Civil War Projectiles Forum

Relic Discussion => Artillery => Topic started by: CarlS on June 12, 2019, 10:39:17 PM

Title: Copper Ball
Post by: CarlS on June 12, 2019, 10:39:17 PM
I recently had someone offer to me and I purchased two cannon balls reported to have been found at the battle of Palo Alto, Texas.  They are copper and from the Mexican-American War.  I purchased them as they looked quite good to me though I don't know much about copper cannon balls or the battle.  The picture has a .58cal minie ball for relative size.  I weighed the balls and they each weight 4lb 2.2oz and 4lb 3.6oz.  So I looked it up:
and found that there was indeed a 4 pounder gun there.   Here is another link that supports and gives more detail on copper cannon balls and their use in Palo Alto:
Unfortuntely it doesn't povide any measurements.  I see that the one pictured has a very smooth surface while mine are both a bit porous.  They are definitely copper.  Perhaps they were found in a farm field or cow pasture which had an effect on the surface. 

I thought I'd share this with others who might not have seen any before.  Anyone have any knowledge to share on this type of cannon ball?  I'd love any info.
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: callicles on June 13, 2019, 08:52:07 AM
Very nice! I remember Pete George writing once that the only known copper cannonballs found in North America come from a battle in Texas and were fired by Mexicans. So I guess that battle was Palo Alto!
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: speedenforcer on June 13, 2019, 08:42:04 PM
Never knew they made copper cannon balls. Learn something new every day.
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: Jack Bell on June 24, 2019, 06:55:21 PM
Interesting to note that the USS Monitor had bronze-covered 11-inch cannonballs during the battle with the CSS Virginia on March 9, 1862, but used cast iron shot aboard instead. The Monitor also had wrought iron shot aboard but did not use them.
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: CarlS on June 30, 2019, 12:43:50 AM
That's really interesting. I would presume the balls were bronze coated to reduce friction on the tubes when fired.  Or perhaps since they were on the ship it was a way to resist corrosion?
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: Woodenhead on July 04, 2019, 04:14:26 PM
It seems obvious to me that some heavy projectiles, North and South, were coated with a soft metal to limit their tendency to richochet off the sides of armored gunboats. I suspect the idea originated in Europe, probably England, where extensive testing was being done with rifled ammunition and armor. Anyway, it is important to note that the South did quite a bit of coating their big projectiles during late 1861 thru mid-1862. Maybe the practice continued afterwards but I haven't seen the proof. To be more specific, the big Rebel guns defending the Mississippi River were issued many copper coated (and a small number coated with "white metal") as you will see described on the invoices below. All was done by Quinby & Robinson, a great Memphis foundry that called itself "the Tredegar of the west."

The first entry on the first item says: "October 30, 1861 - Covering 108 Archer shot with copper." Look at the fourth entry on the first item, "Covering 2 James 32 pdr. shot with white metal." And second from the last on the first invoice below, "Covering 200 Archers with copper." All of the other invoices, below, report making copper-covered big projectiles including a few Reads. The Archers they were making were the style Jack Bell pictures on pgs. 188 & 119. Jack should note that they were cast as 24, 32 and 42 pounders. It was one of several regulation patterns for the CS army and navy during the second half of 1861. As of today, only a few 32 pdrs. have been found around Island #10 - none of those were copper covered. Many of these big Archer shot in 32pdr. caliber were made by Tredegar during the same period with no mention of copper coating.

There are other interesting facts about CS projectile production found in the contemporary invoices below. Look at the eighth line on the first page below. It reports the manufacture of "54 9pdr. James Rifled Shot Turned." So, Quinby & Robinson were also making quantities of 3 inch James shot. These have probably been dug at Shiloh. Previously, I thought all were made in New Orleans by Leeds who manufactured a couple of thousand in 3 inch and 3.3 inch caliber. Another interesting item around the middle of the first page below is "Boring out one old cannon." This was an old iron 4 pounder reamed and rifle to a 3.35 inch caliber. Tredegar bored out 50 of the state's (VA) old guns to 3.35 caliber during late 1861. In early 1862, Col. Wright, ordnance chief in Tennessee, requested Tredegar send 200 of their 3.35 Archers to him - that is the amount required to be carried by a single gun in the field.

Read these pages carefully. This was a transitional period in Southern ordnance production and their is much to learn. When Memphis fell, Q & R moved as much as they could save to Columbus, Miss., and later to Selma and Georgia.

Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: emike123 on July 04, 2019, 05:53:45 PM
Thanks for the great info.  I have (ok almost like a recovering addict) gotten past the point of everytime I see something like this I feel like I am on a Quixotic challenge to hunt them down.  There are just too many of these oddities, but knowing they are out there is cool.

I am about certain that the only known 6.4" Archer shell is from the Mobile Bay area because it had at one time been in the possession of a digger friend of the guy we got all that Spanish Fort / Fort Blakely stuff.  Also, Glenn Dutton recently acquired a 6.4" Archer bolt that was recovered well upriver of Island #10.  As a point of pure conjecture, I'd be shocked if there weren't some around Fort Donelson given the time period and guns there.

