Category Archives: Blakely

150 Years Ago: An inspection of the batteries on Sullivan’s Island

One aspect of the operations of Charleston that I like to present is the evolution of fortifications around the harbor (Federal and Confederate).  In my opinion, one should study such to appreciate the tactical aspects. Many authors will write on the subject as if a “battery” or “fort” was static and unchanged through the war, and thus representing a generic “unit” of force.  However, I would offer the level of detail offered in reports and correspondence during the war indicate the participants saw no small importance in the evolution of those defenses.  In other words, if the participants in 1864 thought it important to mention the different caliber of weapons, then 150 years later we should lend that aspect some manner of interpretation.

In the case of Sullivan’s Island, one can easily trace the evolution of the works from the very first days of the war, through improvements prior to the Ironclad Attack on Fort Sumter, changes after the fall of Morris Island, and all the way up to the fall of Charleston in 1864.  A report posted by Major George Upshur Mayo on March 29, 1864 provides one of several “snapshots” describing the works on Sullivan’s Island on that time line.  The entire report, including endorsements, is close to 3,000 words with three pages of tables, including a count of all munitions (the report appears in the ORs, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 383-6).  For brevity, allow me to present portions of the main report with additional annotations where needed.  And for reference, these are the works in review:


Starting from the western-most battery:

Battery Bee, upon the western extremity, is not yet quite completed, though a number of laborers are engaged upon it. Its armament is in an effective condition, the guns all working well and protected by merlons. The magazines are dry and kept with neatness. The ammunition in them, as far as could be judged without examining each cartridge, is in good order; the implements new. There are three chambers which have no cannon, which, I presume, will be furnished when necessity or opportunity requires.

Mayo indicated Battery Bee included one 11-inch Dahlgren (salvaged from the USS Keokuk), four 10-inch columbiads, one 10-inch rifled columbiad, and one 8-inch columbiad. In the magazines were 241 11-inch shot, 97 11-inch shell, 671 10-inch shot, 435 10-inch shell, 50 10-inch grapeshot, 25 10-inch canister, 45 10-inch (rifled) bolts, 6 10-inch rifled shells, 338 8-inch shot, 134 8-inch shells, 30 8-inch canister, 124 11-inch cartridges, 626 10-inch cartridges, 180 8-inch cartridges, 2,496 pounds of common powder, 1,587 friction tubes, and 985 paper fuses.  Interesting, though, Mayo rated Battery Bee as incomplete even at this late date with open gun positions.

On to the next battery in the line:

Battery Marion, connected with Battery Bee, is neatly policed. The platform for the 7-inch Brooke gun has settled from its true position; the parapets in one or two places have a disposition to slide on account of the shifting character of the sand. Dampness begins to ooze through one place in the passage, not as yet sufficient to affect the ammunition, which is in good order.

Colonel [William] Butler complains of a defect in the powder sent from the naval ordnance bureau with or for the Brooke gun, saying experience has proven it to be defective in strength. To the eye it appears good; analysis can only disclose the reported defect. The same officer requests that efforts be made to procure for the guns in his command a small quantity of bar steel to repair the eccentrics of the columbiad carriages, which repairs, when necessary, can be made at the island. The battery is connected with Fort Moultrie by a sally-port.

Mayo tallied Battery Marion’s armament as three 10-inch columbiads, one 8-inch columbiad, and five 10-inch seacoast mortars; but he didn’t count the triple-banded 7-inch Brooke which was not mounted at that time.  In the magazines were 318 10-inch shot, 261 10-inch shells, 23 10-inch canister, 256 10-inch mortar shells, 125 7-inch rifle shells, 522 7-inch bolts, 16 7-inch hollow shot, 252 10-inch cartridges, 201 8-inch cartridges, 207 7-inch cartridges, 8,800 pounds of powder, 1,900 friction primers, and 600 paper fuses.

Mayo gave only a brief report on Fort Moultrie:

Fort Moultrie, next in order upon the island, has now no quarters inside, which gives a good parade within its walls. It is well protected by a system of traverses and the guns in effective condition. The magazine is in good order and neatly kept. In the rear of the fort are a number of broken canister, which might be removed for renewal to Charleston. The ammunition in good order.

The fort’s armament at that time consisted of four 10-inch columbiads, two 8-inch rifled columbiads, one 32-pdr banded and rifled, two 24-pdr smoothbore guns, and one 10-inch seacoast mortar.  Munitions in the fort included 660 10-inch shot, 269 10-inch shells, 36 10-inch canister, 33 10-inch spherical case, 90 8-inch shot, 53 8-inch shells, 190 8-inch rifled bolts, 274 32-pdr shells, 120 32-pdr rifled bolts, 553 24-pdr shot, 83 24-pdr grapeshot, 89 24-pdr canister, 450 10-inch cartridges, 255 8-inch cartridges, 485 32-pdr cartridges, 168 24-pdr cartridges, 18,275 pounds of common powder, 130 pounds of rifle powder, and 4,510 friction tubes.

