Artillery at Fort McHenry, 1840-1865

The appearance and weaponry of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 were the result of actions taken through the First System Coastal Fortifications (1794-1814) authorized by Congress. In the 1840's, the Third System (1817-1867) caused improvements which created the Fort as we know it today. A new, improved carriage and cannon were introduced and mounted at Fort McHenry and other coastal forts, replacing the cannon of the War of 1812.

Due to the civil unrest in Baltimore, the federal government mounted additional guns on the landward side of the Fort and trained them toward Baltimore. The largest guns of these were two 10-inch Columbiads mounted on wooden carriages, on Bastions Nos. 1 and 3. In addition, in the dry moat between Bastions Nos. 1 and 3, the Fort mounted three 10-inch sea coast mortars.

Facing the harbor were 24, 32, and 42-pounders mounted on Model 1840 Seacoast Carriages. These were standard ordnance for coastal fortifications until 1861, when the newer Rodman guns became the standard cannon. The mounts for the Rodman were emplaced at Fort McHenry in 1865; however, the cannons were not mounted until the following year.

The Rodmans were superior to the smooth-bore guns in use up to that time as they feature rifled barrels, which permitted greater accuracy and range, and a larger shell. Rodmans were produced in 8-, 10-, and 15-inch versions.

24-Pounder gun on Model 1840 Seacoast Barbette Carriage (Sources: Emmanual Lewis' Seacoast Fortifications; Harold Peterson's Round Shot and Rammers)

Reading the Rodman Gun

For more about Rodman Guns, see The Rodman.
For details about the Fort McHenry Rodmans, see the Table of Statistics.

A Rodman gun is among the easiest of all Civil War cannon to identify. Its long, flowing shape, devoid of any ornamentation or muzzle flare give it a sleek, stark beauty.

First, measure the diameter of the bore - just the bore, not the overall muzzle - to determine the rated size of the gun and its name, e.g., a 10-inch gun, 15-inch gun, etc.

Now look at the numbers and letters stamped into the metal at the gun's muzzle face. This code tells an interesting story.

Stamped into the muzzle is the tube's weight, not including the carriage on which it is mounted. Because of differences in casting techniques and manufacture, two identically-sized guns do not weigh the same. Since most transport was by rail or barge, knowing the exact weight of the gun was essential to the transporters.

Next, you can find the foundry stamp which identifies the place of manufacture. Three Civil War-period iron foundries are represented at Fort McHenry: "WPF" - West Point Foundry, Cold Springs, New York; "SBF" - South Boston Foundry and Iron Company, Boston, Massachusetts; and "FORT PITT, PA" - Fort Pitt Foundry, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

The year of manufacture can also be found on the muzzle. Next is the serial number. For example, "No. 37" represents the 37th cannon of that size to be cast at that foundry in that year.

The last letters stamped into the muzzle represent the initials of the Army Ordnance Department officer who inspected that gun. His initials show he "proof fired" the gun, found it to be free of visible defects, and approved its use by the U.S. Army. The known initials/codes are: "JWR" - James W. Reilly; "RHKW" - Robert Henry Kirkwood Whitley; "SC" - Silas Crispin; and "SCL" - Stephen Carr Lyford. The names of codes "CB", "CSS", "CWW", and "SCR" are unknown.

Post Script: When this site was first presented in 1996, four inspector codes noted above were unknown to the staff of Fort McHenry. On June 30, 1998 we received e-mail from 13-year old Stephen McCabe of Boston filling us in on this missing information. Subsequent exchange of e-mail between Steve and the authorities at the fort satisfied the staff regarding the authenticity and accuracy of Steve's information. The correct codes are noted on the Table of Statistics. Steve's knowledge of and enthusiasm for the ordinance of the Civil War period is more than impressive. We thank him for his contribution to our knowledge and for reminding us that we are never too old, or too young, to learn.

Post Post Script: In September, 1998 we received another e-mail from Wayne Stark, co-author of "The Big guns, Civil War Seige, Seacoast and Naval Cannon" noting that inspector Stephen C. Rowan (initials SCR) was an Navy inspector at Tredegar Foundry in 1851 and had nothing to do with the cannon at Fort McHenry. He further advised that the fort cannon bearing Registry Numbers 50 and 59 were prototype models cast before 1861. As noted on the Credits page for this site, the contributions we have received for its accuracy are many and varied.

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