Six groove sawtooth rifling: The rifles of A.B. Reading and Brother

Mentioned earlier, this piece on the Five Forks battlefield is interesting for several reasons.

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3-inch A.B.Reading Rifle #24 at Five Forks

Before the normal “walk around,” a bit about A.B. Reading & Brother. Vicksburg, Mississippi plantation and businessman Abram Breech Reading operated a foundry and machine works near the river along with his brother C.A. Reading. As one might expect, the firm turned out products supporting steamboats and light industry. Shortly after the start of the war, the firm turned to military products. But later that year, the firm leased out much of its equipment to the Atlanta Arsenal and ceased cannon production themselves. Yet, between December 1861 and May 1862, receipts credit A.B. Reading & Brother with delivery of 45 cannons. All were bronze field pieces – 6-pdr guns, 12-pdr howitzers, and 3-inch rifles. It is the 3-inch rifles this post will focus upon.

Reading delivered at least fourteen 3-inch rifles. But there were some variations in the production lots. Compare the values provided on a receipt issued in January 1862 –

… with another in June 1862 –

Hard to read? Here’s the summary:

  • December 14, 1861 – one 6-pdr weighing 844 pounds.
  • December 31, 1861 – one 6-pdr weighing 844 pounds.
  • December 31, 1861 – one “6-pdr rifle” weighing 957 pounds.
  • January 6, 1862 – three 6pdrs averaging 844 pounds.
  • January 6, 1862 – three “6-pdr rifles” weighing 956, 659, and 955.
  • March 25, 1862 – three 6-pdrs averaging 808 pounds.
  • March 25, 1862 – three 3-inch rifles averaging 875 pounds.
  • April 12, 1862 – three 6-pdrs averaging 809 pounds.

Noting these variations, the writers of Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War speculated there were at least two different casting patterns in use. The early batches of 6-pdrs is about forty pounds lighter than a US regulation Model 1841 6-pdr, but within tolerances. One surviving Reading 6-pdr is a trophy at West Point and conforms generally to the Model 1841 pattern. The heavier weight listed for the “6-pdr rifle” are within the range expected for a 6-pdr bored out as a 3-inch rifle. The weights are just twenty pounds or so heavier than that recorded for early Tredegar Bronze 3-inch rifles using the Model 1841 envelope. Given those weight figures, Reading likely used the Model 1841 casting pattern for both 6-pdrs and 3-inch rifles.

But for the later batch, those weights are much lower than expected for Model 1841 or derivatives. And that might easily be explained by a reduction in length, either to simplify the casting or a reduction in precious bronze. The Model 1841 guns were 65.6 inches long, while that piece pictured above at Five Forks is only 63.5 inches overall (61 inches without the knob). The shorter length and reduced profile accounts for some of the 75 pound difference, if not all, in both the 6-pdr smoothbore and 3-inch rifles from the later batches. Enough circumstantial evidence to argue Reading used two different casting patterns.

All four surviving Reading 3-inch rifles match the later pattern. All but one have an erratic set of stampings on the right trunnion.

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Right Trunnion of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The stampings are in two different sizes. The top line, curved with the trunnion edge, reads “A.B.R. and Bro.” Early “cannon hunters” failed to see the period after the “R” and interpreted that as “A.B. Rand Bro.” and thus could not correctly identify the firm. The second line notes the firm’s location in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In a smaller font is the year of manufacture “1862” and below that is the gun’s foundry number – 24.

The left trunnion displays three letters – “COL.” This appears to be a post-delivery stamp and might be post-war. Notice the trunnion face is a bit recessed from the carriage cheeks. And the trunnions require a spacer to fit properly on the carriage. The Reading Rifle’s trunnions are slightly smaller than those of the Quinby & Robinson Rifles of the same caliber.

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Left Trunnion of Reading #24

The breech profile matches that of the Quinby & Robinson 3-inch rifles at Petersburg – well-rounded knob, thick fillet, rounded breech face, and a base ring. Notice the vent is bouched.

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Breech Profile of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The base ring is about 1 1/8 inches wide. The stamping to the right of the ruler is an Army depot tracking number.

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Base ring of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The trunnions and rimbases also match that of the Quinby & Robinson 3-inch rifle.

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Rimbases and Trunnions of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The muzzle is straight, lacking any swell. The front sight post sat directly on top, where a tapped hole is now.

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Muzzle profile of Reading 3-inch rifle

The bore diameter is, as advertized, 3-inches.

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Bore measure of Reading 3-inch Rifle

But look a little closer at that rifling, particularly at the edges on the muzzle face. Those are “sawtooth” grooves, often used by Confederate cannon makers.

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Rifling of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The grooves are left-handed. This particular gun has a bit more bore wear than the Quinby & Robinson gun.