Continuing, Mayo reached Battery Rutledge:

Battery Rutledge in good order, with its ammunition dry and well cared for. The batteries from Bee to this one constitute one continuous parapet, well protected with traverses and spacious, well arranged bomb-proofs, and in some instances with amputating rooms for the medical bureau; these of course were not visited.

Battery Rutledge contained three 10-inch columbiads, one 10-inch columbiad rifle, and three 10-inch seacoast mortars.  The magazines contained 396 10-inch shot, 125 10-inch shell, 7 10-inch grapeshot, 26 10-inch canister, 11 10-inch caseshot, 58 10-inch rifled bolts, 22 10-inch rifled shells, 40 10-inch mortar shells, 126 6-pdr canister (fixed), 29 6-pdr (fixed) shot, 236 10-inch cartridges, 4,000 pounds of common powder, and 2,300 pounds of damaged powder.

Mayo did not include a narrative assessment of Fort Beauregard, but listed the armament as one 10-inch columbiad, one 8-inch rifled and banded columbiad, one 8-inch smoothbore columbiad, two 32-pdr banded and rifled guns, one 32-pdr smoothbore gun, two 24-pdr smoothbore guns, and three 8-inch seacoast howitzers.  In Fort Beauregard’s magazine were 106 10-inch shot, 3 10-inch canister, 416 8-inch shot, 111 8-inch shell, 79 8-inch grapeshot, 113 8-inch canister, 169 8-inch shell, 69 8-inch rifled bolts, 101 32-pdr shot, 12 32-pdr shells, 80 32-pdr grapeshot, 69 32-pdr canister, 166 32-pdr rifled bolts, 7 32-pdr conical rifled shot, 156 32-pdr rifled shells, 229 24-pdr shot, 156 24-pdr grapeshot, 2 24-pdr conical smoothbore shell, 130 24-pdr canister, 749 unfixed cartridges of various sizes,  1,800 pounds of common powder, 1,150 pounds of “Rodman” powder (presumably “Mammoth” powder), 200 pounds of damaged powder, and 1,529 friction tubes.

Mayo turned next to the four numbered, and unnamed, batteries between Forts Beauregard and Marshall.

Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4, two-gun batteries extending along the south beach at an average distance of about 500 yards apart, covering the space between Forts Beauregard and Marshall and intended seemingly as a protection against boat assaults, are small open works with no traverses. There being no magazine in this cordon of works, the ammunition is kept in chests, exposed to the weather. Some of the chests need repairs and tarpaulins as a protection.

Mayo suggested improvements to the parapet of No. 1; mentioned a carriage in No. 3 that required repair; and damages to the parapet of No. 4. Mayo also suggested these works needed iron traverse circles to replace wood circles then in place.  Colonel Ambrosio Gonzales overruled, saying the 24-pdr guns should be mounted on siege carriages to allow redeployment where needed on the island.  Mayo noted the “disparity” in the ammunition for each of these batteries:

  • No. 1:  Two 32-pdr smoothbore guns, 104 32-pdr shot, 15 32-pdr shells, 77 32-pdr grapeshot, 78 32-pdr canister, 93 32-pdr cartridges, and 176 friction tubes.
  • No. 2: two 24-pdr smoothbores, 84 24-pdr shot, 100 24-pdr grape, 32 24-pdr canister, 69 24-pdr cartridges, 140 friction tubes, and 5 signal rockets.
  • No. 3: Two 32-pdr smoothbores, 34 32-pdr shot, 9 32-pdr shells, 48 32-pdr grape, 50 32-pdr canister, 46 32-pdr cartridges, and 49 friction tubes.
  • No. 4: Two 24-pdr smootbores, 88 24-pdr shot, 14 24-pdr shells, 111 24-pdr grape, 99 24-pdr canister, 29 24-pdr cartridges, and 41 friction tubes.

The last work on the line inspected by Mayo was Fort (or Battery) Marshall, at Breach Inlet:

Battery Marshall, at Beach Inlet, is as yet in an incomplete condition, though the guns are all in working order. A large bomb-proof, in addition to those already complete, has been commenced, upon which a force is now at work. One of the 12-pounders has wheels of different sizes, and in another the cheeks of the carriage are not upon a level. These two defects in these two carriages should be remedied. The magazines are in good order, and dry, as well as the ammunition, but roaches, by which they are infested, cut the cartridge-bags. It would therefore be as well to keep the powder in the boxes and barrels until a necessity arises for use, so that the bags may be preserved. I noticed the passage-way to one of the magazines much encumbered with shell. A room constructed for such projectiles is decidedly to be preferred.

