The Widow Blakely, ©James N., 2013.
It's been a popularized myth that it's nickname was given because this gun was the only specimen of British Captain Theophilus Alexander Blakely's design in the works at Vicksburg.
- Model: British Naval 42-pdr. with 7 inch bore; reamed, banded & rifled to 7.5" in the Blakely Patent Method
- Type: Confederate 7.5-inch Blakely Rifle, in service with a short barrel after May 22, 1863
- In Service With: Company 'H', 1st Louisiana Heavy Artillery, Confederate States of America
- Under the Command of:
- Col. Edward Higgins, Commander of all River Defense Batteries near Vicksburg
- Lt. Col. Daniel Beltzhoover, In command of the Lower Batteries of Vicksburg, including 26 cannons
- Capt. Richard S. Bond, 1st Louisiana Heavy Artillery
- Lieutenant A. L. Slack, Company 'H', 1st Louisiana Heavy Artillery
- Purpose: Fire on any Union ships travelling on the Mississippi River, Defending the City of Vicksburg
- Current Disposition: Mounted on a steel Siege Carriage, overlooking the Mississippi River
- Location: Louisiana Circle, Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg, Mississippi
- Map Coordinates: 32°19'10.3"N 90°53'49.4"W
- Casting Foundry: Low Moor Iron Works, Bradford, Yorkshire, England
- Tube Composition: Cast Iron Tube, Semi-Steel Band
- Year of Manufacture: 1861
- Registry Number: Not Marked
- Breech Band: BLAKELY'S PATENT 1861.
- Left Trunnion: LOW MOOR / 10█61 / 1861.
- Trophy No. Plate: 170
L to R. Patent Stamp, Trunnion Stamps, West Point Plate, and Rifling Detail below right. Photos ©Rusk County Avengers, 2019.
- Bore Diameter: 7.5 inches
- Rifling: 12 hook-slant Rifle Grooves, Right Hand Twist
- Tube Length: 100 inches (originally 124 inches)
- Original Tube Weight: 10,761 lbs. * (5.38 tons)
- (* the 7 is a guess based on the sister gun's weight. The 3rd digit of the weight is missing on the left trunnion)
- Carriage Type: No. 2 Siege Carriage (2,300 lbs.)
- Total Weight (Gun & Carriage): 13,061 lbs. (6.53 tons)
- West Point Trophy Plaque: CIVIL WAR - 7.5 IN. BLAKELY CAST IRON - RIFLED GUN MADE BY THE - LOW MOOR IRON CO. ENGLAND IN 1861. - CAPTURED FROM CONFEDERATE FORCES - VICKSBURG MISS.
- Standard Powder Charge: 12 lbs. Cannon Grade Black Powder
- Projectiles Types: English Blakely Pattern, CS Britton Pattern, CS Reed Pattern, Tredegar Pattern
- Projectiles Weights: 120 lbs. solid bolt, Shell with 2.75 lbs. bursting charge
NOTES ABOUT THE WIDOW BLAKELY:
THE PROBABLE ORIGIN OF THE WIDOW BLAKELY
On August 18, 1861, the S.S. Bermuda sailed from Liverpool, England enroute to Savannah, Georgia with the intent of testing the Union Blockade, and delivering supplies to the South. The large cargo ship arrived safely on the 16th of September, and unloaded over $1,000,000.00 worth of cargo, reportedly including: 18 large rifled cannon; two large 124-pdr. whitworth guns (one of which was rumored to be sent immediately to New Orleans); powder, shot, and shells for this ordnance; 6500 Enfield rifles; from 200,000 to 300,000 cartridges; 6000 pairs of army shoes; 20,000 blankets; 180 barrels of gunpowder; a large quantity of morphine, quinine, and other medical stores.
At least two, and perhaps up to as many as five of those cannons happened to be large 120-pdr. Rifled Blakely Cannons, bore size 7.5 inches. It's believed that the Widow Blakely was one of these guns. However, beyond some speculation, it's not known exactly how the Widow got to Vicksburg from Savannah, or if there are any undiscovered interesting actions this gun was involved in.
