Dahlgrens, Brookes, and Parrotts


The American Civil War came at a time when shell-guns (pieces specifically designed to accomodate explosive shells) were gaining wide acceptance, and the first rifled cannon were being produced.

It may seem odd that the vast majority of Northern naval guns were smoothbores, while the Southern ironclads were normally armed with rifles. The US Navy was a very tradition-bound organization before the war, and accepted change very reluctantly; the embryonic Southern navy was forced to innovate to have any hope of survival.

Frequently overlooked, however, is that smoothbores were superior to rifles in the naval combat of the day, in the view of many. Rifles had longer ranges and greater accuracy, but in a war where most actions were fought at close quarters, this advantage was mostly nullified. Furthermore, smoothbores had greater smashing power, and their projectiles could be skipped ("ricochet fire") over the surface of the water to better ensure a hull hit. Rifle projectiles could not do this; they would either burrow into the water or bounce off it wildly due to their spin. Further, metallurgy of the time was not equal to the task, and rifles burst with distressing frequency. By contrast, Dahlgrens burst extremely rarely.

[John A. Dahlgren]
John A. Dahlgren, standing next to one of his guns; it is one
of his few rifled pieces, but carries the family resemblance

[Dahlgren gun]
Crew serving a Dahlgren smoothbore on a blockader


Dahlgren Smoothbores

Dahlgren's soda-bottle-shaped naval pieces were the ultimate refinement in smooth-bore muzzle-loader design. They constituted nearly the entire armament of the Union coastal ironclads, and a number of the riverine ironclads as well.

In addition to the types listed below, Dahlgren also produced several rifles, howitzers, new models of the 9" and 11" designed specifically for solid shot, and a 20" monster weighing 100,000 pounds that fired a cored shot of 1,080 pounds. It was never used. The 13" is listed despite its low production level because Dahlgren championed it instead of the 15". The 9" was used by both sides in the war, the Confederates having captured 52 at Norfolk (Gosport) Navy Yard. Dahlgren guns were commonly known by the Roman numerals of their calibers.

Caliber Length Weight Shot weight Shell weight number made
IX (9") 108" 9,020 80 73.5 1185
X (10") ? 16,500 120 110 34
XI (11") 159.7" 15,890 170 135.5 465
XIII (13") ? 36,000 280 224 11
XV (15") 177" 42,000 440 330 113

Also, see the section on Dahlgren guns at the Artillery Encyclopedia.

[Brooke rifle]
A Brooke rifle, with some clowning Union troops

Brooke Rifles

The Confederate counterpart of Dahlgren, Lieutenant John M. Brooke, concentrated on rifled pieces rather than on smoothbores. The naval Brookes were available in 6.4" and 7" calibers. They were considered to be among the most accurate of all Civil War era naval artillery. Nearly all Southern ironclads carried Brookes in their batteries.

In addition to the pieces listed below, Brooke also produced double- and triple-banded versions of the 7" rifle which could fire with a greater powder charge, an 8" rifle, and 10" and 11" smoothbores, but these were fairly rare. It is difficult to determine how many of each type were cast; perhaps 143 Brooke rifles of all calibers were cast by the Tredegar and Selma foundries.

Caliber Length Weight Shot weight Shell weight
6.4" 141-144" 9,000 80 65
7" 143-147.5"15,000 120 110

Brooke also designed fuses, shot and shell, percussion caps, and naval mines ("torpedoes") and is credited with the majority of the design work on the CSS Virginia.

Also, see the section on Brooke guns at the Artillery Encyclopedia.

[Parrott Rifle]
150-pounder Parrott rifle on the USS Wabash

Parrott Rifles

Army Captain Robert P. Parrott was the designer of a series of Northern rifles, used by both Army and Navy. They had a better range than the Dahlgrens, but they were somewhat prone to bursting, especially the heavier calibers demanded by naval combat. Parrott rifles were mounted in several Union monitors, as well as the Galena and New Ironsides.

