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Civil War Cannons - Parrott 100 Pdr

Parrott 100 Pdr
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100 Pdr Parrott Historic Information

The importance of seacoast and naval cannon in the Civil War:

After the disastrous burning of Washington by the British during the WAR of 1812, the combined voices of veterans, politicians and ordinary citizens said, "No, never again!!" It was now evident what an inadequate coastal defense against unchecked seapower could mean. By 1817, serious planning for an integrated, well-engineered, “Third System” of coastal fortification was begun. Designed to mount the largest guns of the day, these forts were built to protect important port cities and naval facilities, river mouths and harbor entrances from Maine to Louisiana. They were built of masonry and cut stone known to be more than adequate to resist the largest smoothbore naval guns of the day. They were armed with hundreds of 32 and 42 pounder guns, 8" and 10" Columbiads, and seacoast howitzers and mortars. A few examples are Fort Knox, 1844, in Bucksport, Maine one of the best looking of the granite built forts and Fort Warren, 1837, on George's Island, capable of mounting 265 heavy guns, built for the defense of Boston Harbor. Also important is the huge Fort Adams, 1825, built to guard Narragansett Bay and Newport, Rhode Island built for 464 large cannon. Further south guarding New York harbor, we find the imposing, Fort Richmond, 1847, near the Verranzano Narrows Bridge on Staten Island and Fort Hamilton, 1825, located at the other end of the bridge in Brooklyn, NY.

This is also the location of the largest muzzle-loading cannon in the United States, the immense 20 inch Rodman Columbiad, registry # 1, weighing 116,497 pounds, cast by Fort Pitt Foundry. Only two of these monsters were produced. Interestingly enough, registry # 2 is located only a few miles away at Fort Hancock, N.J. at the tip of Sandy Hook peninsula. Both locations feature a display of solid shot. These cast iron balls weigh in at about 1,080 pounds each. As the story goes one of these guns was tested from Ft. Hancock, firing out into the Atlantic just south of New York’s harbor mouth. Supposedly, one solid shot went about 8,000 yards when 200 pounds of large-grain powder was touched off. You can just imagine the size of that splash !

Fort Monroe, 1819, Hampton, Virginia was the largest of the Third System Forts and designed to carry 585 heavy seacoast guns. This fort was within sight of the famous fight between the ironclads, USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, (Merrimac). Fort Sumter, 1829, a heavily armed masonry fort in Charleston, South Carolina's harbor is famous as the starting place of the Civil War and is also the most bombarded place in North America. Ft. Pulaski, 1829, named after a Polish-born hero of the Revolutionary War, on Cockspur Island, guarded the mouth of the Savannah River opposite Tybee Island on the Georgia coast. Fort Jefferson, 1846, the largest brick-work fort, was built to guard the Florida Strait from Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas, seventy miles west-south-west of Key West, Florida. It is absolutely huge, covering more than seventeen acres, and built to mount 450 seacoast cannon. It remains today, one of the finest examples of the mason's art. Two masonry forts, heavily bombarded during the Civil War, on the Gulf of Mexico, were Fort Morgan, 1819, guarding Mobile, Alabama and Fort Jackson, 1822, guarding the approach to New Orleans via the Mississippi River near Plaquemines Bend, Buras, Louisiana.

Just before or immediately after the start of the war in 1861, southern state militias took over all the seacoast forts south of Richmond, Virginia except for three, which were Fort Monroe, VA, Fort Jefferson, FL and Fort Pickens, 1834, built to defend Pensacola, Florida's harbor. Captured by Confederate forces too, was the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at Hampton Roads, VA. This was a devastating loss for the North. Warehouses full of naval stores including more than 1,500 cannon were captured, as was a huge supply of gunpowder. More than 400 heavy seacoast and naval cannon were distributed throughout the South. Most forts were lightly armed at the start of the war, with fewer than 30% of their authorized armament in place. Until the first Brooke 6.4" rifles were produced at the Tredegar Works in Richmond, VA toward the end of 1861, the Southern held forts did not have a good answer for the heavily armed Federal Frigates. Some of these mounted a large compliment of Dahlgren 9 and 11 inch shell-guns and the large Parrott 100 and 150 pounder rifles. When the 11 and 15 inch Dahlgren shell guns were mounted in the Monitor style ironclads, the southern forts came under terrifically powerful bombardments. Southern agents purchased all the big British rifles they could afford. 4.5", 5", 7" and 8.125" Blakelys served in North and South Carolina forts, Georgia forts, at Fort Morgan, AL, and at Vicksburg, MS. The large Armstrong 150 pounder rifles served in Fort Fisher and Fort Caswell on opposite sides of the Cape Fear River guarding Wilmington, NC. Another British import, the Whitworth rifle with a five inch bore served well on Confederate Naval commerce raiders. Even when the Selma Armory started producing heavy Brooke rifles, the south still remained woefully short of long-range artillery.

