Army Gunpowder in Naval Guns

georgew

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As early as the Fall of 1861, Army commanders were becoming aware of the differences between Army and Navy gunpowder specifications. One interesting report on the matter came from Memphis, "...Commodore Hollins, who I saw at New Orleans on Saturday, says that rifle powder will not do for cannon. It will burst nine out of ten after a few fires, if used in full charges. He accounts for it by its small grain packing so much closer and occupying so much less space in the gun and its exploding all at once. For instance, closely packed rifle powder to the same weight will not fill more than one-half the space in the gun that very coarse cannon powder will, and the cannon powder, he says, continues to burn clear to the muzzle of the gun, while the rifle powder all ignites instantly and the portion of the gun (very small) immediately surrounding or coming in contact has to bear the force of the entire charge, while the cannon powder has double the length of gun, and hence double the strength of iron, to resist the force of the charge..." (Sam Tate, Memphis, November 12, 1861 to Maj.Gen. J. Polk. OR Series 1, vol 52, Prt 2 (supplements), pg 206-207)
Based upon this you wonder if rifle powder would be preferred in torpedoes?
The defenses of New Orleans had been thinned considerably by orders from Richmond to send men and supplies to other fronts. In a letter to Secretary of War Benjamin, Maj.Gen. Lovell noted the following regarding the gunpowder supply in the Crescent City: "...2nd. I received a telegram directing 20,000 pounds of cannon powder to be sent to Richmond. All the powder that came in the Vanderbilt, Victoria and Miramon is small-grained, not cannon powder, that by the first and last of these vessels requires to be reworked, with an addition of 15 per cent of saltpeter...7th I am hunting all over the Confederracy to procure saltpeter to rework the powder lately arrived from Cuba. They are sending it from Memphis to Agusta. I have, however, sent an agent to Texas to get some that I heart was at Houston..." OR Series I, vol 6, Part l, pg 841-843.
 

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Waterloo50

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As early as the Fall of 1861, Army commanders were becoming aware of the differences between Army and Navy gunpowder specifications. One interesting report on the matter came from Memphis, "...Commodore Hollins, who I saw at New Orleans on Saturday, says that rifle powder will not do for cannon. It will burst nine out of ten after a few fires, if used in full charges. He accounts for it by its small grain packing so much closer and occupying so much less space in the gun and its exploding all at once. For instance, closely packed rifle powder to the same weight will not fill more than one-half the space in the gun that very coarse cannon powder will, and the cannon powder, he says, continues to burn clear to the muzzle of the gun, while the rifle powder all ignites instantly and the portion of the gun (very small) immediately surrounding or coming in contact has to bear the force of the entire charge, while the cannon powder has double the length of gun, and hence double the strength of iron, to resist the force of the charge..." (Sam Tate, Memphis, November 12, 1861 to Maj.Gen. J. Polk. OR Series 1, vol 52, Prt 2 (supplements), pg 206-207)
Based upon this you wonder if rifle powder would be preferred in torpedoes?
The defenses of New Orleans had been thinned considerably by orders from Richmond to send men and supplies to other fronts. In a letter to Secretary of War Benjamin, Maj.Gen. Lovell noted the following regarding the gunpowder supply in the Crescent City: "...2nd. I received a telegram directing 20,000 pounds of cannon powder to be sent to Richmond. All the powder that came in the Vanderbilt, Victoria and Miramon is small-grained, not cannon powder, that by the first and last of these vessels requires to be reworked, with an addition of 15 per cent of saltpeter...7th I am hunting all over the Confederracy to procure saltpeter to rework the powder lately arrived from Cuba. They are sending it from Memphis to Agusta. I have, however, sent an agent to Texas to get some that I heart was at Houston..." OR Series I, vol 6, Part l, pg 841-843.
I seem to recall that we had a thread on CWT about the production of saltpeter, it was definitely in short supply and I think that various methods were tried in order to produce it, the main problem was the length of time that the production of saltpeter would take, I believe in some cases it could take up to two years to manufacture, it was obviously better for those that had access to natural deposits of saltpeter.
 

georgew

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I seem to recall that we had a thread on CWT about the production of saltpeter, it was definitely in short supply and I think that various methods were tried in order to produce it, the main problem was the length of time that the production of saltpeter would take, I believe in some cases it could take up to two years to manufacture, it was obviously better for those that had access to natural deposits of saltpeter.
Yes. They actually had teams of men scouting bat caves and cattle pens. You wonder if some of the smaller runners should should have carried in saltpeter to fill out cargo space. Probably a smaller markup but less dangerous than explosives.
 

JohnDLittlefield

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I seem to recall that we had a thread on CWT about the production of saltpeter, it was definitely in short supply and I think that various methods were tried in order to produce it, the main problem was the length of time that the production of saltpeter would take, I believe in some cases it could take up to two years to manufacture, it was obviously better for those that had access to natural deposits of saltpeter.
My understanding is a little different...
Nitre, also known as saltpeter, or more precisely as potassium nitrate, is a constituent component in the manufacture of gunpowder and had been largely supplied to the United States by British India, but the Federal blockade threatened a shortage in the Southern states during the war. Consequently, the Nitre Bureau was founded in 1862 with Major I. M. St. John serving as chief. St. John instigated a systematic search for nitre deposits in Southern territories. By mid-1862, an excellent grade of saltpeter was being produced in great quantities, enough to supply all Confederate forces.[1] Joseph Le Conte, a geologist with the University of South Carolina wrote a pamphlet explaining the production of nitre and supervised several nitre works for the Confederacy in South Carolina.[2]

[1] Schafer 1996, 42-50.
[2] Armes 1903, 183-4.