In addition to the pieces listed below, smaller numbers of 5.3" 60-pdrs and 10" 250-pdrs were produced. The nomenclature of these guns can be confusing. The 150-pdr was called a 200-pdr in Army service, and the larger 250-pdr (only 4 produced during the war) was called a 300-pdr.

Caliber Length Weight Shot weight Shell weight Number made
6.4" (100 pdr)130" 9,700 100 70 444
8" (150 pdr)136" 16,300 152 68-70 112

Also, see the section on Parrott rifles at the Artillery Encyclopedia.

Other pieces

Of course, a huge variety of cannon were used by both sides during the war, even in the ironclads. For instance, the riverine ironclads of the Western Gunboat Flotilla were initially armed with several old 42-pdr Army cannon rebored to make them into rifles ("James Rifles"). However, this weakened them dangerously and they were prone to bursting. When better guns were provided them, the crews somewhat joyfully tossed the 42-pdrs overboard into the river.

Also, see information on Civil War Ordnance in the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

Information on this page has been largely derived from Spencer Tucker's Arming the Fleet: U.S. Navy Ordnance in the Muzzle-Loading Era, a great book available from the Naval Institute Press.

The following table is from the Navy's 1866 Ordnance Manual:

Civil War Naval Ordnance
Type Bore diameter, inches Material Weight of tube, pounds Length of bore, inches Maximum diameter, inches Type of projectile Weight of projectile, pounds Weight of charge, pounds Range, yards at 5° elevation Time of flight, seconds Height above plane, feet
Shell Guns
15-inch 15Iron 41,57613048Shell 350351,700 5.7------
11-inch 11Iron 15,700131.232Shell
Shell
136
136
15
20
1,712
1,975
5.81
------
10
10
10-inch 10Iron 12,000119.2529.1Shell 10312.51,740 5.811
9-inch 9 Iron 9,000107.327.2Shell
Shrapnel
72.5
75
10
10
1,710
1,690
5.96
5.9
10.75
------
8-inch of 6,500 lbs.8Iron 6,5009623.2Shell 51.571,657 5.827.5
8-inch of 63 cwt. 8Iron 7,000100.324.04Shell 51.591,770 6.328
8-inch of 55 cwt. 8Iron 6,10095.4------Shell 51.571,657 5.827.5
Shot Guns
10-inch Cannon10 Iron 16,000117.7533.25Shot 12440------------------
8-inch Cannon8 Iron 10,100107.3227.2Shot 6520------------------
32-pdr.of 57 cwt.6.4Iron 6,400107.9 22.36Shot
Shell
32
26
9
6
1,930
1,850
6.6
6.4
8
------
32-pdr.of 42 cwt.6.4Iron 4,70092.05 20.6Shot
Shell
32
26
6
6
1,756
1,710
6
6.5
------
------
32-pdr.of 32 cwt.6.4Iron 3,60075.1 20Shot
Shell
32
26
4.5
4.5
1,598
1,648
------
6
7.5
7.5
32-pdr.of 27 cwt.6.4Iron 3,00068.4 19.2Shot
Shell
32
26
4
4
1,469
1,460
5.4
5.75
7
------
Rifle Guns
150-pdr. Parrott 8 Iron 16,550136 32Long shell 155162,1006.25------
100-pdr. Parrott6.4 Iron 9,750130 25.9Solid shot
Long shell
100
100
10
10
2,200
2,150
6.5
6.5
------
------
60-pdr. Parrott 5.3 Iron 5,360105 21.3Shot 606------------------
30-pdr. Parrott 4.2 Iron 3,55096.8 18.3Shell 293.252,2006.87------
20-pdr. Parrott3.67 Iron 1,75079 14.5Shell 1922,1006.5------
James Rifle 7 Iron 8,465110 24.4Shot 81.582,221------------
80-pdr. Dahlgren 6 Iron 7,900108 26.12Shot 806------------------
50-pdr. Dahlgren5.1 Iron 6,00089 22.25Shot 503.25------------------
6.4-inch Brooke 6.4 Iron 10,675117 29.3Shot 958 - 10------------------
7-inch Brooke 7 Iron 15,300121 32.2Shot 11010 - 13------------------

Return to Ironclads and Blockade Runners