Sir William George Armstrong


Armstrong was born in the Shieldfield area of Newcastle on the 26 November 1810. His father was the proprietor of a corn merchants business on the Newcastle Quayside and had a strong interest in Natural History, Mathematics and was a member of the Literary and Philosophical Society.

Young William trained to be a solicitor and although he became a partner in a legal practice he had inherited similar interests to his father, particularly in the field of science and engineering. Armstrong gave knowledgeable lectures on these subjects at the Newcastle Lit and Phil and in 1842 he constructed a Hydro Electric generator. This was constructed with the knowledge gained following the accidental discovery of a discharge of static electricity from a colliery boiler by an engineman at a Northumberland coal mine.

Around 1846 Armstrong's interests shifted from Hydro Electricity to Hydraulics and he persuaded wealthy Newcastle men to back him in the development of hydraulic cranes for Newcastle which were powered with the assistance of the town's Whittle Dene Water Company. The scheme was such a great success that in 1847 Armstrong gave up his legal practice to establish the Newcastle Cranage company at Elswick which later became known as `Armstrong's Factory' as immortalised in the `Blaydon Races'

Following the Crimean War in the 1850s Armstrong became increasingly involved with the manufacture of armaments and his eighteen pound breach loading gun was one of many Armstrong weapons recognized as the best in the world. Such devices, often tested on the moors of Allendale, were ordered by armies and navies all over the the world from Russia and Japan to the United States. In fact Armstrong supplied both armies in the American Civil War.

From 1863 onward Armstrong became less and less involved in the day to day running of his company affairs and began to pursue other interests. He became particularly noted for his successful pursuits in the field of landscape gardening. This was initially carried out in Newcastle's beautiful Jesmond Dene most of which he owned and where he had built a house for himself and his wife in the 1830s. Jesmond Dene was donated by Armstrong to the people of the city of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1883.

In 1854 Mr. William George Armstrong (later Sir William George Armstrong) submitted to the Duke of Newcastle, then Minister at War, a proposal for a new rifled field-piece, and with the Duke's approval, Armstrong constructed a rifle in 1855. After numerous trials and experiments his rifle was introduced into the British service. The early rifles were composed completely of wrought iron, which was formed from long bars coiled into spiral tubes, and then welded together by hammer-driven forging. Later he switched to a steel tube that was reinforced with wrought iron coils. The rifles were breech-loading with a screw mechanism that allow for a firing, with careful aim, twice in a minute or three times a minute without aiming. From the muzzle to the trunnions the rifle is forged in one thickness. From the breech end to the trunnions two additional layers of wrought iron are applied. The center layer is bent around the cylinder instead of length wise for the reason that the center layer has to sustain the thrust of the breech. At the breech is located the breech-screw, which when turned by the handle, presses against a movable plug, for closing the bore. The 12-pounder Armstrong rifle has a bore diameter of 3.0 inches and is rifled with thirty-four shallow, narrow grooves. At the breech end the bore is 3.125 inches so that the projectile (coated with lead) may enter the bore freely. The propellant charge forced the slightly oversized lead covered projectile into the grooves. The greatest range achieved by an Armstrong projectile is 9,175 yards, or nearly 5 1/4 miles.  The muzzle-loading Armstrong rifle had three lands and grooves with which to impart the rotary motion to an elongated projectile with soft metal studs. This system was called the "shunt" and the grooves were of double width with a shallow groove depth to a normal groove depth on the other side. The projectile was loaded through the deep side into the breech of the rifle and upon ignition the projectile's studs compressed into the shallow grooves.

Armstrong was just as much a scientist as a scholar or an engineer but was also very much an enterprising industrialist with the advantage of an open enquiring mind as demonstrated by the following lines once quoted by the man himself;

"However high we climb in the pursuit of knowledge we shall still see heights above us, and the more we extend our view, the more concious we shall be of the immensity which lies beyond."

 The later years of Armstrong's life were spent in his magnificent parkland mansion of Cragside near Rothbury in Northumberland. Cragside was of course the first house in the world to be lit by Hydro Electric power

This action centered the projectile in the bore tightly, thus producing a stable flight.  To see Armstrong's projectiles click here.

