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Long Tom

Over the years many artillery pieces have been named "Long Tom", but the one most often associated with the name is the long-barrel towed 155mm field gun.

In the America Revolution, and again in the War of 1812, the seas were covered by swift-sailing American privateers, which preyed on the British trade. The schooners, brigs, and brigantines in which the privateersmen sailed were beautifully modeled, and were among the fastest craft afloat. They were usually armed with one heavy gun, the "long Tom," as it was called, arranged on a pivot forward or amidships, and with a few lighter pieces of cannon. These private armed vessels appear to have carried almost invariably a "Long Tom," and besides, from 2 to 18 guns, and from 50 to 150 men. The one gun beloved above all others was the "Tom," or "Long Tom" — a "pet" cannon, without restriction as to size, mounted on a swivel amidships.

An old gun which was made in 1786 is the original Long Tom, one of the guns of the famous private armed brig General Armstrong, commanded by Captain Samuel Chester Reid. The remarkable heroism of Captain Reid and his officers and men is conspicuous in the history of our country. In a conflict with a British squadron mounting 136 guns and about 2,000 men, this gun did such admirable execution that the British lost over 300 men and officers killed and wounded. The Armstrong carried but 7 guns and 90 men, and lost but two killed and seven wounded. The battle took place at Fayal, one of the Azore Islands, on the 26th day of September 1814. The disabling of the squadron, which was a part of the expedition against New Orleans, so delayed the fleet that it saved Louisiana from British conquest. This gun was presented to the United States by the Portuguese Government, and was forwarded from Fayal to the World’s Fair, where it was on exhibition as part of the Navy Department’s exhibit. After the fair it was brought to this yard and mounted where it now stands.

That class of James Fenimore Cooper's productions comprising those which are peculiarly distinguished by their representations of American character and manners, the Last Of The Mohicans, the Pioneers, and the Prairie offer themselves, although published in a different order and at considerable intervals of time, as his most prominent works, or rather as parts of one harmonious whole, linked together by the character which, under the different names of the Scout, Leather Stocking, and the Trapper, furnishes the real hero of the three. Nathaniel Bumppo is, with the single exception perhaps of Tom Coffin, the most original and best sustained of Cooper's creations; and had he done nothing else, this would for ever entitle him to a high place among the poets of the western hemisphere, in the original signification of the term.

The three novels of Mr. Cooper, the scene of which is laid upon the sea, (Pilot, Red Rover, and Water Witch,) are entirely sui generis. The American is eminently the poet of the ocean, which, till his time, was in the condition of those who lived before Agamemnon. All the events of the waters—the storm, the calm, the chase, the battle, the wreck, the fire—have been commemorated by Cooper in language to which even the lofty rhythm of the Spenserian stanza could add neither grace nor eloquence. And what a host of characters has he evoked from the vasty deep— how different, and yet all how true to their situation. Where in all fiction is there the better of the simplehearted coxswain of the Ariel. And then for his name: "I'm called Tom when there is any hurry, such as letting go the haulyards or a sheet; Long Tom, when they want to get to windward of an old seaman by fair weather; and Long Tom Coffin, when they wish to hail me so that none of my cousins of the same name about the islands shall answer." Long Tom is, indeed, as with Natty Bumppo, the real hero of the Pilot. It is not to be overlooked, that there runs through all Mr. Cooper's books a vein of exquisite humanity, not the less true and delicate for being disguised in a rude garb: the characters of Leather Stocking and "poor old Long Tom Coffin," are genuine tributes to the homely and cardinal virtues.

In the early 19th Century, the machinery used by artisanal Gold miners for separating the field and earth were very simple, such as can be put together by ordinary workmen They are principally the "Long Tom," and the "Rocker." The Long Tom (the simpler machine, and used exclusively for working on a small scale) consists merely of a trough made of three planks nailed together, planed at a slight inclination, the lower end rests in the end of another horizontal trough made to receive it, the bottom of which is a east-iron plate pierced with holes. The Tom is generally placed directly along side of the pit to be worked, the gravel thrown into the machine; the dirt from the stones is conveyed by the water down upon the plate through the holes, and is caught by the rifHer underneath. The specific gravity of the gold causes it to descend to the bottom of the apartment, while the dirt being lighter, is beaten up by the water, and passes from one division to another, depositing in one chamber what gold may have been carried over from the preceding.

During the battle of Manassas, Confederate troops captured a very fine 20-pounder Parrott gun. This gun had been a great favorite with the Yankee soldiers. They had named it "Long Tom," and great expectations had been entertained as to the execution it was designed to do against the "Rebels" and all the rest of mankind. The gun had been turned over, by order of General Beauregard, to General Holmes, and by him given to Captain Lindsay Walker, whose battery of 10-pounder Parrotts had already proved a source of great annoyance to the gun-boats. Walker was delighted at this valuable acquisition, as it gave him an opportunity of inflicting serious damage on the enemy, where before he had succeeded only in annoying them.

