Category Archives: Chancellorsville

A 10pdr Parrott Rifle from Macon? Well maybe

A couple years back when discussing the Regarded Parrott rifles, I mentioned Macon Arsenal as another source for Confederate Parrotts.  As I said then, I’ve never seen a “confirmed” Macon 10-pdr.  But every visit to Chancellorsville I give one particular gun extra scrutiny hoping it might give away some clues.

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10-pdr Parrott Rifle, possibly from Macon Arsenal

Recall Macon Arsenal was among the facilities built by the Confederate government during the war.  In that case, the nucleus of the arsenal was a rented shop.  Although Macon’s biggest production runs were 12-pdr Napoleons, the cannon foundry produced at least a dozen 10-pdr Parrotts.  Of that lot, the registry of surviving guns lists two that are around today.  One is in private hands.  The other is tentatively identified as the gun pictured above.

The Parrott rifle in question appears a closer match to early Federal 10-pdrs (2.9-inch) than the Tredegar guns.  There is a noticeable “step” in front of the trunnions, much like early Federal guns.

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Step in front of the trunnions

Notice the casting seams running dorsally down the gun.  As I’ve mentioned before, this is often seen on Confederate guns where the foundry kept machining to a minimum.

The rimbases are squared, as was the fashion with both early Federal and Tredegar Parrotts.

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Trunnions and rimbases

The trunnions themselves are badly weathered.

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Trunnion face

There’s little hope gathering markings off those trunnion faces.  Nor from the breech face.

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Breech face

Damage flattened the underside of the knob.  Certainly something to be expected from a century and a half of handling.

The band exhibits lateral lines, suggesting but welding as was done with the Tredegar Parrotts.

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Profile of the Band and Breech

However, the band is shorter than those seen on Tredegar Parrotts, by nearly two inches.  There’s no bevel at the front of the band.   However there is a raised section at the front of the band, which seems to indicate the surface under the band is likewise raised.

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Raised section under the band

The muzzle has a swell, again not unlike Federal Parrotts.

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Muzzle profile

Of course early Tredegar Parrotts had similar muzzle swells.

But what about the muzzle face?  Any markings that might suggest the origin of this piece?

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Muzzle face

I’ve looked this muzzle face over in different lighting conditions, always looking for traces or hints of stamps or markings.  The most I’ve ever seen clearly is a “2” at the top of the muzzle face.

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Number 2 on muzzle face

That photo was taken in the early morning light, with the dew providing moisture to highlight the dents, dings, and number.

Notice also the three groove rifling.  That rifling extends into the bore but is worn down.

The best I can offer is that “2” is similar in font and size to that used on Macon 12-pdr Napoleons.  For example number 28 at Gettysburg.

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Close up of “No. 28” stamp on Macon Napoleon

Of course, all that might prove is that a couple of foundries used the same type of dies when stamping the guns.

Several factors, particularly the lack of machining, point to a Confederate origin.  The “2” is the only other clue there.  Much smaller than those seen on Federal Parrotts.  Still, pending a readable marking or some paper trail on the gun, I’ll still say “maybe” from Macon.

Putting the punch in the Long Arm of Lee: Tredegar rearms the ANV

Back in February I presented a thread discussing the reforms and re-equipping of the Army of Northern Virginia in January-February 1863. One of those posts included a discussion of the guns delivered by Tredegar that February. As I related in that post, Tredegar delivered only sixteen field pieces that month. And at that rate, the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) might have the required number of modern guns by September (and don’t even mention the western armies!). Forgive me with not updating this thread at the appropriate sesquicentennial time… better late than never.

The slow response of Tredegar to support the Confederate buildup in those critical winter months was in part due to a lack of resources. As mentioned back in December, the manufacturer lacked certain raw materials needed to cast bronze guns. And to get around this shortage, the Army of Northern Virginia turned in obsolete 6-pdrs guns, James rifles, and some 12-pdr howitzers. These were then turned into 12-pdr light field guns, or as we like to call them – Napoleons.