FILLING THE GAPS IN THE WIDOW'S HISTORY:
THE CAPTURED EVANSPORT "GROOM" BLAKELY
Evansport, Virginia, located along the Potomac River, was a point of heavy Confederate resistance, with as many as 30 large guns overlooking the river making passage on the river next to impossible for Union ships. These newspaper clippings help to validate that arrangement:
If this clipping is accurate, two "8-inch rifled columbiads
of English manufacture" that were brought across the
Atlantic via the Bermuda were mounted near Evansport.
We can assume the ½ inch error is just a reporting error,
was the second gun the Widow Blakely?
Long Tom, the 30-pdr. Parrott)
There is no way to know if the Evansport Blakely, or even the Widow Blakely are
included in the guns of "Heaviest Caliber" in this message, but it's possible. From
September of 1861 to January of 1862, several bombardments were traded, with
neither side gaining an advantage.
In March of 1862, Union forces discovered more than a dozen heavy guns
abandoned along the Potomac River. It's believed that the Confederates had
abandoned the area and moved on to Richmond. At Shipping Point on the river,
one of the many abandoned battery locations, a single 7.5-inch Rifled and
Banded Blakely was captured.
If the Widow Blakely gun was ever at Evansport, it escaped before the Union
The "Evansport Blakely Rifle" as seen at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC
Photo from The Iron Guns of Willard Park by John C. Reilly, Jr. U.S. Naval Historical Center
Amazingly, just like the Widow, not only do these guns share their origin story, but also their legacy. The captured gun was manufactured at Low Moor Iron Works, and was sent to West Point to become Trophy No. 7. A Plate was affixed that states: "Blakely Gun / Imitation Parrott / Left by Rebels / at Shipping Point / Potomac River."
The weight of this gun is 10,759 lbs. This gun like the Widow also has no manufacturer's Registry Number. It was eventually transferred to the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC.
A TREDEGAR - 7.5 INCH BLAKELY CONNECTION
Using the Tredegar Sales book, we made some interesting discoveries:
Beginning in December 1861, Tredegar foundry begins casting 7.44-inch rifle shells for a Confederate Government order. By the end of the year they have made over 95 "British Style" shells, and get another order for "Another 200 shells, as fast as possible". Soon Tredegar has shipped 400 shells for a 7.44-inch Rifle to Shipping Point. In the new year another order comes in, another 200 Shell of 7.43” diameter for 7 1/2" Blakely Gun, although a Tennessee Sabot will be substituted for the Lead Sabot. They were up to 600 total rounds ordered for the Blakely's when Shipping point was evacuated.
Later, in May of 1862, another 200 rounds of 7.43 inch diameter were ordered with Tennessee Sabot, one might wonder which gun these rounds were intended for, since the Evansport Blakely was captured at this point!
Then on May 20, 1862, the Tredegar foundry billed the Confederate Navy for "Hauling a Blakely Gun from Petersburg Railroad Depot to the Richmond docks." It's hard to accurately speculate if this is the Widow Blakely, or some other Blakely Rifle being moved.
POSSIBLE MULTIPLE C.S.S. VIRGINIA CONNECTIONS
One theory is that the Widow Blakely was going to be mounted aboard the C.S.S. Virginia, but it never made it, it was either rejected or arrived too late. That's a crazy idea right? Well, some of the guns at Shipping Point, Virginia were under the command of Lt. Charles Carroll Simms, his next assignment after leaving Shipping Point was the C.S.S. Virginia. And then, there are these two gems, newspaper clips from the May 1862 Edition of Scientific American, Volume 06, Number 18:
Who exactly gave "Capt. Blakely", the man who supplied the confederacy with many of the large guns aboard the Bermuda, the idea that 7½-inch Rifled Cannons were mounted on-board the Merrimac also known as the C.S.S. Virginia? The description given does fit our Widow Blakely or the Evansport Blakely, so that was likely the guns he was referencing. Certainly an interesting connection, even if it didn't happen.
