Britishmade Guns

Battery Rodgers Alexandria

A Parrot! rifle, front, and a Rodman gun, behind it, in Battery Rodgers, overlooking the Potomac River In Alexandria, Virginia. (Library of Congress)

iom the description

A Parrot! rifle, front, and a Rodman gun, behind it, in Battery Rodgers, overlooking the Potomac River In Alexandria, Virginia. (Library of Congress)

(-I eat Britain made the most advanced artillery available in 1861 and the Confederates, since they were unable to make as many guns as they needed for themselves, took advantage of British technology by buying as many guns as possible from overseas. Early in the war, the Confederate War Department sent Caleb Huse as its purchasing agent to London.

On the subject of British-made heavy artillery, Huse wrote the War Department in Richmond on May 2L 1861; "I have in my possession detailed drawings of the Armstrong gun, which I shall copy and forward by the first opportunity. 1 shall also be able to send with these full descriptions of the mode of manufacture, as given by Sit William IG, Armstrong] himself, and drawings of his fuse ... There seems to be no doubt, however, from the inquiries ! have made, that the British Government lias entire confidence in the Armstrong gun. To the large guns there appears to be some objection."

Furthermore, he wrote: "I have met Capt. Blakely and have conversed with him about his gun. As vet I have failed to see anything in his principle which would cause me to purchase his cannon. He uses the same principle that Armstrong employs of wrapping an interior core with wrought-iron spirals and in fact he claims the merit of the invention. The chief difference appears to be that Capt. Blakely uses a cast-iron core, while Sir William has a wrought-iron centerpiece. The Northern States have purchased some Clay breech-loaders, I am informed, at enormous prices. From the accounts I have received of them, and from a cursory inspection of one, I should think the men about the breech would stand a little better chance than the enemy, but that the difference would he very slight. I am told that they were invoiced as Armstrong guns. I lie true Armstrong cannot be had. 1 think, however, that they can be manufactured from the drawings which 1 shall send to the Department."

Confederate ordnance officers were told that Clay wanted £400 [$2,000] for an 8-inch gun and £500 [$2,500] for a 9-inch and, despite the cost. ordered at least one for testing. Recalled E. Porter Alexander: "A few of the favorite English rifled gurts were brought through the

Weapons Gettysburg
A 20-pounder Parrott rifle, the smallest piece of artillery considered "heavy artillery." (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

blockade, and used in the Army of Northern Virginia, comprising the Clay, Whit-worth, Blakely, and Armstrong shunt pattern. The Clay gun was a breech-; loader, and was called an improvement upon the breech-loading Armstrong, which was manufactured for the English Government only, and could not be obtained. It.s grooving and its breech-loading arrangements appeared simpler and of greater strength. On 1, however, it failed in every particular. Every projectile fired 'tumbled' and fell nearer the gun than the target, and at the seventh round the solid breech piece was cracked through and the gun disabled,"

That left the Blakely and the Armstrong, which was not available since the British Government had an interest in Armstrong's company until 1802. Thereafter, his guns became available to the South. Charleston citizen Joseph Walker wrote on October 24, 1863, to < Charleston's commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard: "During mv recent visit to Europe, from where I have just returned ... I gained some information about guns, iu mv investigation, that 1 thought might be of some importance, and have transmitted the facts to Col. Gorgas, ai Richmond.

"The main facts are these: That ten guns of 9-inch and ten guns of I I- inch cast-steel, of the Ulakelv pattern, can be had immediately. I lie)1 are a good gun, and will penetrate two plates, each of 4 inches thickness.

"Second: That the Armstrong gun can he gotten, through a friend, in any number. Sir William Armstrong does not wish his name to appear, iu consequence of his relations to his own Government,"

In fact, ihc Confederates purchased both weapons, two Blakely rifles arriving in Charleston in September, 186:1. Colonel William Lamb, commander of Fort Fisher, described his North Carolina post: "The land face mounted twenty of the heaviest seacoast guns, and was 682 yards long; the sea face with twenty-four equally heavy guns (including a 170-pounder Blakely rifle and 130-pounder Armstrong rifle, both imported from England) was 1,898 yards in length."

