The Ellsworth Guns
Lincoln's Breech-loading Cannon
By R.C. Hubbard Jr.
Our reproduction Ellsworth Gun
History of the Ellsworth Guns
The Ellsworth guns were one of only 2 types of breech- loading artillery purchased by the Union army during the American Civil War. The other type was one 70pdr Whitworth rifle. The Whitworth 12 pdr. breech-loading guns were donated by United States citizen's in England.
Credit for the invention of these small breech-loading cannon’s has been given to Eli Thayer, an inventor and politician from Massachusetts. Mr. Thayer held the manufacturing rights to Joslyn’s 1855 firearms patent. (No.13507) on which these guns were based. In an 1861 newspaper article, Thayer claimed that his “Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society” (later the New England Emigrant Aid Society) had 12 of these small guns manufactured and sent them along with Sharps rifles to “Bleeding Kansas during the Kansas- Missouri conflict. The only possible mention of them that I could find comes at the destruction of the Free State Hotel where one 12 pounder brass howitzer and four other small cannon were surrendered along with some Sharps rifles.
Lucius W. Pond, also an inventor and manufacturer; claimed the invention of these guns to the Scientific American, a paper which showcased patent’s and inventions and a least one other publication. Mr. Pond was later to find trouble with patent right infringement with Smith & Wesson over a pistol he was manufacturing and check fraud which would land him in jail.
In April of 1861, the Union Defense Committee of New York City purchased two of the small guns for use by Colonel Elmer Ellsworth’s 11th New York Infantry known as Ellsworth’s Zouave’s. The guns took the name of Ellsworth’s from the first regiment who were to receive them.
Mr. Thayer, using his political connections, went to Washington and convinced President Lincoln to order the purchase of 20 guns at a cost of $350 each and subject to the inspection of General McClellan’s chief of ordnance, Colonel Kingsbury.
The 20 guns ordered by Lincoln were manufactured by the firm of Goddard, Rice & Co. and sent to Washington D.C. in November 1861. The guns that they sent were four feet long, six inches in diameter at the breech and three and a half inches at the muzzle. It had a one and a half-inch rifled bore with fifteen lands and grooves. Opposing wedges, operated by handle went through the breech of the gun holding the breech - block in place. A truncated cone on the front of the breech-block forces against two tapered rings, to create the gas seal for the breech. (Much like the rings on a piston in an engine.) A handle on the back of the breech–block pulls the block back to break the rings free.
This small artillery piece fired an 18 ounce chilled iron conical ball was wrapped with tallow soaked cord that was put in a cup at the end of a brass cartridge. The brass cartridge is another innovated design incorporated into these guns. Cartridges were just being designed for firearms of the period. The piece was fired by a three-ounce charge that was ignited through perforations near the base of the cartridge. It was estimated that the piece could throw its shot approximately three miles.
When he recieved the guns,Colonel Kingsbury, Gen. McClellan’s ordnance chief, thought the guns were “in many respects superior” to the original model received. These changes to the guns form the original model may be what Mr. Pond claims as his invention. Col. Kingsbury accepted them and the bill of 8811.87.
All twenty of the guns remained in Washington until General John C. Fremont asked for them in the spring of 1862. The Ellsworth guns were all sent to Harpers Ferry. This was in support of General Fremont while Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was in the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley. As Jackson moved to help near Richmond, some portion of the guns must have moved south with the Union Army. The first report of use that I have found of the Ellsworth gun is at Mechanicsville on June the 29th, 1862. Captain James Woolpolk of the Ashland Artillery (CSA)commented that we “ fired very rapidly, receiving in reply an incessant fire from the enemy’s battery, composed, as we afterward learned from prisoners, of thirteen breech-loading guns..” At Gaines Mills the Fourth Texas infantry, with the Eighteenth Georgia in support attacked a hill fortified with logs, entrenchments, artillery with two lines of infantry. After sustaining heavy loss the Texans and Georgian’s captured fourteen pieces of artillery. The Fifth Texas, who went in next to them caught nearly an entire union infantry regiment. In Generals Trimble’s report, after his description of the ground, he said …” to which Yankee ingenuity had added a sort of “repeating gun” called a telescopic cannon, discharging 60 balls per minute.” He had grossly over estimated the rate of fire.
