CHAS Showcases Civil War Artillery
Whether it’s a vintage airplane, a drag racer, a hydroplane or an antique steam engine, the Pacific Coast Dream Machines Show, coming up April 29 at Half Moon Bay Airport, has always been about horse power. This year, horse power—the kind on four legs—will be an integral part of a special exhibit provided by the California Historic Artillery Society.
The California Historic Artillery Society (CHAS), based in Salinas, is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to preserving the life and times of the warhorse. They use Standardbred horses off the racetrack, many of which were destined for slaughter, to pull cannons, caissons, and wagons for parades, reenactments, and living history demonstrations and preserve and exhibit artillery from the 1840s to 1918. CHAS is the only mounted artillery unit west of the Mississippi.
“Almost all our historic vehicles and equipment were originally moved by horses,” says Garrett Hasslinger, a CHAS volunteer. Although they are leaving the horses at home for Dream Machines, the CHAS artillery cannon, limber and mobile forge will be displayed at this year’s big show with CHAS members on hand doing demos and interacting with spectators.
The jewel of CHAS’s collection is the artillery cannon, also known as an ordinance rifle. Theirs is a 10 lb. Parrott Rifle, named after its inventor, Robert Parker Parrott, who created the rifle in 1860. It was created using a cast iron 815-pound, 73-inch long tube, which gave it great accuracy with a large wrought iron band around the breech to provide additional strength to resist fracturing. The 10 lb. refers to the weight of the solid cannon ball that the gun fired. This was accurate up to approximately 2,000 yards with a well trained crew. To put that into perspective, that’s the slightly more than the length of 18 football fields. In addition to the solid shot, this gun was able to fire case shot (exploding shells) and canister shot (a tin can containing 100s of musket balls turning the cannon into a giant shotgun). Artillery cannons can pack quite a punch and were much loved by Civil War soldiers on all sides for reliability and for accuracy.
The Civil War mobile forge was a traveling blacksmith's shop used to fix and repair every piece of gear in a battery of artillery, which included 6 cannons, 6 caissons, 1 battery wagon, 5-10 supply wagons, 14 limbers, as well as the saddles and gear for 100-115 horses. The forge carried about 1,200 pounds of tools, coal and supplies. These included a vise, 100 lb. anvil, 250 lbs. of coal, 200 lbs of horseshoes, and a bundled set of approximately 4ft long iron bars. The actual blacksmithing tools were carried in the limber that pulled the forge. Additional wood, leather, metal and other items were carried in the battery wagon that accompanied the forge. There were two soldiers, called artificers, who manned the forge. It was their job to keep all of the horses shoed, all of the carriages and wheels in good working order, fix any broken parts in all of the horse gear, as well as make any metal or wooden parts that the battery needed.
When it comes to horse power, CHAS really understands.