However the lag time in the production cycle must be considered. I don’t think it possible to accurately estimate the time between a battery’s turn in and the receipt back of the gunmetal in the form of a Napoleon. However, records show the field batteries didn’t start turning in 6-pdrs in large numbers until February. That, I would contend, led to an abundance of deliveries in March.

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So in March, Tredegar delivered twenty-four 12-pdr Napoleons, three 12-pdr mountain howitzers, and two 20-pdr Parrotts. A total of twenty-six full size field pieces. A 60% bump in deliveries from the previous month.

And for April?

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Three 10-pdr Parrotts, one more 20-pdr Parrott, and ten 12-pdr Napoleons. The second line down indicates a single 10-pdr Mullane Gun, which I would interpret as one of the Tredegar 3-inch iron rifles, without the band. Oh, and two more of those 12-pdr mountain howitzers for the fans of the little cannons. So overall numbers dropped again, to fourteen.

Still that was a total of 56 field guns in the ninety days prior to Chancellorsville. If that rate might be sustained, by the end of summer Tredegar might well rearm not only the ANV but at least one of the field armies in the west. (Oh, and if the Federals might cooperate by just not going on the offensive for several months…)

But there is one problem with the type of guns received. Most of these were bronze Napoleons. Continued production of those depended upon exchanges of older field guns. Tredegar cast six Napoleons that April and seven more in May. Then production picked up in June to sixteen.

While 12-pdr Napoleons were better than the older Model 1841 light field weapons, the ANV required a mix of smoothbores and rifles in order to compete with the Federals. And I’d stress iron rifles, as the bronze variety had not held up to field service. Yet on the eve of the Chancellorsville campaign, Brigadier-General William Pendleton lamented that only three 10-pdr Parrotts had arrived. Why the holdup of iron guns?

In Ironmaker to the Confederacy, historian Charles Dew attributes some of the problem to supply of iron from the Cloverdale furnaces in Botetourt County. Specifically he cited terrible weather in late January 1863 which left the roads impassable and the furnace out of charcoal. (Remind me again the dates for the “Mud March”….) The shortage affected not only the re-equipping of the ANV, but also plans to reinforce Mobile, Wilmington, Vicksburg, and, as I’ve also detailed, Charleston. And this also set back the Navy’s plans for ironclads.

Of course, with the victory at Chancellorsville, the Confederates brought in fourteen “battlefield acquisitions,” which I’ll get into in a post next week. That was balanced against the loss of eight guns on Marye’s Heights. Not a good exchange rate.

The Confederacy had to depend upon Tredegar even more through the spring of 1863. But another event would occur in May to further set back Tredegar’s production.

Guns “unservicable for want of horses”: Artillery in the aftermath of Chancellorsville

Reading some materials posted on other venues, you might think the Army of Northern Virginia stood still from May 6-11, 1863 as the drama of Guinea Station played out.  We forget, armies are like living creatures.  There are always men engaged in the act of just “being.”  The work of the army continues despite the passing of its leader – be that Thomas J. Jackson or Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The man who signs the orders may change, but the army’s business is still there.

That said, consider a report from Colonel J. Thompson Brown, Chief of Artillery for Second Corps (yes, still Jackson’s Corps at this time), from May 11:

Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton,
Chief of Artillery, Army of Northern Virginia:

General; Your note is received. I have to report that orders have twice been issued to battalion commanders to reorganize and refit as rapidly as possible. This is being done. Many guns which could be manned are unserviceable for want of horses. Should there be an immediate call, the following number of guns can be carried into service:

Colonel Walker, fourteen guns in camp and four on picket on right.
Lieutenant Colonel Jones, eight guns in camp and four on picket on left.
Lieutenant-Colonel Carter, thirteen guns in camp and three at repair train.
Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews, fourteen guns in camp.
Major Hardaway, twelve guns in camp and four on picket in center.
Major Mcintosh, fourteen guns in camp.

Making a total of eighty-seven guns for service, and three to be ready in a few days.

I have sent out 2 men from each battalion to buy horses, amply supplied with money, with directions also to offer as inducement the sale of condemned horses any neighborhood where horses can be bought. This was done by authority of Colonel Corley.

