Petersburg 150th Events

Petersburg National Battlefield has posted their 2015 schedule of events.  These include a good number sesquicentennial observances.  Some of those which caught my eye, as specifically timed to 150th events:

150th Anniversary of The Battle of Hatcher’s Run

Date: Thursday, February 5, 2015, 3:00 pm
Location: Five Forks Contact Station, 9840 Courthouse Road, Dinwiddie, VA

Lecture will commemorate the first of the 1865 battles aimed at cutting off supply lines to General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and bringing about the fall of Petersburg.

The Saturday following (February 7th), the park hosts a set of talks.  One focuses on the death of “Sallie,” the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry in the battle of Hatcher’s Run.  With the talk is a demonstration by the 544th Military Working Dog Detachment from Fort Lee.  “See the evolution of military dogs from mascots to modern day working dogs.”  (I don’t think that angle has ever been worked for Civil War interpretation… good one!)  The second talk, scheduled for 2 PM, as Emanuel Dabney discussing “how Confederate soldiers were dealing with the war in what turned out to be the last months of service for the Army of Northern Virginia.”

Civil War 150th : Battles of Ft. Stedman and Jones Farm Living History Weekend

Date: Saturday, March 21, 2015
Time:  Ft. Stedman 10:00 am – 11:00 am;  Jones Farm 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Locations: Ft. Stedman Tour Stop #5 Eastern Front, 5001 Siege Rd. Petersburg VA; and Jones Farm Tour Stop #3 Western Front, Church Rd. & Flank Rd. Dinwiddie Co. VA.

The weekend event matches to the “real time” observance which falls on the following Wednesday:

Civil War 150th: Battles of Ft. Stedman and Jones Farm Real Time Tours

Date: Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Time: Ft. Stedman 5:00 am -8:00 am;  Jones Farm 3:00 pm -3:45 pm
Locations: Ft. Stedman Tour Stop #5 Eastern Front, 5001 Siege Rd. Petersburg VA; and Jones Farm Tour Stop #3 Western Front, Church Rd. & Flank Rd. Dinwiddie Co. VA

The following weekend (March 28-29) feature living history displays at Five Forks, Fort Gregg, and Hopewell (in conjunction with a panel discussion about the River Queen Conference).  There is also a night-time tour of Five Forks on March 28, 6-8 pm.

Then over the first days of April, the observances come as thick as the action of 1865:

Faces of Five Forks
Date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 2:30 – 3:30 pm
Location: Five Forks Contact Station, 9840 Courthouse Road, Dinwiddie, VA

Civil War 150th: Breakthrough Real Time Tour
Date: Thursday, April 2, 2015, 5:30 am – 6:30 am
Location: Tour Stop #3 Western Front, Church Rd. & Flank Rd. Dinwiddie Co. VA

Civil War 150th: Breakthrough: Ft. Mahone Commemorative Ceremony
Date: Thursday, April 2, 2015, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Location: Ft. Mahone & Pennsylvania Monument on Wakefield Drive, Petersburg VA

Civil War 150th: Breakthrough: Battle of Ft. Gregg Commemorative Ceremony
Date: Thursday, April 2, 2015, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Location: Tour Stop #4 Western Front, Sampson Rd. & 7th Ave. Dinwiddie Co. VA

See the Petersburg NPS website for more details on these events.

Couple these events along with those occurring at Appomattox starting on April 8 and you see the last spring of the Sesquicentennial will be a busy one!



Whitworths and a rail gun: Confederates haul guns out from Richmond

I’ve written a bit about the changes to the Federal artillery park during the Overland Campaign – specifically about the inclusion of Coehorn mortars.  As mentioned a few days ago, though they lacked Coehorns at that time, the artillerists of the Army of Northern Virginia employed howitzers in a similar role at Cold Harbor (and afterwards).  But this was by no means the only “unusual” Confederate artillery making an appearance in June 1864.

Because these guns are on prominent display at Gettysburg, even those who care little for artillery recall the Confederate use of 12-pdr Whitworth breechloaders – or as I prefer to avoid confusion over the “pounder” designations, 2.75-inch Whitworth Breechloading Rifles.

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And for record, it is important to specify “breechloader” and “muzzleloader” with respect to Whitworths of this caliber, as both types were used by the Confederates.

