Discussion Failure Rate of Parrott Rifles: Causes, Blame, & Legacy

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CivilWarTalk

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Belfoured

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Not really as there were some that did have a failure but not enough to worry about. It was all about the metal. New casting and gun designs of iron made guns was the norm after the first 2 year of the CW in the north.
Good points, although cast iron was definitely more brittle than wrought iron due at least in part to higher carbon content (but also definitely cheaper to manufacture). I haven't seen an analysis of why the 3" rifle (wrought) had almost zero failure rate while the Parrotts (cast with wrought breech wrap) had a much higher rate starting at the 20 lb. caliber.
 

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Thank you for your reply.. @ucvrelics
Would cast iron last longer in a actual battle if you had to load it fast before it got hot or exploded?
The issue, which did not apply to land warfare, was heat buildup. During the extended periods of rapid fire in wooden ship could cause a bronze cannon to expand to the point where it could not be loaded. There was also an issue with wearing out the bore. The hotel the bronze became, the greater the wear from the iron projectile. I was relatively simple to melt the valuable bronze & recycle it. If you look down the bore of original bronze guns, you will see score marks from the round & the sabot straps.

Iron guns & the even more durable 3" ordinance rifle had longer service lives than bronze guns. It was all but impossible to blow up a bronze gun, same with the ordinance rifle. Cast iron guns were made of a brittle but durable material. It's fatal flaw was that the metal wasn't pure, the inclusions could cause dangerous flaws.

3" ordinance rifles were made of a proto steel. The crews considered them unbreakable.
 
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Good points, although cast iron was definitely more brittle than wrought iron due at least in part to higher carbon content (but also definitely cheaper to manufacture). I haven't seen an analysis of why the 3" rifle (wrought) had almost zero failure rate while the Parrotts (cast with wrought breech wrap) had a much higher rate starting at the 20 lb. caliber.
The cause of the Parrott failures was premature ignition of the charge in the shells. After experiments, a coating of "asphaltium" kept the rough surface of the inside of the shell from setting off the powder & blowing the end off the barrel. By the time they figured that out, orders fro Parrotts dried up in favor of 3" rifles.

Another useful point is that Cannon fire was very deliberate. The recoil meant that the crew had to roll the gun back up to the line & the gunner relay it. Doctrine was to fire no quicker than one shot per minute. In practice, it was much slower than that. The kind of frantic rapid firing seen at reenactments has no relation to actual wartime practice.
 
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Belfoured

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The cause of the Parrott failures was premature ignition of the charge in the shells. After experiments, a coating of "asphaltium" kept the rough surface of the inside of the shell from setting off the powder & blowing the end off the barrel. By the time they figured that out, orders fro Parrotts dried up in favor of 3" rifles.

Another useful point is that Cannon fire was very deliberate. The recoil meant that the crew had to roll the gun back up to the line & the gunner relay it. Doctrine was to fire no quicker than one shot per minute. In practice, it was much slower than that. The kind of frantic rapid firing seen at reenactments has no relation to actual wartime practice.
The failures of the Parrotts were pretty much at the larger calibers (20 lb and up). The 10 lb gun actually was well-liked by a large segment of gunners. The cause you cite was documented for the 200 lb gun at Charleston in 1863 but i wouldn't state it as a general cause. And the failure rate of the 100 lb gun was at around 5%. I'm also not sure that it's fair to state that orders for the 10 lb gun dried up after the 1863 redesign.
 

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The failures of the Parrotts were pretty much at the larger calibers (20 lb and up). The 10 lb gun actually was well-liked by a large segment of gunners. The cause you cite was documented for the 200 lb gun at Charleston in 1863 but i wouldn't state it as a general cause. And the failure rate of the 100 lb gun was at around 5%. I'm also not sure that it's fair to state that orders for the 10 lb gun dried up after the 1863 redesign.
actually, I am quoting from a report filed by the Parrott foundry. They conducted trials to establish the reason for failures in all their guns. The asphaltium coating on the inside of the shells did eliminate the problem, but by that time it was largely a moot question. There were no new orders on the horizon for more cannon. Frankly, I don't have time to dig the report out, but you can easily find it online.
 
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actually, I am quoting from a report filed by the Parrott foundry. They conducted trials to establish the reason for failures in all their guns. The asphaltium coating on the inside of the shells did eliminate the problem, but by that time it was largely a moot question. There were no new orders on the horizon for more cannon. Frankly, I don't have time to dig the report out, but you can easily find it online.
I don't think you can attribute the lack of additional orders for 10 pounders at that time to just to failures (in larger caliber guns to be sure) though, I think you need to consider the entire wartime outlook, things were changing once Gettysburg had past, field artillery was changing. Battles were being held in heavy woods, in swampy areas, or in fortified areas with trenches.

