Mystery of the Whitworth Guns

Two Whitworth Cannon stood in the Schultz Woods at the position of the Hardaway Artillery (CSA) as recently as the 1960s, but the guns are now gone. Where did they go? This J.I. Mumper photograph appeared in a 1909 photo album.

On July 2 and 3, Schultz Woods was occupied by several Confederate artillery units, who took part in the massive artillery bombardment of Cemetery Ridge that preceded Pickett’s Charge. This group included the guns of the Hardaway (Alabama) Artillery commanded by Capt. William B. Hurt.

The Whitworth Guns

The hexagonal shape of the barrel of the Whitworth gun can be clearly scene in the photograph taken on Oak Hill.

The Army of Northern Virginia owned two powerful cannon known as Whitworths, the only breech-loading pieces to be found at Gettysburg in July 1863 in either army. The Whitworths fired distinctive elongated 12-pound shells possessing a hexagonal cross-section to match the hexagonal interior shape of the gun’s barrel. They had an incredible firing range of five miles, and were unusually accurate. William Storrick, an early 20th century supervisor of Gettysburg’s Licensed Battlefield Guides, wrote that the Whitworth’s “whining report could be heard above all others.” The south imported these guns from England, but only possessed a few due to the blockade. The Hardaway Artillery had possession of the Army of Northern Virginia’s two Whitworths at Gettysburg. (1)

A fascinating article from a Melbourne, Australia, newspaper article of April 20, 1860, describing the testing of a Whitworth Cannon can be found here.

Whitworth gun on Oak Hill, Gettysburg, 2023. Two Confederate Whitworths originally fired on July 2 from the unit’s position in the Schultz Woods, but on July 3, were moved to Oak Ridge.

Mystery of the Whitworth Guns in the Modern GNMP

There were once two Whitworth guns in Schultz Woods to mark the position of the Hardaway Artillery. Today, there stands an old park tablet describing the actions of the unit at this location, but the guns are gone, with only a few of the cement pads on which rested the wheels of the cannon and the pyramid of shells remaining. It has been assumed that the Whitworths were, at some now-unknown moment in the long misty past, moved to the position on Oak Ridge, near the Peace Memorial, where two Whitworth guns can now be seen.

The concrete footpads for the Whitworth guns are all that remain to remind us of the cannon that stood here decades ago. The wheels of the carriage rested on the two smaller rectangular pads to the right, and the carriage’s trail was attached to the longer rectangular pad on the left. A pyramid of shells, which was melted down for a scrap metal drive in 1942-3 to support the nation’s war effort, lay on the large square pad in the foreground.

But William Storrick, in his 1932 book on the battle, wrote of the Whitworth cannon, “There are four now in position on the field, thus placed to show their two positions during the battle.” It appears, then, that the two guns on Oak Ridge are not the two that were originally in Schultz Woods. So what happened to the two Whitworths in Schultz Woods?

With a little investigation and a little help, I have learned that the park does in fact have possession of the other two Whitworth cannon. One is in the basement of the Visitor’s Center building in the archives, and the other in a super-secret location, stored away in another NPS-owned building in Gettysburg.

(1) Storrick, William C. Gettysburg: the Battles, the Place, the Outcome. Harrisburg, PA: J. Horace McFarland Co., 1932. P. 116.