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In my opinion, the two Whitworths used at Gettysburg receive more attention than merited.  The tactical situation did not allow employment which might take advantage of the weapon’s attributes.  At the same time, the deficits of the weapon, chiefly slow rate of fire and light payload, diminished any contribution of the two guns.  Reading contemporary primary source accounts, I get the sense the Confederate gunners considered these weapons sort of useful substitutes in lieu of Napoleon guns or other light rifles.

In the spring of 1864, Confederates retained several of the Whitworths in and around Richmond. Though not part of the Army of Northern Virginia’s park, as the campaigning armies neared Richmond, the Whitworths made an appearance in a reinforcing role.  The Federals first encountered these guns at Totopotomy Creek.  Captain Charles Turnbull, engineer with Second Corps, reported on May 30:

The enemy has a Whitworth gun in position and firing on Generals Gibbon’s and Barlow’s skirmishers. The gun cannot be seen, and it is supposed to be firing at long range. They have also been throwing shells at the Shelton house, where we have a battery. Their guns will be silenced as soon as they can be seen. General Hancock is developing the line of the creek.

Here, unlike at Gettysburg, the tactical situation allowed the Confederates to exploit the one great attribute of the Whitworth – long range accuracy.  Keeping the gun under cover of terrain, they could keep up a harrassing fire on specific targets.  Very much akin to the sharpshooting done with the shoulder fired Whitworth rifled-muskets.  Brigadier-General David M. Gregg, commanding Second Division of the Cavalry Corps, reported encountering Whitworths used in a similar mode on June 4.  And on June 7, Major-General G.K. Warren reported “the enemy has a Whitworth gun firing at very long range” on his line at Cold Harbor.

What allowed the use of the Whitworths to advantage here was the static nature of the line.  Able to select a target, and a location from which to engage the target, the Confederates could deliberately prepare the battery for action. Where a good target presented itself, or where a particularly annoying Federal position required a response, the Whitworths were called upon.  Further south, defending the approaches to Petersburg and the vital roads between that place and Richmind, on June 9, General P.G.T. Beauregard called for a Whitworth to deal with just such a particular target:

Enemy has erected an observatory at Cobb’s which overlooks surrounding country. The 12-pounder Whitworth at arsenal is absolutely required to destroy it. Please send it by express forthwith, with ammunition complete.

Later correspondence indicates the Whitworth in question was in demand at other sectors.

Another “novelty” artillery which made another appearance at this time 150 years ago was the rail gun.  Or more accurately, I should say “re-appearance.”  In 1862, the Confederates built and employed a gun on an armored railroad car.  The gun’s first appearance was during the Seven Day’s battles.  On June 7, Warren noted:

I have the base of a shot fired from the iron-clad car on the railroad.  It is a 32-pounder.

In all likelyhood this was the same gun employed by Confederates at Savages Station on June 29, 1862.  And, that is likely the same weapon seen in a series of photographs taken after the fall of Richmond.

Certainly that 32-pounder outclassed the field artillery at hand for the Federal artillerists.  But of course the main limitation on that big weapon was the availability of railroads.  And months before the Federals had foreseen the need to counter big guns like this.  Those were the reason Colonel Henry Abbot was instructed to secure several large Parrott rifles for use with the siege train.

Just a couple of examples where uncommon artillery were employed as the 1864 campaigns entered the summer months.  With operations in Virginia turning from those of maneuver towards static lines, more of the “novel” artillery made appearances.  There is indeed a good justification for the Petersburg National Battlefield to have a diverse collection of artillery on display outside the visitor’s center.

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(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 36, Part III, Serial 69, pages 324, 675, and 885.)


Advanced notice on Petersburg 150th Schedule

Petersburg National Battlefield posted advanced notice about their schedule of sesquicentennial events this year.  Some of those listed are:

June 14 -15, 2014 – 150th Anniversary: Opening Assaults Weekend.  Living history programs, ranger guided walks, artillery demonstrations and a bus tour all covering the stories of the opening actions of the Siege of Petersburg.

July 30, 2014 – 150th Anniversary: Battle of the Crater.  A commemorative program will take place at the time of the explosion, a keynote address will be given at mid-day, and ranger tours will be provided in the morning and afternoon.

August 1, 2014 – 150th Anniversary: Battle of the Crater – Panel Presentations.

  • Morning Panel Discussion – Gillfield Baptist Church, 209 Perry Street, Petersburg 10 – 12 pm.
  • Afternoon Panel Discussion – St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 10 Union Street, Petersburg 1 – 3 pm

In the morning and afternoon two panel discussions, with three speakers each and a Q&A session, will be held in downtown Petersburg. One will address the battle and the other impacts of the siege on those living in the city.