The problem is, the C.S.S. Virginia didn't have any 7.5-inch guns. The Virginia is known to have been armed with 6.4-inch and 7-inch Brooke Rifles, and 9-inch Dahlgren Smoothbores.
ONE LAST THEORY - A NEW ORLEANS CONNECTION
Memphis Daily Appeal clipping from November 3, 1861
For comparison, the Widow was an English made 120-pdr. Rifle.
Whitworth and Blakely were both English cannon inventors, and it's hard to imagine that a newspaper reporter would know the difference between the models of guns. It's also possible that Whitworth's name is more sensational and so one might wonder, could the newspaper reporter have misidentified the cannons, either by accident or on purpose?
Perhaps these two guns that are reported to be delivered by the Bermuda are actually the Widow, and the Evansport Groom!
One could speculate that if the Groom was sent north to Evansport, to defend the Potomac River in Late 1861, as we know it did... one could also then assume it makes sense the Widow might have been sent south to New Orleans to help defend the Mississippi River. When New Orleans was captured by Captain David Farragut, and later occupied by Major General Benjamin Butler, the Widow must have been moved north to Vicksburg to escape capture.
One last consideration in this theory: the gun crew assigned to the Widow at Vicksburg was from Company 'H', 1st Louisiana Heavy Artillery, who had recently escaped from the Forts of New Orleans. Is this the clue we are looking for?
This is perhaps the simplest and easiest explanation of events. However, no documentation beyond the original newspaper article, with "questionable" gun identification, has yet been found.
* Reported as "2 Lancaster guns of 168 pounds weight" in the October 26th, 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly
DOCUMENTED ACTIONS AT VICKSBURG & BEYOND:
MISTAKEN IDENTITY, RETURN TO VICKSBURG
On April 16, 1863, the Ironclad Sidewheel Steamer USS Lafayette was hit 3 times in her dash up the river by the Widow Blakely's 7.44-inch Shells.
On May 22, 1863, the "Widow Blakely" was manned by a detachment of Company 'H', 1st Louisiana Heavy Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant A. L. Slack. On that day the Widow, mounted 130 feet high, and overlooking the Mississippi River, engaged four iron-clads and one wooden gunboat. The Widow had the help of nine other guns. The Widow successfully helped to heavily damage two of the ironclads, and repulse the rest of the attacking force.
However, in that day's action one of the Widow's shells exploded in the tube while it was firing at a Union gunboat. The explosion took part of the end of the muzzle off, leaving the remainder of the tube intact.
The report included on the right includes the official details of that event.
The ragged ends of the muzzle were cut smooth by a local gun foundry, and the gun was quickly put back into limited service, being used more in the role of a mortar. It's barrel length had been shortened to about 100 inches after the bursting damage. The cannon tube started out it's service at 124 inches long.
When Vicksburg surrendered, the Widow was captured along with several other Confederate guns. The Union had no use for such an odd specimen, and it was loaded on a ship with other captured ordnance, to be sent down the river to New Orleans, and then shipped around to New York.
The Widow was taken to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, arriving on May 11, 1865. It was displayed as a trophy for ninety-six years, being misidentified as "Whistling Dick", another famous Confederate cannon from the Vicksburg conflict.
When her true identity was recognized in 1959, the Widow was sent back to Vicksburg, the Park Service mounting her on the bluffs about a mile south of her original position. This cannon has also been misidentified as a 7.44-inch caliber rifle. Measurements of the lands, nearly 1.5 inches wide, show diameters between 7.50 and 7.51 inches. One might wonder if the 7.44-inch measurement came from one of the shells for the Widow and not the bore of the gun itself.
FOR FURTHER READING
- Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, by Olmstead, Hazlett, & Parks, Univ of Delaware Press, 1988.
- The Campaign for Vicksburg (3 Volume Set), by Edwin C. Bearrs, Morningside Bookshop, 1991.