The small rifles really weren't ideal in these places, and I think the Napoleons were actually the favored arm in the field in a lot of cases. You either couldn't see your opponent very far away, or they were hidden behind an obstacle, again, not the role for a small rifle to engage.

And if they were stationary, they wanted big stuff, the little rifles just didn't have the punch they wanted or needed.

Ideally, small rifles are best for open field counter-battery work, after Gettysburg, that just didn't happen anymore. It's like everybody learned to not do that, and the field of battle dictated that you didn't fight that way. So the orders dried up.

But WPF had work, the foundry had plenty of orders already placed to fill, so I'm not sure why New Orders is even a concern, WPF made 10 pounders in 64 and 65 that were accepted into U.S. service, and I would speculate that the early war guns sent back to the foundry to be re-bored from 2.9 inch to 3.0 inch were a no-go, and someone made the decision to just melt them down and recast them.

It's not like the foundry was sitting on it's hands with nothing to do.
 

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I don't think you can attribute the lack of additional orders for 10 pounders at that time to just to failures (in larger caliber guns to be sure) though, I think you need to consider the entire wartime outlook, things were changing once Gettysburg had past, field artillery was changing. Battles were being held in heavy woods, in swampy areas, or in fortified areas with trenches.

The small rifles really weren't ideal in these places, and I think the Napoleons were actually the favored arm in the field in a lot of cases. You either couldn't see your opponent very far away, or they were hidden behind an obstacle, again, not the role for a small rifle to engage.

And if they were stationary, they wanted big stuff, the little rifles just didn't have the punch they wanted or needed.

Ideally, small rifles are best for open field counter-battery work, after Gettysburg, that just didn't happen anymore. It's like everybody learned to not do that, and the field of battle dictated that you didn't fight that way. So the orders dried up.

But WPF had work, the foundry had plenty of orders already placed to fill, so I'm not sure why New Orders is even a concern, WPF made 10 pounders in 64 and 65 that were accepted into U.S. service, and I would speculate that the early war guns sent back to the foundry to be re-bored from 2.9 inch to 3.0 inch were a no-go, and someone made the decision to just melt them down and recast them.

It's not like the foundry was sitting on it's hands with nothing to do.
Those are good points. As we know the Army of the Potomac's Artillery Reserve sat idle at the Wilderness, leading Grant to abolish it (he then compromised by reducing standard battery size to four guns). The terrain provided no good fields of observation and fire (although somewhat to the east there had been some such terrain at Chancellorsvile), and that continued to be a factor until the armies migrated to Petersburg and siege work. There were similar issues in northern Georgia. As you suggest, this essentially eliminated the range advantage of the rifles in particular (pot shots at Confederate generals standing on an elevation notwithstanding) . I still haven't seen substantiation of an unacceptable failure rate for the 10 lb. Parrotts. Certainly I haven't seen such indications in the OR. As i pointed out more than a few gunners actually seem to have preferred it over the Ordnance Rifle (whether that was the gun itself or the Read Parrott, who knows).
 

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Those are good points. As we know the Army of the Potomac's Artillery Reserve sat idle at the Wilderness, leading Grant to abolish it (he then compromised by reducing standard battery size to four guns). The terrain provided no good fields of observation and fire (although somewhat to the east there had been some such terrain at Chancellorsvile), and that continued to be a factor until the armies migrated to Petersburg and siege work. There were similar issues in northern Georgia. As you suggest, this essentially eliminated the range advantage of the rifles in particular (pot shots at Confederate generals standing on an elevation notwithstanding) . I still haven't seen substantiation of an unacceptable failure rate for the 10 lb. Parrotts. Certainly I haven't seen such indications in the OR. As i pointed out more than a few gunners actually seem to have preferred it over the Ordnance Rifle (whether that was the gun itself or the Read Parrott, who knows).
I posted this a bit ago: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/10-pdr-parrott-rifle.164727/post-2161003

1575308353084.png

Quote by General Quincy Gillmore, November 1864.​

Engineer and artillery operations against the defenses of Charleston Harbor in 1863,
by Quincy Adams Gillmore, 1865, Page 90 .


I've been of the opinion, reading the reports in congress, that perhaps there was a bit of a witch hint going on against Parrott, they really had an issue with him charging a royalty for his patent for every gun the foundry sold, and they had these inquiries where they would ask every gun manufacturer what their opinion was of Parrott's royalty policy, most didn't have an opinion.

