As visitors pull into the parking lot at Patriots Point, they may notice four large cannons on the shore pointed at the USS Yorktown. Some astute observers will recognize them as Dahlgren guns.
The guns take their name from a career Naval officer, Rear Admiral John Dahlgren, who was especially qualified in the development of ordnance for the United States Navy. His gun design bore his name and had the distinctive shape of a soda bottle. The four Dahlgren guns at Patriots Point were made at Builders Foundry in Providence, Rhode Island in 1863. Their original numbers were No. 63, 64, 67 and 69. They were originally 11 inch Dahlgrens and weighted around 15,750 pounds (each is slightly different). These 11 inch Dahlgrens could fire a shot that weighted 170 pounds.
The Patriots Point Dahlgrens were pivot guns, so they would have been deployed aboard ships such as New Ironsides and Kearsage. We are still researching the National Archives to find their Civil War service history. Carriage guns were placed in the new ironclad monitors like the Monitor (2 11 inch Dahlgrens) and the Keokuk (2 11 inch Dahlgrens).The Keokuk led the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1863 and was badly damaged. She sunk off of Morris Island and the Confederates were successful in raising one of her guns, which today is on display at the Battery in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
The four Patriots Point Dahlgrens were converted in 1879/1880 to 8 inch rifled Dahlgrens by reaming out the bore to 13 inches and then sleeving them down to 8 inches. This increased their weights from around 15, 750 lbs to 17,330 lbs.
The Patriots Point Dahlgrens were assigned to the USS Lancaster in 1881. She was the flagship of the European Squadron from 1881 to 1894 and was at Alexandria, Egypt during riots in 1882 and she traveled to Russia with diplomats and dignitaries for the coronation of Tsar Alexander III in May 1883. The Patriots Point Dahlgren’s were removed from the USS Lancaster in 1895 at the Charleston Navy Yard and they served as gate ornaments until the base’s closure in 1995. They were transferred to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum where they are on display today.
If you are interested in locating a Dahlgren near your home or other Civil War sites visit The Historical Marker Database website.
Our Civil War sesquicentennial events will be receiving updates soon on the Patriots Point web site, stay tuned for more on “Day One at Patriots Point.”