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The Woodruff Gun–Annotations to the Margreiter article.

The Woodruff Gun

Annotations to the Margreiter article.


By Randy Baehr

In his history of the 68th Enrolled Missouri Militia, Jack Mayes states that the members of Co. A of the 68th “moulded lead elongated conical projectiles with hollow bases for them. The projectiles were much like large Minie balls…” He later speculates that the manufacturer, James Woodruff, “manufactured molds to make the elongated projectiles to be issued with each rifled gun.” The key documentation for this is a turn-of-the-century reminiscence of H. C. Wilkinson, a member of the 68th EMM and later a sergeant in Company H, 47th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, and a veteran of the Battle of Pilot Knob, written for the Dr. Cyrus Peterson, co-author of the book Pilot Knob-The Thermopylae of the West.

From my research, I do not believe these statements are supported by other evidence. Ordnance records on microfilm in the Missouri State Archives show that the 68th EMM had “round balls” and “mortar powder” in their official inventory. The 68th is the only EMM unit to show artillery supplies in its inventory while not also listing the artillery pieces themselves. This corroborates the OR note on the Battle of Bloomfield that the Woodruff guns were “provided at private expense” and not owned by the government at that time, thus their exclusion from the official inventory of government ordnance. The “round balls” and “mortar powder”, which was issued in kegs, indicate that indeed the 68th had to fashion its own unitary rounds from components, but that the shot was round, not elongated. If they did have to mold their own shot, those shot were round, not elongated.

This is further substantiated by the exchange in the OR (Series I, Vol. XXXIV, Part III, p. 165) between Lt. Col. John N. Herder, commanding Fort Davidson at Pilot Knob, Mo., and Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing, at St. Louis, on April 15, 1864, which reference the Woodruff guns at Fort Davidson after they had been transferred to the 3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry.

Will send two howitzers and one caisson to Patterson right off. There are only two howitzers and two 3-pounder guns, smooth-bore. One caisson is being repaired and the boxes belonging to caissons for the Woodruff smooth-bore guns are being altered to suit the new kind of ammunition, all of which has been ordered to be finished as quickly as possible, and will also be sent to Patterson as soon as practicable. 

There was a mistake in regard to the howitzer. I understand Lieutenant Pope, in charge of them, that he had the boxes, or carriages, of guns and one caisson, but I found it not so. The boxes had been taken off some days ago, but the workmen not having the required lumber, a delay was occasioned. At the last issue of ordnance a new kind of cartridge was received not fitting the boxes, being 1 1/2 inches longer than the old ones, projected that far out at the top of the box, making them unserviceable.If the 68th EMM had been molding elongated shot all along, why did the boxes need to be rebuilt just then?

In addition, the Dickey article in The Muzzleloading Artilleryman states that round Woodruff shot as well as conical shot were found on Shepherd’s Mountain by Fort Davidson in Pilot Knob, Mo. If conical shot had been used all along, why were round shot found at the site?

So where did the elongated shot come from? I believe they came from the St. Louis Arsenal. Dr. Margreiter was unable to find any record of Woodruff rounds being manufactured at any U.S. Arsenal because the records of the St. Louis Arsenal were apparently lost after the Arsenal was closed and the records shipped to Fort Leavenworth. Fort Davidson was routinely supplied via the rail line from St. Louis to Ironton.

But why would the St. Louis Arsenal be making such shot? Clearly they had not been supplying it to the Woodruff guns in Missouri up to that point, or they would have been receiving them all along. Mayes noted that the 68th had encountered difficulty in drawing artillery supplies through formal channels, and the EMM ordnance records seem clear that they did not receive any manufactured unitary rounds. Nor had the Arsenal been supplying them to Woodruff guns in other service, since the lead conical shot have only been discovered at Pilot Knob. Round balls, coincidentally also made of lead, have been found at battle sites where Woodruff guns of Col. Grierson were engaged. The Woodruff guns by April 1864 had been transferred to the MSM, which should have had an easier time drawing government supplies. I believe that, when the St. Louis Arsenal received an order for ammunition for the 2 1/8″ bore Woodruff guns from the MSM, possibly only the first draw since the guns were transferred to the MSM from the 68th, they sent the kind of ammunition they already had for that size bore: “lead conical ball[s] weighing about four pounds”, ammunition the Arsenal had been manufacturing since 1861 for the 30 2 1/8″ bore wrought iron guns made in St. Louis by Giles Filley. In his note donating the surviving tube to the Missouri Historical Society, he described the ammunition used by his guns:

They carried a lead conical ball weighing about four pounds. The balls were grooved and wrapped with woollen yarn.This exactly describes the shot found on Shepherd’s Mountain. It also explains how the elongated shot was used in the smoothbore guns (half of the Filley guns were rifled and half were smoothbore, but only one type of round is described). The yarn wrapped around the shot would reduce the windage around the shot.