Famous Widow Blakely - Confederate 7.5-inch Blakely Rifle

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The Widow Blakely, ©James N., 2013.
This 7.5-inch rifle was called the "Widow Blakely" because it was one of only two 7.5-inch Blakely Rifles of that type imported from England. It's mate was in service at Evansport, Virginia until it was captured by Union forces at Shipping Point on the Potomac River in March of 1862, making the gun in Vicksburg a "Widow". The Evansport Blakely can now be seen on display at the Washington Navy Yard, in Washington, DC.

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.

ARTILLERY PROFILE
  • 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
:CSA1stNat:
MANUFACTURING
  • 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
  • Markings:
    • Breech Band: BLAKELY'S PATENT 1861.
    • Left Trunnion: LOW MOOR / 10█61 / 1861.
    • Trophy No. Plate: 170
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L to R. Patent Stamp, Trunnion Stamps, West Point Plate, and Rifling Detail below right. Photos ©Rusk County Avengers, 2019.

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WEIGHTS & MEASURES
  • 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.
AMMUNITION
  • 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:

1578116175857.png

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?


(Bonus Mention! The "rifled gun taken at Manassas" is likely to be a reference to
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
forces arrived.


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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


- Shipping Point Capture Location

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:

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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

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Memphis Daily Appeal clipping from November 3, 1861
On November 3, 1861 the newspaper Memphis Daily Appeal reprinted an article from the New York Tribune which included a cargo inventory from the Bermuda. One entry might not be completely accurate: "two Whitworth 124 pounders, one of which was immediately sent to New Orleans".*

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

ASSOCIATED LINKS
 
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CivilWarTalk

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Additional Newspaper Clippings /
Writings about the Bermuda's Cargo:

Including finds by myself and @lelliott19

Paddington Pollaky: The Mysterious Life and Times of the Real Sherlock Holmes By Bryan Kesselman
Pollaky was a spy in England, and reported 70 to 80 cannons loaded aboard Bermuda before it left England.


Rome Tri-Weekly Courier. (Rome, Ga.)
October 05, 1861, page 1.
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Savannah Daily Morning News.
October 14, 1861
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The Daily Dispatch, Richmond, VA
October 17, 1861
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MEMPHIS DAILY APPEAL, MEMPHIS, TN
October 22, 1861, p. 2, c. 3
News from Richmond October 17, 1861.
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Reprinted from the Baltimore American
Published in the Southern Enterprise, Thomasville, Ga.
October 23, 1861, page 2.
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HARPER'S WEEKLY
October 26, 1861
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Chicago daily tribune.
December 18, 1861
Speculation about guns from the Bermuda used to fire at the Niagara near Fort Pickens in Pensacola, FL.

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Additional Newspaper Clippings /
Writings about Evansport / Shipping Point

Including finds by myself and @lelliott19

This Multiple Property Submission (MPD) Form facilitates the nomination to the registers of properties associated with campaigns for control of navigation on the lower Potomac River, 1861-1862 in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Confederate forces constructed batteries along the Virginia shore of the Potomac from Mathias Point to Freestone Point in the summer and fall of 1861. When these batteries became active in October 1861, they achieved a blockade of maritime transport to the nation’s capital. This strategic action would have a pronounced influence on Union strategy and command, changing the course of the American Civil War.

Includes 82 Page PDF detailing the National Historic Register Information
An excerpt:
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https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/historic-registers/076-5312/
The New York Herald
December 07, 1861, page 3.
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The Daily Dispatch. Richmond, VA
December 10, 1861, page 3.
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Richmond Enquirer
January 07, 1862, page 4.
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From: The Rebellion Record, Vol. 4, Putnam, NY, 1862, "Doc 83"
https://books.google.com/books?id=UkNtT5HChoEC&lpg=PA282&ots=S9YnGX66sy&pg=PA282#v=onepage&q&f=false
Article:
The batteries extending from Chapawamsic to Quantico Creek embracing Shipping and Evansport are provided with defenses in the rear somewhat similar to those at point Shipping Point may be considered as island for the only way to make the from that place is by means of a narrow bridge thrown across a deep and swamp It was shrewdly calculated that this narrow passage would be a point of strength to themselves in case of a retreat with the Unionists pursuit for nothing would be easier than to or otherwise destroy the bridge And yet not pursued the rebels forgot to destroy bridge showing that some unaccountable must have seized on them

After the crew from the Anacostia had at Shipping Point the gunboat arrived the Point and sent a boat on shore with spikes but it does not appear that many of were necessary