Fort Marshall, at this time, included one 8-inch columbiad, one 8-inch shell gun, one 7-inch Brooke rifle, one 32-pdr rifle, two 12-pdr rifled guns, two 12-pdr smoothbores, one 4-inch Blakely on naval carriage, and three 8-inch seacoast howitzers.  The magazines, improper as they were, contained 95 8-inch shot, 225 8-inch shell, 71 8-inch grapeshot, 90 8-inch canister, 156 7-inch conical rifled bolts, 19 32-pdr shells, 12 32-pdr grapeshot, 16 32-pdr canister, 32 32-pdr rifled shot, 100 32-pdr rifled shells, 292 12-pdr shot, 124 12-pdr grapeshot, 124 12-pdr canister, 25 12-pdr conical rifled shot, 62 12-pdr conical rifled shells, 32 4-inch Blakely shells, 28 4-inch Blakely grapeshot, 21 4-inch Blakely canister,  866 cartridges of various sizes, 2,800 pounds of common powder, 500 friction tubes, 35 paper fuses, 190 Girardey fuses, and 92 McAvoy igniters.

Mayo went on to discuss Batteries Gary, Kinloch and Palmetto on the mainland. But to serve brevity in a post already beyond my preferred word count, I will save those for later.

Mayo expressed concerns about unmounted and unassigned guns on the island.  “A 32-pounder banded rifle not mounted is laying upon the beach,” he noted.  He also mentioned several 6-pdr field pieces not under any direct control of the battery commanders.  In general, Mayo felt the guns needed “lacquer and paint” to improve appearances and protect against the elements.  Lastly, he noted the presence of bedding in the magazines, but left that matter to the discretion of local commanders.

I plan, as part of my documentation of each individual work, to examine these batteries in detail.  So please check back for follow up posts in regard to specific arrangements in each fortification.

Big guns for Beauregard: Blakely 12.75-inch Rifles

Busy of late, I neglected an interesting sesquicentennial. The journal kept at Headquarters, Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida offered this section among several paragraphs recording activity on September 11, 1863:

The large Blakely gun just mounted at Battery Ramsay was fired to-day at 1 p.m., with a charge of 40 pounds weight of powder, sabot and shell of 425 pounds weight, and 2° elevation. At the first discharge the gun burst, splitting open in eight places in rear of the first reinforce band.

This gun was one of two which had recently arrived from England. The pair were the largest weapons in the Confederacy, and were considered the best guns to counter the Federal monitors. But with one pull of the lanyard, those weapons looked feeble and weak.

The story of these massive guns began with British artillery designer Captain Alexander Blakely and Confederate purchasing agent Captain Caleb Huse. In 1862, Huse ordered the largest rifled guns Blakely could make, specified for use in the seacoast defenses of the Confederacy. At the cost of £10,000 each, Blakely instructed the Gorge Forrester & Company’s Vauxhall Foundry in Liverpool to turn out two guns. The guns had a bore of 12.75-inch, sometimes identified as 13-inch. The guns also went by the projectile weight – 900-, 700-, 600-, or 650-pounder, depending on which sized shot was used. I’ll use the designation of 12.75-inch which seems most practical and realistic.

In his Treatise on Ordnance and Armor, published in 1865, Alexander Lyman Holley provided some particulars of the guns, along with a plan of construction:


The gun was 16 feet long with a composite construction. The use of cast iron here was due to a shortage of steel, which Blakely preferred. Writing about it in the Southern Historical Papers, Confederate Ordnance Chief Josiah Gorgas described the guns:

These guns were built up of a wrought iron cylinder, closed at the breech with a brass-screw plug, some thirty-inch long and chambered to seven inches. This cylinder had three successive jackets, each shorter than its predecessor, so that from muzzle to breech the thickness of the gun increased by steps of about three and a-half inches. The object of the seven-inch chamber in the brass plug was to afford an air or gas space which would diminish the strain of the gun.

In addition, a set of steel hoops over the breech further strengthened the gun. The bore of the gun was 12 feet 7.5 inches long. The maximum diameter was 51 inches over the steel hoops. Overall this gun weighed 50,000 pounds. The wrought iron carriages weighed another 58,000 pounds.

The guns shipped from England in the summer of 1863. In mid-August, the guns arrived on the blockade runner Gibraltar (formerly the CSS Sumter) at Wilmington, North Carolina. Immediately, General P.G.T. Beauregard used all pressure he could muster to have the guns added to Charleston’s defenses – Even to the point of noting the guns were property of John Fraser & Company, with a Charleston interest. Finally, at the direction of Secretary of War James Seddon, the guns went to Charleston starting the last week of August.

