“Parrot Cannon”. Man and his weapon

100-pound Parrott cannon on one of the forts of the American Civil War. Photo from the archives of the Library of Congress

But flashes and explosions are getting closer and closer,
Neither there is salvation, nor here,
There are walls settling with a crash,
There is a furious howl of flame,
And the city, block by block,
Overgrown with grass forever.
Herman Melville. Swamp Angel. Translation by D. Schneerson

Weapons from museums. The publication on “VO” of the article “Cannon with a faceted bore” caused not only a positive reaction from its readers, but also requests to continue the story about the guns of the Civil War in the United States. Well, well, this topic is really very interesting. Therefore, today it will be continued. Well, the story in our material will be about the guns of Robert Parker Parrott, or simply “parrots”, as the Yankee soldiers called them, since the word parrot in Russian is translated as “parrot”.


10-pound “parrot” on the battlefield in Chickamauga

Let’s start with his biography, as it is also very instructive. The future creator of cannons of his name was born on October 5, 1804 in the town of Lee, Strafford County, New Hampshire (USA). He was the eldest son of the famous Portsmouth shipowner and Senator John Fabian Parrott. His mother, Hannah Skilling (Parker) Parrott, was the daughter of Robert Parker of Kittery, Maine, a shipbuilder and privateer commander during the Revolutionary War era.


6.4-inch “parrot” in Wyoming

After graduating from school in Portsmouth, young Parrott entered the United States Military Academy at West Point on July 1, 1820, from which he graduated in 1824, the third most successful out of thirty-one cadets in the class. He received the rank of 2nd lieutenant, but was retained at the Military Academy, where he served for five years as an assistant professor in the Department of Natural Sciences. This was followed by two years of garrison service at one of the forts near Portsmouth, he was promoted to first lieutenant, after which, already in the rank of captain, he was appointed in 1836 to Washington as assistant chief of the bureau of ammunition. Soon his ability and knowledge attracted the attention of Kemble, president of the West Point Foundry Association, who suggested that Parrot resign from the army and become a foundry manager (superintendent) at his enterprise.


Young Robert Parker Parrott

Just three years later, he succeeded Kemble, bought a 7,000-acre site in Orange County, New York, and with his brother Peter set up the most modern foundry there, which he ran for nearly forty years. In 1849, he learned about the secret production of Krupp’s rifled cannon in Germany and focused his attention on rifled guns and ammunition for them.


10-inch (300-pound) “parrot” at the fort on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina

For more than ten years, he continued his experiments with the goal of creating an effective rifled cannon that would be simple in design and cheap in cost. On October 1, 1861, he patented the design of the cannon, which had a wrought iron band on its breech. A unique feature of the invention was also a barrel made of a wrought iron bar of rectangular cross-section, which was coiled and welded into one piece. He also developed and on August 20, 1861 patented a projectile for rifled guns, which had a brass ring superimposed on the projectile and attached to it, but under the action of powder gases, it was able to expand and press into the rifling of the barrel. Parrott offered his developments to the government at cost, and with the outbreak of the Civil War he received large orders for both guns and shells. According to the laws of wartime, he was exempted from paying income tax, but … he paid it and only laughed when asked why he was doing it. Parrott’s cannons took part in the first Battle of Bull Run, and later – in almost every important battle, both on land and at sea. They were produced in different calibers, from 10 to 300 pounds, and it is believed that the 200-pound and 300-pound Parrott guns were the most formidable rifled guns ever to exist at that time. In addition, their durability was significantly higher than that of the rifled guns of Europe.


300-pound Parrott cannon at Fort Chatfield, Morris Island

With the end of hostilities, Parrott also stopped the production of weapons. In 1867, he entrusted the management of the business to his brother, and in the spring of 1877 he sold him his share at all, retired, but continued to engage in experimental work and even patented several new improved projectiles and fuses. After retirement, Parrott remained an active member of society, serving as the first judge of the Putnam County Court of New York, a position to which he undoubtedly owed his well-known honesty and discernment. He died on December 24, 1877.