On Monday morning the Commodore at the request of Gen Hooker towed over some canal boats containing two regiments one from New Jersey and the other from Massachusetts landed at Cockpit Point and Shipping Point when skirmishers were thrown out several miles into the country In the rear of fortifications at Cockpit Point they found an intrenched camp a great deal of the materials which were but partially destroyed affording additional evidence of the hurried flight of the rebels but of the rebels themselves not a trace remained

I annex the following memoranda of arms munitions found at Shipping Point


A gun weighing nine thousand and sixty pounds marked WP No 4
A long thirty two pounder weighing six thousand two hundred pounds cast in 1845 on a pivot carriage which was destroyed
A six inch rifled pivot gun mounted on a pivot carriage carriage destroyed Fragments of a six inch rifled gun cast at Tredegar Iron Works Richmond Va on a pivot carriage carriage burned and destroyed
Six long forty two pounders on pivot carriages all destroyed
A seven and a half inch rifled gun cast at Moor England weighing ten thousand seven hundred and fifty nine pounds cast in 1861 gun is in good order it was mounted on a pivot carriage which was cut with axes in order weaken it
One hundred and sixty nine nine inch shells with five second fuses
A large quantity of thirty two pound shot canister
Thirty five six inch rifle shells in good order
Two furnaces for heating thirty two pound shot
Some shot were in the grate with fire under them ready for heating
Three passing boxes

To which may be added three dummies wooden guns placed in position to make the battery look more formidable than the reality were playfully spiked

The shot and shell have been removed guns at Cockpit Point had their trunnions broken off after which they were precipitated over the bluff into the river

Some of those at Shipping Point and other places remain
Source: New York Herald Account, Occupation of Cockpit Point, VA


The Bermuda is Caught

I wanted to find the article that mentioned the five Blakely Rifles so I could reproduce it here, and at first I was stumped because I couldn't find it. But then I found this from a previous search:

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But the thing here is this is part of the manifest of the Bermuda on it's second attempted delivery of goods, and what you are reading are the Supreme Court document pages referencing the Blakely Cannons confiscated after the ship was captured.

I'm wondering if I got my inventory lists mixed up at some point, and that's where the number five came from. I'm even more convinced now that it's unlikely there were five 7.5 inch guns onboard the Bermuda on her first trip across the Atlantic.

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/70/514/
 
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CivilWarTalk

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Special thanks to @lelliott19 for all the research help with this article!

We found a lot of dead ends and interesting situations, even a theory that the Widow was part of the 7 Days Battles, although I didn’t see the primary source for this so I didn’t post it... Also, we discovered NPS research that parallels our discoveries.
 
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Curious why you originally say up to 5 of the large guns imported on the Bermuda run could have been 7.5 Blakleys, then seem to discount it could have been one of the three potential other guns in theory
 
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CivilWarTalk

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Curious why you originally say up to 5 of the large guns imported on the Bermuda run could have been 7.5 Blakleys, then seem to discount it could have been one of the three potential other guns in theory
The record is very muddy, much of the evidence I could find was in newspapers, I believe I found one report of five Blakey rifles onboard the Bermuda, but it didn’t specify caliber, and being a newspaper report it has a low accuracy. Maybe there were five 12 pdr. Blakelys and two 7.5” Blakelys onboard.

Plus, following these guns around is about like chasing a ghost. Sometimes they were 7 inch rifles, 8 inch rifles, 7.5” rifles, 7.44” rifles, sometimes British rifles, sometimes Blakelys, sometimes even rifled columbiads, or how about English 100 pdr. Parrott? Everyone had a different way to ID them.

The official records and many other reports only supports 2 identical large caliber Rifled Blakelys, of experimental design, and very uncommon, and yet the record is still muddy, so I’m open to the possibilities.
 

redbob

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The largest gun used by the Confederates was a 12.75" Blakely used in Charleston. If you are wondering just how big this gun was, piecesof the barrel are in the right foreground, the breech ring is in the left background and the breech is in the right background. It's shells are in the left foreground. Photo LoC
CharlestonArsenal 2.jpg
 
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The record is very muddy, much of the evidence I could find was in newspapers, I believe I found one report of five Blakey rifles onboard the Bermuda, but it didn’t specify caliber, and being a newspaper report it has a low accuracy. Maybe there were five 12 pdr. Blakelys and two 7.5” Blakelys onboard.

Plus, following these guns around is about like chasing a ghost. Sometimes they were 7 inch rifles, 8 inch rifles, 7.5” rifles, 7.44” rifles, sometimes British rifles, sometimes Blakelys, sometimes even rifled columbiads, or how about English 100 pdr. Parrott? Everyone had a different way to ID them.