When the first gun arrived, it went to Battery Ramsay in a position to cover the inner harbor should the ironclads rush past Fort Sumter. Of course, with all the fanfare and newspaper accounts, the Federals soon learned of this new weapon and noted it in reports.

The problem facing the gunners of this massive Blakely was not a shortage of ammunition, as some 70 tons of special projectiles arrived on the Gibraltar. Instead, they needed a manual. To load the gun, the crew had to man-handle the 650 pound bolts, nearly two feet long, into the muzzle. The projectiles were flanged to fit into groves in the bore. Once in the muzzle, the crew had to delicately push the projectile down the bore without it seizing in the rifling.

And, the crew didn’t know the purpose of the bronze chamber. At direction of Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley, the gunners loaded powder bags into the bronze air chamber completing the 40 pound charge. When they fired the gun, the bronze gave way and allowed the cracks mentioned in the report above. Not only was the gun damaged, but Beauregard suffered considerable embarrassment.

Fortunately, James Eason & Company were able to patch the gun by adding a massive breech block over the cracked cast iron. It eventually went back to Frazier’s Wharf Battery. The second gun was then subjected to detailed and well observed test before it went into place at the White Point Battery. There it caught the attention of painter Conrad Wise Chapman (see far left):


In that position, the Blakely shared a post with one of the guns recovered from the USS Keokuk. Captain John Johnson, comparing the two weapons, did not like the British guns due to the “inferiority of their projectiles.” He added, “These generally failed to take the grooves and would tumble like nail-kegs, without ever attaining their proper range.” Some of the fault lay with the nature of locally produced projectiles that lacked the high tolerances intended for the guns.

Skipping ahead in the Charleston timeline a bit, these two massive Blakelys were still there when the city was abandoned. Not willing to give up those prizes to the Federals, the Confederates blew up both guns.

Some pieces of the guns appear in photos of Charleston Arsenal after the fall of the city.

If you look close, you can read the chalked or painted legend:


“Piece of 600 lbs “Blakeley” [sic].

To the left is hoop, where the misspelling of Blakely continued – “Blakeley Gun” band.


Not clear if that was one of the original steel hoops or something added later with James Eason’s repairs. Oh, and there are all those infernal torpedoes laying about!

Back to the main pile of ordnance, there is a collection of projectiles with “Blakeley” all over them.


No mistaking those flanges. The two closest are flat top bolts. The two behind are shells, but with the flanges somewhat obscured. There appears to be a 6-pdr projectile balanced on top of the closest shell, for comparison. A set of these massive Blakely projectiles (one bolt and one shell) were once on display at the Washington Navy Yard but are now in storage.

Further back behind the layout of projectiles and torpedoes is this hunk of iron:


“Breech of the ‘Blakeley’ Gun Charleston S.C.” That is the breech patch fixed on the damaged gun by James Eason & Company. The section is today part of the West Point trophy collection, along with a section of the gun’s chase.

Another portion, of the second, undamaged, gun remains in Charleston. It remains where the explosion which broke the gun deposited it – in the attic of the Robert William Roper House at 9 East Battery Street. Imagine having a Civil War artifact weighing a couple of tons upstairs.

Richard, the Widow, and some other cannon: Named guns at Vicksburg

A few days back, I posted about Widow Blakely, a 7.5-inch rifled gun imported from England and used by the Confederates in defense of Vicksburg.  I originally used this photo to illustrate the post:

Whistling Dick, ca. 1863

The photo is often captioned as “Whistling Dick” of Vicksburg fame, which it is not.  However, as reader D. Dickens pointed out, it is not the “Widow Blakely” either!  A mistake which I should have avoided simply by referring back to my original notes on this photo!

Alas, having found myself spinning even more confusion into what is already a confusing story, I pulled the image out of the post – I’d already seen where my miss-identification was carried onto another forum.  That said, I need to clear this up!

The gun in the photo, which you see reproduced often, is a 32-pdr Navy Gun.  The same gun appears in other wartime photos:


Here, from my archive of 35mm photos, is a similar gun posted outside the Vicksburg visitor center (in the 1990s, however the gun was on a siege carriage at some point):


Banded and Rifled 32-pdr with trimmed muzzle at Vicksburg

Notice the loop cascabel, rear sight arrangement, band extending back to the rear sight, the front sight block over the trunnions, and the truncated muzzle.  This gun has marks indicating proofing in 1849.

In Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, Historian Warren Ripley noted this particular gun came to the park from a Vicksburg cemetery which it had guarded since at least 1874.  Although provenance is not always enough to establish fact, three tons is a lot to move about.  I’ve never researched the full history of the gun, but believe there’s enough similarities between the wartime photos and the gun located at Vicksburg today to apply a “very likely” tag here.

There are several “sisters” to this gun, which I shall christen “Miss Identified.”  One sister is at Fort Branch, North Carolina:

NC 28 Jul 12 130

Banded and Rifled 32-pdr at Fort Branch

Another “sister” is at the Washington Navy Yard:

WNY 10 Apr 10 310

32-pdr Navy Gun of 57cwt, Banded and Rifled, from CSS Teaser

That particular gun was captured by the US Navy on board the CSS Teaser in July 1862.  And that 32-pdr is right next to the Widow Blakely’s sister…

WashNY 21 July 272

7.5-inch Blakely at the Navy Yard

…affording me a rather nice segue!

Widow Blakely Vicksburg

Widow Blakely at Vicksburg

We can say the bands on the Widow Blakely and “Miss Identify” are of two different types of construction.  The Blakely’s were done in England of course.  The 32-pdr bands were done by the Confederacy, likely Tredegar in all three cases.  In fact, there’s good reason to believe the 32-pdrs were among those guns captured at Gosport Navy Yard in April 1861.

But the muzzle of the two guns – Blakely and “Miss Identify” – which are similar enough to fool even this old cannon hunter.  Both have a few feet trimmed off to include the muzzle swell.  Because both guns were damaged at Vicksburg (or at least in the vicinity of Vicksburg), very likely the work was done by a local vendor.  If so, the odds on favorite is A.M. Paxton & Company.   I’ve mentioned that firm in connection with finishing done on Quinby & Robinson guns.  While the firm of A.B. Reading and Brothers sent most of their machinery to Georgia well before the siege of Vicksburg, Paxton apparently retained enough for work supporting the besieged garrison.

Page 80

That’s $2,000 for “Foundry work” through July 4, 1863.  Paxton’s account was not completely settled, even a year later.

I think we can establish, with little doubt, that Widow Blakely and “Miss Identify” were at Vicksburg at the time of the garrison’s surrender.  And the two guns, with only slight hesitation in regard to the 32-pdr, are at Vicksburg today.  But what about “Richard”… I mean Whistling Dick?

First, let us agree beyond a shadow of a doubt, the wartime photos captioned “Whistling Dick” are indeed NOT that famous gun.  The similarities between the gun in the photos and the surviving 32-pdar are far too close.  And we can rule out “Richard” being a 32-pdr.  In his official report of the siege, Major Samuel Lockett gave a very precise identification of the type of gun (emphasis added):

On the 29th, the usual repairs and improvements continued along the whole line: a new battery made in rear of the line left of Hall’s Ferry road; the new battery in rear of General Lee improved, and “Whistling Dick” (an 18-pounder rifled piece) put in position, and a new battery started in rear of General Moore’s center, but the working party was driven off by the enemy’s sharpshooters, and the work stopped.

While not attributing a name to the piece, Colonel Edward Higgins report indicates only one rifled 18-pdr was in the Vicksburg siege lines. That 18-pdr was temporarily disabled on May 22, at the same time the Widow Blakely suffered its burst muzzle (go figure!).  The 18-pdr was repaired and, as Lockett indicated, sent from the water batteries to reinforce the siege lines on May 28, 1863.

Do we have photos of Whistling Dick?  Not that I know of.  Lack of a post-surrender photo would lend credence to a Confederate veteran’s 1900 account.  Alfred Leach claimed the gun was dumped in the Mississippi the night before the official surrender.  Why, with over a hundred other guns in the lines, this particular gun was dumped, I cannot say.

Alternatively, I would offer that, as with so many other weapons captured at Vicksburg, the rifled 18-pdr might have remained in the city.  Federals later used the 10-inch columbiads, 32-pdr smoothbores, and other smaller pieces in the city garrison lines.  However weapons requiring non-standard projectiles – such as the Widow Blakely, Whistling Dick, and “Miss Identify” – were shunted to the side. The Widow went to West Point, was incorrectly cited as Whistling Dick, until corrected in the 1950s.  “Miss Identify,” as mentioned above, probably stayed in Vicksburg guarding a cemetery until relocated to the park in the 1960s.  But “Richard” is lost to the ages.  A famous gun, and a rare 18-pdr siege gun at that (only one cataloged survivor of the type today), discarded without a trace.

So there you have it.  My penance for an earlier mistake with the wartime photo.  Let us remove the confusion about Whistling Dick, Widow Blakely, and that “other” gun.