English 3-inch Confederate Imported Armstrong Shell

This Extremely Rare studded Armstrong shell was buried by the Confederates during their retreat in 1865.  It was recovered around twenty years ago by Chester Dawson (now deceased) in Amelia County, Virginia.  A total of seven unfired Armstrong shells, long and short pattern types, were found by Chester.  The fuzes were found in a separate hole by Tony Easter.  The shells were recovered near were the Battle of Painsville occurred.  1/4 mile up the hill from where they were found is the Pains Crossroads.  In General Henry Abbot's collection, now housed in the United States Military Academy Museum in West Point, NY, is a similar specimen recovered from the Richmond area by Abbot's men in 1865.

Click on any image to enlarge the photograph

ArmstrongShell2.jpg ArmstrongNose1.jpg ArmstrongFuses2.jpg
Unusual in that
the shipping plug
was converted to
allow for the flame
to light the fuze.

Fuze with the
British Marks.
ArmstrongBase.jpg (40878 bytes)
Base showing the
inner band.
ArmstrongStud.jpg (38212 bytes)
Close up of the
copper stud.

ArmstrongNDSide.jpg (35512 bytes)
Non-dug example
for comparison.
ArmstrongNDFuse.jpg (41002 bytes)
Non-dug example
for comparison.
ArmstrongNDBAse.jpg (37537 bytes)
Non-dug example
for comparison.

Armstrong Cannon information from the
Official Records relating to the above projectile.


  PAGE 1266-96   N. AND SE. VA., W. VA., MD., AND PA.   [CHAP. LVIII.

 [Series I. Vol. 46. Part II, Correspondence, Etc. Serial No. 96.]


 February 28, 1865.

  XV. Maj. Gen. Bryan Grimes, Provisional Army, C. S., is hereby
assigned to the command of Rodes' old division, Second Corps, and
will report accordingly.

 By command of Gen. R. E. Lee:

Assistant Adjutant-Gen.


 February 28, 1865.


 GEN.: I received this morning your note directing me to turn over
four 3-inch rifles to the cavalry; but while making arrangements to
execute it, I beg to submit that it will seriously weaken my rifle
armament, already, I believe, the weakest in the army. The 10-pounder
Parrotts in my command I have condemned entirely, and have made
arrangements with the Ordnance Department to exchange them all for
24-pounder howitzers, having found it impossible to get satisfactory
firing from them, and I hope to be rid of every one when we take the
field. I have only six now, including two in Hardaway's battalion; this
will leave with sixty-four smooth-bores, eighteen 3-inch rifles, and five
Armstrong and one Whitworth in Cabell's, Huger's, Haskell's,
Hardaway's, Stark's and Johnson's battalions the Armstrong and
Whitworth are only temporary guns, as the ammunition for the former
is limited, and when it is gone I wish to replace them all with
smooth-bores, which will give seventy smooth-bores and eighteen rifles
a proportion of rifles which I think you will agree with me is too small
to be diminished. Should Owen's battalion return in place of any other
it will diminish the proportion of rifles, as it has none, and should
Hardaway rejoin his corps he will take away six of the eighteen 3-inch.
Many of my smooth-bores will also be howitzers of less range than
Napoleons. I do not like any rifle with our ammunition, but must have some.

  Cannot the cavalry take 12-pounder howitzers? I consider them the
best gun for their service, and would prefer them to anything were I in
that arm. Our 3-inch have no shrapnel; their shell very defective and
uncertain, even when they explode at all, and you know the frequent
complaint on this head and their canister is very small and inferior. The
Yankees have shrapnel and canister with lead balls, and thus use them
very efficiently, but our 3-inch are not their 3-inch by a great deal. The
 12-pounder howitzer is lighter, its ammunition cheaper and more
abundant; it formidable shrapnel; its shell seldom ever fails, and its
canister is but little inferior to that of Napoleons. Where guns have to
protect themselves against a charge of either infantry or cavalry, I
 believe the 12-pounder howitzer superior to the Napoleon and worth
twice its number of 3-inch rifles. Is not this gun better adapter to the
service of cavalry than a gun whose only recommendation its has a very
 long range and one-half of whose projectiles never burst (and when one
does burst it does not make a dozen fragments), and which is very
dangerous to our own men when fired over their heads? I have entire
forbidden their use by my battalions over our infantry.