The official records and many other reports only supports 2 identical large caliber Rifled Blakelys, of experimental design, and very uncommon, and yet the record is still muddy, so I’m open to the possibilities.
One account I read last nite claimed the Virginia gun was bought by the state of Virginia.......if so would think little basis the 2nd gun went to Virginia as well or it would have remained there if owned by Virginia.
 

Reverend Ron

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The Washington Navy Yard and Museum is one of the best kept secrets in Washington, DC!

It is a military installation and thus requires visitors to be vetted in order to gain access. It's really easy though and the Visitor Control Center (VCC) and Marine Guards at the gate are very professional and courteous. Just do a little leg work in advance and it's a breeze!

Every time I have taken family or visiting friends there, we had the run of the whole place. With very few other people around it makes for a very relaxing visit with plenty of time to really study the displays and artifacts.

There is not an abundance of Civil War related items there, but I still highly recommend it!!!

Here's the link:

https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/museums/nmusn/about-us/plan-your-visit.html
 

CivilWarTalk

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One account I read last nite claimed the Virginia gun was bought by the state of Virginia.......if so would think little basis the 2nd gun went to Virginia as well or it would have remained there if owned by Virginia.
If you scroll back up to post #2, I posted all my additional source clips, I think the report about 5 guns was erroneous now, I was looking at the wrong Bermuda manifest.
 

byron ed

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Great overview. That the gun tube was considered for sea service should be no surprise, since it was built to accommodate mounting on a sea carriage -- evident in the pierced cascabel which would be laced through with a rope to contain the recoil on a ship's deck. Still, such a tube could instead be assigned to land service, mounted either on a siege artillery carriage or a mobile artillery carriage.

A cannon is a cannon. A gun's current carriage is a choice, not necessarily an indication of how it was delivered or what it was intended for from the start. And it was typical that a gun might go through several carriages on hard campaign in an active war anyway (there were specific field drills designated for changing out a tube).

A question for this gun is if its current carriage is a standard pattern (one of 3 or 4 standard U.S. patterns) or was it custom-built or modified to handle this particular rarer type of tube? Or even a one-off build for display purposes today? The cheeks seem particularly elevated compared to standard pattern carriages I know about. It seems it would buck like the devil when fired given the high c.o.g. (and btw where is the elevation screw? and what's with the block so far back on the trail where it will never nest the tube?).
 
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CivilWarTalk

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So, I mentioned that I saw a possible 7-Days Battles Connection, and this is it... I did a search for Armstrong and Richmond and came up with this, and then I saw a forum post speculating that one or more 7.5 inch Blakelys were sent to the front lines to support Lee during the Seven Days Battles.

This ultimately doesn't say that at all, and I'm not sure what Lee was referencing, if he was talking about an actual Armstrong, or if that's just what he was told might be available, or what.

But this does reference the armored railroad gun that was setup...

From the OR:
Article:
HEADQUARTERS, Near Richmond, Va., June 5, 1862.

Capt. GEORGE MINOR, Chief of Ordnance and Hydrography:

The Armstrong gun, if mounted on a field carriage, with its supply of projectiles, will be of immense importance to us. Can we not have it in the morning. The smaller guns (Parrott) I think we have enough of at present. I am very anxious to have a railroad battery. I wrote to Colonel Gorgas on the subject this morning and asked him to get you and Brooke to aid me. Till something better could be accomplished I proposed a Dahlgren or Columbiad, on a ships carriage, on a railroad flat, with one of your navy iron aprons adjusted to it to protect gun and men. If I could get it in position by daylight tomorrow I could astonish our neighbors. The enemy cannot get up his heavy guns except by railroad. We must block his progress.

Very respectfully and truly,
R. E. LEE, General.​

Article:
OFFICE OF ORDNANCE AND HYDROGRAFHY, Richmond, Va., June 24, 1862.

General R. E. LEE, Comdg., &c., Hdqrs. near Richmond, Va.:

GENERAL: The railroad-iron plated battery designed by Lieut. John M. Brooke, C. S. Navy, has been completed. The gun, a rifled and banded 32-pounder of 57 cwt., has bee mounted and equipped by Lient. R. D. Minor, C. S. Navy, and with 200 rounds of ammunition, including 15-inch solid bolt shot, is now ready to be transferred to the Army.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

GEORGE MINOR, Commander, in charge.​


I believe this is this gun:

1580748628394.png

This is a banded 32-pounder Brooke naval rifle mounted on a flat car and shielded by a sloping casemate of railroad iron. On June 29, 1862, Robert E. Lee had the gun pushed by a locomotive over the Richmond and York River line (later part of the Southern Railway) and used at the Battle of Savage's Station to interfere with General George McClellan's plans for siege operations against Richmond during the Union advance up the peninsula.

But, this is not a 7.5 inch Blakely Rifle.
 
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