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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

"The Lincoln Gun" the Largest in the World

by Gordon Thorsby

(Library of Congress)`

Today, battlefield visitors might visit the High-Water Mark at Gettysburg, the top of Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, or even Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. In 1862, one particular tour visitor was a soldier, Private O.W. Damon of Chesaning, MI. According to his diary, as he was enroute to the front at Yorktown, he stopped at Fortress Monroes to see the “Union Gun.” He also would have seen its bigger relative, “the Lincoln Gun.” They were enormous.

Prior to secession being declared, Washington began a buildup at Ft. Monroe to prepare for possible war. The implementation became widely known when Harper’s Weekly ran a headline on March 30,1861, “The Biggest Gun in the World” and the “Lincoln Gun” and an immediate wonder of the world. It was just three weeks later that nearby Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk was seized and the big guns of Ft. Monroe were well justified.

The 15-inch Columbiad smoothbore named “the Floyd Gun” was designed by Thomas Rodman, tested and approved in March 1861. It was installed at Ft. Monroe by orders from Washington under direction of Rodman himself. However, when Secretary of War John Floyd became a Confederate general, the new Secretary of War Edwin Stanton renamed it after his boss, the “Lincoln Gun.” The giant had a barrel (and still is) 15 feet 10 inches long, 4 feet in diameter, and it required a special stone platform with a cast iron gun carriage. Its weight

matched its size at 52,005 pounds and it fired a 437-lb. round shot or a second round, a 330-lb explosive shell carrying a 17-pound bursting charge. Due to its size, rotation was impractical. It was simply the largest artillery piece in the world.

The longest range of the “Lincoln” was recorded at over three miles. Gun officers believed it possible to place a shell, twice the weight of two large men of the times out to four miles. Meanwhile, Rodman began producing a second but smaller gun, the “Union Gun,” a twelve- inch Rodman rifled cannon. The “Lincoln” was moved to the beach adjacent to the Old Point Comfort lighthouse and the “Union” took its place on the wall of the fort.

“A New York Times reporter wrote, "The Lincoln gun has been mounted, and this morning was fired in order to test the carriage. Only 10 shots were fired…The second shot was a splendid ricochet shot, the immense ball weighing 437 pounds. After making three plunges and renewed flight, it finally sunk away off near Sewell's Point.”

One year later, Ft. Monroe witnessed U.S.S. Monitor and C.S.S. Virginia slug it out in the waters of Hampton Roads on March 8-9, 1862. In an effort to assist in stopping the new Confederate invention, the Fort brought the "Lincoln Gun" to bear and fired several behemoth rounds in an attempt to strike the Virginia.. The 437-lb rounds splashed harmlessly into the water instead.

The only other use for these massive guns was on April 15 and 16, 1862, just one month later when it bombarded the Confederate fortifications at Sewell Point across Hampton Roads.

By the fall, the Confederate threat was gone and the guns were no longer required. The smoothbore cannon of the “Lincoln” was obsolete to 70 smaller rifled Rodman guns who achieved similar distance with greater accuracy.

What was it like to hear the sound of the guns? The mere shock was enormous they could be heard from miles away.

Today, the "Lincoln Gun" is located on the Parade Ground for Civil War enthusiast to visit the once largest artillery gun in the world.

Note: The fort has a chapel called Chapel of the Centurion. “Centurion” is named for Centurion Cornelius, the first Roman soldier and gentile converted to Christianity.


Mark St. John Erickson, Defending Civil War Fort Monroe with the massive Lincoln Gun, Apr 09, 2018

Richard P. Weinert, Jr., The Guns of Fort Monroe, Fort Monroe Casemate Museum, 1990.

#civilwar #militaryhistory # history “artillery

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