Monday, July 18, 2016

The Parrott Rifle

This is another post in a series on Civil War weaponry.

In 1860 Robert P. Parrott developed the Parrott gun at his West Point Foundry in Cold Spring, New York.  The first models were 10-, 20- and 30-pounders, but by the end of the Civil War 300-pounders were in production.  They were made of cast and wrought iron and identifiable by the reinforcing band around their breeches.  The guns were used in all theaters of the war by both armies and navies; the Confederates produced their own versions.

a 10-pounder Parrott gun -- photo taken at the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitors' Center

Parrotts were extremely practical.  They could be operated and manufactured easily, but there were safety issues.  They tended to crack and burst.  In 1862, Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Potomac, tried to ban them from that army's inventory, and in 1889 the New York Times called on the Ordnance Bureau to ban them altogether after a series of mishaps at West Point.

Parrott's patent for his guns centered on the process of attaching the reinforcing band to the breech.  On most guns, the band was heated, slipped on the gun and allowed to cool.  Sometimes the band and tube were threaded and sometimes they were tapered, but the tube always remained stationary while the band was attached.  Parrott's method involved rotating the tube on rollers and spraying water inside to keep it cool while the hot band was slipped on.  Rotating the tube caused the band to clamp itself in place uniformly as it cooled.

Robert Parker Parrott was born in Lee, New Hampshire on October 5, 1804.  He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1824, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery Regiment.  He served as an assistant to the chief of the Ordnance Bureau and was assigned as an inspector of ordnance at the West Point Foundry in Cold Spring, New York.  He eventually resigned from the army to accept a position as superintendent of the foundry.  Parrott worked here for the next 41 years, eventually becoming lessee and operator of the foundry.

Before the war the foundry manufactured all types of cannon, but during the war years, the foundry's heyday, it focused on the manufacture of Parrott guns.  Parrott also developed the Parrott shell, the Parrott sight and the Parrott fuse.  After the war, Parrott retired from the foundry, but continued to experiment with artillery projectiles and fuses until his death in 1877.

The most famous Parrott gun was the Swamp Angel, which was used by the 11th Maine to bombard Charleston, South Carolina, in 1863.  The gun fired on the city 32 times before bursting.  The gun is now a monument in Cadwallader Park in Trenton, New Jersey.  Its fame comes from the Herman Melville poem "The Swamp Angel."

Posted by Picasa  A Parrott at Point Park on Lookout Mountain

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