Sources:  See Ripley, Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War (Forth Edition), pages 30-32. Ripley cited Edwin Bearss, “The Vicksburg River Defenses and the Enigma of Whistling Dick” from The Journal of Mississippi History, Vol. XIX, No. 1, January 1957, page 21. 

Imported seacoast rifles from England: Introducing the Widow Blakely and her sister

UPDATE: I’ve revised this post to remove a wartime photo hastily added which I identified as the Widow Blakely. Such was not the case.  Please see my follow up post for the details about the guns in question.

Most cannon serve somewhat anonymously, maybe at best with an officer recording a registry number or weight. But on occasion a weapon appears with a very distinctive name. Typically, those named guns have a story to tell. That’s the case with this particular gun.

The “Widow Blakely” was one of several “named guns” in the Vicksburg defenses. The name derived from that particular weapon being the only Blakely cannon in the Vicksburg siege lines. Colonel Edward Higgins cited the gun as a “7.44-inch Blakely Gun” in his report of the siege.

The Widow Blakely’s origin parallels the heavy caliber James rifles and other similar conversions. In 1860, British Captain Theophilus Alexander Blakely patented a system to modify old smoothbore guns into rifles, with a breech band added for strength. The conversion required the breech moldings turned down, to allow a breech band slipped over to reenforce the critical section of the gun. The bore was also enlarged and rifled to complete the conversion. On the surface, the system was not much different than similar conversions made in America. One major difference, which may have been more semantics, was Blakely’s use of a steel band (the term “steel” being used to describe several variations of metal composition during the Civil War).

In 1861, Confederate agents in England secured some of these Blakely conversions. Several variations in caliber appear among the records and surviving weapons. But concentrating for now on the Widow Blakely, the firm of Fawcett, Preston & Company secured British naval 42-pdr, of 57 cwt, smoothbore guns from Low Moor Iron Company. And it is important to note, these were likely not Royal Navy guns, but rather pattern guns produced by Low Moor and seconded for conversion.

The 42-pdrs started out with a 7-inch bore. The conversion reamed out an additional half inch with the rifling process. For some reason, which is not entirely clear, Confederate records cite the weapons as 7.44-inch. The guns were 124 inches in overall length, including a breeching loop.

Most likely the gun that became the Widow Blakely arrived in Savannah via the blockade runner Bermuda in September 1861. However a very similar gun was also purchased by the state of Virginia and used in the state’s defenses along the Potomac River. It was captured the following spring by Federal forces, and is today part of the Washington Navy Yard trophy collection.

WNY 10 Apr 10 295

7.5-inch Blakely at Washington Navy Yard

The gun bears the trunnion stamp of Low Moor.

WNY 10 Apr 10 297

Low Moor Trunnion Stamp

The breech reinforcement was built up with three separate rings.

WNY 10 Apr 10 296

Breech Band on 7.5-inch Blakely

The muzzle betrays the gun’s origin as an old smoothbore design.

WNY 10 Apr 10 299

Muzzle of 7.5-inch Blakely

The rifling, which still stands out clearly, was a triangular 12 groove.

WNY 10 Apr 10 300

Rifling of 7.5-inch Blakely

Do be mindful of those renting space there at the top groove.

This is what the Widow Blakely originally looked like, more or less.

WashNY 21 July 272

7.5-inch Blakely at the Navy Yard

But, as mentioned above, the Widow Blakely suffered a mishap. A premature shell explosion damaged the muzzle. With heavy ordnance in short supply, the Vicksburg defenders cut the muzzle back a couple feet to repair the gun. There’s reference to its use as a mortar, although I’d say the employment was much closer to that of the columbiads.

The Widow is still there at Vicksburg, having spent some time at West Point’s trophy yard.

Widow Blakely Vicksburg

Widow Blakely at Vicksburg

From the trunnions back, the Widow matches well to her “sister” gun at the Washington Navy Yard.

150 years ago: Rifled guns defending Charleston

Recently I mentioned Confederate efforts to arm and equip the batteries defending Charleston, South Carolina in the winter of 1862-3. On this day (January 23) in 1863, Colonel Ambrosio J. Gonzales, Chief of Artillery and Ordnance for General P.G.T. Beauregard’s department, filed a report detailing the rifled guns in South Carolina and the ammunition available for those guns.

The report included a table similar to this one, with the title “Approximate statement of rifled guns in South Carolina”:


In the remarks section below the table, Gonzales explained the disposition of a handful of other weapons in the department:

Besides the within rifled guns there are in Georgetown, S.C.. two 12-pounder banded rifled guns, received from Richmond and two 6-pounder rifled Blakely guns.

In Georgia there are one 32-pounder rifled, one 30 pounder Parrott, two 24-pounder Blakely and a few field 6-pounders. There are in Florida, as far as is known, a few 3-inch rifled guns.

