I am writing to obtain some information about an antique projectile currently in the possession of my uncle. We have no information about the piece, except that we think it could be a memento brought home by one of our ancestors from either the American Civil War or the Spanish-American War. It is about six and one-half inches in length.
We do know that my 2nd great-grandfather, Allen Walker Hamilton (07 November 1881 in Wheeling, Ohio County, West Virginia/16 March 1943 in Cadiz, Cadiz Township, Harrison County, Ohio), attended an all-male military academy in Wheeling, West Virginia, called The Linsly Institute (now The Linsly School) from a young age and that he was of age to serve in the Spanish-American War of 1898. We have not, however, located any military records for him.
Allen Walker Hamilton’s father Charles Perry Hamilton served for eight months during the Civil War as an ambulance driver for Colonel Boyden, who had charge of the hospital corps under General Sheridan, and was possibly a drummer boy in a Union regiment out of Wheeling, West Virginia.
My 3rd great-grandfather, Allen Walker Hamilton’s father-in-law, George Washington Clark[e], Sr. served as a private in Captain John Carlin’s Battery "D" First West Virginia Light Artillery Volunteers out of Wheeling, West Virginia. The projectile, along with several other items, were found in a trunk belonging to my 2nd great-grandmother, Allen Walker Hamilton’s wife and George Washington Clark[e], Sr.’s daughter. We are curious as to whether our projectile can be identified, and whether it is from the American Civil War or the Spanish-American War. Could it have been used in a weapon such as the 6-pounder, M1841 or the Light 12-pounder, M1857?
JS: Your projectile is a three-inch in diameter Hotchkiss percussion shell made for the standard Union Civil War light artillery rifled Parrott or Ordnance rifles. Both were highly accurate, and both were part of Battery D of Peter Carlin's 1st WV Light Artillery. There is an active group who reenact this fighting unit today.
The photograph shown here (by T. J. Powell) on the Carlin's battery website shows accurately a Civil War gun crew which your ancestry George Washington Clark would have been part. The cannon in the photo is a three-inch Parrott rifle, the type of gun that fired your projectile. Your projectile appears with lots of patina and probably a souvenir of some action. It is missing the lead driving band and percussion fuse.
This projectile came in three varieties: timed fuse, percussion and bolts. We know yours is percussion even though missing the fuse as there are no flame grooves which were required when time fuses were lit by muzzle fire. Percussion shells exploded upon impact.
It's too bad we don't know where this souvenir was collected. Carlin's Battery had a colorful record in the war, and a 2005 unit history was privately published by Linda Fluharty & Edward Phillips called Carlins Wheeling Battery, A History of Battery “D” 1st West Virginia Light Artillery.
The 1st West Virginia Light Artillery regiment lost 33 men who were killed or died of wounds; 131 men died of disease, accident or in prison. Total deaths were 164 men (from all 8 batteries).
Prices on non-excavated projectiles, such as this, can be found at Civil War shows for about $300.
Photo: A US 3-inch Hotchkiss shell with vertical flame grooves on the sides. A typical shell had three grooves. (Photography by JackMelton.com. Artifact courtesy of Thomas S. Dickey Collection, Atlanta History Center.)