August 2, 2014 – 150th Anniversary: Battle of the Crater – Living History Program. Living history programs on the battle, the soldiers and their weapons, and field medicine throughout the day. Watch Union & Confederate artillery in action and “meet” Generals Grant & Lee to hear their thoughts on this battle. The Virginia Civil War History mobile will be on hand and family activities will be available.

August 9-10, 2014 – 150th Anniversary: Grant’s Headquarter’s City Point, VA. Ranger programs and living history events will bring to life and explore the role of this village as it was transformed into one of the world’s busiest ports and one of the largest field supply bases of the Civil War.

August 23-24, 2014 – 150th Anniversary: Battles of Weldon Railroad & Reams Station. Rangers and living historians at stops along these two battlefields will provide insight to Gen. Grant’s Fourth Offensive of the siege and the impact it had on the struggle over Petersburg’s fate.

September 27-28, 2014 – 150th Anniversary: Battle of Peeble’s Farm. Rangers and living historians at stops along this battlefield will present tours and demonstrations on the Grant’s Fifth offensive of the siege. Gen. Lee thwarts this effort at great cost to his hold on Petersburg and Richmond.

Look for more details (and maybe some additions) as we proceed into the “campaign” season.  There’s no shortage of topics to consider on the Petersburg Campaign.

More Overland Campaign / Petersburg-Richmond Siege 150th events

The Richmond National Battlefield Park alerts us to “mark the dates” for events covering the Overland Campaign and the Petersburg-Richmond Siege:

In the coming weeks, we will begin posting schedules and details of the park’s 1864 / 2014 programs. In the meantime, we invite you to mark these key dates on your calendar:

  • May 24, 2014: Reverberations – Commemorating the Overland Campaign (in partnership with Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park and Petersburg National Battlefield)
  • May 29-31, 2014: Commemoration of the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek
  • May 31, June 1, June 3, and June 7, 2014: Commemoration of the Battle of Cold Harbor
  • September 27 – 30, 2014: Commemoration of the battles of Fort Harrison and New Market Heights Additional events and dates will be added for programs still in development.

In addition, the park notes the following programs outside the NPS, but related to the campaign (and the later Petersburg-Richmond Campaign):

Bermuda Hundred Campaign 150th Anniversary

  • April 25-27, 2014
  • Chesterfield County
  • Website

North Anna Battlefield Trail Dedication

  • May 24, 2014
  • Hanover County Parks and Recreation
  • Website (more details promised after April 1)

Reenactment of the Battle of New Market Heights / Campaign Before Richmond 1864

  • September 27-28, 2014
  • Henrico County Recreation and Parks
  • Website

Looks like 2014 is picking up to be just like 2013 – a busy year for sesquicentennialists.

Memphis Rifles: 3-inch bronze guns from Quinby & Robinson

In February 1862, Major William Richardson Hunt approved receipt of over $2500 of ordnance from the Memphis firm of Quinby & Robinson.

The third item listed on the receipt records “1 6 pdr 3 in Rifle Gun” received on February 6 at a cost of $687.43.  (Recall the nomenclature used for other Confederate 3-inch rifles incorporated similar references to the base 6-pdr caliber.)  The 3-inch rifle was one of only a handful, perhaps only three, produced by Quinby & Robinson before the fall of Memphis that spring.  Remarkably two of the guns survive today in Petersburg National Battlefield.

One is on display near the visitor center.

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3-inch Q&R Rifle #33 at the Petersburg Visitor Center

The other is located at Colquitt’s Salient opposite Fort Steadman.

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3-inch Q & R Rifle #34 at Colquitt’s Salient

At first glance the gun presents a clean appearance, with minimal moldings confined to the base ring and knob.  The cylindrical rimbases attach directly to the gradually tapering barrel.  Small numbers on top of the breech (#33 on the piece in front of the visitor center and #34 on the gun in the field) should correspond to a foundry numbers. The stamps on the right trunnion indicate the guns are indeed from Quinby & Robinson.

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Right Trunnion of #34

The year stamped on the left trunnion of each piece, 1862, puts the guns  are in the range corresponding to the receipt shown above.

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Left Trunnion of #34

The thickness of metal at the muzzle suggests the original casting pattern was intended for a larger caliber weapon.

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Muzzle face of #34

The bore features twelve left-handed twist lands and grooves.  Remarkably, neither gun exhibits significant wear of the rifling.