The Armstrong was produced from wrought-iron tubes made from spiral coils welded into a single bar as bands formed around a mandrel. Steel replaced wrought-iron for the main tube by the end of 1864, although the rest of the weapon was made of these bands formed around die mandrel. Additionally, the first Armstrong guns were breech-loaders, but these failed, and after early 1863 the company made all it.s guns as muzzle-loaders. The weapons were "shunt rifles," a process that used a small number of grooves in the barrel and ammunition with matching rows of zinc strips (later brass studs) to engage the grooves. The 150-pounder Armstrong rifle used at Fort Fisher was a breech-loader mounted on a British barbette carriage that featured six traverse wheels and side compressors, something not seen on American-made carriages.

Blake]y guns were made of cast iron with wrought iron or, more commonly, steel breech bands. They were produced by various British makers, including Fawcett, Preston & Co,; Low Moor Iron Co.; George Forrester & Co.; and Blakely Ordnance Co., and sold to various foreign powers, including Russia, and to Massachusetts, which bought eight 9-inch and four 11-inch models during the war, The 9-inch fired a 248-pound bdlt, using a 30-pound charge. The 11-inch fired a 375-pound bolt with a 37.25 pound charge. A 4.5-inch version was used at Fort Pulaski, while 7.5-inch versions were used by the Confederates at Vickslmrg and in northern Virginia. Two 8-inch. 200-pounder BJakelys were in the defenses of Mobile, Alabama, While the two Charleston guns were 12.75-inch. The latter were die largest tilled guns in the C Confederate arsenal.

Major Edward Manigualt reported from the defenses of Charleston in September 1803, that his crew, "Fired also 4 Shell with the 1 in. Blakely Gun The results were unsatisfactory. The projectiles (lew very wildly. Elevations 13", 14', 15° & lb /V\" Again, on September 21. he wrote: "In afternoon fired 6 Shots with 4 inch Blakely gun at Black Island. The results very unsatisfactoiy. We can make nothing of litis gun with the projectiles furnished us."

Even so, Charleston's defenders wanted even bigger Blakelv guns, and ordered two 12.75-inch Blakely guns for that post. Made of cast iron with a bronze air chamber at the breech, with a steel baud around the powder chamber, they weighed almosi 50,000 pounds each and each Special Carriage with all accessories weighed 58,000 pounds. Each solid cylindrical shot was 20 inches long and weighed 650 pounds. The powder charge for the bolt was 50 pounds and shells weighed 470 pounds. Due to their weight, the weapon had a small hoist on the top of the barrel that allowed the shot to be raised to the muzzle. The gun used a huge four-wheeled top carriage that allowed the weapon to be loaded, and then moved tip the bottom carriage into firing position, 'The recoil shoved the top Carriage back after firing. Sliding friction against the bottom carriage reduced strain on carriage and gun.

Ouce loaded, die charge was rammed against the reinforced breech, but not into i lie bronze chamber which was to remain free to serve as an air-filled shock absorber. Then a projectile was placed in the lifting mechanism and cranked to the muzzle. The shell or boh flanges had to be aligned to the rifling by hand and then the shot was rammed in until snug against the cartridge. The gun would ilien be moved forward, aimed with two vertical gunsights and a

Parrott rifles at Battery Meade, Morris Island, during the firing into Charleston. (Library of Congress)

Parrott rifles at Battery Meade, Morris Island, during the firing into Charleston. (Library of Congress)

Mine Creek WashingtonParrott Rifle
Siege Gun CarriageFort Stevens WashingtonRichmond Howitzer Battalion100 Pounder Parrott ShellFort Stevens Washington


Gun Casemate

1. VluzzJe

2. Traversing Pintle

3. Traversing Race

4. Elevating Spindle

5. Tangent Sight

6. Vent

7. Bore

8. Eccentric Trucks

9. Upper Carnage

10. Hand Spike

11. Gunner's Calipers

12. Vent Pick

13. Water Bucket

14. Tar Bucket

Siege Motar Canon

E: A 150-pounder Armstrong, top, and a 13-inch siege mortar and carriage, bottom

Artillery Sight


Fort Stevens WashingtonFort Stevens WashingtonPounder Armstrong
Abraham Lincoln Fires Rifle
A Parrott rifle in the fortifications around Fort Stevens, Washington, DC, where President Abraham Lincoln actually came under fire during the Confederate raid on the city in 1864,

screw jack, A pointer on the right trunnion indicated the degrees of elevation. Then the lanyard was pulled and the weapon fired. Loading and firing was a slow operation.