I shall use every exertion to have the artillery of the corps in good order as quickly as possible, but I am sure you concur with me in the necessity of properly fitting out the batteries as soon as possible, as imperfect transportation for gun-carriages at the commencement of the campaign will necessarily cripple them during its whole continuance.

Please notify me of any omission in steps for refitting, &c. I will report further progress.
Very respectfully,
J. Thompson Brown,
Colonel, and Acting Chief of Artillery, Second Corps.

Eighty-seven guns ready to support the Corps, with three more being repaired. Recall that earlier in the year Pendleton estimated that Jackson’s Corps required 116 guns. In February, the corps had 95 guns on hand, and even with that many guns were obsolete or less preferred types.   Although guns were obtained, notably from Tredegar, the shortfalls remained.  Furthermore, Jackson’s artillery suffered from want of horses and equipment.  While there’s no doubt that between February and April the artillery arm “got healthy,” the raw details are hard to nail down.  Lieutenant Edmond P. Dandridge didn’t return to record another inspection prior to the battle of Chancellorsville.

The important take away from Brown’s report is not “87 guns” but rather “87 guns ready to support.”  It’s horsepower that Brown complained about.  Aside from just the need to “dress up” his command, Brown was looking ahead.  Notice he does not make references to where the command started prior to the Chancellorsville campaign.  Rather he references the start of the NEXT campaign.

The referees had blown the whistle signaling the end of the play.  Now the teams were called into the huddle.  The next down was already in the making.  The play clock ticked off seconds regardless if the huddle was one man short.

(Brown’s report is from OR, Series I, Volume 25, Part II, Serial 40, page 793.)

“…such a palpable crippling of a great arm…”: Hunt’s assessment of Chancellorsville

I don’t think it a stretch to advance the notion May 3, 1863 was the greatest day for Confederate field artillery in the Civil War (although we may also mention August 30, 1862…).  The “Long Arm of Lee” dominated the battlefield around Chancellors Crossroads that day.  One of the few occasions where the Confederate gunners held the upper hand on their Army of the Potomac counterparts.  Favorable terrain – namely Hazel Grove plateau, conceded by the Federals – accounted for the performance.  Skillful employment of the guns by able officers such as Colonel E.P. Alexander and Major W.T. Pegram.  On paper, the Confederate batteries were at a disadvantage in caliber and quality. Their shells proved faulty.  Yet the Confederate gunners dominated the battlefield for the critical phases of fighting that Sunday.

The Federal guns were not badly mismanaged at the tactical level in order to setup this scenario.  Indeed the guns assembled by Captain Clermont Best at Fareview might have held firm given a few changes of circumstance.  But in the assessment of Brigadier-General Henry J. Hunt, the Army of the Potomac’s Chief of Artillery, the blame lay at the feet of his commander – Major-General Joseph Hooker – and how the artillery arm was managed in the months before the campaign.  Although, when first assuming command that winter, Hooker made organizational changes which favored employment and massing of artillery, he also diminished the Chief of Artillery’s role considerably.  Early in the Chancellorsville campaign, Hooker dispatched Hunt to direct the artillery protecting the fords over the Rappahannock.

That in context, consider the closing paragraphs of Hunt’s report of the campaign:

In justice to the artillery, and to myself, I think it necessary to state certain circumstances affecting its condition and losses in these operations. The command of the artillery, which I held under Generals McClellan and Burnside, and exercised at the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg, was withdrawn from me when you assumed command of the army, and my duties made purely administrative, under circumstances very unfavorable to their efficient performance. I heard after the movement commenced that, when the corps were put in motion to cross the river, they left part of their artillery in their camps. No notice of this was given to me, and it was only by accident that I learned that the batteries so left behind were afterward ordered to rejoin their corps. As soon as the battle commenced on Friday morning, I began to receive demands from corps commanders for more artillery, which I was unable to comply with, except partially, and at the risk of deranging the plans of other corps commanders. That same morning I was ordered to Banks’ Ford, to take command there, and was absent at that place until the night of the 3d from general headquarters.

