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Civil War Cannons - Parrott 100 Pdr

Parrott 100 Pdr
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Civil War Confederate Artillery

Civil War Cannons - 7 Inch Brooke

7 Inch Brooke
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Civil War Cannons

7 INCH Brooke

Man the Brooke by Matt Shaeffer Commissioned by Seacoast Artilery Company

Why should Seacoast Artillery Company re-create the VII Inch Treble-Banded Brooke Rifle?

I first learned about this powerful Confederate rifle, the “Gun Without Trunnions”, when I purchased a half-scale 1797 mortar, 4” bore, from South Bend Replicas in 1973. I was smart enough to also buy the best comprehensive, introductory work ever penned about Civil War Artillery, Warren Ripley’s excellent, Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War. Although we sent more than 2,000 pounds of concrete downrange in those old style oil cans, and 35 of my original 45 malleable iron cannonballs are gone forever, from the looks of that book’s binding, I’d have to say it has been used more frequently. We still carry this volume everywhere we go to study seacoast artillery. Some of the information contained in this book appears nowhere else.

Three treble-banded Brooke guns were produced by the Tredegar Works in Richmond, VA. One, No. 1597, cast on June 13, 1862, was installed onboard the CSS Richmond in November of that year. Just before the workmen carted it down to the Tredegar dock and lifted it aboard the Richmond, tied up there on the James River, it was successfully test-fired by its designer, and Confederate Navy Commander John M. Brooke and Lt. Alexander DeBree. It appears that the other two were shipped to Charleston, SC. No. 1709, weighing 20,950 pounds, was cast on Dec. 6, 1862, proved, inspected and entered into service on July 31, 1863. Destined to be part of the armament of the Confederate ironclad, “Charleston”, this big Brooke rifle may have been diverted to harbor defense by the area commander, Confederate General, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. It does not appear that this gun is the one which we studied at Fort Moultrie, SC. The weight marked on the Fort Moultrie rifle is 21,290 pounds and this matches perfectly the Tredegar Foundry record entries which state that the 21,290 pound gun is No. 1717 which was cast on Dec 13, 1862 and shipped to Charleston, SC on August 20, 1863. This leaves enough time for this gun to be shipped by rail to Charleston and then emplaced in Battery Marion before the 30th of August when the gun and its new crew were involved in the regrettable nighttime firing on an unarmed Confederate troop carrier, the Sumter which was then beached in front of Fort Moultrie to stop the “friendly fire”. It is most likely that this was the gun that was installed in Battery Marion, just west of Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island.

This battery was probably the most photographed of the southern batteries in the outer harbor. It’s gun chamber, graced with double Palmetto palms, inspired the South’s most famous soldier-artist, Conrad Wise Chapman, to create a painting which certainly captures the power of this defensive position. Ordered by General Beauregard to create a complete pictoral record of Charleston’s Harbor defenses, Chapman created a series of more than 30 paintings, including the one which captures the menacing look of the big Brooke in Battery Marion, slightly softened by the inclusion of the two palms.

Much of the preceding and following information came from our most used new resource volume, The Big Guns, by Olmstead, Stark, and Tucker, a truly excellent reference work. We drag “the big red book” with us wherever we go. Another unique book we rely on is Ironclads and Big Guns of the Confederacy, the Journal and Letters of John M. Brooke edited by his grandson, George M. Brooke, Jr.

On September 7th and 8th the big Brooke was very busy indeed as she sent a baker’s dozen of her large shells over to the tip of Morris Island to greet the Federal troops taking over former Confederate positions abandoned before dawn. She repeatedly hit one monitor that came out for some action later that day. At dawn on the 8th, the hated USS Weehawken was spotted, stuck on a sand bar near Cumming’s Point.

That June the Weehawken defeated the well-armed, but unwieldy CSS Atlanta in Georgia’s Wassau Sound just south of Savannah. The Atlanta ran aground and four shots from Weehawken’s 15 inch Dahlgren Shell Gun at only 200 yards smashed 2 of Atlanta’s 4 Brooke rifles and created huge holes in her 4” iron casemate armor.