Battery at Fort Chatfield (Morris Island), on which Parrott’s cannon was installed, 1864

The construction of Parrott’s steel cannons was good, but their barrels were laborious to manufacture. Therefore, he decided to simplify it. Now the standard “parrott” was a one-piece cast iron barrel, on which a red-hot bandage in the form of a steel pipe was put on with an interference fit. At the same time, the barrel was intensively cooled with cold water, so that the bandage tightly squeezed the breech of the gun. The grooves inside the barrel were used in a variety of ways, including polygonal ones. The disadvantage of Parrott’s guns was that the projectile, accelerating in the barrel along spiral rifling, happened to tear off the muzzle from him. It was unpleasant, but still better than if the gun was torn apart in the breech. Many army officials did not like this feature of Parrott’s guns. There were even attempts to ban them in the army, but it turned out that due to their cheapness, it would be very difficult to replace them with something of equal value. It happened, therefore, that the artillerymen continued to fire from the guns with the muzzle piece torn off, not paying special attention to this. Well, except that they tried to grind the serrated part!


The vertical aiming mechanism of the 100-pound Parrott cannon

As noted, Parrott’s guns ranged from the popular 10-pound caliber to the rare 300-pound caliber. Field 10- and 20-pounder guns were used by both armies, both northerners and southerners. The 20-pound cannon was the largest field gun used during the war, with its barrel alone weighing over 1,800 pounds. The 10-pounder guns were produced in two calibers: 2.9 inches (74 mm) and 3.0 inches (76 mm). This made it difficult to supply the batteries with ammunition, and the Confederates especially suffered from this. At the same time, the firing range of both guns practically did not differ and amounted to 2000 yards (1800 m). The projectile also had the same weight – 4.5 kg, but the flight time to the maximum range was slightly different. The calculation of both guns consisted of six people.


Parrott’s 30-pound field cannon at Fort Macon State Park

The Union naval forces also used naval versions of the Parrott cannons in calibers 20, 30, 60 and 100 pounds. A 100-pound naval “parrot” could reach a range of 6,900 yards (6,300 meters) at an elevation angle of 25 degrees, and an 80-pound projectile of 7,810 yards (7,140 m) at an elevation angle of 30 degrees.


Charging box for Parrott’s cannon. Loomis Battery Memorial in Coldwater, Michigan

Large-caliber Parrott guns (100 pieces or more) were used in the US coastal defense from 1863 to 1900, when they were replaced by more modern models. Along with Rodman’s cannons, they were put on alert during the Spanish-American War in 1898, as the American military feared that the Spanish fleet was bombing the east coast of the United States.


Washington, 1862-1865, view of Roger’s battery equipped with Rodman Columbiades and Parrot cannons

In the summer of 1863, Union forces again attempted to take Fort Sumter, using two Whitworth 80-pound cannons, nine 100-pound Parrots, six 200-pound Parrots, and one 300-pound cannon to bombard Fort Sumter. It was believed that the penetration of a 10-inch projectile into brickwork would be six to seven feet, that is, it would not be good for the southerners. However, despite intense shelling, the fort surrendered only in February 1865.


Photo of a 300-pound Parrott cannon with a torn barrel. Morris Island, South Carolina, 1863

At the same time, Federal Brigadier General Quincy Adams Gillmore used the 300-pound Parrott cannon to bombard the city of Charleston from the side of the northerners captured Morris Island. From 22 to 23 August 1863, the gun called the “Swamp Angel” fired 36 shots at the city; on the 36th shot, the muzzle came off. This episode was even immortalized in verse – the poem by Herman Melville, which was called: “Swamp Angel”.


Memorial with the Parrott Cannon at Courthouse Square, Frankfort, Clinton County, Indiana

After the war, this damaged weapon was transported to Trenton, New Jersey, where it is today kept as a memorial in Cadualader Park.

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