Someone was trying to give Parrott a black eye, and all those bigger guns having issues was exactly what they needed to push the "Parrott's all explode" story line, and they've managed to make that the historical "fact" even if events and reality doesn't match.

I was even recording where gun captains on those bigger guns would record that they would be repeatedly firing guns like the Swamp Angel with much larger powder charges than they were supposed to be (16 or 20 lbs. instead of 14 lbs. if I remember), but the congressional records, all the officers in charge of operations all reported that their units only used the recommended charge, and it kind of reads like a cover up. It could also just be mistaken record keeping, but you do have to wonder.
 
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Testamony of Capt S.V Benet, Jan 28, 1864:
1575310969831.png


So here is a discussion in Congress with Charles Knapp, Feb 4, 1864

1575310182499.png

1575310300135.png


Then there is this testimony of Capt Henry Wise, U.S. Navy, Jan 28, 1865:

1575310558583.png


Oh, and to that comment that there was no contract in sight for Parrott rifle production?

1575311318980.png

Sounds like they were running full production until the war ended, this report was published in March of 1865.

 
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Belfoured

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Testamony of Capt S.V Benet, Jan 28, 1864:
View attachment 336829

So here is a discussion in Congress with Charles Knapp, Feb 4, 1864

View attachment 336826
View attachment 336827

Then there is this testimony of Capt Henry Wise, U.S. Navy, Jan 28, 1865:

View attachment 336828

Oh, and to that comment that there was no contract in sight for Parrott rifle production?

View attachment 336830
Sounds like they were running full production until the war ended, this report was published in March of 1865.

Very interesting materials that I hadn't seen. Regarding the 10 lb Parrott, during 1864 and 1865 a total of 273 were turned out, at a fairly steady rate until the third quarter 1865 (10). During that same period 237 Ordnance Rifles were produced. 189 Napoleons were produced, and production of those stopped after the second quarter of 1864. The big falloff for the 10 lb was in second half of 1862 (none) and in 1863 (12). I assume this had something to do with the redesign from 2.9" to 3" (which also eliminated muzzle swell and the "step" at the location of the chase).
 

ucvrelics

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Here is a great article Craig Swain did on the issues on the larger Parrott's. It a very interesting read.

 
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Rhea Cole

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I don't think you can attribute the lack of additional orders for 10 pounders at that time to just to failures (in larger caliber guns to be sure) though, I think you need to consider the entire wartime outlook, things were changing once Gettysburg had past, field artillery was changing. Battles were being held in heavy woods, in swampy areas, or in fortified areas with trenches.

The small rifles really weren't ideal in these places, and I think the Napoleons were actually the favored arm in the field in a lot of cases. You either couldn't see your opponent very far away, or they were hidden behind an obstacle, again, not the role for a small rifle to engage.

And if they were stationary, they wanted big stuff, the little rifles just didn't have the punch they wanted or needed.

Ideally, small rifles are best for open field counter-battery work, after Gettysburg, that just didn't happen anymore. It's like everybody learned to not do that, and the field of battle dictated that you didn't fight that way. So the orders dried up.

But WPF had work, the foundry had plenty of orders already placed to fill, so I'm not sure why New Orders is even a concern, WPF made 10 pounders in 64 and 65 that were accepted into U.S. service, and I would speculate that the early war guns sent back to the foundry to be re-bored from 2.9 inch to 3.0 inch were a no-go, and someone made the decision to just melt them down and recast them.

It's not like the foundry was sitting on it's hands with nothing to do.
My point was that there would be no new orders. By that time the war was winding down. The new technology used in the 3" ordinance rifle was the way of the future.
 

Belfoured

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My point was that there would be no new orders. By that time the war was winding down. The new technology used in the 3" ordinance rifle was the way of the future.
I think it's important to answer "no new orders as of when?"The statistics show more deliveries for the 10 lb after 1863 than for the Ordnance Rifle - although it was close. The war was not "winding down" in January 1864. And the hiatus for the 10 lb in second half of 1862 and 1863 coincided with the redesign. There's no evidence that a concern about failures played a role - backed up by the lack of anecdotal evidence for failures of the 10 lb. In fact the notion that 10 lb. guns suffered from the same faults as their larger cousins seems to stem from a general statement in an 1890 piece in the NT by Buell as "The Cannoneer", without reference to specfic dates and instances. Once the war ended the army went exclusively to the Ordnance Rifle - it was lighter; it made sense in a down-sized force to go to one type (similar to Hunt's persistent complaints about the variety of rifled ordnance); and there's little question that it was an excellent weapon.
 