There is not another report of their use until Confederate General. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson headed toward Harpers Ferry during the first invasion of the north. During the siege at Harper’s Ferry, Captain Acorn of the 12 New York Militia took a detachment of Ellsworth guns to Maryland heights where they rendered “valuable assistance” in defense of the garrison expending about eighty rounds. The effect of the shot on the assaulting Confederates is un-clear as there is not a mention of them in their reports.
It is also unclear as to just how many guns were captured when Harper’s Ferry fell to Jackson. Union Brig. Gen. Julius White in a report stated that there were 46 pieces of artillery present at Harper’s Ferry “excluding the seven small guns known as Ellsworth guns”. Some sources believe that there were more Ellsworth guns captured at Harpers Ferry, I think that the confederates already had them. After the surrender of Harper’s Ferry, Jackson’s reports and list of stores captured does not mention the little guns, although his report does mention 17 revolving guns. About the same time that Gen. Fremont had requested the Ellsworth guns he had tested two Agar machine guns and found them so satisfactory that he personally ordered two for his troops; but they had not yet arrived. Could there have been a combination of Agar’s and Ellsworth guns and the Confederates did not yet understand how the Ellsworth worked? I think so, because there is no doubt that a large number of the Ellsworth’s were captured. Confederate reports account for many more than those seven mentioned as being at Harpers Ferry.
Gen. Butler also purchased two “Ellsworth” guns with his own funds. These guns sailed with him to the Department of the Gulf and were managed by the 8th Vermont infantry. The 8th Vermont reported their use several times. On September 6, 1862 near Algeirs, LA. the two Ellsworth guns; “after being rendered useless by throwing portions of them into the river, fell into the hands of the enemy.” (2)(Report).
Brig. General John Hunt Morgan had received his two Ellsworth guns early enough to have had them on hand at Hartsville Tennessee on Dec.6, 1862. These guns were attached to Morgan’s own cavalry command. They appear on a later 1863 inventory of material in the Army of Tennessee, but no further mention of them in the OR’s. Perhaps they were still with Mogan when he was captured on the Ohio raid.
Six of the guns were sent to the Trans-Mississippi theater.The Trans- Mississippi Department was still showing six Ellsworth’s guns on hand as late as September 1864. Their use in the Trans- Mississippi theatre is not known.( I have been told, but unable to confirm that all six guns were surrendered with Gen, Kirby-Smith.)
If the Confederates didn’t initially know what they were; they learned soon after they captured them. On December 8, 1862 two of the guns were transferred to the third military district of South Carolina and manned by a company of Jeffords Battalion (5th South Carolina Cavalry) which was organized as horse artillery. These guns belong to the state of South Carolina and were to be marked S.C. and sent to the ordnance depot. (3) It is possible that one of the guns is still near the location of the State Arsenal in Greenville S.C. mounted on concrete pedestal.
Ellsworth barrel in Greenville S.C. It is possible the irons were still on the wood when it was set in the concrete. The people at the Greeville Historical Society do not know why or when the gun was placed here.
There were many small guns used during the American Civil War. One of Mr. Lincoln’s other purchases; 20 Woodruff muzzle loading guns, suffered much the same fate. Other than a couple of actions in Missouri and their mentioned use on Greirson’s Raid little is known of their use. Some of the other small guns were the Filley gun, 30 2.125” iron guns of which 15 were rifled and 15 smoothbore. The Williams breech – loading gun 36 pcs. (CS.) Travis gun, 6 bronze Breech-loaders captured before reaching Gen. Forrest (C.S.), 2.25” Confederate mountain rifles and some 50 Hughes smoothbore breech-loaders of 1.5” – 2” caliber which there are no known surviving examples. (C.S.)
All of these guns drifted into obscurity. There are only sporadic reports in the “The War of Rebellion”…records which indicate when and where these guns were used The ordnance departments on both sides did not regularly count these small guns as part of their stores. Most of these guns were all assigned to cavalry or infantry units (as were many Mt. Howitzers) whose reports concerned the movements and action of the troops and only mention the guns for some gallant action. With the exception of the Ellsworth’s, all of these guns were smoothbore’s and fired shot, shell and canister.
