The McComas battery, Company B of the Wise Artillery, put three guns in action at Sawyer’s Lane: two smoothbore bronze 6-pounders and a rifled gun. Their fourth gun, another 6-pounder, guarded the bridges crossing the Turner Cut of the Dismal Swamp Canal and the Pasquotank River. Two of the guns stood astride the county road leading from the court house at Jonesboro to South Mills, commanding the approach followed by the Federal forces for over a mile. The third stood to the right of these two in Sawyer’s Lane, fifty yards west of its intersection with the county road.
The battery’s three bronze smoothbore 6-pounders saw action in what is now West Virginia in 1861. They were the old hands of the battery. The newcomer, an iron rifled six-pounder, joined the battery shortly after the McComas battery’s arrival in Norfolk in late January 1862, just in time to be sent southward to the defense of Roanoke Island. Due to transportation issues, the battery, sporting six guns, ended up in Elizabeth City instead and was there during the Battle of Elizabeth City. Two 6-pounder bronze guns were subsequently split off as a section under Company D of the Wise Artillery, later forming the core of the Goochland-Turner Battery.
The iron rifled gun arrived in the battery sans caisson, so she lacked the normal compliment of three ammunition boxes that the 6-pounders boasted. Her gun crew came to know her affectionately as “Old Kate” even though she was the youngest gun in the battery. Colonel Henningsen, commander of the Wise Artillery’s four companies, described her as an “iron 6-pounder” when she was added. Six-pounder indeed!
No run-of-the-mill six-pounder, “Old Kate” was rifled, giving her more range and accuracy than the older smoothbores. No mention of her bore appears in the records, but the evidence points to her being a 3-inch rifled cannon and, since she was already in service in January of 1862, she probably had twelve rifling bands. Three-inch rifled guns of later manufacture used six or seven bands.
How do we know she had a 3-inch bore? She left evidence behind: a 3-inch Archer bolt and a 2.9-inch Read-pattern Parrott shell, both recovered from the section of the battlefield that was wooded at the time of the battle. Contemporary maps in New York City newspapers labeled this area as “woods heavily shelled.” A third piece of ordinance probably fired by “Old Kate” passed through four walls in the Earl Meiggs house, used as Reno’s headquarters during the battle and a hospital afterwards. This conical piece of ordinance disappeared from its display case in front of the Dream House on Old Swamp Road sometime in the 1980s or 1990s. Also, David A. French, commander of the battery after McComas’ death at South Mills, ordered 140 rounds of “3-inch shell” and charges on a requisition on 10 June 1862, indicating the battery had a 3-inch gun.
Was she a 3-inch ordinance rifle? A Parrott gun? Or a 6-pounder casting drilled with a 3-inch bore? 3-inch ordinance rifles were not readily available in January 1862 and 10-pounder Parrott rifles still had a 2.91-inch bore, too small to have fired the Archer bolt. Tredegar Foundry in Richmond started turning out 6-pounder castings drilled with a 3-inch bore in 1861. Colonel Josiah Gorgas, Chief of Ordinance of the Confederate States, wrote to Tredegar on 26 December 1861: “All 6-pounder guns are to be bored and rifled 3-inch.” Given the transportation connections of the day, this seems the most likely scenario.