Famous Long Tom, the 30-pdr. Parrott Rifle

Early in 1861, one of the very first 30-pdr. Parrott Rifles made at the West Point foundry was accepted for Federal Service, shipped to an Arsenal and mated to a Siege Carriage, and sent on to Northern Virginia, and prepared for service. Obviously the gun was designed for service within fortifications and wasn't intended for use in the field. However, this 30-pounder, nicknamed "Long Tom" by its crew, accompanied McDowell's army to Bull Run and would fire the first shot of the battle. The gun was also nicknamed "President Lincoln's baby maker."

  • Type: 30 pdr. "Army" Parrott Rifle
  • Registry No: - 2
  • Foundry No: - 293
  • Unit Assigned To: U.S. Army, Battery G, 1st U.S. Artillery
  • Commanded By: 2nd Lt. Peter C. Hains
  • Battle(s) Participated In: 1st Bull Run, and other "Legendary Actions" with Confederate Units
  • Current Disposition: Unknown, Presumed Lost, Possibly Burst in Action

Lt. Hains, LOC, 1862

  • US Casting Foundry: West Point Foundry, Cold Spring, NY
  • Invented By: Robert Parker Parrott in 1861
  • Year of Manufacture: 1861
  • Tube Composition: Cast Iron, Wrought Iron Breech Band
  • Purchase Price in 1861: $520.00
  • Bore Diameter: 4.2 inches
  • Rifling Type: 5 grooves, 1.3 inches wide, right hand gain twist, 1 turn in 24'
  • Tube Length: 131.5 inches
  • Tube Weight: 4,190 lbs. (2.1 tons)
  • Carriage Type: No. 2 Siege Carriage (2,300 lbs.)
  • Total Weight (Gun & Carriage): 6,490 lbs. (3.25 tons)
  • Horses Required to Pull: 10
  • No. of Crew to Serve: 9
  • Standard Powder Charge: 3¼ lbs. Cannon Grade Black Powder
  • Projectiles: 24 lb. Bolts, 24 to 29 lb. Shells
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,155 ft/sec.
  • Effective Range (at 15°): Using a shell... up to 4,800 yards (2.7 miles)
  • Projectile Flight Time (at 15°):Using a shell... 17⅝ seconds
  • Max Effective Range (at 25°): Using a shell... up to 6,700 yards (3.8 miles)
  • Projectile Flight Time (at 25°): Using a shell... 27 seconds
  • Max Range (at 35°): Using a bolt... 8,453 yards (4.8 miles)

