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Famous Weapons: The Galena Blakely
By CivilWarTalk
Published: November 2, 2006
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  • The Galena Blakely
    Type: 12-pdr. (or 16-pdr.) Blakely Rifle, Type 1
  • Tube Composition: Steel
  • Bore Diameter: 3.5 (or 3.75) inches
  • Tube Length: 84 inches
  • Current Disposition: Grant Park in Galena, IL.
  • Special Notes: This cannon may be one of the most historical, and most frequently misidentified, Blakelys in the United States. The gun known as the "Galena Blakely" is believed to have been present and participated in the bombardment of Fort Sumpter on April 12, 1861. It is considered to be the first rifled cannon to be fired in combat on the American continent. This cannon is also believed to hold the distinction of being the only rifled cannon used in action against the Union garrison at Fort Sumpter on April 12, 1861.
British Captain Theophilus Alexander Blakely was a prolific designer of rifled cannon, in a variety of models. Since his own government did not adopt his designs, he sold his weapons overseas; several of his guns were purchased by the Confederacy and used during the Civil War.

South Carolina Governor F.W. Pickens wrote a letter to Confederate Secretary of War L. P. Walker on April 9, 1861 concerning the arrival of a Blakely gun in the Charleston area. He wrote that the gun was:

"...a fine rifled cannon from Liverpool of the latest maker--Blakely gun--an improvement upon Armstrong, steel rolls and coils with an elevation of seven and one-half degrees to a mile. It throws a shell or twelve-pound shot with the accuracy of a dueling pistol and with only one and a half pounds of powder. Such, they write me, is this gun, and I hope to have it in position by tonight."
At 4:30 A.M. on April 12, 1861, Confederate artillery batteries ringing the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina opened fire upon the Federal garrison occupying Fort Sumter. Of these batteries, the "Point Battery," emplaced on Cummings Point of Morris Island, possessed a then truly novel weapon...an English-made Blakely rifled gun...which consistently hurled twelve-pound iron projectiles to breach the walls of the fortress, 1250 yards distant. The gun fired only eleven shot and nineteen shells during the Fort Sumpter bombardment due to limited ammunition, but it has been noted that the bolts from this rifle penetrated the fort walls as deeply as 11-inches.

Commanded by Captain J.P. Thomas, the Blakely gun literally reverberated with history. For not only was it a participant in the initial engagement of the American Civil war... it was the first rifled cannon to be fired in combat on the American continent.

General P. G. T. Beauregard wrote the following to Confederate Secretary of War L. P. Walker:

"We have a remarkable rifled cannon, 12-pdr., superior to any other here. Others ought to be ordered."
The piece was a gift to the people of South Carolina from Charles K. Prioleau of Frazer & Co. of London and is said to have born a plaque inscribed... "Presented to the State of South Carolina by a citizen resident abroad in commemoration of the 20th December, 1860" --the day the state seceded from the Union.

The rifle drew some attention in the northern press, with an article and picture published in Harpers Weekly.

After its participation in the opening salvo of the War, the Blakely disappears from the pages of history until nearly the closing days of the conflict. South Carolina, whose interior was until 1865 nearly untouched by Union forces, was suddenly center stage for the invasion of troops led by William Tecumseh Sherman.

Sherman's army rolled inexorably northward. On the morning of March 3, 1865, elements of the Seventeenth Army Corps approached the South Carolina hamlet of Cheraw. Confederate skirmishers presented only a token resistance before withdrawing across the Big Pedee River... burning the bridge behind them. The Union troops... including the 45th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, the "Washburne Lead Mine Regiment"... entered the unoccupied town and discovered a sizable store of ordnance abandoned by the retreating forces. This Confederate material had recently been transported from Charleston, upon the evacuation of that city... muskets, sabers, small arm and artillery ammunition, limbers, caissons ... and twenty-five pieces of artillery.

Several of the captured cannon were turned upon the fleeing force across the Pedee. One participant in the cannonade was a Blakely rifled gun...with a brass commemorative plate mounted upon its breach.

Private James G. Birney Palmer, Company A, 32nd Wisconsin Infantry, referred to this capture in a letter written from his camp near Goldsborough, North Carolina, on March 27th:

"These stores had been removed from Charleston previous to the evacuation. The most valuable pieces of artillery were brought along. The 3rd Michigan Battery has two pieces, English made, one of them with the following inscription upon it. 'Presented to the Sovereign State of South Carolina, by one of her citizens residing abroad in commemoration of her noble conduct on the 20th of Dec. 1860'"
This captured cannon, along with another Blakely, finished the War fighting for the Union in the service of the Third Battery, First Michigan Light Artillery.

