Columbiads

The columbiad is a type of gun dating from the beginning of the 19th century and is considered the first piece ol purely American-designed ordnance. It first saw service in the War of 1812, both on ships and with the army, and came in 24-pounder, 50-pounder, and 100-pounder sizes. In 18.11, the first 50-pourider columbiads appeared for use as seacoast guns, followed by the 100-pounder columbiads in 1819. Originally, these were short, large-bore cannon used to fire solid shot and were made with a chamber at (lie base of the bore like a howitzer. In 1844, the weapon was redesigned to accept a larger powder charge by lengthening the tube and increasing the tube's weight. In practice, this did not work, and the previous si/e charges remained die standard. A further change was made in 1858 with the removal of the muzzle swell and base ring. The powder chambers were also eliminated,

Columbiads were made with elevating ratchets that ran all the way up the face of the breech, permitting elevation to 39", rather than the 15° elevation possible for a gun that used an elevating screw or quoins placed under the breech.

Columbiads had become larger by the Civil War. According to Colonel Henry Scott, writing in 1861, the columbiad was: "An American cannon invented by Colonel [George] liomford [1780 - 1848], of very large caliber, used for throwing solid shot or shells, which, when mounted in barbette, tias a vertical field of fire from 5 depression to 39 elevation, and a horizontal field of fire of 360". Those of the old pattern were chambered, but they are now cast without, and otherwise greatly improved. The 10-inch [128-pounder] weighs 15,400 lbs,, and is 126 inches long. The 8-inch columbiad [64-pounder] is 124 inches long and weighs 9,240 lbs. Rodman's 15-inch columbiad [49, 100 lbs] ... was cast at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by Knapp, Rudd & Co., under the directions of Captain TJ. Rodman, of the Ordnance Corps, who conceived the design* which he has happily executed, of casting guns of large size hollow, and by means ofa current of water introduced into the core, which forms the mold of the bore, cooling it from the interior, and thus making the metal about the bore of the hardest and densest, and giving the whole thickness of metal subjected to internal strain its maximum strength,"

The Rodman method of casting was developed in the mid-1840s and consisted of cooling the gun from the inside out to improve stress resistance when firing. An army officer, Rodman offered the casting system to the Ordnance Department, hut was turned down. He then went into business with Charles Knapp ol the Fort Pitt Foundry, which began casting guns made by this system. As it turned out, Rodman's calculations were correct, and as a result larger columbiads could be cast, using the Rodman system, than could have been before. Rodman-cast guns have smooth, flowing lines, and as a result many period cannoneers incorrectly called the 3-inch Ordnance Rifles "Rodman guns."

The major Southern cannon founders, the Tredegar Iron Works and the Be lion a Foundry, both in Virginia, had, before the war, rejected the Rodman casting system. As a result, they were limited in the size of columbiads they could cast. Tredegar finally learned to use the Rodman casting method, and in November, !8(>4, finallv

This smoothbore in Port Royal, South Carolina, is mounted on the standard wooden carriage. Notice how it is elevated by means of quoins, or wedges with handles, shoved between the bottom of the tube and the top of the carriage. The carriage is mounted on a center pintle so that it can be revolved in a complete circle. (Library of Congress)

Thomas Rodman Smoothbore ColumbiadVicksburg Water Batteries
Prewar smoothbores pressed into service by the Confederates and mounted in the water battery along the Mississippi River at Vicksburg. The vents are covered to protect them from the weather by metal caps secured to the tube with leather straps. [Library of Congress)

cast a 12-inch j^nn using (his system. However, it was too hue in ihe war to produce such guns in any numbers. The 15-inch columbiad requested in 1861 from Tredegar was never produced. One of Tredegar'» first efforts, a 6,4-inch columbiad, was sent to the defenses of Savannah, where h blew up on the first shot, killing two and wounding several others, Robert K, Lee, an observer, was narrowly missed by one of the pieces of the gun.