"Long Tom" was assigned to Battery G, 1st U.S. Artillery. Lt. Peter Hains, freshly graduated from West Point, commanded the gun. "It was a great gun -- a thirty-pounder Parrott rifle, drawn by ten horses as green as could be, horses from the farm that had not been trained even to pull together," Hains wrote. "There were five riders or drivers, one man to each pair, and six men rode on the caisson and limber as cannoneers."
According to Hains, "The piece weighed six thousand pounds; a huge casting reinforced by a breech band to stand the strain of the discharge. The shot was more than four inches in diameter and over a foot in length, weighing about thirty-three pounds. Upon the rear of the projectile was shrunk a soft metal band with a hollow opening about a sixteenth of an inch wide all around the base. The gas from the discharge was expected to fill this opening and swell the band to make it take the rifling of the gun."
Opening the Battle:
"Long Tom" was selected to fire the first shot of the battle. As Lt. Hains wrote: "'Three shots at daylight will be the signal for the fight to begin,' came the word," Hains remembered, "and as my giant gun was the loudest speaker of the whole united armies, it was chosen for that sacred duty. I would open the fight between the armies of the North and South."
Inexplicably, "Long Tom" led the advance during the early morning hours and contributed to the delay of Heintzelman's and Hunter's divisions as they made their flanking march. "I unlimbered the gun and waited," Hains wrote. "It was loaded with a percussion shell and was trained upon a house across Bull Run at about a mile and a half range." There Hains and the crew waited. "A little after six o'clock ... the order came. I sighted the rifle carefully, and the men grinned their delight. Then I stood back. 'Fire!' came the order. Across the little stream, true to it's destination, sped that first shot. I saw it strike fairly upon the side of the house, and the smoke and dust that followed told of its excellent work.... I followed that shot with two others, and to the signal had been given to McDowell's army that they were to begin hostilities. The first big battle of the Civil War had begun."
During the Battle:
Not surprisingly, it was very difficult to maneuver the gun due to its massive size. Hains unlimbered at first to the right of the road. "Every few minutes that hot morning orders came: 'Bring the gun up here -- this is the place for it," or "Send the gun over to that rise where it can do so and so"; all equally impossible. I received not less than a score of orders, not more than three of which I could obey by any possible chance." From it's position on the right of the Warrenton pike, the gun fired whenever Confederate infantry came into view on the other side of Bull Run. "The country being mostly open and of a rolling nature," Hains wrote, "I could often get a food shot in and those shells certainly made things uncomfortable wherever they struck. The piece was amazingly accurate, and all i wanted was to see something to fire at."
As the fighting raged on the other side of Bull Run, a Confederate battery opened up on Long Tom. "We began at once to work on them," Hains wrote. "A few shrapnel placed carefully among them stirred them up, and their fire slackened. Then we hammered them hard with repeated shots, and before the hour was out they were either destroyed or had dragged their tiny guns out of action." During this time the Confederates were driven back to Henry House Hill. Victory appeared imminent. "By one o'clock we had done all we could, and the firing for us was nearly over, as there was no chance to take an active part in the advance. Officers began to congratulate themselves. The talk among the men was that we had won the day."
The Tide Turns:
Throughout the afternoon the tide of battle began to turn. Hains wrote that all knew when Ricketts's and Griffin's batteries were captured. "Word came flashing along that our right had given way," Hains wrote.​
Hains and his battery were still positioned in the field on the right side of the Warrenton Pike. They watched as Union lines began to give way on the other side of Bull Run. "I had received no orders to pull out, and remained silent there, waiting for developments, hoping with a desperate hope that we might at least be able to form a rearguard action with that gun and hold the Confederates back. Late in the afternoon General McDowell came riding up.
'What are you doing there with that gun?' he asked.
'Awaiting orders, sir,' I answered.
'Get it out, get it out quick,' he said, and rode on.
Too Late:
The crew limbered the gun and the ten horses began to drag it back toward Centerville. "By this time everything was in confusion. The road was massed with all sorts of debris, wagons, guns, knapsacks, clothing, and everything that a green man sheds quickly in the desperate heat of a day when panic has its cold hand upon his heart." During the retreat, Hains found that the team couId not pull the gun if it could not go in a straight line. Whenever they had to move around an obstacle or go around a curve, they found it nearly impossible to move.​
They stopped at a well to get water. Hains was taking a drink when "I noticed a couple of squadrons of cavalry right across the road in the field opposite.... While I looked I suddenly became aware that the cavalry a few yards distant was not Union cavalry." Hains tried to form a defense but the cavalry charged. "The men about me began firing now with a will, recognizing that the enemy was upon us. Still, half of those present had not realized that we had met an enemy." The cavalry charge was beaten off and the retreat continued. The cavalry reappeared and charged again, wrecking the rest of Carlisle's battery. "Old Tom" still moved on. "Finally we came to a steep hill. Here the road was so hopelessly massed with stuff that we could go no farther.... The men lashed the sweating, panting animals again and again. But the great gun refused to move up the incline. All the time men and wagons had been streaming past us. Now, as the daylight was failing, the road was deserted, and we soon found that we were getting to be the last of the rout."
Hains rode to the rear and found a brigade commander (he didn't specify which) and asked for a regiment to pull the gun to safety. The brigade commander promised to send them, and Hains returned to the gun. No one came. Angry, Hains found the brigade commander and asked for the men. The brigade commander told him, "Too late now -- too late," and marched away with his men. Hains considered dying with his gun, but eventually decided to abandon it. The crew spiked it, and Old Tom fell into Confederate hands.​

  • THE ARTILLERYMAN, The Quest for Long Tom, (pp 18-25) by James Burgess, Vol 38, No. 3, Published Fall 2019.
  • TENNESSEE HISTORICAL QUARTERLY, The Legend of “Long Tom” at Cumberland Gap, (pp 256-264) by William B. Provine, Published Fall of 1965. Cumberland Gap was heavily fortified during the Civil War, and one of the legendary aspects of its Confederate defense was the huge rifled cannon, “Long Tom.” It was supposed to fire a 60 pound projectile over five miles. The legend of this gun, mounted on “the Pinnacle” in early 1862, is recounted. During loss of the Gap to the Union in June 1862, the Confederates rolled the gun off the cliff. When Confederates occupied the gap again, they unspiked the gun. It then changed hands, ending up with the Union at the end of the war. However, the author casts doubts on the gun’s existence. Long Tom was not one gun, but instead a group of guns – the original appears to be a thirty-pound Parrott.
  • The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast, and Naval Cannon, by Edwin Olmstead, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker, 1997.
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Dead Parrott

Jul 30, 2019
Great story! I always enjoy reading a tale where an object (gun, ship, etc) becomes a silent spectator to events across armies and time.

Thanks for sharing that!