The promotion of many of the old artillery officers, and the invariable transfer which accompanied it to other duties, weakened the regular batteries exceedingly, and at the same time deprived the divisional artillery of experienced commanders. The limitation of officers of four-gun batteries crippled the volunteer service, and the want of field officers added to the great difficulties under which the arm labored. It will, perhaps, hardly be believed that for the command and management in their operations of the artillery of the army, consisting of 412 guns, 980 artillery carriages, 9,543 men and officers, and 8,544 horses, besides their large ammunition trains, there were but five field officers of artillery in the army, and from the scarcity of officers of inferior grades these officers had miserably insufficient staffs. Add to this that there was no commander of all the artillery until a late period of the operations, and I doubt if the history of modern armies can exhibit a parallel instance of such palpable crippling of a great arm of the service in the very presence of a powerful enemy, to overcome whom would require every energy of all arms under the most favorable circumstances. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that confusion and mismanagement ensued, and it is creditable to the batteries themselves, and to the officers who commanded them, that they did so well. Fourteen guns were lost, but the most of these losses (eight) occurred in the rout of the Eleventh Corps, and all of them before Colonel Wainwright or myself was placed in command of the whole artillery.

Now that is how you tell off your boss!

For the record, however, Hunt posted this report a little late… well maybe conspicuously late… August 1, 1863.  By then Hooker was relieved and Hunt was fully vindicated by the performance of the artillery at Gettysburg.  Firm footing for criticism.  I would add, in Hooker’s defense, that in the weeks following Chancellorsville the army commander made changes to address the ills cited by Hunt.  The lessons of Chancellorsville were not completely lost on Joe Hooker.  Can we at least say a few positive things about Fighting Joe?

(Hunt’s report is in OR, Series I, Volume 25, Part I, Serial 39, pages 246-252.)

Chancellorsville 150: Some of day three, where I’d go for day four

The third day of the Chancellorsville 150 observances began early.  I was joined by fellow blogger Robert Moore.  He read my mind, as the morning air held that same feel as experienced last September at Antietam.  A pure moment from the sesquicentennial.

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The sesquicentennial crowd did not shy from the early hour.  The count was several hundred.

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The morning tour incorporated a Confederate skirmish line demonstration, working through the woods.  Here’s my rough video work:

You can hear them (and the traffic on the highway), but don’t see much but flashes and smoke.  We often read about such settings, but the portrayal was in front of us on May 3, 2013.

But when the cannons roared….

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We were all out in the clear!  Notice the orange line just below the muzzle.  Those are embers ejected from the muzzle by the blast.  Better view from the NPS Facebook feed.  The embers left behind a “scorch” on the ground.

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Imagine dozens of guns firing hundreds of times.

The morning tour continued to Fairview.  Here’s the “snaking column” up the trail.

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After that tour concluded we proceeded across the highway to tour the north side of the May 3 battlefield.  Tour group grew considerably.

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This tour traversed ground ill-suited for a group our size.  But the rangers made do, and held our interest.  One focus of the tour were the numerous standing earthwork traces.

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150 years earlier soldiers clung to pieces of ground like this in a desperate struggle.  You don’t walk past these lightly.  YOU DON’T walk on them at all!

The tour emerged into the clearing near Chancellor House.

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This is about a third of the group.  I was told “400” counting a group of fifty that joined late.  Later I was told 328.  You pick a number for the headcount.  Maybe both.

The afternoon tours moved to Fredericksburg.  There Eric Mink took my half of the group back through the streets of Fredericksburg.  We often compared the advance of May 3, 1863 to that of December 13, 1862.

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This time “The Yankees Win” was the repose.

The events of the day concluded at Salem Church, with a presentation on the church history and the action which took place there, to the hour, on May 3, 1863.

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I’m unable to attend events today.  My Aide-de-Camp and Chief of Staff have informed me so many matters require my attention at headquarters.  However, if I could be there and could suggest a point to visit, it would be this one:

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This is one of the extant earthwork traces along Hooker Drive, in a oft overlooked portion of the battlefield.

Why?  Several reasons.  It’s here the Federals built the final line of defense against the incessant Confederate attacks.  Here Hooker recognized some of the previous failures and put Henry Hunt in charge of the Federal artillery (a turning point in the war to some degree).  And it is here the Army of the Potomac lived to fight another day.  While the day was a “victory” for Robert E. Lee and the Confederates, the all important success eluded them.  These trenches set the situation which lead north to Gettysburg.