Many of the large Parrott rifles served on board Federal ships, but probably the most unique use to which they were put was the defense of Washington. Most of the surrounding forts had at least one and several were actually used to repel a Confederate army of 20,000 troops under General Jubal Early in 1864 during an attack on Fort Stevens in the northern Washington defenses. President Lincoln became the only President of the United States to come under hostile fire while in office when he observed the defense of Fort Stevens from atop the parapet of that fort. The large 80 to 100 pound shells thrown by the 6.4"(100 Pdr.) Parrott rifle caused mayhem in the ranks of the attacking Confederate troops and cavalry. The big shells from the Parrott seacoast rifles in Fort DeRussy to the West and Fort Slocum to the East of Fort Stevens came crashing in from 1 to 2 miles away providing much appreciated support. Even Fort Totten to the East of Fort Slocum provided long range support with it's big Parrott Seacoast Rifle by firing over Ft. Slocum. How did all these big seacoast guns end up in the ring of forts around Washington? First, Washington was a high priority target, Union strategists believed. Parrott produced more than enough of these big guns for the Navy, which, of course, had just so many large warships capable of mounting these heavy pieces. They accumulated a bit at the Navy Yard in Washington. The Army needed more, having mile after mile of sparsely defended trench lines around the Capital. The Navy graciously offered to lend the Army a quantity. Since our gun in the Denver, CO park has not been identified as being in service on any ship during the war, it is possible that it could have been one of those “loaners” to the Army. That’s why we decided to place this Navy inspected gun on an earthen-work fort platform and an iron seacoast carriage just like the one used in Fort Totten in 1864 to help drive Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederates away from the U.S. Capitol. President Lincoln rode out to see the battle with his wife, Mary Todd. As the story goes, when President Lincoln heard words to this effect, "Sir, they know it's you; you're drawing a lot of rebel fire this way", he climbed down from the parapet to a less exposed position.

In another example of the effectiveness of the seacoast guns used by the South at Fort Sumter, the 6.4" and 7" Brooke rifles of that fort were believed to be largely responsible for the sinking of the Federal Ironclad, USS Keokuk. At the time, it was participating in the Ironclad Attack of April 1863 upon the Confederate harbor defenses of Charleston, South Carolina. Finally, the supreme example of massive naval gunfire upon a seacoast fort happened during the Federal Navy's bombardment of Confederate Fort Fisher on the Cape Fear Peninsula 25 miles south of Wilmington, North Carolina. Before a naval contingent amphibious assault and a 10,000 man infantry attack, the Navy unleashed two thunderous 20,000 round bombardments on the huge, mile-long, sand fortification. Quite a few 100 Pdr. Navy Parrott Rifles participated in the pummeling of Fort Fisher, NC. Called the "Gibraltar of the South", this fort absorbed all these shells better than any masonry fort could. While most of the defending artillery pieces were smashed, the walls and traverses of the fort still remained. None of the life-saving bombproofs under the walls were penetrated. One unique firing technique was used by the gun crews of the Federal monitors present. They literally "bowled" their huge 15" Dahlgren shells into the fort by aiming low at where the beach met the water. The shells would then ricochet and roll up the steep sod covered sand hills of the fort and land in the gun chambers or explode over or behind them causing maximum damage. The deep "grooves" in the beach caused by these shells were large enough to be used as trenches by Union infantrymen during the land-face attack. One accurate shot by the crew of the big 150 Pdr. Armstrong Rifle in the fort, caused a Federal frigate to leave the gun-line only to be chased back into position by threats from the fleet’s commander, Admiral Porter.


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