Wednesday, January 25, 2012

CSS Florida's Blakely Rifle Shells

Currently on display in the museum's CSS Florida exhibit are three Bashley Britten shells that were used with the ship's Blakely Rifles. The shells are named for Bashley Britten, an English inventor who patented this new type of shell in 1855.  This shell has a lead base that would expand upon the gun being fired.  This expansion would  make the shell fit better in the barrel of the weapon as it travelled down the barrel, thus producing better accuracy once the shell left the gun.  This design feature can still be seen in modern-day small arms bullets and some artillery shells.

The Blakely rifle is named for Captain Theophilus Alexander Blakely, a British ordnance expert who designed a series of light and heavy artillery pieces from the 1850s through the 1880s. His sympathies lay strongly with the Confederacy during the Civil War and he did much to assist the Southern states' problem of not having enough modern artillery.  He sold finished guns to both the Confederate Army and Navy, and his knowledge of ordnance via his patents (which in turn was used by men like John Mercer Brooke to design the Brooke Rifle) was extremely important.  Rather than inventing a new type of shell specifically for his guns, Blakely used the widely-adopted Britten shell design.

One of Florida's seven-inch Blakelys is currently on display at the Washington Navy Yard's Willard Park. The second gun is currently on display at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Florida's wreck is located in Hampton Roads and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum is the official repository for the ship's artifacts.

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