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Bore of #34

The bore measures out at the prescribed 3-inches.

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Bore measure of #33

The breech profile incorporated a base ring, rounded breech face, and a rounded knob with rather thick fillet connecting to the breech.

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Breech profile of #34

The gun sight mounts are no longer attached.  But the fittings indicate the use of a standard hausse seat in the rear and a spike front sight above the muzzle.

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Muzzle of #33

Of the pair, #33 definitely has more “character.”

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Scar on #33

The divot under the lower left of the barrel looks like a battle scar.  But it could also be the result of mishandling.  But it sounds so much more exciting to say some Yankee solid shot ricocheted off the barrel in the heat of some artillery duel.  The damage deformed the interior of the gun and actually warped the bore.

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Bore of #33

Needless to say, #33 won’t be firing any more rounds.

Up until the recent refurbishment of the Petersburg artillery display, #33 sat on the rails between a James Type 2 14-pdr rifle and a Wiard 2.6-inch rifle, allowing for convenient comparison.

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Three field rifles in the old artillery display. #33 in the middle.

The Confederate rifle measures 61 inches long, compared to 74 inches for the James rifle and 52.5 inches for the Wiard.

The external appearance of these two Quinby & Robinson rifles, even if breaking with established patterns, is not unique.  Another pair of 3-inch rifles at Petersburg, produced by A.B. Reading and Brother, from Vicksburg, Mississippi.  I will examine them next.

Little Mortars with a Big Job: The American Coehorn Mortar

Several weeks back I briefly discussed the evolution of the very light Coehorn mortars.  The original concept called for a light mortar for use in the narrow siege line trenches. But the small size of the type allowed gunners to operate with the maneuvering field armies, yet provide the high angle fire against fortifications.  Even though their caliber was too small for serious siege work against well fortified positions, the Coehorn was an attractive addition to a commander who expected to face only light, open fortifications.

Again, it is my opinion that the American Army entered the 19th century with a quantity of Coehorns (be they named “Royals” or “Coehorn” at that time).  As with other mortar designs, on hand quantities must have argued against all but limited production of the type. For a point of reference, here’s a reproduction (?) Coehorn mortar of the type used by the British during the colonial era, and the type inherited by the Americans:

Mortar (Photo credit: Jeff Kubina)

Furthermore, the Coehorn mortar was most needed for an army on the offensive in the traditional sense. The Americans didn’t see that as an important role (although at the operational level at least, the Army had operated offensively during the War of 1812). Operations on the frontier rarely called for artillery, much less mortars.

At least one surviving American 24-pdr iron Coehorn from the first quarter of the 19th century exists today.  Reported among the Petersburg National Battlefield collection, I have not examined it up close so I’ll save that for another day.  But I mention it here because of the stampings and manufacture date.  The register of surviving pieces indicates its registry number is 13, produced in 1827, and is marked “U.S. Arsenal, Washington.”  If correctly reported, such indicates limited, and non-standardized, production during the years following the War of 1812.

By the late 1830s, the Ordnance Department sought to standardize nearly everything.  Among those designs was the Model 1838 Coehorn Mortar.

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Coehorn Model 1838 at Cold Harbor

The mortar pictured above is on display at the Cold Harbor visitor center, outside Richmond.  Fitting, as the mortars began playing an important role during the Overland Campaign of 1864.

In profile, the Model 1838 resembled British models, minus the handles of course.  The proportions are not far off those described in Muller’s manual from the 1760s.  The Ordnance Manual of 1841 specified the 24-pdr Coehorn weighed 160 pounds and was 15.32 inches overall.  As you can see from the overhead view, the mortar’s muzzle had a flat lip, reinforced by a generous ring (nearly an inch thick and one inch wide).  Over the mouth of the chamber, a four inch wide reinforcing band provided additional strength.

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Profile view of the Coehorn

Looking at the muzzle face, most of the stampings appear in compliance with the Ordnance Instructions of 1861 – “1864 // A.M.Co.  // R.M.H. // 160 // No. 154”.  Translation – this mortar was produced in 1864 by Ames Manufacturing Company (Springfield, Massachusetts), inspected by Richard M. Hill, weighing 160 pounds, and is registry number 154.

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Muzzle markings on mortar

The depth of the bore, not including the chamber, was 8.82 inches. A further look down the bore, taking advantage of the mortar’s shallow throat, shows the powder chamber.