On April 26, 1865, General Joseph Johnston surrendered the last of the principal Confederate armies to Union General Sherman. The long dying was over. The volunteer forces were dismantled and the weaponry retired. And the Blakely rifle of Charleston and Cheraw languished at the United States Arsenal in Rock Island, Illinois until 1896 when an old soldier had an idea.

Jo Daviess County Treasurer Jonathan White had marched with Company D of the "Washburne Lead Mine Regiment." He had been among the troops entering Cheraw, South Carolina on that March day of 1865. Now, in April of 1896, he related to ex-Galena Major Thaddeus Bermingham the history of a distinctive artillery piece seized during the South Carolina invasion ...a Blakely rifled gun, with a commemorative plate mounted upon its breach. White suggested that the cannon, then stored at Federal arsenal in Rock Island, be secured from the government and presented to the Galena Grant Park Commission for permanent display in the Park itself. He hoped the formal presentation could be made during the Grant's Birthday Celebration held on April 27.

Impressed with the suggestion, Bermingham penned a letter to congressman Robert Hitt, who promptly replied:

"Washington, D.C. April 14-- T.J. Bermingham, Esq., Galena, Ill.
Dear Sir: I have your interesting letter of the 11th, and will today endeavor to obtain from the Secretary of War authority to take the Rock Island gun that has such a history to Grant Park for the Grant Birthday celebration on the 27th, and I hope he will give an order that it can be made a permanent feature of that memorial park.
Very truly yours, R.R. Hitt"
 

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Congressman Hitt immediately introduced legislation mandating the gift... and on April 22, 1896, both houses of Congress passed the bill "with a hurrah." It was signed by President Cleveland, and Bermingham was notified by the War Department:

"Rock Island, Ill., April 23-- Mr. T.J. Bermingham, Galena, Ill.
Sir: Pursuant to instructions received from the Chief of Ordnance, U.S. Army, a Blakely gun, 3.67 calibre, has this day been shipped to your address as freight...All transportation charges to be paid by you. This gun has a brass plate with the following inscription:
"Presented to the Sovereign State of South Carolina, by one of her citizens residing abroad, in commemoration of the 20th of December, 1860."
Respectfully, A.A. Buffington, Colonel of Ordnance Commanding"
The shipping costs were defrayed by Messrs. Bermingham and E.W. Montgomery, of the Galena firm of William Hoskins & Co. On Saturday evening, April 25, the Blakely arrived and was carried to a place at the base of the Jo Daviess County Soldiers Monument in Grant Park.

At 7:30 A.M. on April 27, 1896, a "large crowd of old soldiers and citizens" gathered at the base of the Soldier's Monument for the formal presentation of the "war worn cannon" to the Grant Park Commission.

T.J. Bermingham, who was "chiefly instrumental in securing the relic for Galena", spoke briefly to open the ceremonies:

"Gentlemen of the Board of Park Commissioners: It gives me great pleasure to transfer to you for the use and embellishment of Grant Park, this historic trophy. What more appropriate place could be selected, or what day could be more desirable? Here, under the shadow of this monument, erected to the sacred memory of the brave heroes who faced death, that the spirit of treason might be destroyed, this war relic has been placed, and is now conveyed to your care on this memorable day which we are celebrating to the memory of the Great Commander. This ordnance was dedicated on the 20th day of December, 1860...the birthday of secession. We dedicate it anew today with thankful hearts that we are a great and undivided nation..."

At the appropriate moment during Bermingham's address, the Blakely was unveiled by "little" Harriet Montgomery.

The Honorable Richard Barrett, representing the Park Commissioners, then formally accepted the gun. His remarks were filled with the chauvinism so characteristic of the period: The Blakely Rifle in Grant Park, Galena, Illinois...

"...Monuments that commemorate deeds of valor, and love of country, cannot be too numerous. They are sure- means of keeping alive the martial spirit which has been awakened by past triumphs. They animate the beholders with the pride of their country's renown. They remind us of former greatness and point to future glory. With monuments, such as this, (in) our public places, where they force themselves upon the attention of the people, the memories of glorious deeds will never die. In behalf of the commissioners of Grant Park, and of the thousands who will inspect it, and be moved by the events connected with its history, it is with very great pleasure that I receive this cannon, and give it this most suitable place in this park, from whence is a full view of the monument to the memory of the Great Commander, our former fellow citizen, General Grant, under whose banner many of you have often marched to victory..."