Bellona, although it never did cast any guns with I ho Rodman system, produced some 15 8-inch and 10-inch columbiads in 1862, until its production was interrupted by a fire in the foundry. By June, 1863, production of columbiads at Bellona resumed, but in 1863 the foundry delivered only 12 10-inch columbiads, along with two 7-inch guns and two 9-inch guns. A 10-inch Bellona columbiad in the West Point collection bears ihe serial number 67 and an 1804 date.

In September, 1861, a Natchez, Tennessee, newspaper reported: "An 8-inch columbiad has been manufactured at the foundry of Messrs. Bennett & Lurges of New Orleans under the superintendence of Mr. Daniel Brasill, according to the most approved pattern. It was east solid and bored. The time occupied in boring was two weeks, and when it was tested, according to the general rules for that purpose, it was found to stand all that could be put upon it." Shells were thrown from it without straining, a distance of a full two miles." Before New Orleans fell, the Company cast five of these guns, each weighing 11,000 pounds.

Noble Brothers & Co., Rome, Georgia, cast several columbiads. but these were rejected by the Con led crate Ordnance Department for faulty casting.

In terms of range, Colonel Scott reported of the gun at Fort Monroe: 'The mean ranges at 6" elevation, often shots, was 1,936 yards, and the mean lateral deviation 2.2 yards; 35 lbs. of .6-inch grain powder being the charge and 7" the time of flight. At 10" elevation and 40 lbs. of powder, large grain, the range was 2,700 yards, and the time of flights I I ".48. At 28: 35' elevation the range was 5,730 yards; time of ¡light 27", and the lateral deviation, as observed with a telescope attached to one of the trunnions, very slight."

On the Confederate side. Major Edward Manigault, commander of the Siege Train, Charleston garrison, reported on typical firing patterns with an 8-inch columbiad on August, 17, 1863, "... opened fire at I 1 A.M. from the 8 in columbiad in Battery I laskell. According to instructions directed the fire entirely on the heavy Rifle Batteries to South of the House on Morris Island known as Graham's 1 hi. Quarters.

Filed 27 shots from this cohimbiad in course of day. With 8 lb. cartridges, average elevation of 22" 30". With 10 lb. cartridges, an average elev. of 20 . The practice was Hot good and ail the shells failed to burst except about three.''

The Confederates also tried turning prewar smoothbore columbiads into more modern rifled pieces, apparently with some success. On Jan nan 9, 1864; General P.G.T, Beauregard wrote Colonel Josiah Gorgas, Chicl of Ordnance, the results of experiments in ordnance tried at Charleston, in which he commanded: "I have delayed answering your letter of the 27th November, 1863, referring to the rifling and banding of 8-inch and 10-inch columbiads, until I could carefully reconsider my preconceived views and subject them to the test of actual experiment.

"Up to this time, however, the enemy have not given me an opportunity of trying the 10-inch rifled and banded columbiads as fully as 1 desire; but so far the results with the 8-inch rifled and banded pieces have been most satisfactory. Your letter alludes chiefly to the 10-inch guu, hut as your objections and conclusions must apply equally to the 8-inch as to the 10-inch, ! must acquaint you that an 8-inch gun, rifled and double banded, in position at Fort Moultrie, lias been fired through some four or five different engagements, in all over 100 times, with shell weighing over 100 pounds and bolts 140 pounds, with most satisfactory results, giving a greater range with die same charges and less elevation than the smoothbore, with shell and shot of less than half the weight The gun is uninjured, and there is no apparent reason why ii should not last a long time.

"It is regarded Ijv Geri. Ripley as the best gun in the battery* and in action has an immediate effect upon the enemy's ironclads, which alwavs try to avoid it.

"This having proved a success, three others of the same kind have been prepared and placed in position in the harbor batteries, but owing to the limited supply of projectiles a thorough lest has not been applied. The charges used have been 8 pounds and 10 pounds of coarse-grained powder, and the range shows these to have been sufficient to give full velocity to the projectiles for distances of 1,000 yards.

