WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Restoration is in work on an 18th century cast iron swivel gun recovered from the Penobscot River near Bangor, Maine, by the Naval Historical Center's (NHC) Underwater Archaeology Branch, September 2001.
Retreating American Revolutionary naval forces are thought to have discarded the gun during the final hours of a little known military engagement.
This swivel gun, like most manufactured during that time, resembles a miniaturized version of a larger cannon, and features a largely intact wrought-iron yoke and swivel assembly.
There are three intriguing attributes of the swivel gun, some first noticed in 2002 when it was X-rayed.
The first is that the gun can pivot in two planes and functions as an antipersonnel weapon, due to its placement on the vessel's gunwell.
The second is that the bore of the barrel gun is off-center, and the gun tube is appreciably thinner on one side than the other, which was a result of an accident that occurred during its construction. During the 18th century, most gun founders cast cannons and swivel guns as solid cylinders, and then drilled out the bore manually or with motive-powered machines.
The third is that radiographs revealed that it still was loaded with two iron shots, and what appeared to be the remnants of a paper or cloth powder bag. Behind the ammunition, the conservators discovered a quantity of black powdery residue and a small swatch of burlap-like fabric, which radiographs also revealed.
All of the damage to the gun occurred when it was used in combat.
NHC archaeologists, after thoroughly inspecting the swivel gun, found it was missing all of the muzzle and part of the barrel.
The gun is believed to be a relic from the Battle of Penobscot, which began June 1779 when the British army sent soldiers to Majabagaduce, Mass. (present-day Castine, Maine), to establish a military and political headquarters for a new colony for loyalist subjects fleeing the rebellious colonies.
July 24, 1779, a combined American naval and land force entered Penobscot Bay and laid siege to the new fort. The Americans had almost defeated the British, when a relief squadron arrived at the entrance to the bay. The presence of the British warships forced the Americans into a panicked, disorganized retreat up the Penobscot River. The British vessels rapidly overtook the fleeing American forces, causing the latter to abandon and scuttle most of their ships to prevent their capture.
The engagement, known as the Penobscot Expedition, has the distinction of being the second worst naval defeat in American military history. Only the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor incurred a greater loss of American ships and naval materiel.
Conservation of the swivel gun is ongoing and should be completed later this year.
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