Parrott Rifles

A West Point graduate, Robert P. Parrutt, who had resigned his commission in 1836 to head a private foundry, designed a tube that could be used fur both siege guns ami field artillery. Essentially, his cast-iron tube had a wrought-iron reinforcing wedge-shaped band wrapped around the breech with the joints pounded together until welded shut. In the process, the tube was rotated on rollers, a stream of water being shot inside to keep the tube cooi as the hot band was wrapped around it. Because the tube rotated, the hand cooled and clamped itself uniformly to the breech, instead of being tighter where the weight pulled the band down on the top of a stationary piece, while the bottom part was less tightly bound to the lube.

This band allowed the breech to absorb greater stress than an unhanded, or even typically banded, cannon. Indeed, the weapon was known as a tough cannon that could take a beating and remain in use. h was easy and cheap to produce, which was important in a war as large as was the Civil War, They were produced at the West Point Foundry under Parrott's supervision, l lie Parrott's main problem was the tendency for the tube to explode in use, usually just in front of the band, after prolonged service. In October, 1865, the Chief of Ordnance reported that: "The many failures, by bursting, of the celebrated Parrott guns in the land and naval service have weakened confidence in them, and make ii the imperative duty of this department to seek elsewhere lor a more reliable rille gun." The larger the Parrott, the more liable it was to burst.

Confederate Land Mine
A columbiad at Confederate Fort McAllister, outside Savannah, Georgia. Note the ammunition, solid shot, piled up for ready use. The weapon can be rotated through 360 on its platform and track. (Library of Congress)

Confederate Major Edward Manigault, in the defenses ot Charleston, wrote on August 19, 1863: "At the 13th Round the 30 tindr. Parrotl Gun burst. One man Badly stunned, and one slightly so. No other damage done. On the l.'nion side, in ihe same siege, a 30-pounder cast in 1863 fired 4,606 rounds, an average of 127 rounds a day, at a range of 6,600 yards when ii finally burst into seven pieces. The real problem was that it was impossible to tell exactly when a Parrotl would burst. For example, of two apparently identical 100-pounder Parrotts firing into Charleston, one burst on the 122d round, while the other lasted until the 1,151st round.

1 ieavy Parrotts also had a tendency to break their elevating screws, due to the weight being distributed on the rear of the tube. With all this, the chief engineer in the Union Army outside (Charleston reported that: "There is perhaps no better system of rifled cannon than Parrot's [sjc]; certainly none more simple in construction, more easily understood or that can, with more safety, lie placed in the hands of inexperienced men for use."

The first Parrotl, a 10-pounder, was produced in 1860 and the Weapons went into full production in 18f.il, For siege purposes, the West Point works produced a number of 30-, 100- ((>. 1-inch), 200- (8-inch), three 300- (10-inch), and even a 600-potinder version of the light-weight field weapon. The U.S.-issue weapons are marked with a date and the initials RPP and WPF. The 4,2-inch, or 30-pounders, the smallest heavy Parrotts, came in two versions. The first version had a doorknob-shaped cascabel and a muzzle swell; these were produced through 1802. Later versions had a more elongated cascabel and a straight muzzle.

In 1802 alone, the U.S. Army bought 344 Parrott guns of various sizes. Indeed, by that year's end, the Army bought '11 I Parrotl field guns, 108 siege guns, and 38 seacoast defense guns. The Parrott was thus among the most common of all Union field pieces, despite its problems.

The ease of making such cannon did not escape the Confederates, and J.R. Anderson & Co. cast Copies of them at its Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond beginning in November, 18(i 1. The first ones they cast were 6-pounder versions of the weapon, a bore size they continued producing through August, 1862. In July they east their first 30-pounder Parrott Copy. Starting in August, 1863, the Macon Arsenal cast some 20- and 30-pounder Parrotts as well. The Selma Naval Gun Foundry. Alabama, cast at least a dozen 30-pounder Parrott rifles for use on ships and harbor and river defenses.

Richmond 1863 Rifle

The larger Tredegar Parrotts saw action at Fredericksburg, where the a 16-snch Hodman gun in the two 30-pounders sent to Lee's army burst after prolonged firing, one defenses of Washington, dc. after 39 rounds and the other after 54 rounds. "This was the only time in ihe war that we ever had such heavy guns in the field," recalled F.. Porter Alexander, First Corps artillery chief in the Army of Northern Virginia, "At one of the explosions Genls. l.ee & Longstreet & many staff officers were standing very near, & fragments flew all about them, but none was hurt,"

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