Placed in position, the Charleston guns were tested before artillerymen received the necessary instruction manual. The novice gunners, not understanding the purpose of the air chamber behind the breech, loaded three charges into the air chamber and another in the breech. The incorrect loading ruptured the chamber, cracking the cast-iron breech in I I places. Confederate ordnance reported 011 October 3. 1863: "The bursting of the heavy rifled guns is not sufficiently explained by the character of the metal, as Gen. Beauregard supposes. The cast iron of these guns was entirely satisfactory, and their premature destruction is due to the constant heavy charges with which they have been fired. But the same excuse cannot be made for the bursting of the 600-pounder imported Blakely gun. The destruction of this formidable gun was due to a want of forethought, unpardonable in an officer as experienced as Gen. Ripley, as appears from the following telegram, just received from Capt, Harding (October 3), as to remaining gun:

"Col. Yates yesterday fired large Blakely gun with charges from 30 to 55 pounds powder, 470 pound shell, with perfect success: elevation, 2 degrees; gave range I /< miles; cartridge in front of brass chamber." Thus the second gun, correctly loaded, proved a success. Local mechanics repaired the breech of the first gun and gov that back into service.

The Confederates also purchased one other type of British-made rifle, the Whitworth 70-pounder (5-inch), as well as smaller 12-pounders

75-inch), some of which ended tip in fortifications such as Fort Fisher. Several of these 70-pounders were later captured by Union blockaders, and then used against the Confederates around Charleston. Confederate E. Porter Alexander recalled in 1866 that Whitworths "often rendered valuable service by their great range and accuracy. They fired solid shot almost exclusively; but they were perfectly reliable, and their projectiles never failed to fly in (lie most beautiful trajectory imaginable. Their breech-loading arrangements, however, often worked with difficulty,,." Union experts around Charleston, however, disliked the 70-pounders, finding them prone tu premature explosions when

Parrott Rifle

Parrott rifles at Fort Brady, one of the ring of forts around Washington, DC, manned by members of Co, G, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery. (Library of Congress)

firing shell, difficult 10 operate since the projectile tended to wedge halfway into the breech, and inaccurate compared to 8-inch Parrotts.

Confederates generally lield their British-made, breech-loading guns in reserve, because of the cost of the ammunition. As Fort Fisher's Colonel Lamb recalled: "The Armstrong gnu had only one dozen rounds of fixed ammunition, and no other projectile could be used in its delicate groves," However, when they were fired, they proved worth their cost. In reporting on a Union assault on Fort Fisher, North Carolina, Lamb noted: "About 2 p.m. the flagship and other frigates came closer to the bar and lowered boats, which approached to sound the bar. The Brooke gun battery opened upon them, with other guns, and drove them out. The Armstrong gun, which had been held in reserve during the fight, was pointed late in the afu ■moon on the flagship lying off the bar, and one steel shot amidships caused the admiral's pennant again to withdraw."

Nonetheless, all the British-made rifles presented problems because the\ required ammunition beyond Southern manufacturing capabilities. As Alexander recalled: "The Blakely guns were twelve pounder rifles, muzzle loaders, and fired very well with English ammunition ('built up' shells with leaden bases), but with the Confederate substitute, they experienced the same difficulties which attended this ammunition in all guns."

Parrott rifles at Fort Brady, one of the ring of forts around Washington, DC, manned by members of Co, G, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery. (Library of Congress)

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  • lotta
    How is an artillery gun disabled?
    6 years ago

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