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Powder chamber of Coehorn

The chamber formed a conical “cup” at the bottom of the bore.  At the top it measured 3 inches in diameter.  At the bottom, according to regulations, the diameter was 2 inches, although some sources say 1.75 inches.  The depth of the chamber was 4.25 inches.

Looking outside to the rimbases, there is one other marking that often appears on Coehorns – the foundry number.  For this piece that is 263.

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Rimbase number on Coehorn

The low mounted trunnions attached to the breech of the piece.  The trunnion molding actually formed a solid cylinder across the breech, by regulation 2.75 inches in diameter.  The overall length of that cylinder was 12.5 inches, standing out 2.5 inches on either side of the mortar.

Looking back over the reinforce band, this particular mortar exhibits the traces of painted markings.  These appear to be post-war arsenal stenciling, and not from wartime service.

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Stenciling on Coehorn

I didn’t capture a close up view, but at the base of the breech was a single vent hole.

Production of these mortars began in 1839 with a lone pattern weapon ordered from Ames.  After its delivery in 1840, the Army ordered no more Coehorns until 1855, when Ames produced a batch of 30.  That was the entire pre-war production run for Army orders.  Of course that does not rule out state, militia, or private orders, but no evidence of such has surfaced.

Only in 1862 did the Army resume requests for Coehorn mortars.  Ames delivered about 200 more between April 1862 and the end of the war.  Cyrus Alger contributed 47 more in a production run during 1862-63.  Some have mentioned a spike in production to field experiences at Vicksburg.  I would simply point out that the Army had already received 36 Coehorns on wartime orders before the first spadeful of siege lines was turned at Vicksburg.  Another fifty were ordered before the first field reports were filed.  Ames later received orders for three batches of fifty each starting the spring of 1864 running through January 1865.  Given those production statistics, I’d argue this was more so a gradual procurement strategy as opposed to a reaction to the immediate wartime situation.  (My Artillery History revisionist moment of the week I guess…)

Having “walked around” the little Coehorn mortar, I’ll turn next to the operational at tactical particulars – how it was mounted, transported, and operated in the field.

The Extreme Side of Relic Hunting

Some time back I mentioned a news story about a relic hunter who’d been caught red-handed with items he dug up from the Petersburg National Battlefield. An update went out yesterday indicating the individual pleaded guilty:

RICHMOND – A Petersburg man whose house was searched earlier this year, revealing a potentially explosive Civil War-era artillery shell, has pleaded guilty to federal charges of unlawfully taking Civil War relics from the Petersburg National Battlefield.

In U.S. District Court in Richmond, John Jeffrey Santo pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two counts of damaging archaeological resources, each of which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, and one count of depredation of government property, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Santo originally was charged with three counts of damaging archaeological resources and one count each of depredation of government property, theft of government property and unlawful possession of a firearm. He will remain in federal custody while awaiting sentencing at a date to be determined…..

(Read more:

Also appearing on the newswires yesterday, an Alabama man pleaded guilty to similar charges of digging for relics at Vicksburg.

VICKSBURG, Miss. — An Alabama man has been given three years’ probation and been told to stay out of national military parks after an unauthorized dig at the Vicksburg National Military Park.The Vicksburg Post reported that Ernest Taylor of Foley, Ala., pleaded guilty last month in federal court to altering or defacing an archaeological resource, a felony. He was sentenced on Nov. 28.Court documents show Taylor, his wife and son were arrested Sept. 3, 2010 using a metal detector and digging holes at the park for Civil War relics.

(Read more:

Personally I don’t have a problem with relic hunters or “diggers” in general. But the hobby lends itself to extremes. These two cases highlight such. In the lust for profit and perhaps some stature in the hobby, two individuals crossed lines. Let’s face it, not everyone will stumble across some magnificent find. Those that do are lucky.

Don’t get me wrong. I respect the relic hunters who will work at a site just in front of the bulldozers. In some cases, they are the last resort before a site is lost forever. And I find that those “diggers” working on the edge of development tend to be more open about where and what they found, generally speaking.

But hedging luck by picking through a preserved battlefield is wrong – legally in some cases as seen here and in my opinion ethically. I have no tolerance for those who will pick through a preserved battlefield. Those are lands set aside for protection – be that national, state, or local park; land held by a conservation/preservation organization (such as Civil War Trust); or even just under a conservation easement. And that protection extends to the artifacts in the ground, in my opinion.

If the artifacts in the ground are indeed THAT important as to warrant digging post holes for metal detector hits, well perhaps it is time to call for a formal archaeological survey.