In the book Life in the South, Catherine Cooper Hopley wrote in 1863 of "...the mounting and polishing of the celebrated cannon, "Long Tom," taken at the battle of Manassas. She said that one Sunday morning, a number of men came post haste, and took away Long Tom by means of a dozen mules to drag him. He was brought back on Monday, broken down. Tuesday he was ready, and started off again. Wednesday, behold him back once more, again broken down, and covered with mud. They could not tell the colour of the mules for mud. From Wednesday to Sunday, Long Tom was being burnished up again, and remounted; and once more started off. On the following Tuesday, like an evil spirit, he reappeared, more muddy than ever..."

The Great War was not the first proving ground of the modern family of heavies in the US Army field artillery array. Most of the prototypes had been given an earlier testing by one side or the other in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), and their operations were particularly prominent in sieges like those of Kimberley, Ladysmith, and Mafeking. The most persistent pieces were usually given pet names by the besieged. Thus one particularly annoying 155-mm was nicknamed "Long Tom" and the label thereafter became attached to the caliber.

The English had pet names for the Boer banging at the towns. The list given in one letter was "Long Tom," "Fiddling Jimmy," "Puffing Bill," "Silent Susan," "Lady Annie" and " Bloody Mary." "Silent Susan " was so-called because the shells she sent arrived before the report. The author added this touch, "a most disgusting habit in a gun." Long Tom was "a friendly old gun, and there were none but the kindest feeling towards him. It was his duty to shell us, and he did; but he did it in an open, manly way. Behind the half-country of light red soil they had piled up around him you could see his ugly phiz thrust up and look hungrily about him. A jet of flame and a spreading toadstool of thick, white smoke told us he had fired...."

Perhaps the most interesting episode in the siege of Kimberley was the construction by the De Beers Company, of the gun known as 'Long Cecil,' which did excellent and most effective service during the siege. The defenders of Kimberley were not very well prepared for a siege, and it became necessary for them to manufacture a large gun. Mr. George Labram, a citizen of the United States, at that time Chief Engineer of the De Beers mining company, designed this great gun and superintended its construction at the mines. This gun, carrying a shell of from fifty to sixty pounds, was manufactured from a block of steel in the workshops of De Beers, the time employed in its manufacture being about three weeks. The ammunition, it is needless to say, was also made on the spot. It is doubtful if any piece of ordnance of anything approaching to the size and efficiency of 'Long Cecil' has ever been constructed under similar circumstances or in so short a time.

The whole thing was completed in twenty-four days, some of the time having first been used in making necessary tools which the town could not supply. When finished and mounted, "Long Cecil" was capable of throwing a shell of twenty-eight pounds a distance of five miles [8,000 yards]. When this gun first opened fire it caused a great stampede among the Boers, for they little suspected the existence of a gun of such long range. Some of the besiegers had brought their wives and children and had them comfortably encamped near their army, but the appearance of the new Kimberley gun suddenly put an end to this happy family picnic. The gun itself was carefully preserved at Kimberley as a memento of the siege, and was placed at the foot of the handsome memorial (now being built) to those who fell. Although some 300 rounds were fired from the gun, the rifling — to the eye of a non-expert — still appeared perfect. The designer of 'Long Cecil' (Mr. Labram) was unfortunately killed by a shell from the Boer 94-pounder.

The French, who had lost 377,000 at Verdun alone, were more than willing to share their artillery with the exuberant doughboys whose eyes were still unscarred by the wanton slaughter of modern warfare and whose biggest field piece was the 3-inch howitzer. One of the ordnance pieces lent by the French was the 155-mm gun, called the Grande Puissance Filloux (GPF)—literally "Filloux's gun of great power." Weighing 25,500 pounds underway and 20,100 pounds in firing position, it could hurl a 95-pound explosive shell over 17,000 yards.

Its official adoption by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) came, when the US Army labelled it the M1917 155-mm gun. The subsequent M1918 was merely an American-manufactured version of the French gun. All one had to do to transform a GPF into the M1917A1 was to fit an American breechblock to the French gun. Expertly handled by doughboy crews, this gun—sometimes referred to as the 155-mm rifle—pounded the German lines.

As Truman R. Strobridge, Historian of the US European Command, wrote in 1980, " ... any weapon that has served for over a half a century, racking up countless laurels along the way, deserves a place in the memory of American artillerymen. If there is justice amidst the thunderous roar of those heavenly cannons, a spark of remembrance will forever linger for those fabulous Long Toms, so rich in memories."

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Page last modified: 08-09-2013 19:25:14 ZULU