Ammunition used by the Ellsworth guns. Left is a Confederate version found at the Selma Al. arsenal site. On the right is the union version of shot. Both were to be wrapped in tallow soaked cord. They weighed about one pound,two ounce.( Photo’s courteously of http://www.civilwarartillery.com used with permission.)
The Ellsworth’s only fired the 1.5” iron shot. Even a direct hit on another field piece would cause little damage compared to the shot of the bigger gun. Its rifling and small bore would render canister ineffective. Simply put, it just could not compete with the bigger guns of the time.
Of the 36 Ellsworth guns known to have been built; there are only six remaining. Of the six only two are accessible to the public. One on a monument in Greenville N.C. The other at the Gettysburg National Park next to the Whitworth 12 lb. Rifle in the museum. None have the original carriage. We may never know for sure what they looked like when they were delivered new. Recently, some light has been shed on the carriage issue.
The city of Greenville, S.C. :while trying to move their mounument borke the concrete pilar that the barrel was sitting on. The broken concrete revealed a complete set of Irons inside.
The Museum and Library of Confederate History managed to obtain the Ellsworth gun and Irons from the City of Greenville for their museum. They are now in the process of restoring the Ellsworth guns parts and carriage.
Until a picture of an Ellsworth gun turns up, a carriage based on these iron will only be conjecture.
It is possible that these irons could be of Confederate manufacture to repair the gun carriage.
This picture of the officers of the 96th Pennsylvania was taken in Washington D.C. during March of 1862.
The Ellsworth guns did represent the wave of the future in artillery. It has a cartridge and bares very strong resemblance to the Hotchkiss mountain rifles of the 1890’s. It also has a breech-block which travels through the breech portion of the gun and is of 1.5” caliber. Later wars would continue the small caliber in specialty guns such as anti-aircraft and anti-tank in 37mm.
Miscellaneous Ellsworth Gun Information
from New York Tribune , Thursday, 13 June, 1861. Page 8, cols. 4-5.
JOCELYN'S PATENT GUN.
There is on exhibition at the office in Eli Thayer, No.
7 Wall Street, the first of a number of iron breech-
loading cannon ordered for the Ellsworth Zouave Regi-
ment. The gun is 48 inches long, has a bore of 1 1/2
inches, and carries a chilled-iron ball weighing 17
ounces. The bore is continued all the way through
the breech, and the hole stopped by a pin made of a
cone and expanding rings like the Jocelyn breech-
loading rifle, with which many of our readers are
familiar. The pin is withdrawn by a handle to which
it is attached, and kept to its place by a heavy key in-
serted in a mortice through the gun and through the
shank of the breech-pin. The key is made of two
tapering pieces of steel made tight by the operation of
a compound lever. The cartridge is contained in a
brass case, the ball forced into the cup left for its re-
ception. The ball is patched with a cord or other
fibrous material wound or drawn around it , and
saturated with tallow. Through a row of holes per-
forated through the cartridge about an inch from the
butt the fire is introduced. The ball is cone-shaped.
The gun is made of best Swedes iron put into skelp and welded up. Its weight is about 300 pounds,
and, with a carriage complete, probably 400
pounds. The cost of the gun and carriage
is $400 ; the ammunition about 10 cents * per cartridge.
This form of gun was first introduced here by the Hon.
Eli Thayer in 1856, when he had twelve of them made
for his Kansas emigrants to defend themselves against
the Border Ruffians. The two guns now in the city
were ordered by the Union Defense Committee for
Col. Ellsworth's Zouaves, about two months ago.
They will carry their ball as far as any other gun of the
same size and caliber. It is claimed that there is no
escape of gas whatever, and that the two-ounce charge
used will therefore be ample in any possible contin-
gency. The gun is intended to occupy a place between
the James 6-pounder, and the small arm of the infantry.
It is so light that it may be easilly [sic] handled by six men
and no doubt would do efficient service .
