Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Civil War Archaeology---Secret Weapons Testing, West Point, and the Russians

Civil War Espionage, Andrew Slayman, Archaeology Magazine, May 1995 (48:3), page 18.

Archaeologists investigating a Civil War era iron foundry near the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York found evidence of a possibly secret weapon program. The discovery, excavation and conservation of a a 12-foot, square, oak and cast iron platform within the foundry site has intrigued industrial archaeologists. Records reveal that a 13 ton, rifled cannon that could project shells five miles was mounted and tested at the foundry during the war. It fired shells containing a 19th century mix of chemicals that would, later in the 20th century, come close to the recipe for napalm. There is a possibility that the shells were used during the July-August 1863 assault on Charleston, South Carolina.

Foundry director R. P. Parrott accepted credit for developing the cannon but hearings on the project by the Joint Committee on Ordnance and the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War revealed that Russians working in England obtained plans for a similar British cannon that was being secretly developed for the Royal Navy. The Czar, who had recently defended Russia from France and Great Britain in the Crimean War considered the U.S. as an ally.

Among 150,000 artifacts were found that related to the testing platform and workers' barracks that point to a community of highly skilled munitions experts. The range of artifacts within the barracks are not those of unskilled workers but of highly skilled researchers using at that time state-of-the-art scientific equipment. Many of these artifacts were imports from Europe. From the 1950s through the 1970 was used by the Marathon Battery Company that supplied cadmium batteries for Nike missiles. In 1983 the Environment Protect Agency ordered the site cleaned and hired the industrial archaeologists to excavate the site.

Image Source: Parrott Cannon

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