Thus all told, Gonzales tallied over seventy guns. Almost half of the total were field gun caliber weapons. Those were of little use against the Federal fleet, which was seen as the most dangerous threat. Indeed, none of these guns were larger than 7-inch caliber (42-pdr).

Ft Sumter 3 May 2010 312

42-pdr Seacoast Gun, Banded and Rifled, at Fort Sumter

Even more troubling for Gonzales was the lack of projectiles for the guns. From the totals offered in the table, the guns had an average of forty rounds each. Fine if you are an infantryman planning to skirmish for an hour or so. But not enough for a fortification defending the entrance to one of the Confederacy’s major seaports. Gonzales, and his commander, desired nearly four times that amount to defend the southern coasts:

Colonel Gorgas is most earnestly requested to provide the promised 150 rounds per each of the above guns, and above all to send the projectiles for the 12 pounder and 6-pounder bronze, the 20-pounder Parrott, the ammunition for which was not sent with the guns from Richmond, although packed and addressed in the presence of Major Alston, and the 3.67 caliber guns.

Recall that earlier in the month, Colonel Joshia Gorgas agreed to supply projectiles. But at the same time he’d cautioned against converting too many smoothbores to rifles, due to limited projectile supplies.

Gonzales’ report references several less common artillery types. Mentioned are imported Whitworths and Blakelys. Perhaps the “weaker” Parrotts were of Confederate manufacture. Although I would point out the lone rifled 18-pdr gun reported in September 1862 does not appear on Gonzales’ list.

But the “12-pounder old English siege (rifled)” ?

Charleston 4 May 10 181

12-pdr English Gun at Charleston’s Old Powder Magazine

At least one of those is still in Charleston – banded and rifled. This artifact, cast during the reign of King George II, is among the oldest cannon used in the Civil War. And certainly the oldest weapon taken in hand for modification. That, I say, is deserving of a separate post!

(Gonzales’ report and citations are taken from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 754-5.)

Heavy Rifles from a Blockade Runner: 4.5-inch Blakelys

The blockade Runner Fingal entered the Savannah River estuary on the foggy morning of November 12, 1861.  On board were 14,000 Enfield rifles, a million cartridges, two million percussion caps, 3,000 cavalry sabers, thousands of other small arms, 400 barrels of cannon powder, along with uniforms, medical equipment, and other miscellaneous supplies for the Confederate cause.  Also on board, and mounted to defend the ship, where a pair of 2 ½ breech loading guns and a pair of 4 ½ heavy rifled guns.  When the ship arrived in Savannah, Georgia, the take was a boost to Confederate war efforts.

While Confederate authorities distributed most of the items to distant beleaguered fronts, these heavy rifles went back down the Savannah River to Fort Pulaski.  And they are still there today.

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4.5-inch Blakely Rifle No. 43

These rifles are indeed rare types.  The rounded breech has a squared bladed-type cascabel, pierced for a breeching loop.  To the rear of the hole is a removable block, long since fixed for display purposes.

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Breech Profile of 4.5-inch Blakely

But more distinctive is the exterior – very much “Blakely.”  Aside from the sharp taper just in front of the trunnions, this gun and its mate have a reinforcing steel “hoop” around the breech.

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4.5-inch Blakely No. 41

Captain Theophilus Alexander Blakely received several patents for his guns (and projectiles).  In this case we see the built-up area over the breech.  Unlike the Parrott band, the hoop extended further forward towards the trunnions.  The hoop also blended into the profile of the breech.  If you look very close to the breech face of the gun, you’ll see a slight line where the hoop meets the gun.

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Rear view of 4.5-Inch Rifle number 41

The 4.5-inch rifle has seven groove, right-hand twist rifling.

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Bore of Blakely 4.5-inch Rifle

The lands and grooves are flat, compared to some other surviving Blakelys which have “saw tooth” rifling.

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Muzzle of 4.5-inch Blakely

Markings provide the some history of the gun.  Under “Blakely’s Patent” is the foundry number, in this case 41.

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Markings on 4.5-inch Rifle No. 41

Below that is the name of the manufacturer – Fawcett, Preston & Company, Liverpool, England, who made both numbers 41 and 43 in 1861.

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Markings on No. 43

Plaques over the breech provide more history.

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Brass Plaques on No. 43

The bronze plaque confirms the gun served in the Confederate defenses of Fort Pulaski.  After capture by Federals in April 1862, the gun became a trophy.  Actually West Point trophy number 153 in this case.  After the creation of Fort Pulaski National Monument, the gun came back to Fort Pulaski.