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I think it's important to answer "no new orders as of when?"The statistics show more deliveries for the 10 lb after 1863 than for the Ordnance Rifle - although it was close. The war was not "winding down" in January 1864. And the hiatus for the 10 lb in second half of 1862 and 1863 coincided with the redesign. There's no evidence that a concern about failures played a role - backed up by the lack of anecdotal evidence for failures of the 10 lb. In fact the notion that 10 lb. guns suffered from the same faults as their larger cousins seems to stem from a general statement in an 1890 piece in the NT by Buell as "The Cannoneer", without reference to specfic dates and instances. Once the war ended the army went exclusively to the Ordnance Rifle - it was lighter; it made sense in a down-sized force to go to one type (similar to Hunt's persistent complaints about the variety of rifled ordnance); and there's little question that it was an excellent weapon.
My point is that by the time the shell problem had been solved, the sun of cast iron artillery had already set.
 
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Very interesting materials that I hadn't seen. Regarding the 10 lb Parrott, during 1864 and 1865 a total of 273 were turned out, at a fairly steady rate until the third quarter 1865 (10). During that same period 237 Ordnance Rifles were produced. 189 Napoleons were produced, and production of those stopped after the second quarter of 1864. The big falloff for the 10 lb was in second half of 1862 (none) and in 1863 (12). I assume this had something to do with the redesign from 2.9" to 3" (which also eliminated muzzle swell and the "step" at the location of the chase).
In addition to your assumptions about the redesign of the 10-pdr. Parrott, although I'm not sure the redesign took months, probably more like days...

But, you should assume that there was a great need to outfit the many new Navy ships being launched. Those big guns didn't come from thin air.

Also, I'm sure New York Harbor, Philadelphia on the Delaware River, Baltimore Harbor, certainly D.C., perhaps as far North as Boston also got heavy preference for big guns for Harbor Defense, and casting big guns would slow the production of small guns...

1575389667083.png

Taken an Interview with Capt James Benton, Feb 1864 from Pg 68 in:

So, if you saw a slowdown in production, it's not because they weren't smelting, it's because they were using different molds, and making bigger stuff! Perhaps experimenting.

I believe they had limits on how much Iron could be smelted per day, as you would expect.

----​

So, I'm no foundry expert, I just know what I've read about. But what I've read has raised several questions in my mind.

My first question, because they would be melting tons of iron every day, what did they do with the extra iron leftover from casting the guns, like you have to assume they would melt down more than they needed right?

So, would the leftover metal be used to cast the Parrott shells? That would make sense right? Then they could use up everything they melted down, until it was all gone, but it would also probably mean that it would be the some of the lowest quality metal, because if you are pouring molten metal, your impurities usually float, and you pour at the bottom, so any remainder iron would have the majority of the impurities in it.

At least that's my thinking, if they pour from the top of the melting pot to fill the molds, maybe that's not the case, so I don't know.

Or maybe that was a different part of the factory with it's own furnace and iron supply...

And a Second Question, casting these rifle projectiles, like for the 10 lb. Parrott, how did they get a cavity inside them anyway? Did they pour 9 lbs. of iron in the mold, and then spin the mold at a certain RPM and let centrifugal force do the rest while it cooled?

Questions you didn't know you wanted answered, am I right?
 

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In addition to your assumptions about the redesign of the 10-pdr. Parrott, although I'm not sure the redesign took months, probably more like days...

But, you should assume that there was a great need to outfit the many new Navy ships being launched. Those big guns didn't come from thin air.

Also, I'm sure New York Harbor, Philadelphia on the Delaware River, Baltimore Harbor, certainly D.C., perhaps as far North as Boston also got heavy preference for big guns for Harbor Defense, and casting big guns would slow the production of small guns...


Taken an Interview with Capt James Benton, Feb 1864 from Pg 68 in:

So, if you saw a slowdown in production, it's not because they weren't smelting, it's because they were using different molds, and making bigger stuff! Perhaps experimenting.

I believe they had limits on how much Iron could be smelted per day, as you would expect.

----​

So, I'm no foundry expert, I just know what I've read about. But what I've read has raised several questions in my mind.

My first question, because they would be melting tons of iron every day, what did they do with the extra iron leftover from casting the guns, like you have to assume they would melt down more than they needed right?

So, would the leftover metal be used to cast the Parrott shells? That would make sense right? Then they could use up everything they melted down, until it was all gone, but it would also probably mean that it would be the some of the lowest quality metal, because if you are pouring molten metal, your impurities usually float, and you pour at the bottom, so any remainder iron would have the majority of the impurities in it.