The rifling pattern is the only significant difference between the guns produced by Quinby & Robinson and A.B. Reading & Brother. These are “cousins” in most other respects. As seen with the James series, bronze was not the best metal for rifled field pieces. The bronze rifles compared dis-favorably to 3-inch Ordnance Rifles encountered on the battlefield. No doubt some of the 3-inch rifles were melted down by the Confederates for casting into more useful 12-pdr Napoleons.

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Reading Rifle guarding Five Forks

One that did survive the war and post-war scrapings is A.B. Reading & Brother’s number 24. Today that rifle sits a long way from its place of origin, guarding Five Forks – an obscure gun guarding a famous crossroads.


Sent down river for finishing: Quinby & Robinson’s Vicksburg connections

In the last cannon post, I closed with mention of similar 3-inch rifle patterns used by both Memphis gunmaker Quinby & Robinson and the Vicksburg firm of A.B. Reading & Brother. You saw this photo in the earlier post:

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

Compare to this 3-inch rifle on display at Five Forks:

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3-inch A.B.Reading Rifle #24 at Five Forks

The two rifles share a common external form. Although records are silent, the most likely explanation is Confederate officials distributed documentation for the patterns. But there is also a formal connection between the two companies, with a sub-contracting twist.

Quinby & Robinson and A.B. Reading were among several companies in the Mississippi Valley which answered the Confederate calls for ordnance early in the war. Even without any formal experience in the field, both firms made credible progress. But of course, like many other Confederate gunmakers, the efforts suffered with the lack of raw materials. And like other Western Theater companies, the two firms were endangered by Federal advances.

Quinby & Robinson suffered one additional setback. On September 30, 1861 a fire destroyed much of the Memphis firm’s facilities. The timing of the fire was unfortunate. Prior to the fire, Quinby & Robinson was able to deliver up several cannon a week. After the calamity, the firm had several unfinished castings on hand without the means to complete. So the Memphians turned to other vendors. A receipt from February 20, 1862 indicates Quinby & Robinson turned to at least three different firms. Two of which were in Vicksburg.

Listed on the receipt, A.B. Reading & Brother completed four 12-pdr howitzers and one 6-pdr gun for Quinby & Robinson.

A line below, A.M. Paxton, another Vicksburg firm, received credit for finishing three more 6-pdrs. There was more work for Paxton, but I’ll save that as a tangent to follow on a follow up post. The only 3-inch rifles listed on the receipt were two completed by the Memphis entrepreneur George Washington Grader.

Still, if Quinby & Robinson sent unfinished castings to Vicksburg, is it also plausible for them to send detailed plans and casting models? If so, that might account for the nearly identical guns provided by Quinby & Robinson and A.B. Reading & Brother.

Nearly identical, I say. There are some differences between the rifles from the two companies. To see those differences, one has to look down the bores.

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.

Memphis Napoleons: 12-pdr field guns from Quinby & Robinson

In the spring of 1862 the Memphis based firm of Quinby & Robinson was on the way to become a major cannon manufacturer for the Confederacy.  The firm began casting guns for state and private orders in April 1861 and eventually delivered nearly eighty guns for Confederate requests.  Although they are best known for 6-pdr field guns and 12-pdr field howitzers, Quinby & Robinson was among the first sources of 12-pdr Napoleon guns in the Confederacy.

The first pair of Napoleons rolled out of the Poplar Avenue factory in February 1862.  Another half-dozen were still at the factory when the Federals won the naval battle of Memphis on June 6, 1862.  Confederate authorities managed to remove those guns and the foundry received credit for delivery.  Four of those six appear on a June 11 receipt.

The total weight of the four pieces, recorded as 4424 pounds, has the average weight per gun at 1106 pounds.  That’s a little low for a typical Napoleon of Federal manufacture.  But acceptable for the later Confederate types.  But I also wouldn’t rule out error, or a poorly calibrated cotton scale.

Two Quinby & Robinson guns survive today – both at Gettysburg.  Foundry number 37 is currently off the field waiting to be remounted for display.  It is a Confederate Type 2.  When it returns to public display I’ll provide a detailed examination.

The next foundry number in the sequence, number 38, represents Ross’s Battery along West Confederate Avenue.  This is the lone Type 3 gun known today.

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Quinby & Robinson Napoleon Number 38

The most obvious feature is the muzzle band.  This is very similar, though larger, to the muzzle band on 12-pdr field howitzers.

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Muzzle profile of Quinby & Robinson Napoleon number 38

The bore of this gun seems to call out with a story… one that probably involves canister fired at close range!

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Bore of Quinby & Robinson Napoleon

And a scar along the barrel might tell another story.  Perhaps from a handling accident… or perhaps from a glancing shot during the heat of battle?

