, pp. 4-5.

Report of Acting Lieutenant Brodhead, U.S. Navy, Commanding U.S.S. E.B. Hale, April 9, 1863, Navy Official Records, Series I, Volume 14, pp. 115-7.

Report of Capt. Stephen Elliot, Jr., Beaufort (S.C.) Artillery, April 14, 1863, Army Official Records, Series I, Volume 20, Serial 20, pp. 283-4.

Letter from Brigadier-General Saxton, U.S. Army, to Rear-Admiral Du Pont, U.S. Navy, transmitting opinion of a military court of enquiry, April 21, 1863, Navy Official Records, Series I, Volume 14, pp. 117-8.

Report of Rear-Admiral Du Pont, U.S. Navy, giving the finding of the court in the case of Acting Lieutenant Brodhead, U.S. Navy, June 2, 1863, Navy Official Records, Series I, Volume 14, pp. 120-1.

Guns of the CSS Georgia

I lamented the use of fuzzy 35mm photos to support the post regarding Confederate 24-pdr Howitzers earlier this month, in particular that of the 24-pdr Howitzer recovered from the CSS Georgia.    Well good friend and fellow marker hunter Mike Stroud, of Bluffton, South Carolina, made a trip to Fort Jackson, outside Savannah recently and offered a few photos.

Confederate 24-pdr Howitzer - Fort Jackson

Again, this weapon matches to an unmarked weapon reported on the CSS Georgia, produced by Savannah founder Alvin N. Miller.  The weapon is currently mounted on a naval-style truck carriage.   Mounted over the forward spar deck, the weapon was likely only useful for close quarters combat.

Trunnions of the Howitzer
Trunnions of the Howitzer

The howitzer’s form includes a step just in front of the trunnions.  Rather typical for the time period, the simple cylindrical rimbases connect the trunnions to the tube.

Muzzle of Howitzer
Muzzle of Howitzer

The muzzle shows signs of damage.

The CSS Georgia had a rather uneventful history.  Built with funding from the Ladies Gunboat Association, she was launched in May 1862.  On paper the CSS Georgia was a major component of the Savannah River Squadron.  The ship boasted the capability of ten guns – four on each broadside and one each for and aft.  In reality, the ironclad was underpowered and little more than a floating battery.  With railroad rail iron instead of the intended rolled iron plate, the ship was too heavy for its weak machinery.  As result, only four heavy guns, the 24-pdr seen here, and a 6-pdr were mounted.  First hand accounts indicated the ship was rather leaky with a low freeboard.  Little wonder, when scuttled on December 20, 1864, the CSS Georgia quickly disappeared into the Savannah River.

Corps of Engineer surveys documented the location of the wreck site as early as 1866.  Other than one attempted salvage in the 1860s, the wreck lay ignored, but marked, for over 100 years.  In 1979 an accurate survey of the site was completed.  Additional surveys in the 1980s and 2003 have mapped much of the ship’s remaining superstructure and debris field.   In addition to the 24-pdr, underwater archeologists have recovered one other cannon from the CSS Georgia – a 32-pdr Navy Gun, rifled and banded.

32-pdr Gun Rifled and Banded from the CSS Georgia

Note the breeching loop on the breech instead of the knob found on most field pieces.  The right side trunnion is badly battered.  But the left side bears the initials of the inspecting officer.

Inspector Initials - CWS

These correspond to Charles W. Skinner, Navy inspector who worked the position in 1852 (only) checking ordinance at Cyrus Alger of Boston, Bellona Foundry (Virginia), and Tredegar Foundry (Virginia).  Secondary sources state this weapon is registry number 714, produced in 1852 by Bellona.  It’s recorded weight was 58-2-00.  Well under the “hundred weight” system this is 6552 pounds (58 * 112 plus 2 * 28, with the zeros indicating no remainders).

Confederates took this particular piece in hand for rifling early in the war, adding a reinforcing band to compensate for the added pressures.

Muzzle of the 32-pdr

The bore of the 32-pdr shows just a hint of rifling.  Likely the lands and groves suffered corrosion due to 100 plus years in the brackish Savannah River.

In addition to the guns, divers have recovered ordnance and various fittings.  According to the surveys, three other guns lay in the river at the wreck site – a 6-pdr cannon, an VIII-inch Navy Shellgun, and another banded 32-pdr Rifle.  Any one of which would be interesting exhibits at the Fort if recovered.   The detailed sonar mappings of the wreck  indicate significant portions of the casemates lay in the mud also.  Perhaps one day the remains of the CSS Georgia can be raised and examined in more detail.

Again, thanks go out to Mike Stroud who contributed these photos.

Foreign 24-pdr Howitzers

The US Army adopted the 24-pdr caliber for howitzers in conformance with European conventions.   Therefore a look at how the class appeared on the other side of the pond is in order, in the first place to compare with contemporary US manufactured weapons in the class.  Furthermore, a few of these European weapons saw service in American hands during the war.

The Military Commission to Europe of 1855-56 indicated, in their survey of the artillery of European powers, the use of the 24-pdr field howitzer was much as with American practice – in mixed “foot artillery” batteries with 12-pdr field guns.  The European howitzers used bronze, as iron was found unsuitable for light field guns, much as it had in the US.  Some countries continued to use the short 24-pdr, particularly the Prussians, while others included long barrel types or a mix of the two.   And the commission placed much emphasis on French developments to replace the 8-pdr field gun and 24-pdr field howitzer with a single 12-pdr light field gun (which of course lead to the American adoption of the 12-pdr light field gun we came to know as the Napoleon).   The officers noted that several European powers were following the French with regard to the light 12-pdr gun.

