Saturday, March 8, 2014

The 6-pounder Smoothbore & the 12-pounder Rifled James

I guess I should begin by telling you about something I slipped by you in the previous post, the photo, which was a sepiaized version of this photo...

This is a 6-pounder smoothbore. It's also the first of hopefully many posts on the weapons used in the battles for Chattanooga.

The 6-pounder smoothbore was state of the art in 1841 and was used extensively during the Mexican War, but was considered obsolete by the time of the Civil War. But both sides, particularly the South, used the 6-pounder smoothbore when nothing else was available. It was lighter than the more modern guns with a tube weight of only 881 pounds, but fired a 6-pound solid shot (hence the name) about the size of a grapefruit or a softball. It had a range of 1520 yards, but you had very little hope of hitting a small target that far away. The 6-pounder smoothbore could also fire round shell and canister and case.

The Civil War occurred at an interesting period in the evolution of weaponry. Artillery in particular was evolving rapidly -- from smoothbores to rifles and from muzzle loaders to breech loaders. Rifling made a gun much more accurate by imparting spin on the projectile allowing it to cut through the air more cleanly.

One of the earliest innovations tried was upgrading the many Mexican War-era 6-pounder smoothbores into rifles by re-boring the gun tube and adding the rifling grooves using a system developed by General Charles T. James. This project was not very successful. The rifling grooves wore out too rapidly in the soft bronze, but again, both sides, particularly the South, used what they could get.

The 12-pounder rifled James (not to be confused with the James Rifle, a 14-pounder bronze field piece) could lob a projectile farther than the smoothbore (1700 yards vs. 1520 yards) with much greater accuracy.

There are many examples of both versions of the weapon, the smoothbore and the rifle, in the battlefields around Chattanooga. The photo above was taken on Missionary Ridge; the cannon is in someone's front yard.

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