Rare “Dahlgren Boat Howitzer Ramrod” Civil War Period 3.4” Diameter Cannon Ramrod Ex: Pennsylvania Complete
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c. 1861-1865 Civil War Period 3.4” diameter “Dahlgren Boat Howitzer” Ramrod, Only 424 of this size Howitzers Produced, Considered “The Best Boat Gun in the World” - The 12-pound Dahlgren Boat Howitzer, Complete Ramrod, Choice Very Fine.
A very rare, original “Dahlgren Boat Howitzer” Cannon Ramrod that measures 55” long with a 3.4” diameter ram. The construction appears to be of a hardwood (perhaps Hickory) with hand-wrought metal banding around both ends of the Ram, and has an Iron Ramming Plate at the bottom. The Ram measures about 15.5” long and the Wooden Handle measures 39.5” long. The Identified Howitzer itself with this ram-rod was: Designation: 12-pounder rifled, Bore: 3.4 inches (8.6 cm), Length Overall: 63.5 inches (161 cm), Weight 880 pounds (400 kg), Service Charge: 1 pound (0.45 kg), Range: 1,770 yards (1,620 m) at 6 elev., Number of Howitzers Made: 424. The solid wood handle is held in place by a substantial metal pin. According to the consignor, this Ram was found in the Hanover, PA area, and may have been used in the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania and was sent from Pennsylvania (though no specific provenance was provided). The other side of the consignor tag indicates that this was a Ramrod for a “Dahlgren Boat Howitzer,” a versatile cannon that saw use on both boats and land. Burn loss on the plate and wood at the front of the ram indicate that this example saw actual use. Overall, this Ramrod has wonderful natural patina, some slight wood age splits and a few scattered worm holes are expected. A true, museum quality piece for any Civil War or American Military Collection. Dahlgren guns were muzzle-loading naval artillery designed by Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren USN (November 13, 1809-July 12, 1870), mostly used in the period of the American Civil War, though some may have seen use during the Mexican-American War.
“The Best Boat Gun in the World” - The 12-pound Dahlgren Boat Howitzer,
(Second half of the nineteenth century):
Although the Navy conducted an active blockade, naval operations during the War with Mexico were largely conducted either ashore with sailors serving as infantry or involved the use of ship’s boats on rivers and elsewhere near the seacoast. The Navy had no satisfactory gun for these operations.
The experience highlighted the need for a light boat howitzer. Lieutenant John A. Dahlgren, then assigned at the Washington Navy Yard, recognized the problem, and proposed, and then developed such a gun. Officially adopted in 1850, the Navy manufactured Dahlgren’s boat howitzer in three sizes: a 12-pounder light howitzer, a 12-pounder medium howitzer, and a 24-pounder. All guns were adapted for use with either a boat or a field carriage.
The medium 12-pound boat howitzer, mounted on a field carriage, became the standard US Navy infantry field piece. It remained the standard US Navy infantry and boat gun until late in the nineteenth century. Naval personnel did not favor the light 12-pounder. The larger 24-pounder, while a boat gun, in practice was generally retained aboard ship and was not used ashore. Dahlgren's design philosophy evolved from an accidental explosion in 1849 of a 32-pounder being tested for accuracy, killing a gunner. He believed a safer, more powerful naval cannon could be designed using more scientific design criteria.
Dahlgren guns were designed with a smooth curved shape, equalizing strain and concentrating more weight of metal in the gun breech where the greatest pressure of expanding propellant gases needed to be met to keep the gun from bursting. Because of their rounded contours, Dahlgren guns were nicknamed "soda bottles," a shape which became their most identifiable characteristic.
The Dalghren boat howitzer is elegant in design. The gun is of cast bronze incorporating housing for a Dahlgren designed percussion-lock. In the manner of earlier carronades, a loop underneath, rather than trunnions, secured the gun to its carriage. For boat operation, a boat carriage enabled the gun to be sited in the bow of a ship’s boat.
For operation ashore, a field gun carriage was used. A simple screw elevator adjusted elevation. The boat carriage was adjusred in train by tackle and the gun carriage by use of a handspike. The field carriage was constructed of wrought iron, with all iron or iron rimmed wood wheels. It was designed to be pulled by men rather than horses. For this purpose, a wheel at the tail along with drag and guide ropes were standard.
All carriage parts were simple in construction and easily bolted together. The trail wheel lifted for firing by simple removal of a pin. A socket on the tail accommodated the handspike used to adjust the train. Ammunition was of a fixed type and carried individually by the crew and in two portable ammunition boxes that the carriage was designed to transport.
The boat howitzer and its carriages were a complete gun system.