After Treasurer White related an informal history of the capture of the gun, "with a joke or two at the expense of the rebels," the crowd dispersed.

Today a Blakely rifled gun rests on the fringe of Grant Park... silently trained toward the west side of the river. The commemorative plate has been removed... its fate unknown. The plate's original shape and position is evidenced by pitting of the iron on the gun's breach.

The bore diameter of this piece has recently been identified as 3.75 inches by Edwin Olmstead and Wayne Stark, although the piece was at first identified as a 3.5-inch rifle, and then in later documents, a 3.67 inch rifle.

Some questions about the Galena Blakely still beg to be answered: Is the 3.75 inch Blakely in Galena the same Blakely as the 3.5 inch Blakely reported to participate in the bombardment of April 12, 1861? Was more than one Blakely rifle presented to the state of South Carolina? This mystery is furthered by a projectile identified in the West Point Museum catalog as the "first artillery projectile fired by the Confederates at Fort Sumter". It was almost certainly fired from a 3.5-inch rifle. What rifle fired this 3.5-inch projectile?

The Galena Blakely is often ignored by visitors... overshadowed by the nearby statue of Ulysses Grant. Occasionally, a child will peer into its muzzle, or straddle the tube as if to ride an imaginary horse. However, the Galena Blakely deserves the attention of all artillerists... for its mysteries and distinguished history make for a truly remarkable and historic cannon.
 

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Articles
Famous Weapons: The Lady Polk Dahlgren
By CivilWarTalk
Published: November 2, 2006
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  • Type: 10-inch Dahlgren Rifle
  • Bore Diameter: 10 inches
  • Projectiles: 128 lb. Projectiles
  • Current Disposition: Unknown
  • Special Notes: This gun, named in honor of Frances, the wife of Confederate Army General Leonidas Polk, was located at Fort De Russy, KY. It accidentally exploded in a demonstration for Gen. Polk, killing ten men and wounding Polk.
This huge 10-inch Dahlgen gun, named "Lady Polk" in honor of Frances, wife of Confederate army commander General Leonidas Polk, was first fired during the November 7, 1861, Battle of Belmont, Missouri. Used against the Union troops from accross the Mississippi River at Fort De Russy, Kentucky, the rifled cannon fired 128-pound, pointed projectiles with flanged copper plates attached to the bottom. The flanges fit into grooves of the rifling, which added a spin to the projectile and increased its range and accuracy.
On the first attempt to load the cannon, though, the crew found the rounds slightly too large for the bore. However a little filing on the flanged plate quickly solved the problem. After a few rounds had been fired, the cannon barrel heated and expanded so that no more filing was necessary. The cannon and crew performed well in battle and their fire aided in forcing the Union troops to retreat. The last round loaded into the gun was never fired.
Four days later, Polk visited the gun emplacement during an inspection tour and the officer in charge, Captain W. N. Keiter, offered to fire the loaded round to demonstrate the weapons range and accuracy. With Polk and his aides standing by, Kieter assembled the eight man gun crew. The men took their positions around the great Dahlgren, a primer was inserted into the vent, and upon Keiter's command the lanyard was pulled.
Ten of the thirteen men standing around the Lady Polk were instantly killed as she exploded with a flash and roar and engulfed the emplacement in a dense cloud of smoke and dust. "Great God, they are blown to atoms!" cried one of the first men to rush to the scene. Another described what was left of the gun crew: "Here were an arm and a severed head, over there a memberless trunk of a human body disemboweled." Polk was found lying unconscious beside his dead horse, but he recovered and continued to serve for two and one-half more years, until he was killed at Pine Mountain, Georgia, by a Union shell that tore through his chest.
 

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Articles
Famous Weapons: Whistling Dick
By CivilWarTalk
Published: November 2, 2006
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  • Type: Rifled Breech-Banded 1839 18-pdr. Iron Smoothbore
  • Current Disposition: Unknown
  • Special Notes: Whistling Dick began life as a iron smoothbore Model 1839 which had been rifled. The gun got it's name from the whistle it made every time it was shot; a shrill sound which could be heard above the boom of all other artillery pieces.
One of the most famous cannons of the war was "Whistling Dick", a banded and rifled 18-pounder Confederate siege and garrison weapon. The gun was part of the river defenses at Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1863, and is credited with the sinking of the Union gunboat Cincinnati.