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Scar on Quinby & Robinson Napoleon

The right trunnion still shows the vendor’s name and home city.

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Right Trunnion of Quinby & Robinson Napoleon

The left trunnion displays the year of manufacture – 1862.

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Left Trunnion of Quinby & Robinson Napoleon

Under the area where the rear sight once sat is a weight stamp – 1320.  This is rather high for even a Federal Napoleon.  Again, I’m left to speculate about some poorly calibrated scale or some error on the part of the man with the die.

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Weight stamp under sight mount

And while we are there, notice the three screw holes here.  This is inverse of that seen on Federal guns and on most Confederate weapons.

The cascabel of the Quinby & Robinson Napoleon is a robust knob (almost the size of a softball).

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Quinby & Robinson Napoleon - rear angle

This view also shows the length of the reinforce, before the gun tapers towards the muzzle.  The reinforce of number 38 is 15 inches, or about the same as standard Federal models.

Delivered at a desperate time for the Confederates in the west, number 38 likely went right to a field battery.  The scars and scraps allude to hard service.   Often times I’ve wondered if the gun, or one of its mates, is in the line-up of guns captured on Missionary Ridge in 1863.

Look hard at the ninth gun from this end....

But for now old number 38 is just a silent artifact of the war.  And a rare type at that.

Napoleons in Gray: Confederate light 12-pdr Field Guns

Thus far most of my “Napoleonic” posts have focused on guns made for the Federal side of the war.  But as any student of the war knows, the Confederates made light 12-pdr field guns too.  So time I put descriptions of those guns in my posting queue.

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Leeds & Company "Type 2" Napoleon

Recall the Napoleon was the “new toy” in the field artillery batteries when the war broke out.  Of five 12-pdr Model 1857 Field Guns in service by July 1861, one – the prototype – was considered unserviceable and the other four were in Captain Henry Hunt’s Company M, 2nd US Artillery.  Of course the Confederates started the war with none.  Very early, artillerists on both sides recognized the advantage of the light 12-pdr.  Last summer I wrote of Brigadier General William Barry’s preference.  On the Confederate side, the preference shift came later during the 1862 campaign season. By December of that year, General Robert E. Lee cited the need to upgrade all smoothbore weapons in the Army of Northern Virginia to 12-pdr light field guns.

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Quinby & Robinson "Type 3" Napoleon

Confederate Napoleon production, although on a limited scale, preceded the demand.  J.R. Anderson (Tredegar) held a contract from the State of Georgia, issued in February 1861, which included twelve 12-pdr light field guns.  However, wartime demands likely overtook the completion of that contract.  To the west, foundries in New Orleans and Memphis both produced 12-pdr Napoleons prior to the fall of those river cities in the spring of 1862.  Only after the winter of 1862-3 did Confederate Napoleon production start in earnest, when production shifted to government run foundries and arsenals.  Overall production totals, estimated at over 500 examples, was less than half that of the Federal foundries.

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Confederate "Type 5" Napoleon from Macon Arsenal

In Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, the historians James C. Hazlett, Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks offered six categories to define the documented and surviving Confederate Napoleons:

  • Type 1 – early designs attributed to Tredegar.  Similar to the early Federal types with handles.  However with a 12-inch long reinforce, higher breech face (“more conical”), and bulbous muzzle swell.  The Type known only from a plan found in the National Archives, with no matching survivors.
  • Type 2 – early production from Leeds & Company and Quinby & Robinson.  These resemble standard Federal production patterns, with slightly different moldings at the muzzle and cascabel.
  • Type 3 – represented by a single surviving gun from Quinby & Robinson, lacking muzzle swell but with a chase ring.
  • Type 4 – Tredegar production from November 1862.  These survivors feature the breech face and 12-inch reinforce from the paper Type 1, but without the muzzle swell.
  • Type 5 – the most widely produced and what might be considered the “standard” Confederate design.  This type featured a 15 inch reinforce, elongated knob and neck cascabel, and a straight taper to the muzzle, with no swell.  Although each has detail variations, four government gun factories made this type along with Tredegar.
  • Type 6 – in the last year of the war Tredegar turned to cast iron when bronze came in short supply.  These feature a breech band and blended rimbases.

Tredegar produced just under half of the Confederate Napoleons, in both bronze and iron types.   And half of Tredegar’s deliveries were cast iron Type 6 guns.

Tredegar "Type 6" Iron Napoleon

Aside from the small quantity of Type 2 and 3 guns, an estimated 20, the remainder of the Confederate Napoleons came from the deep south government run facilities – the Government Foundry and Machine Works, Augusta Georgia; Macon Arsenal, Macon, Georgia; the Confederate States Arsenal, Columbus, Georgia; and the Charleston Arsenal, Charleston, South Carolina.  An estimated 270 came from those four facilities.