At least that's my thinking, if they pour from the top of the melting pot to fill the molds, maybe that's not the case, so I don't know.

Or maybe that was a different part of the factory with it's own furnace and iron supply...

And a Second Question, casting these rifle projectiles, like for the 10 lb. Parrott, how did they get a cavity inside them anyway? Did they pour 9 lbs. of iron in the mold, and then spin the mold at a certain RPM and let centrifugal force do the rest while it cooled?

Questions you didn't know you wanted answered, am I right?
A set of good questions which I now want answered. 🙂 I'm not sure the redesign was a matter of mere days - nor would I assume that there were no other factors in play beyond the redesign, such as a temporary refocus to other orders/needs. I also don't know whether Parrott - a guy who clearly cared about his patents - was being cautious about the redesign from that angle (as well as any refinements to the projectiles). I do know that a guy named Daniel Treadwell commenced an infringement action at some point regarding a patent he had renewed in 1862 (it ultimately resulted in a judgment for Parrott shortly after the war, if I recall correctly).
 

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In addition to your assumptions about the redesign of the 10-pdr. Parrott, although I'm not sure the redesign took months, probably more like days...

But, you should assume that there was a great need to outfit the many new Navy ships being launched. Those big guns didn't come from thin air.

Also, I'm sure New York Harbor, Philadelphia on the Delaware River, Baltimore Harbor, certainly D.C., perhaps as far North as Boston also got heavy preference for big guns for Harbor Defense, and casting big guns would slow the production of small guns...


Taken an Interview with Capt James Benton, Feb 1864 from Pg 68 in:

So, if you saw a slowdown in production, it's not because they weren't smelting, it's because they were using different molds, and making bigger stuff! Perhaps experimenting.

I believe they had limits on how much Iron could be smelted per day, as you would expect.

----​

So, I'm no foundry expert, I just know what I've read about. But what I've read has raised several questions in my mind.

My first question, because they would be melting tons of iron every day, what did they do with the extra iron leftover from casting the guns, like you have to assume they would melt down more than they needed right?

So, would the leftover metal be used to cast the Parrott shells? That would make sense right? Then they could use up everything they melted down, until it was all gone, but it would also probably mean that it would be the some of the lowest quality metal, because if you are pouring molten metal, your impurities usually float, and you pour at the bottom, so any remainder iron would have the majority of the impurities in it.

At least that's my thinking, if they pour from the top of the melting pot to fill the molds, maybe that's not the case, so I don't know.

Or maybe that was a different part of the factory with it's own furnace and iron supply...

And a Second Question, casting these rifle projectiles, like for the 10 lb. Parrott, how did they get a cavity inside them anyway? Did they pour 9 lbs. of iron in the mold, and then spin the mold at a certain RPM and let centrifugal force do the rest while it cooled?

Questions you didn't know you wanted answered, am I right?
I don't have to speculate on this question. Why is it people on this forum repeatedly claim to be mindreaders? As I clearly stated, I merely quote from the Parrott foundry's report. Where else would I have come up with 'asphaltium'? My recommendation is to do as I did & google it. Believe me, there is more there than anyone needs to know on the subject.
 
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I don't have to speculate on this question. Why is it people on this forum repeatedly claim to be mindreaders? As I clearly stated, I merely quote from the Parrott foundry's report. Where else would I have come up with 'asphaltium'? My recommendation is to do as I did & google it. Believe me, there is more there than anyone needs to know on the subject.
I'm not sure who this is directed at but I don't see any mind-reading going on. To be clear, my point - consistently - has been simply that the failure problems did not involve the 10 lb gun, but clearly involved the large calibers (for yet another resource on that see the May 26, 1865 edition of Mechanics' Magazine and Engineering News at 326); that the 10 lb was not replaced based on those concerns; that the 10 lb in fact was favored by a significant number of Union gunners; that it continued to be the subject of substantial orders and deliveries through mid-1865 after a year or so-long hiatus through most of 1863; and that it was replaced by the Ordnance Rifle for several reasons including better technology.
 

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I don't have to speculate on this question. Why is it people on this forum repeatedly claim to be mindreaders? As I clearly stated, I merely quote from the Parrott foundry's report. Where else would I have come up with 'asphaltium'? My recommendation is to do as I did & google it. Believe me, there is more there than anyone needs to know on the subject.
The facts you put into evidence might lead someone to believe that no more Parrott Rifles were produced after 1863, because so many better rifles were available, an "no contract" was coming, and that's just not the truth.

I'm not saying you were lying or anything, but it's misleading, and I'm not even going to say that was your intent, but I was correcting anyone who was misled by the comment.
 
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