 

DaveBrt

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My understanding is a little different...
Nitre, also known as saltpeter, or more precisely as potassium nitrate, is a constituent component in the manufacture of gunpowder and had been largely supplied to the United States by British India, but the Federal blockade threatened a shortage in the Southern states during the war. Consequently, the Nitre Bureau was founded in 1862 with Major I. M. St. John serving as chief. St. John instigated a systematic search for nitre deposits in Southern territories. By mid-1862, an excellent grade of saltpeter was being produced in great quantities, enough to supply all Confederate forces.[1] Joseph Le Conte, a geologist with the University of South Carolina wrote a pamphlet explaining the production of nitre and supervised several nitre works for the Confederacy in South Carolina.[2]

[1] Schafer 1996, 42-50.
[2] Armes 1903, 183-4.
Vandiver shows salt petre in many shipments as late as August 1864. I think the South was always short of salt petre and, despite the quality of it, powder. I know -- no battle was ever lost for lack of ammunition -- but CS troops frequently had little to no backup beyond the skimpy ordnance train. Lee shot his entire ammo load at Gettysburg and was happy to get the resupply train the QMs had sent him -- and they had to send everything they could get their hands on to give him less than a normal resupply.
 

Waterloo50

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My understanding is a little different...
Nitre, also known as saltpeter, or more precisely as potassium nitrate, is a constituent component in the manufacture of gunpowder and had been largely supplied to the United States by British India, but the Federal blockade threatened a shortage in the Southern states during the war. Consequently, the Nitre Bureau was founded in 1862 with Major I. M. St. John serving as chief. St. John instigated a systematic search for nitre deposits in Southern territories. By mid-1862, an excellent grade of saltpeter was being produced in great quantities, enough to supply all Confederate forces.[1] Joseph Le Conte, a geologist with the University of South Carolina wrote a pamphlet explaining the production of nitre and supervised several nitre works for the Confederacy in South Carolina.[2]

[1] Schafer 1996, 42-50.
[2] Armes 1903, 183-4.
I didn’t know that the confederacy had found their own source of natural nitrates, maybe that’s where I’m getting confused, I thought perhaps saltpeter occurred naturally only in particular environments which had naturally occurring high levels of nitrate, I think perhaps it was the artificial production of nitrates that took two years to make.
 
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georgew

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The Confederates also harvested saltpeter from limestone caves containing bat guano and from night soil from outhouses.
Just a couple more issues along this line: A exchange of letters occurred in 1864 at Mobile regarding the bursting of one of the legendary Brooke rifles. John M. Brooke investigated personally, and his report of March 8, 1864 to Admiral Franklin Buchanan reveals that Confederate Ordnance Officers needed to display caution when using Army specification gunpowder in naval guns. The 32-pounder guns typical of the Trans-Mississippi Department would require even smaller charges, particularly if the guns were rifled and/or unbanded. "...The Army Columbiad powder is much stronger than the Navy powder of large grain. The charges of army powder for VII-inch rifles should be be from 8 to 10 pounds with shells and from 8 to 13 pounds with bolts. The charge of the 6.4 inch rifle will be from 7 to 8 pounds with shells and from 8 to 10 pounds with bolts. The high charges should be seldom employed: they may be required to produce effective results with wrought-iron bolts on ironclads. Please inform army officers using navy rifles of this; otherwise the guns may be injured by excessive charges..." ORN, WGBS pg 885.
There was also the problem of compatibility between pre-packaged powder charges and the cannon they allegedly fit. Captain Leon Smith's urgent report to the Ordnance Department and his conclusions about how a similar error in preparing powder charges might have caused fatalities among the crews of the cotton-clad assault boats at Galveston on January 1, 1863, is a case in point. His longer report about the number and distribution of mixed caliber pieces aboard his vessels emphasizes the improvised nature of the Marine Department's gunboats and draws attention to the great advantage held by Union warships in having largely standardized weaponry.
 

georgew

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Just a couple more issues along this line: A exchange of letters occurred in 1864 at Mobile regarding the bursting of one of the legendary Brooke rifles. John M. Brooke investigated personally, and his report of March 8, 1864 to Admiral Franklin Buchanan reveals that Confederate Ordnance Officers needed to display caution when using Army specification gunpowder in naval guns. The 32-pounder guns typical of the Trans-Mississippi Department would require even smaller charges, particularly if the guns were rifled and/or unbanded. "...The Army Columbiad powder is much stronger than the Navy powder of large grain. The charges of army powder for VII-inch rifles should be be from 8 to 10 pounds with shells and from 8 to 13 pounds with bolts. The charge of the 6.4 inch rifle will be from 7 to 8 pounds with shells and from 8 to 10 pounds with bolts. The high charges should be seldom employed: they may be required to produce effective results with wrought-iron bolts on ironclads. Please inform army officers using navy rifles of this; otherwise the guns may be injured by excessive charges..." ORN, WGBS pg 885.
There was also the problem of compatibility between pre-packaged powder charges and the cannon they allegedly fit. Captain Leon Smith's urgent report to the Ordnance Department and his conclusions about how a similar error in preparing powder charges might have caused fatalities among the crews of the cotton-clad assault boats at Galveston on January 1, 1863, is a case in point. His longer report about the number and distribution of mixed caliber pieces aboard his vessels emphasizes the improvised nature of the Marine Department's gunboats and draws attention to the great advantage held by Union warships in having largely standardized weaponry.
Sort of an addenda: During the battle of Fort Fisher, the Confederates had a battery of naval guns covering one of the inlets. Two guns burst during the action. Because of the Union occupation, no survey was done on the guns to determine the cause. I don't know if they had Army or CSN gun crews, but I find is suspicious that both guns went up during the same action and suspect a mixup in the gun power charges and possibly the use of Army power versus the slower burning Navy type.
 


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