The 10 And 20pdr Parrott Rifle

A West Point graduate who had resigned his commission in 1836 to head a private foundry, Robert P. Parrott developed this simple, rugged, and effective weapon. Essentially his design was a long, cast-iron tube with a wrought-iron reinforcing wedge-shaped bar wrapped around the breech, and 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 cool, as the hot band was wrapped around it. Because the tube rotated, the band cooled and clamped itself to the breech uniformly, instead of being tighter where the weight pulled the band down on the top of a stationary piece, while the bottom pari was less tighdy bound to the tube.

The 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 lake a beating and remain in use. Easy and cheap to produce, they were manufactured at the West Point Foundry under Pat ron's supervision.

The Parrott was not a total success, however. 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 it the imperative duty of this department to seek elsewhere for a more reliable rifle gun." This was apt to happen after prolonged service and the weak spot was usually just ahead of the breech band. At least one 20-pdr. Parrott in Massenburg's Georgia Battery burst at its muzzle on the second day of the siege of Chattanooga, so ii was not always the breech ilia) burst. The larger weapons were, however, more liable to burst than the standard field l()-pdrs., although none could be wholly trusted.

Parrott himself addressed the problem on June 21, 1864, writing to Maj. Gen. J. G. Foster:

"Though I suppose most of the points of importance in regard to the service of tny guns are by this time understood, there are one or two that are of such exceeding interest that I am induced to mention them, t he greatest difficulty now to be encountered is in the premature explosion of shells in the bore of the gun. The charge of powder they will hold is quite large, and owing to the elongated form of the projectile or to its being driven into the groves, there seems to be a tendency of the parts of the broken shell to wedge in the bore, thus carrying away muzzle or some other part,

The 20-pdr. Parrott rifle could be quickly spotted in the field by its massive breech. Markings indicate that this tube weighs 1,974 pounds. [Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

Elongated Rifled Cannon

A view of a 10-pdr. Parrott rifled cannon. (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

or, at any rate, giving the gun a violent strain which is afterward and perhaps by other accidents developed into the destruction of the gun. As a means of diminishing this danger, I am now lacquering or varnishing the interior surface of the shells. Even when freshly put in it operates favorably, A little poured in at the fuse hole and then caused to run over the sides by laying the shells down and rolling it will answer. The reason for this seems to be that on firing the gun the powder charge of the shells is violently thrown back, and explosion is caused by the friction or attrition of the powder against the rough surface of the bottom and sides of the shell. These are made smooth by t he lacquer or varnish, &c."

Parrott Rifle Cannon

A view of a 10-pdr. Parrott rifled cannon. (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

This 10-pdr. Parrott rifle was made in 1863. [Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

Nor was the distrust universal. Cannoneer John I). Billings, 10th Massachusetts Battery, recalled that in August, 1864, his battery was re-equipped with 10-pdr. Parrotts: "They were beauties and gained our regard at once," he wrote, "completely usurping the place the Rodmans [3-in. Ordnance Rifles] had held there."

The first Parrott, a so-called 10-pdr., was produced in I860 and the weapons went into full-time production in 1861. While the 10- and 20-pdrs. were the standard field piece, Parrott also built 30-, 100-, 200-, 300-, and even a 600-pdr. version of the same weapon. The first version of the 10-pdr. weapon had a 2.9-in. bore with three lands and groves of around the same size. This version was marked by a slight muzzle swelI. In 1863 a newer version, one that remained standard throughout the war, appeared with a 3-in. bore, three lands and groves, and no muzzle swell. The L'.S.-issue weapons are marked with a date arid the initials "RPP" and "WPF".

The 20-pdr. had a 3.67-in. bore with five lands and groves. They were marked "20-Pdr." on the left trunnion, although

This 10-pdr. Parrott rifle was made in 1863. [Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

Parrott Rifle 1863

their massive breeches made them clearly identifiable in any gun park. One period expert noted that: "The 20-pdr. Parrott ... proved to be too small to give the precision of fire demanded of a siege gun and to be too heavy for convenient use as a field gun. Moreover, its projectiles did not seem to take the grooves as well as those of either smaller or larger calibers. The gun was accordingly not regarded with favor." Indeed, after Antietam, most of the 20-pdrs. in the Army of the Potomac were replaced with 10-pdr. Parrotts or3-in. Ordnance Rifles,

In 1862 alone, the army bought 344 Parrott guns of various sizes. Indeed, by that year's end, the army had purchased 411 Parrott field guns, 108 siege guns, and 38 sea coast defense guns. The Parrott, then, was among the most common of all Union field pieces, despite its problems.

Ihe ease of making such cannon did not escape the Confederates, and J. K, Anderson & Co. cast copies at its Tredegar lion Works in Richmond beginning in November, 1861. The first ones cast were 6-pdr. versions of the weapon, a bore size they continued to produce until August, 1862. In July they cast their first 30-pdr. Parrott copy, followed by a 10-pdr. in August All told, by the war's end the works had produced some 58 copies of the I Op dr. Parrott rifle and 45 copies of the 20-pdr. largely for use in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Starting in August, 1863, the Macon Arsenal made around a dozen copies of the 10-pdr. Parrott mostly for the Army of Mississippi. The Arsenal also cast some 20- and 30-pdr. Parrotts as well. The chief of artillery for the Army of Tennessee, which received a battery of Macon's 10-pdrs. tested these southern-made weapons and found the results were: "so much tmsatisfactory that I really do not understand its cause." Rifling was found to he uneven and bore diameter was not uniform. A handful of Parrott copies may also have been produced at the Augusta, Georgia, Arsenal also for the Army of Tennessee use. A private company, Street, I lungerford & Co., Memphis, Tennessee, made at least three, and possibly more, copies of the Parrott gun. Finally, Bujac & Bennett, New Orleans, produced a dozen copies of die Parrott rifle in December, 1861, of which three burst immediately, followed by another eight in March, 1862.

Battlefield Serial Number
This Southern-made copy of the 10-pdr. Parrott rifle bears the serial number 4 on the muzzle. (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

This six-foot-tall man demonstrates the size of the 10-pdr. Parrott rifle. (Gettysburg Battlefield National Park)

This six-foot-tall man demonstrates the size of the 10-pdr. Parrott rifle. (Gettysburg Battlefield National Park)

Parrot Rifle Civil WarPounder Parrott Rifle Limber

A: The caisson and limber attached - a side view.

Railroad Limbers And CaissonsBreech Loading Artillery 12pdr

B: The 12-pdr. Napoleon gun attached to the limber - a side view.

Pdr Napoleon Gun

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  • feorie
    What is inside civil war caisson?
    8 years ago
  • helj
    What year the parrott rifle was made?
    8 years ago
  • Goytiom
    Which union foundry casted 10 pdr. Ordnance rifles for the United States Army .?
    8 years ago

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