Sensing an opportunity for payback here, all the Sullivan’s Island batteries, Fort Moultrie and a few large guns at Fort Johnson opened up on the Weehawken, hoping to destroy her on the spot. They hit her 24 times, but only one shot went into the unprotected hull below the armored belt. It was a 7” hole, probably a bolt from the treble-banded Brooke. A fateful shot from the mired monitor glanced off the muzzle of an 8 inch columbiad in Fort Moultrie nearby, and landed in a pile of ready ammunition. The resulting explosion shook the fort and killed 18 artillerymen and wounded 26. The action now changed as more Federal ironclads showed up to draw fire away from their grounded friends. A first class battle ensued and the Battery Marion Brooke fired many rounds with maximum charges, at 20 pounds of powder behind 120 pound bolts. Late in the afternoon the USS Iron-sides and most of the other monitors withdrew as the Weehawken floated free at high tide and got under way to go back to her anchorage. What happened next is not certain, but there are some accounts of this battle which indicate that as the tide freed the Weehawken, she immediately slunk back to her anchorage outside the bar and that Admiral Dahlgren’s whole flotilla of ironclads withdrew en masse. We do not believe this account of the battle’s end. A photo at the U.S. Naval Historical Center has the following caption:
Click Here to open the original picture
Click Here to open the zoomed in picture
“Monitors engage Confederate batteries on Sullivan’s Island, Charleston, South Carolina.
Photographed from one of the Confederate emplacements, the ships are identified as (from left to right): USS Weehawken, USS Montauk and USS Passaic. The monitor on the right appears to be firing its guns.

Date is given as 8 September 1863, when other U.S. Navy ships were providing cover for the Weehawken, which had gone aground on the previous day. She was refloated on the 8th after receiving heavy gunfire from the Confederate fortifications.

This image is a detail of that seen in Photo# NH 60906.”

What the photo shows is three ships, clearly monitors, moving to the left with a beach and a few sand dunes with beach debris and vegetation in the foreground. Their distance from the beach seems to be about a mile. If this is really a Confederate photo and the date it was taken was 8 September 1863, then the ships would be on their way out of the harbor via one of three routes. The main channel goes almost due south, and they would present their sterns to the photographer if they were on that route. Thus, the Main Channel is ruled out. Maffitt’s Channel, or, on some charts, Sullivan’s Island Channel, would bring the ships within 200 or 300 hundred yards of the heavily fortified island. These Captains had plenty of moxie, but that route would invite almost certain disaster. The Swash Channel is more southerly and goes East South East directly out to their anchorage. The Swash Channel would put their range at one and a half to two miles from the Confederate batteries, a fairly conservative route. The North Channel, we believe is most likely their route back to anchorage. Its direction from Cummings Point is also East South East, but it physically lies further North than Swash and would be approximately one to one and a half miles from the batteries.

The Weehawken’s bow was roughly facing West when she went aground while backing up to get out of the narrow ditch between Cumming’s Point and Fort Sumter. When she was freed by the high tide, she would have to turn to starboard to begin the wide turn northeastward necessary to reach the entrance of North Channel. This would take her within a mile or so from Sullivan’s Island. This appears to be the distance from which the photo was taken. At one mile they were definitely in the “danger zone”. In fact, from Ironclads and Big Guns of the Confederacy, we learn of the 7” Treble-Banded Brooke’s reputation for accuracy. On 28 January 1864 Lt. N. H. Van Zandt of the Naval Ordinance Office in Charleston, SC wrote Commander Brooke, telling him, among other things that, “The Treble Banded Brooke on Sullivan’s Island has become a great Pet of the troops on that Island. They say they “can hit a Barrel at the distance of a mile every pop”. This is very believable. The Confederate system of range marker floats and their system of firing sector responsibility is well known.

The thing that really convinces us that the Weehawken did NOT slink away from the battle area is the fact that the Weehawken’s Captain, John Rodgers, was known for the courageous manner in which he operated his ship. His capture of the CSS Atlanta proved that beyond a doubt. And the absolute best evidence is the fact that, when on September 8th, the battle had mostly shifted to other monitors, Captain Rodgers calmly ignored the battle and piped his men to Breakfast. This last information, from Ripley’s Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, very clearly shows just how much panache the Weehawken’s Captain displayed.

 


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