By the way, there is a part in Col. Biemick's book on the copper solid spherical shot so Carl, you should read that after you've read the records Woodenhead so thoughtfully attached here.
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: Icewing on July 11, 2019, 11:56:49 PM
I'm about 99.99% sure they are check valve balls.
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: emike123 on July 12, 2019, 10:14:29 AM
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: Icewing on July 12, 2019, 11:36:30 AM
The History channel has a series called "Found", you can also find it on Hulu. Season 1 Episode 9 covers exactly this. Sorry to disappoint.

In my early day's of metal detecting I found one of these balls that measures 1.25" and thought I had something special but in the end, it is what it is, a check ball.

Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: Dave the plumber on July 13, 2019, 06:29:07 AM
what is a check ball ??                 I have an original 4 lb'er copper \ brass \ bronze whatever ball on the original sabot. No fooling on this one.     Copper is a more prevalent mineral in  Mexico and other areas than iron, hence that is what their shot were typically made from.  I have a few other brass balls that are truly cannonballs, one is a 12 lb'er.
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: Jack Bell on July 13, 2019, 08:04:48 PM
Some 40 or so years ago, an 11.0 inch bronze (or bronze covered) cannonball was seen at the old Baltimore Gun Show at the 5th Regimental Armory downtown.  Apparently after some ridicule by other exhibitors, the guy took it off the table and put it in his car, never to be seen again. At the time, apparently no one had seen the original records about the USS Monitor having them on board during the battle with the CSS Virginia. I only discovered this in 2001 when I was combing through the Navy ORs.
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: CarlS on July 13, 2019, 09:34:18 PM
I'm not saying this because it is mine but I'm pretty sure that it is not a check ball and is likely a cannon ball due to:
Of course I could be wrong.  It has happened once or twice before.   ;)
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: Jack Bell on July 14, 2019, 09:06:12 PM
Several have asked about the information in the Navy ORs.  It's in Series I, Volume 7, page 28, in two reports -- one from Chief Engineer Stimmers of the USS Monitor, and one from Lt. Jeffers, who actually commanded the Monitor during the engagement with the CSS Virginia.

Stimmers' report also described the bronze covered shot (not used in the battle) and almost 2 inches of bronze covering a nine inch hollow shot. Jeffers reported that he would not use the cast iron shot against the Virginia because they shattered, that he would not use the wrought  iron shot for fear of causing the 11-iunch guns to explode, and that he would reserve the bronze covered shot for "especial occasion."
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: speedenforcer on July 23, 2019, 08:26:44 PM
So I'm confused. Were there copper coated cannon balls or not?
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: Woodenhead on July 26, 2019, 01:26:23 PM
No copper-covered cannon balls, but plenty of copper (and white metal) coated rifle shot. All big 24, 32 and 42 pounder. Its described clearly in the invoices I posted previously. Highlights are shown below on the first page. There is a lot of great information about other CS projectiles made by Quinby & Robinson at the same time. They are worth examining closely. There was no regulation CS Rifle projectile until the Mullane was formally adopted for all calibers in Feb. 1862.

The second illustration below is from my last full-length book: Gettysburg Battlefield Relics & Souvenirs (2008). The 12pdr. solid shot is green - made of copper/bronze or brass. It was found with 3 iron solid shots under Hoffman's barn on the East Cavalry field at Gettysburg. I was a friend of Dan Hoffman, owner of the Rummel Farm across the street, still standing after more than 150 years. His brother's barn where these were found was built after the war on the main CS artillery position during the battle. I assume the Rebs buried them before they left. I believe it began as a Mexican projectile. I have photo'ed bronze/copper/brass grape shot dug in the Texas - Mexico theater.

Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: speedenforcer on July 26, 2019, 05:04:34 PM
Oh ok. I have your book. Didn't realize who woodenhead was until now. you have some excellent reference books.
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: Selma Hunter on July 27, 2019, 06:28:20 AM

It is worth noting that Quinby & Robinson relocated to the vicinity of Columbus, MS after the yankees moved closer to Memphis.  At Columbus Q&R continued to supply CS needs as far south as Mobile and throughout MS until the Briarfield Arsenal was relocated to Selma in (as I recall) 1863 - again due to the threat posed by union forces.  I am reasonably sure that the owners of Q&R were acquainted with Capt. Wm. R. Hunt while both were in Memphis prior to the relocation of the Briarfield Arsenal operation from Memphis to Columbus (thence, eventually, to Selma and Columbiana AL.

Jack Bell usually prevails in our debates on the details of the big guns but I think that the bronze shot on the Monitor when she arrived at Hampton Roads were actually solid bronze - not merely plated.  Dahlgren had forbidden their use out of a concern that the guns would not stand the pressures resulting from deployment of the heavier projectiles. Dahlgren was ever mindful of the failure of one of the guns on the USS Princeton on 28 February 1844 and the harm to John Ericssonís reputation which followed Ericsson right up to the earliest years of the war. 
Jack, check this one out and correct me if Iím wrong.
Title: Re: Copper Ball
Post by: speedenforcer on July 27, 2019, 10:08:37 AM
Good info.