For heavier siege operations, officers noted the 24-pdr siege gun was the smallest caliber considered useful, based on experience in Crimea.  However, while the officers listed 24-pdr mortars in the siege artillery park in that war, apparently the 24-pdr howitzer was far too light for the siege.  Thus European experience with the 24-pdr howitzers was not much different from that in North America – too heavy for the field and too light for siege.

In the Ordnance Manuals, Army officers provided some particulars of foreign weapons for comparison and familiarization.  The chart below synthesizes the particulars provided from the Ordnance Manuals of 1850 and 1862.

foreign 24pdr

The annotation 7-pdr is not an error, but reflection of a different scale used by the Prussian, Austrian, and German principalities.  The Army manuals list the Navy’s Boat Howitzer for comparison.  The standard US Army pieces, listed at the bottom, were among the heavier in the caliber.  The American field piece matched well to the English 24-pdr, French 15 cm., Swedish Iron 24-pdr and the long Belgian 15 cm.  The only piece similar to the US flank howitzer was the British 5.5-inch iron siege howitzer.  Unfortunately, the US Army Ordnance Manuals fail to mention the range of these foreign pieces, which would make for an interesting comparison of technology across the different armies.  Readers should note the variation in bore size and windage allowed.  Batteries of mixed nationality presented logistical issues.

Relative to the number of weapons involved, few cannon of foreign manufacture saw active service during the Civil War.  Of course the most widely known types were rifled guns of British origin.  Numbers of “trophies” or otherwise obsolete weapons existed in the United States at the onset of the war.  Given the presence of weapons in the 24-pdr howitzer class of Spanish, French, English, and even Viennese manufacture today in the national parks, museums, and other exhibits, logically a few of these were accessible during the war.  But to my knowledge none of these were utilized by the combatants during the war.

British 5.5-inch Howitzer Washington Navy Yard

However, the Confederates did make use of imported Austrian 24-pdr howitzers.  In the Ordnance Manual, General Josiah Gorgas mentioned a batch of field pieces imported from Austria, in particular seven 24-pdr howitzers.  He pointed out the bore of these European weapons was 5.87 inches, adding unwanted windage when using standard Confederate (and Federal) shells which were 5.68 inches in diameter by regulation.  Thus with a 0.19 inch windage, Gorgas directed gunners wrap standard ammunition in canvas bags to mitigate the gap.

Two 24-pdr Austrian Field Howitzers represent the Madison (La.) Light Artillery (Moody’s Battery) at Gettysburg, along Confederate Avenue, and are well known to many readers (see Gettysburg Daily article here).

24-pdr Austrian Howitzers - Moody's Battery - Gettysburg
24-pdr Austrian Howitzers - Moody's Battery - Gettysburg

The Austrian howitzers have semi-circular “dauphins” or handles, with a circle cross-section. These howitzers are a bit over 59 inches long with a 5.87 inch bore diameter.

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Left Side Base Ring Markings

Left side of the base ring reads “Nro. 35  665 lb” indicating an identification number and weight.  The other piece reads “Nro. 15 652 lb.”  Note the Austrian howitzers have a recessed area over the breech, much like the American pattern.

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Right Side Base Ring Markings

On the right No. 35 displays “Wien 1859.” The other piece differs with the year 1858.  On the breech face, both display the markings “7 H  6 B // S” – annotations which I cannot decipher.

Clearly, these two pieces are not the “7-pdr howitzers” mentioned in the Ordnance Manuals, which were 34 inches long.  Rather, given the dates of manufacture, these were likely part of a new system of artillery introduced after the Military Commission’s trip.  Yet at 59 inches long, and only 665 pounds, the Austrian bronze howitzer were significantly smaller and lighter than the regulation US 24-pdrs.

While it is nice to speculate these two pieces were with Moody’s Battery at Gettysburg, two points work against this.  The shorter bores and the additional windage while using standard sized shells reduced both range and accuracy.  As such, its hard to believe Edward P. Alexander might have consider these his “favorite guns” and boasted of their performance.

Secondly, many Austrian 24-pdr Howitzers were used within the chain of fortifications defending the approaches to the Charleston, South Carolina.  The first mention came in November 1862 with the issue of two 24-pdr Austrian Howitzers to a battery on James Island (OR, Series I, Vol. 14, Serial 20, p. 685).  Later in September 1863, General P.G.T. Beauregard summarized the Charleston defenses suggesting three of these howitzers be held at Fort Johnson in reserve, but ready for movement opposing Federal advances.  In the same enclosure, the General indicates three other Austrian howitzers armed batteries on James Island (OR, Series I, Vol. 28, Serial 47, p. 362).  Apparently, additional shipments of Austrian Artillery arrived in 1863, adding more 24-pdrs to those seven mentioned by Gorgas.  In October 1863 another report on the defenses of Charleston indicated thirteen of the type in use in the James Island batteries (OR, Series I, Vol. 28, Serial 47, p. 407).   As late as January 1865, tallies of the weapons in use at Charleston indicated at least eleven Austrian howitzers still in the batteries (OR, Series I, Vol. 47, Serial 99, p. 1026).   Given those reports and the limited number of these weapons imported, likely the two howitzers pointed today at the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg were overlooking the marshes of South Carolina in 1863.

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Austrian 24-pdr Howitzer at Gettysburg

In summary, at least thirteen 24-pdr Field Howitzers imported from Austria served the Confederacy in the Civil War, mostly in the Charleston defenses.  While the Austrian types were smaller and lighter than contemporary US models, other European types were comparable to the American howitzers.   But as in the American Army, the 24-pdr caliber howitzer faded in importance after the 1850s.

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Aside from on site notes, inline citations, and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.