These guns fired a 21 to 24 pound projectile.  I’ve not seen range figures for these guns, but presume similar performance to Parrott 30-pdrs or 4.5-inch Ordnance Rifles.  While the brass plaque calls these “siege guns” the presence of the breeching loop, indicates the Confederates intended these guns arm warships.

The turn of events put the guns in Fort Pulaski instead.   And the guns were there on April 10, 1862 when the Federals opened fire on the fort.  Unfortunately their placement in the upper battery prevented them from effectively firing in response.   You can see the effects of the Federal bombardment in the photo below, with one of the Blakely rifles just in front of the traverse.

Upper Battery of Fort Pulaski after siege

Here’s a better view of the gun.

Blakely Rifle behind a dismounted Columbiad

Today the guns sit not far from their wartime stations, pointed across Cockspur Island towards the former location of those Federal batteries which breeched Fort Pulaski.

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View across to the Federal Batteries

The Basher from Liverpool – Blakely Rifle at Fort Sumter

On April 9, 1861 (yes 150 years ago today), Governor Francis Wilkinson Pickens wrote the Confederate Secretary of War LeRoy Pope Walker regarding a recent arrival at Charleston:

…There has just arrived on the bar a fine rifled cannon from Liverpool, of the latest maker (Blakely gun), an improvement upon Armstrong, of steel rolls or coils, with elevation of seven and one-half degrees to a mile.  It throws a shell or twelve-pound shot with the accuracy of a dueling pistol, and only one and one-half pounds of powder.  Such, they write me, is this gun, and I hope to have it in position to-night.  We expect the attack about 6 o’clock in the morning, on account of the tide…. [OR, Series I, Volume 1, Serial 1, page 293.]

Within a short time, Confederates placed the gun in the “Point Battery” (known as “Battery No. 1” by the Federals) on Morris Island, under the command of Captain J. P. Thomas.  This particular cannon was unique among those at Charleston not only being the only rifled gun in place but also the only foreign made piece.  Southerners in London at the time of secession purchased the Blakely as a gift to South Carolina.

Blakely at Morris Island, from Harpers' Weekly, May 18, 1861

The gun was the product of Captain Alexander Blakely, Royal Artillery, and among several similar weapons produced starting in 1855.  I cannot hope to improve upon the coverage of Blakely’s life and products than the presentation given on the Captain Blakely website.  In brief, Blakely designed rifled, composite construction guns, a rifling system, and projectiles.

Novices will proclaim Blakely’s banding system similar to Parrott or Brooke.  But detailed examination of the patent description demonstrates Blakely’s emphasis on metal tension to support construction of the rifles.  Blakely specified metal bands of different tensile strength in a particular order during the construction of the gun.  And Blakely’s bands consisted of “hoops” instead of rings or coils as seen on other banded guns.  Perhaps semantics at play, one might say.  But I would stress the patent office at the time noted the difference.

Blakely rifling, at least for the early guns, consisted of “hook-slant” or ratchet grooves instead of the flat type seen on Parrotts or James rifles (and other familiar types).  Projectiles featured a flange or ridge to conform to the grooves, with a copper sabot at the base.

There is some discrepancy with regard to the caliber of the gun used at Charleston.  In his 1865 Treatise on Ordnance and Armor, Alexander Holley noted the particulars as:

  • Total length of gun – 84 inches
  • Length of Bore – 73.5 inches
  • Diameter of Bore – 3.5 inches
  • Diameter of Cast Iron under the Hoop – 9.1 inches
  • Maximum Diameter of Hoop – 12.1 inches
  • Length of Hoop – 22.2 inches
  • Diameter of Muzzle – 6 inches

However, other reports indicate a bore diameter of 3.75 inches.

Presence of the plaque (seen in the Harper’s illustration above) leads many historians to identify a gun presently at Grant Park in Galena, Illinois as the Blakely in question.

The Sumter Blakely - courtesy Civil War Album

This particular piece measures 3.75-inches in bore diameter, but is reported as worn. So perhaps the answer to that trivial question remains open for interpretation.

Of the Blakely’s use in the battle, Major P.F. Stevens, commanding the batteries in that sector of the Confederate line, wrote, “the rifled cannon being but limitedly supplied with ammunition could do little, but its few shots were skillfully directed by Captain Thomas.” [OR, Series I, Volume 1, Serial 1, page 48.]  On the receiving end of those rifled projectiles, Captain John Foster noted with alarm the accuracy of the Blakely along with penetration of eleven inches (equal to that of 8-inch Columbiads).

A higher endorsement came from General P.G.T. Beauregard in correspondence to Secretary Walker, “We have a remarkable rifled cannon, 12-pounder, superior to any other here.  Others aught to be ordered.” [OR, Serial I, Series 1, Volume 1, page 316.]  And more were ordered.