Friday, June 15, 2012

The Biggest Cannon Built for the Civil War

Horatio Ames was born in North Easton, Mass. on November 18, 1805.  He was a member of the famous Ames family whose shovels built America.  His father was Oliver Ames Sr. known to his contemporaries as “Shoveling Ollie” because of the shovels that his company be Ames Shovel Company produced in Eastern Massachusetts.  His mother was Susanna Angier.  He had six brothers and sisters the most famous of who was Oakes Ames who became infamous as one of the perpetrators of the Credit Moblier, a scheme during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s.

Horatio Ames himself left Eastern Massachusetts as a young man and moved to Albany New York where he dealt an iron keeping his family's business well supplied with Salisbury Iron.  He had already worked as a blacksmith on the floor of his family's factory before going to Albany.  He eventually migrated to the Salisbury district of northwestern Connecticut where he established the factory on the west side of the Housatonic River just below the Great Falls of the Housatonic.  The named this company be Ames Iron Works and the settlement of the Amesville grew up around it.  Amesville and the Ames Iron Works are actually located in the Township of Salisbury and across the River is Falls Village located in the Township of the Canaan.

Ames established the Ames Iron Works with not only the blessings of his family; but with financial aid from his family as well.  In its earliest days it made a whole plethora of iron objects pots and pans, flatirons, tools, railroad wheels and anything else he can turn a dollar with.  Unlike the other iron masters in the area Ames actually worked on the floor of his own factory as a blacksmith.  He knew the technological end of the iron business, but the business end eluded him.  More than once his father out of desperation had to bail them out of a problem with an infusion of cash into the Ames Iron Works.
The largest cannon made for use in the Civil War.  This gun was made at the Ames Iron Works in Amesville, Connecticut its maker, Horatio Ames can be seen as the tall man wearing a high silk hat standing at the rear of the cannon.

As one of the more formidable characters that ever came into Salisbury; Horatio Ames stood about six foot six and weighed around 300 pounds.  For the size of him he had a surprisingly high-pitched voice that belied his appearance.  He had a strong face with lines going up from his mouth to his nose, and piercing eyes.  To think that he was overweight did not do the man any credit for his size.  He came by this naturally as a blacksmith his size was the result of years of swinging a sledgehammer. 

Like all big men his way of seeing things was larger than life.  This attitude came to the forefront when the Civil War broke out and because his family was a heavy contributor to the election campaign that brought Abraham Lincoln to the White House.  He knew Abraham Lincoln personally and had his ear.

One of the assets that the company had was a giant steam press named “Thor” that at the time was the largest steam hammer in the world.  Ames developed a method for forging gun barrels using this press by rotating the gun barrel while the press was working at it.  Basically the same method is used to this day for forging gun barrels in our national arsenals.

It occurred to Ames that the Union Army would need cannon to prosecute the war.  They also reached the conclusion that the bigger the better the ultimate result of this was a cannon capable of firing 125 pound projectile over 5 miles.  But before that he built many other guns for the Union Army and Navy.  As a result of this activity he was challenged to a dual by Admiral Dahlgren the head of the Navy's Ordinance Department and a gun manufacturer for the Navy himself.

Since Ames was the challenged party he had the choice of weapons.  His choice in the situation was since in his mind Dahlgren had a serious conflict of interest.  This is what he chose.  They would each straddle the breach of their own largest cannon that were overloaded far beyond their maximum strength, and then fired simultaneously.  The winner would be whoever's cannon didn't burst when fired.  Dahlgren backed out!

Ames greatest gun was a real monster that fired a 125 pound solid shot, which during tests was capable of hurling that shot over 6 miles.  The big gun never saw combat as the Civil War ended before it could be brought to the front lines.  As the war had now ended the government canceled the contract for the guns, and Ames was stuck for the bill.  He expended $315,000 of the company's money into this project that broke the company.  Ames spent the rest of his life in destitution and finally died in 1871.

No comments:

Post a Comment