Men from the Seventy-Seventh Illinois reported that the rebels had one gun which made a peculiar whistling noise every time it was fired, and from this circumstance the soldiers called it "Whistling Dick." Whenever a shot from this gun passed over their heads with that familiar sound, some men would yell, "Lay down," while others would exclaim, "There goes your goose!"

A Yankee doctor aboard the Union gunboat Cincinnati wrote to his wife that the gun "has been a great bar to our progress. It goes by the name of 'Whistling Dick', a sobriquet given it by our boys from the peculiar noise it's balls make as they hurtle through the air." The Cincinnati, a turreted ironclad of the largest class carrying 14 guns, had planned to silence the gun forever, but instead was sunk by Confederate batteries on May 27, 1863 with the likely help of Whistling Dick.
According to Major Samuel Lockett, chief of Confederate engineers, the gun had no permenant location but was moved from place to place along the water front as needed. "Whistling Dick" disappeared after the surrender of Vicksburg and remains unaccounted for today. What actually became of this famous gun has been a source of debate ever since.

For a long time a 7.5-inch gun located at West Point was thought to be old Whistling Dick. However, a historian from the National Park Service named Edwin C. Bearss correctly identified that cannon as the "Widow Blakely". This weapon, now properly titled, is on display at Vicksburg where it gained its name. The disposition of Whistling Dick however, went back up for debate.
In 1886, John G. Cashman, editor of the Vicksburg Evening Post, wrote that following the surrender of the city the gun was taken down from Wymans hill by the Yankees and placed near the waters edge where fuller's woodyard was located in later years. 'They probably designed carring it off as a trophy - it was nearly useless as a gun, having a crack in its muzzle," - the Post reported, "but our informant is almost certain that it was never removed and is now lying under about 10 feet of mud, most probably."

In 1900, a minister named Reverend A.P. Leech of Columbus, Ohio told a story about the disposal of Whistling Dick. Leech, who was a sergent in Co. "K", 35th Mississippi Infantry during the siege of Vicksburg claims that a fourteen man detail was sent to make away with the old gun. Leech told his story to a local reporter and historian named Tom Lewis. Lewis was convinced of the accuracy of the story and said that several veterans in Vicksburg would vouch for the account.

The detail sent to dispose of Whistling Dick was under the command of a Lieutenant - his last name was never mentioned, it is not believed that even commanding officers knew what was on foot. Leech's story continued: "It was the third of July, 1863 and somewhere between 10 and eleven p.m. I remember it was very dark. We marched to the courthouse and there took a secret oath not to divulge the secret to the Yankees. It was not until we reached the courthouse that we all knew the purpose for which the detail had been gotten together. We marched silently to the river and there at the foot of the street - either Grove or Jackson - found two small coal barges lashed together, end to end, and decked over. We then went up on the hill and silently sneaked 'Dick' to that point and ran him aboard the barge. There was a long rope tied to the gun carriage on which the men hauled, while the Lieutenant and I worked the wheels. The tail of our barge was pointed out in the river, and after getting the old gun safely on board, shoved out into the stream After getting out some distance, we silently dumped the old gun into the still waters."

There are several different theories as to why the rounds from Whistling Dick made such a distinctive whistling sound. The first theory is that erratic rifling in the gun caused the shells to whistle. Another theory is that the muzzle had been damaged and the barrel had been cut down about a foot or so, which may have accounted for the whistling sound, but it is believed today that the incorrectly identified "Widow Blakley" and its shorted muzzle may be the source of this theory.

The last theory on the whistling sound comes from the account of A.P. Leech who claimed to have helped dump Whistling Dick in the waters near Vicksburg. In his statements to Lewis he mentioned that, "We also dumped all the ammunition, some five or six cases, over after 'Whistling Dick'. We all remarked the peculiar shape of these projectiles which were square-cut, with pointed ends. It was this peculiarity that caused the hoarse rasping, whistling sound as the projectile dashed through the air."

We may never learn more about "Whistling Dick", unless someone discovers the current disposition of this famous cannon.
whistling_dick.jpg
 
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