Chancellorsville 150: A bit of the second day’s activities

I’d intended to get some “live blogging” updates into yesterday’s post.  But with few bars received on the cell phone, I opted to avoid the “upload and dash” approach.   John Hennessy puts the blame on the successful NPS campaign to prevent placement of cell towers. As a school trained Army Signal Officer, I’m apt to make up some excuse about the iron in the soil around Catherine’s Furnace… and effects associated with sunspots.  Either way, total failure on the live blogging means I’ll offer up some of the scenes from yesterday’s tours for today’s post.

Eric Mink leading half (yes, that is just half of the tour group) assembled for the first afternoon tour – Catherine’s Furnace.

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The Unfinished Railroad of Chancellorsville:

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Frank O’Reilly speaking at the start of the Flank Attack Tour:

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NPS staff and volunteers adjusted quickly to the large number of attendees:

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The tour group snakes up a ridge line during the Flank Attack Tour:

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At the Hawkins Farm, Frank O’Reilly noted the group was “regimental size”:

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For the Flank Attack tour, we visited several locations that are on private property and others that are rarely visited. One was the location where Colonel Adolphus Buschbeck’s brigade attempted to hold against the Confederate onslaught:

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An even larger crowd to observe the anniversary of the wounding of Stonewall Jackson:

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I don’t have the photo equipment to capture good night scenes. And some thermal image would not be proper for a Civil War blog, right? But I did manage one fuzzy photo of the lanterns along the Mountain Road:

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I’m back off to the fields this morning. More tweets and updates…

Chancellorsville 150: Day One field report, live blogging

Yesterday’s Chancellorsville 150 First Day events kicked off the sesquicentennial observances in good order.  Took me a few minutes to “knock the rust” off my on the field tweeting practices.  But the NPS staff at Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania picked up as if there had been no long winter break… and the crowds likewise seemed to have followed en-mass from the December activities.  A half-hour before the event kickoff, we had standing-room-only at the event tent.

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Several important points from the introductory remarks from historian John Hennessy, park superintendent Russel Smith, and Civil War Trust president Jim Lighthizer.  But the best, in my opinion, was Mr. Smith’s point comparing the centennial to the sesquicentennial.  We have a good reason to celebrate at the 150th – the preservation of the fields where we stood to remember the events.

And I would add that our form of “celebration” in the sesquicentennial tends to take the form of devoted interpretive tours.

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If that’s our legacy from the 150th – our focus on factual, detailed, and timely interpretive tours to achieve the “experience” – then I’d say we are doing right.

The day’s activities closed with a recreation of the Lee-Jackson bivouac. Hennessy along with fellow park historians Frank O’Reilly and Greg Mertz enlightened the remarkably large crowd on the details surrounding the last meetings of Generals Lee and Jackson.  John Hennessy posted a wide view of the crowd on his twitter feed:

Macro and micro level treatment of the meeting, I would add.  Such is, again, what the sesquicentennial crowd wants to hear – put us at the place, at 150 years from the time, and talk about what happened.  No need for the romantic fluff.  We can set aside the baggage left over from other generations.  Take us right down to the fireside and share the story.

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To that point, Hennessy tweeted earlier on May 1 that while some complained Fredericksburg 150 was “too much Yankee,” people might well complain that Chancellorsville 150 will be “too much Lee-Jackson.”  He added, “Fact is: moving parts get the attention.”  And tonight’s events running into the evening promise to continue following the course of the battle with a focus on those two leading figures.

As I left yesterday evening, the sun had set and I watched civil twilight turn to nautical twilight. Photos do not do justice to the “painted sky” yesterday evening.

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Last year I was blessed with some great sunrises and sunsets associated with sesquicentennial events.  I hope this is a sign that trend will continue.  The photo was taken from the “Flank Attack” tour stop west of the visitor center.  The park’s tour events pick up there this afternoon and we’ll follow Jackson’s attack and his mortal wounding.

If the cellular connection cooperates, I’ll add some photos from the field here later.  Please check back and follow on twitter (