For operation, when the ship’s boat was hoisted out, the gun was installed on its boat carriage at the bow. The field carriage was stowed at the stern of the boat. (The howitzer was generally never handled separately from one of its carriages.) For operations ashore, the field carriage was run forward and the gun transferred between carriages using a spar. The gun and field carriage then landed across the bow using skids.
The 12-pound boat howitzer was very effective and was “considered to be the best boat gun of its day in the world.” An early indication of its effectiveness occurred during the assault on the Pearl River Barrier Forts near Canton (Guangzhou) China in 1856.
Dahlgren howitzers played a large role in support of the naval infantry assault and capture of the forts. During the Civil War, 1,087 twelve-pounders were cast of all types and Bore sizes. Demand was so large that the Washington Navy Yard could not keep up with production and had to let contracts to civilian foundries. The gun was a mainstay of US Navy operations until the very end of the nineteenth century.
During the Mexican-American War the U.S. found itself lacking in light guns that could be fired from ships’ boats and landed to be used as light artillery in support of landing parties (Ripley 1984, p. 87). Light artillery borrowed from the army proved unsatisfactory. In 1849, then lieutenant, Dahlgren began to design a family of smoothbore muzzle-loading boat howitzers that could be mounted in ships’ launches and cutters as well as being mounted onto field carriages.
The first boat howitzers to be designed were a light 12-pounder, a heavy 12-pounder (originally designated a "medium"), and a 24-pounder. Later a lighter 12-pounder (the "small") and a rifled 12-pounder heavy howitzer were introduced. All of the boat howitzers were very similar in design, cast in bronze, with a mounting lug or loop on the bottom of the barrel instead of trunnions, and an elevating screw running through the cascabel. Having the single mounting lug expedited moving the howitzer from the launch to field carriage and back. In naval service the boat howitzers had gun crews of 10 in the boat and 11 ashore.
Dahlgren boat howitzer mounted on field carriage.
The field carriage was made of wrought iron. No limber was used in naval service, but two ammunition boxes (each containing nine rounds) could be lashed to the axle of the field carriage. Members of the gun crew also carried a single round in an ammunition pouch. The smoothbore boat howitzers fired shell, shrapnel, and canister. The rifled 12-pounder fired shot and shell. Percussion primers were used in naval service, but the howitzers could also use friction primers obtained from the army.
The small and the light 12-pounder boat howitzers were not popular. The heavy 12-pounder howitzers were most popular at their intended jobs, while the 24-pounder boat howitzer were found to serve excellently as primary and secondary armaments on river gunboats and similar small vessels. Some 24-pounder boat howitzers were apparently rifled, but some contemporary accounts confuse rifled 24-pounder boat howitzers and the 20-pounder rifles (discussed below)
Army use of boat howitzers... Aside from use in Naval service, boat howitzers saw service with the land forces as well. The boat howitzers were occasionally used in artillery batteries, but were more often used in infantry units, in a role that would later be called infantry support guns.
At First Bull Run, Company I of the 71st Regiment, NY National Guard, brought two boat howitzers with them. The unit had trained on boat howitzers while deployed at Washington D.C., and when called to Bull Run, brought two of them along. When the regiment retreated they left the howitzers behind for the Confederate forces to capture.
During the Antietam Campaign, Whiting's Battery (Company K, 9th NY Infantry (Hawkins' Zouaves)), employed five Dahlgren boat howitzers (two rifled, two smoothbore, and one of indeterminate type). The howitzers fired on Confederate skirmishers at Snavely's Ford and suppressed them (Johnson & Anderson, p. 78).
The Confederate Grimes' (Portsmouth) Battery had two smoothbore Dahlgren boat howitzers, with which they fought near Piper's Stone Barn (Johnson & Anderson, p. 78). The boat howitzers appeared to be popular-when Grimes' battery was forced to turn in one of its guns, it chose to turn in a three-inch ordnance rifle rather than one of its boat howitzers (Johnson & Anderson, p. 24).
The 1st Regiment, New York Marine Artillery, also armed themselves with boat howitzers, using them for their designed use of amphibious expeditions. The unit participated in 16 raids along the North Carolina coast employing their boat howitzers. The New York Marine Artillery was issued twelve 12-pounder rifled boat howitzers made by Norman Wiard out of semi-steel, a low-carbon iron alloy. Other than the material used, the Wiard boat howitzers were identical to the Dahlgren 12-pounder rifled boat howitzers. The Wiard howitzers were not made in large numbers (Ripley 1984, p. 168).
Boat howitzers were used in the western theaters also. The Indiana Brigade used a Dahlgren boat howitzer in fighting near Grand Prairie, Arkansas, on July 5, 1862. (War Department 1885, p. 109).
While boat howitzers were never commonly used by either army, by the end of the war their use by land forces was very rare.