 N. AND SE. VA., W. VA., MD., AND PA.   [CHAP. LVIII.   PAGE 1267-96

 [Series I. Vol. 46. Part II, Correspondence, Etc. Serial No. 96.]

 I have sent in to Col. Brown to know what he can give me to replace
 the 3-inch, if you still desire the exchange. I don't want Parrotts (would
rather have mountain howitzers,) and prefer 12-pounder howitzers to
Napoleons, of which I have enough. It will also be dangerous to take
my guns from the lines while awaiting even the unavoidable and
especially the probable delay.

 Cannot the horse artillery be ordered to provide themselves with
12-pounder howitzers, and report to me to be directed where to
exchange them for 3-inch rifles? Please reply to me by telegraph, care
 of Gen. Longstreet, if you wish the exchange to go on as you have

 directed in you note.

 Very respectfully, yours,

Brig.-Gen. of Artillery.


 May 31, 1865.


 Assistant Adjutant-Gen.:

 SIR: I have the honor to make the following report of artillery and
small-arms received by the ordnance department, captured from and
surrendered by the enemy in the recent campaign, in operations around
Petersburg, and against the rebel army after the evacuation. This does
not include the heavy artillery which was collected by Gen. Abbot
and not received by any of the ordnance officers of this army: Light
12-pounder bronze guns, U.S., 70; light 12-pounder bronze guns, rebel,
62; 12-pounder cast-iron guns, banded, rebel 34; 3-inch wrought-iron

 PAGE 1242-97   N. AND SE. VA., W. VA., MD., AND PA.   [CHAP. LVIII.

 [Series I. Vol. 46. Part III, Correspondence, Etc. Serial No. 97.]

 guns, U.S. 33; 3-inch wrought-iron guns, banded, rebel, 13;
10-pounder Parrott guns, U. S., 10; 20-pounder Parrott guns, U.S.,
2; Coehorn mortars, rebel, 1; 3-inch Whitworth guns, rebel, 1;
 12-pounder howitzers, U. S., 5; 12-pounder howitzers, rebel, 3;
3.4-inch Blakely guns, 1; 3.67-inch rebel guns, banded, 1; 3.80-inch
smooth-bore guns, 2; 24-pounder howitzers, U. S., 4; 24-pounder
howitzers, rebel, 2; 24-pounder howitzers, U. S., Dahlgren, Navy, 1;
 12-pounder Armstrong guns, rifled, rebel, 5; 12-pounder iron guns,
re-enforced, rebel, 1. Total number, 251. Rifles and muskets, 21,177;
 carbines, 1,293; pistols, 163. Total number small-arms, 22,633.*

 Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


 Lieut. and Chief Ordnance Officer, Army of the Potomac.

PAGE 72-95   N. AND SE. VA., N. C., W. VA., MD., AND PA.   [CHAP. LVIII.

 [Series I. Vol. 46. Part I, Reports. Serial No. 95.]

   No. 4.

 Itineraries of the Army of the Potomac, Sheridan's Cavalry

 Command, and the Army of the James.*  cont…

 Reports from the Third Brigade, Third Division.


 [Series I. Vol. 46. Part I, Reports. Serial No. 95.]

 [March.]--Remained in camp near Hatcher's Run, participating in the

 affair of March 25 near the Tucker house, where, after a stubborn
resistance on the part of the enemy, we succeeded in taking and
retaking the enemy's picket-line in our front.

  March 29.--Broke camp, and moved with the rest of the division to the
left near the Boydton plank road.

  March 31.--Made a gallant charge on the enemy's works to develop
their strength.

  April 2.--Attacked and captured the enemy's picket-line where the
Boydton plank road crosses the White Oak road, and afterward
occupied his main works and advanced to Petersburg.

  April 3 to 5.--Pursued the enemy.

  April 6.--Came up with him at Amelia Springs. Skirmished with him all
day, and at night succeeded in forcing him to abandon his wagon train.