"The experiment on 10-inch columbiads was first made with one which had a trunnion knocked off at Fort Sumter, and the rifling and banding of which was executed by a private firm. Another one was banded at the arsenal and rifled by the same parties who altered the first one. When finished 1 had the former mounted on Sullivan's Island and the latter on James Island. Gen. Ripley writes as follows touching both;

"They have both been tried, the latter (One at

A Confederate naval gun at Yorktown. Note the solid shot piled up behind it within easy reach of the crew.

A Confederate naval gun at Yorktown. Note the solid shot piled up behind it within easy reach of the crew.

Confederate ColumbiadsPounder Seacoast Photo
A 32-pounder seacoast gun at Fort Slemmer, Arlington Heights, Virginia, part of the defenses of Washington, The man in front of the carriage wears a gunner's pouch in which he carries friction primers to fire the gun, and holds a lanyard tight, apparently ready to fire. {Library of Congress]

Fdrt Johnson, banded ¿it the arsenal) with a projectile invented by Gapt. Harding, weighting] about 215 pounds, and a Parrott projectile, weight[ing]about 250 pounds, and charges of 15 pounds and 16 pounds. With the latter, excellent results were obtained. The former projectiles failed generally to take the grooves, and vviih 16 pounds broke up. The practice 1 have been informed has been delayed by die starting of one of the bands which was defectively welded, the gun itself being uninjured.

"f'he other gun has been fired with 12 and 15 pounds of powder with Harding's projectiles only, others not having been furnished. Twelve hundred yards was obtained with 2 /■> degrees elevation and 12 pounds large-grained powder, when the projectiles took the grooves. With 15 pounds the projectile broke. The gun tints far is uninjured, and 1 have no doubt will continue so under any ordinary practice. This will be continued as soon as Parrott projectiles can be procured.

"If Parrott shot are provided, range, accuracy, weight, and velocity are obtained with safe charges, and from the effect of the 8-inch bolts on the monitors 1 believe one or two well-directed shots from the 10-inch rifles will drive any one of them out of action, and half a dozen permanently damage and sink them.

"The two 10-inch columbiads selected for experiment weighed over 15,000 pounds before they were double-handed, and afterward, respectively, 22,000 pounds and 20,000 pounds.

"The guns selected for the purpose were captured at Forts Moultrie and Sumter in April, 1861, of the very best iron, and superior to those now manufactured by the Ordnance Department of die Confederate States, I do not say that these rifled and handed 8 and 10 inch guns are die best that can be made of their calibers, but, in my belief, they are the best we can get in the present condition of our manufacturing resources. It is proper to add that the number of guns at our disposal of the proper description for alteration is limited."

Pounder Seacoast Gun

This 32-pounder at Fort Richardson, Virginia, is mounted on a carriage. As such, it could be moved with field forces, the heaviest gun in the American arsenal that could bo moved easily, tt would see use at places such as Fredericksburg in December, 1862. (Library of Congress)

Golumbiads were initially placed on standard wooden carriages. 1 lowever, an all-iron carriage was developed by the Union army and this was described by Colonel Scott: "The gnu is mounted upon the new iron center pintle carriage, which with requisite lightness has great strength and stiffness; and to facilitate the pointing from 5 depression to 39° elevation, a slot is cut in t lie knob of the caseabcl, and a ratchet is formed on the base of the breech to receive a 'pawl' attached to the elevating screw. If the distance be greater than the length of a single notch of the ratchet, the piece is rapidly moved by lever which passes through an opening in the pawl. Ii the distance is less, than the elevating screw is used. The piece was fired and maneuvered during the trials at Fort Monroe, with great facility, being manned by I sergeant and (i negroes; the times of loading were ITS" and U3". Time in traversing 90 2'2Q", and in turning back 45° ]". Time of loading, including depressing and elevation, 4' and .LV18"." The Confederate Army lacked the facilities and even raw materials for such carriages and depended on the older wooden carriages for their siege guns.