Charleston Arsenal "Type 5" Napoleon

With the various types and sources, the story of the Confederate Napoleon is good fodder for future posts.

Howitzers from Poplar Avenue: 12-pdrs from Quinby & Robinson

Time to discuss some of the products from my favorite Confederate gunmaker.  Even before Tennessee had officially seceded, the firm of Quinby & Robinson began casting cannon at their Memphis foundry located near the corner of Poplar and Front Streets.  Hindered by a fire which destroyed much of the foundry, Quinby & Robinson still managed to deliver over 75 cannon before Memphis fell to Federal forces.  The majority of those pieces, forty or so, were 12-pdr field howitzers.   Eight of those are reported as survivors today.

One of those howitzers ventured far from its western Tennessee home, standing today as part of Poague’s Howitzers near the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg.

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Quinby & Robinson 12-pdr Field Howitzer

Externally, Quinby & Robinson followed the Federal Model 1841 pattern rather closely.

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Muzzle Moldings on Quinby & Robinson Howitzer

Missing is the thin fillet on the muzzle ring, but that ring and the chase ring are within tolerances for the Model 1841 pattern.  The Memphis-made howitzer has a bit more muzzle lip however.

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Neck and Fillet on Breech

Quinby & Robinson allowed nearly a half-inch fillet for the cascabel neck.

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Trunnions and Reinforce

The reinforce and trunnions also matched the Federal pattern.  The howitzer at Gettysburg has a thin line behind the trunnions, almost delineating a trunnion band.  But this appears to be a variation on this piece and not a feature on all weapons in the series.

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Right Trunnion

The right trunnion reads “Quinby & Robinson // Memphis Tenn.”

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Left Trunnion

And the left simply reads “1861.”

The 12-pdr at Gettysburg certainly adds to the “Confederate” flavor to the display, standing next to other howitzers of southern origin (a Washington Foundry and two Noble Brothers howitzers along with an Alger piece). But the Quinby & Robinson howitzer is out of place geographically.  More to my taste are these two examples at Shiloh.

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Bankhead's Battery on Ruggles' Line at Shiloh

Two Quinby & Robinson howitzers represent Bankhead’s Tennessee Battery on Ruggles’ Line.  One of the pair was cast in 1861.  Since Bankhead’s formed in Memphis, and was equipped with 12-pdr howitzers, this raises a possibility that very piece was on the field with the battery during the battle.  I bet someone was thinking about that possibility when they put it there.

Contracting, 1861 Style: Quinby & Robinson Send a Man to Columbus

One reason I like to review the Confederate Citizens Files is located the “small” stories that help fill out the big picture.  For example consider this jacket from the folder for the Quinby & Robinson firm based out of Memphis, Tennessee.

My “western” colleagues will immediately pick out the signature line for Major General Alexander P. Stewart below the note.  Although in this case the bill came to a paltry $75, Stewart felt the need to take time out of his busy day (February 22, 1862) and explain why Quinby & Robinson had sent the invoice.

Messrs. Quinby & Robinson had work done in several Field Post, times at this Post, by a special order of mine dated Sep. 27, 1861.  I being, at the time, Major & Chief of Arty. at Columbus.

Inside the jacket is a copy of Stewart’s order.

Specifically, on September 27, 1861, Stewart asked for technical support.

I wish you to send a workman to Columbus, this evening, prepared to ream out the vents of some field guns, to put on the seats of Pendulum Hausses, and if possible to supply Capt. R. A. Stewart with the screw bolts & nuts for which are missing in a 12 pdr. Howitzer Caisson.

Quinby & Robinson forwarded an invoice promptly on October 30 with a simple description, “Sending man to Columbus with material to work on Batteries.

The invoice does not break down per diem or transportation costs, just a single line for $75.  Not even a charge for the bolts (if indeed transferred).  One wonders what the firm of J.R. Anderson & Company might have charged!

The paper trail is unexciting.  Then again, we are looking at maintenance support, which is never exciting unless it fails – and then everyone is yelling.  But these three sheets of paper are indicators of the lack of trained ordnance personnel within the Confederate ranks at critical points.  The work called for was normally conducted by uniformed personnel.  Someone like Sergeant Burt, for instance.

But at the massive fortress growing around Columbus, Kentucky in the fall of 1861, there were few technical resources who could help with that work.  So the Confederacy reached out to private firms to provide such personnel.  Perhaps some day more information might emerge to identify the name of the individual sent to Columbus and his background.  Even better would be a record of the work or observations about the military activities.  However after 150 years, such is probably too much to hope for.

But the invoice does indicate the Confederacy lacked some important human resources.  It is one thing to produce and field the guns, and another entirely to supply and maintain them.