This article was provided to me by John Ludwickson of Nebraska
A Portion of Hoods Report
HEADQUARTERS TEXAS BRIGADE,
July 10, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part
enacted in the engagement of the 27th ultimo near Gaines’ Mill by this
Arriving on the field between 4 and 5 p. in., I was informed by Col.
J. M. Jones, of General Ewell’s staff; that his troops were hard pressed
and required assistance. Line of battle was formed at once with the
Hampton Legion, Lient. Col. M. W. Gary commanding, on the left, with
orders to gain the crest of the hill in the woods and hold it, which they
did, the Filth Texas, Col. J. B. Robertson commanding, engaging the
enemy on the right of the Legion, and the First Texas, Col. A. T. Hainey
commanding, on the right of the Fifth Texas. The brigade moved
gallantly forward, soon becoming engaged from left to right. The
battle raged with great fury all along the line as these noble troops
I)ressed steadily on, forcing the enemy to gradually give way.
Directing in person the Fourth Texas Regiment, Col. John Marshall
comnmanding, on the right of my line, they were the first troops to pierce
the strong line of breastworks occupied by the enemy, which caused
great confusion in their ranks. Here the Eighteenth Georgia, Lient.
Col. S. Z. Huff commanding, came to the support of the Fourth Texas,
and these regiments pressed on over a hotly contested field, iliclining
from right to left, with the Fifth Texas on their left, taking a large
number of I)risoners and capturing fourteen pieces of artillery, whemi
night came on and farther pursuit of the enemy ceased. The guns were
captured by the Fourth Texas and Eighteenth Georgia and a regiment
was takeim prisoners by tIme Fifth Texas Regiment.
1mm this engagement I regret to report the loss of many gallant officers
and men. Among those who fell, either killed or mortally wounded,
were Col. John Marshall, Lient. Col. B. Warwick, Capts. E. ID. Ryan,
J. W. ilutcheson, P. P. Porter, and T. M. Owens, acting commissary
of subsistence, and Lients. IR. J. Lambert, C. Reich, D. L. Butts, L. P.
Lyons, and T. H. Hollamon, of the Fourth Texas; licuts. J. E. Cli~te
and W. G. Wallace, of the Fifth Texas; Capt. B. F. Benton, First
Texas; Lieuts. L. A. McCulloch, T. J. Cohn, and Thomas Dowtin, of
the Eighteenth GeorHia; also Major Key, of the Fourth Texas; Colonels
Ilalitey, of the First Texas, and Robertson, of the Fifth Texas, received
severe Woun(ls while nobly discharging their duties.
All the field officers of the Fourth Texas being killed or wounded,
th~ command of the regiment devolved upon Capt. (now Maj.) W. P.
Townsend, who jed it most gallantly. There are many other officers
and men distinguished for their noble deeds on that day, for which I
will have to refer you to reports iu detail of regimental commanders.
l)uring the engagement most efficient service was rendered me, in
gallantly leading forward troops and transmitting orders, by Capt. W.
II. Sellers, assistant adjutant-general; Lient. J. T. Hunter, of the Fourth
Texas, aide-dc-camp; Col. J. H. Murray and General T. J. Chambers,
of Texas, and Maj. B. H. Blanton, of Kentucky, volunteer aides-dc-
camp; Licut. D. L. Sublett, aide~dc-camp, being ordered to remain with
the or(lnance train. I also take great pleasure in acknowledging the
distinguished services rendered inc by Lient. James Hamilton, of Geii-
eral Taylor’s staff.
As to the conduct of the officers and men, one and all, too much can-
not, oi ever will, be said in their praise.
The following is a recapitulation of casualties, the detailed list accom-
If you have futher infomation or require information please contact Bob Hubbard at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reproducing The Ellsworth Gun
An article about the construction of our Ellsworth Gun.
Reproducing the Ellsworth Gun
List of Sources
Lincoln and the Tools of war by Robert V. Bruce
Feild Artillery Weapons of the Civil War By Hazzlet
Official records of the Union and Confederate armies By the U.S. Goverment
On the net. civilwarartillery.com
Linclon Lore , Nov. 1976 Number 1665
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