At the siege of Fort Pulaski, three 10-inch cokimbiads recoiled off their pintles (the iron pins that fastened the carriage front to the platform, allowing the rear to roll on a traverse track) on their first shots. It turned out. that the guns were mounted on the new iron carriages, but the pintles were the old wooden carriage type that did not work with the new carriages.

Nor could the iron carriages easily be used for besieging ('on federate positions where Union troops had to drag the giant guns into position. Li eutenant-OjJon el Joseph R. I i aw Icy. 7ih Connecticut, wrote of the

This 32-pounder at Fort Richardson, Virginia, is mounted on a carriage. As such, it could be moved with field forces, the heaviest gun in the American arsenal that could bo moved easily, tt would see use at places such as Fredericksburg in December, 1862. (Library of Congress)

Cannoneer Naval Costumes
The near 32-pounder has been mounted on a naval carriage, while the one in the distance sits on a wooden garrison carriage.

siege of Georgia's Fort Pulaski: "[asl A columbiad weighs from 13,000 to 15,000 pounds; ii has been no light job to drag them up there, the wheels sometimes sinking to the axle arid the tugging procession sneaking along an open beach within 1,600 to 2,000 yards of the scores of guns in Pulaski and nothing but a placid bay between."

As with all guns, especially when it was impossible to x-ray tubes to determine defects, there was dan get in firing even usually reliable colurnbiads. When giant guns like cplumbiads burst, everyone around was endangered. Confederate Major Edward Manigault reported snrh an event from the defenses of Charleston on September 18, 1863: "At the 12th Shot and at 5 1 i. 10 M. P.M. the 8 inch [seacoast] Columbiad burst ... The columbiad was fired with 10 lbs of powder, a solid Shot, and at an elevation of 19 /; degrees when it burst. The Cartridge & Shot were reported as being 'home'." At the previous discharge, the Shell had burst about 10 or 30 feet in front of the Gun. From a point 2 ft. in front of the center of the Trunnions, the Chase remains perfect. The Body & breech of the gun is separated into two equal portions, the plane of Fracture being vertical and directly through the vent & axis of the Bore. One of these pieces was thrown over a house 10 ft, high and fell to the Right at a distance of 75 ft, from the Chassis, The other half was thrown to the left crushing the leg of Private [Wade] Mills [Co. K, 2d S.C. Artillery] against the Stump ofa Cedar Tree and fell at a distanc e of 30 ft. from the ('hassis, The Gun Carriage was destroyed; the Chassis uninjured.

"This gun has been fired by us about 393 Times, with an average elevation of 20 . The Charge usually 10 lbs of Powder and a Columbiad Shell [50 lbs.]. But occasionally 8 lb. charges were used with an Encreased Elevation of about 2 degrees. Also some 8 in. Solid Shot have been fired. The Bore appeared to be as perfect as possible, with the exception ofa very slight hollow or 'lodgement' a little in front (5 in.) of the Chamber (/il> in. deep, say) and a slight 'score' in the Chase part of the Bore. The vent was somewhat enlarged and irregular but to no great extern.

"1 have been informed by a well instructed Ordnance Officer of great experience (Captain, now Genl. Boggs) that the Guns of 1855 & 1856 had generally proved not to be guns of much endurance.

"The Marks upon the Gun were as follows;

"Right Trunnion marked R.P.P. [stamped above] W.P.F, I.eft Trunnion, 1855, On the Breech, 9206. On Muzzle, No. HO [at top] B.H. |al left], Near the Trunnion, sight Mass, II,S,"

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  • FRANZISKA BRAUN
    What does the letters r.p.p. and w.p.f. mean on a 1861 cannon?
    8 years ago
  • lalia
    Why is it called a columbiad gun?
    6 years ago
  • carisio milano
    What did a Columbiad gun fire?
    2 months ago

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