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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 17

The Halifax Citadel, 1825-60: A Narrative and Structural History

by John Joseph Greenough

Appendix K: Armament

There are no surviving accounts of the armament originally proposed for the Citadel. It is likely that Colonel Nicolls, in the early stages of planning, had only an approximate idea of the type and calibre of ordnance to be mounted on the new fortress. In his original estimate and his first plans, he provided for eight platforms with embrasures and four sets of curbs for traversing platforms for the body of the work, as well as four curbs for traversing platforms and 17 embrasures and platforms for the ravelins. He also noted that the roofs of the two cavaliers were intended as gun positions for fourteen 24-pounders.1 In addition to these, each of the 16 casemates was to be provided with a gun. This gives a grand total of 63 gun positions, and may be taken as an approximate indication of the amount of armament intended.2

Seven years later, Colonel Boteler drew up a list of the type and calibre of gun intended for the Citadel, and appended it to his general plan of the fort.3 This list reveals that the chief type of weapon to be mounted was the 24-pounder carronade; no fewer than 17 were intended for the fort. The heaviest gun contemplated was the 24-pounder. It is interesting to note that, in the beginning, the heavy ordnance was to be concentrated almost entirely on the cavaliers and ravelins.

The 1832 list also reveals some of the difficulties inherent in trying to foresee the armament requirements. No fewer than 18 of the proposed 69 guns were to be mounted on structures which had not yet been built and were the subject of some controversy. The list briefly noted the changes which would have to be made in the ordnance if the proposed redan was approved. But the list cannot cover all contingencies, and it is too sketchy to be really useful as a guide to the armament if the design of the fortress was altered. In fact, the entire question of ordnance was left in abeyance for almost a decade while the fundamental questions concerning the shape of the fortress were being settled. (Strangely enough, questions of armament and gunnery seem to have had little bearing on the decisions which were finally reached.) It was not until the work was substantially complete that any attempt was made to provide it with guns.

The most important document in the history of the Citadel's ordnance is the supplementary estimate of 1846. In the first version of the estimate, Calder provided for the curbs and pivots for the cavalier platform,4 the embrasures, revetment, gun platforms and curbs for the west ravelin,5 and specimen estimates for segmental curbs and pivots, circular curbs and pivots, and ground platforms for the remainder of the fort.6 The specimen estimates were for one of each kind of platform. Calder could not have been more specific about the numbers of each type required, since there was no approved armament proposal.

The Inspector General commented

Items 15, 16 & 17 will have to be on the specimen estimates: provided but the first step is the joint report of the Commg Officer of Artillery and the CRE, approved by the Commander of the Forces of the Armament necessary.7

The CRE and CRA together drew up the necessary report in the early summer of 1846 and dispatched it to London on 21 July.8 In early September, the Director General of Artillery communicated his satisfaction with the scheme,9 and a few weeks later it was approved by the Board of Ordnance.10

The proposal called for 94 guns. The most common type was the 32-pounder smoothbore which formed the main armament on all fronts. The remaining types provided in the proposal were mostly for specific purposes. The 24-pounders were intended for the casemates of defence, to defend the ditch; the 8-inch guns were intended only for the salients of the body of the work, and the howitzers and mortars were apparently only to be mounted in the event of a siege.

The acceptance of the ordnance proposal set the final form for the type and variety of gun positions on the Citadel ramparts. Unfortunately the documentation for the construction of the gun positions is fragmentary and contradictory. The only two structures in the entire fort where the types of gun position and their dimensions are absolutely certain are the cavalier and the west ravelin.11 We know from photographic evidence that the south ravelin was provided with ground platforms on its faces and a circular curb and pivot at its salient,12 but the exact dimensions of the ground platforms remain a mystery. They might have been like those provided for the west ravelin13 or they might have been similar to the ground platforms provided in item 17 of the 1846 estimate.14

The surviving documents about the armament of the north ravelin are even more scanty. We know what guns were mounted, but not the type of gun positions used. Presumably the north ravelins positions were similar to the south ravelins — the 32-pounders on the faces mounted on garrison carriages on stone ground platforms and the 32-pounder at the salient mounted on a traversing platform on a circular curb and pivot.

The difficulties encountered in trying to determine the nature of the gun positions in the body of the work are even greater. To begin with, we have two entirely contradictory memoranda on the subject. The first, appended to the initial version of the 1846 estimate,15 suggests that it was Calder's intention to build eight stone ground platforms on the ramparts of the body of the fort. The second, appended to the formal armament proposal, reads as follows:

The guns on all the Salient angles and the Cavalier to be mounted on ordinary Traversing Platforms.

Those on the faces of the Redan, North, South, East and West Fronts to be mounted on block Traversing Platforms.

Those in the Flanks of the Demi-Bastions as well as all Mortars on Lt Col Alderson's Siege Platforms, when required to be mounted, at which time the Embrazure may be cut through the Parapet, — the Platforms to be kept in store for their preservation and the guns &c [?] to be skidded in position.

Stone Platforms and Curbs are laid in the North and South Ravelins. —

Long 32 pounder guns are proposed for the flank of the South West Demi-bastion in consequence of the length of range seen over the Counterscarp North of the West Ravelin.16

To complicate matters still more, there is some evidence that the acceptance of the armament proposal led Calder to change the provisions for curbs and platforms in the revised version of the 1846 estimate. Unfortunately this evidence is also contradictory. It would seem that the only copy of the revised version of the estimate available in Canadian archives is incomplete. In the abstract of this copy, item 15 (the item for segmental curbs and pivots) has been altered to show a total cost of £299 7s. 6d., the cost of five curbs. In addition, three new items have been added to the abstract:

Item 18 — 19 Curbs for Dwarf platforms at £30 . .0 . . 0 each — £570 . . 0 . .0.

Item 19 — 12 Wooden Ground Platforms at £12 . . 0 . . 0 each, £144 . . 0 . . 0

Item 20 — 12 Do — Mortar — Do — at £6. . 0 . . 0 each, £72 . . 0 . . 0.17

When one turns to the text of the estimate, however, one finds no further mention of the three new items, and the items for circular curbs and pivots (items 15 and 16) and for ground platforms (item 17) are left unaltered.18

The last major piece of evidence is the surface plan drawn in April of 1852.19 This purports to show all the gun positions, embrasures and traverses on the ramparts. The plan is called "record Plans from actual measurement," and there would be little reason to doubt such a statement were it not for the fact that the ramparts were still unfinished in 1852. Nevertheless, one must accept the plan as accurate, at least in essentials.

The contradictory mass of evidence described above cannot, without the discovery of fresh information, be made to yield definitive answers to questions about the Citadel's armament. It is possible to draw some conclusions, but they must be considered extremely tentative.

In the first place, there is no reason to doubt that the armament listed in the 1846 estimate was ultimately procured for the Citadel. Every bit of evidence points to this being the case. It also seems fairly certain that the guns were mounted, or were intended to be mounted (a distinction which will become important later in this discussion) in the locations indicated in the proposal. The 1852 plan, for example, shows positions and embrasures in all the locations proposed. The difficulty lies in discovering what types of carriage and platform were used to mount the guns.

The problem of the 8-inch guns at the salient is the easiest to solve. They were almost certainly mounted on garrison carriages (there is no indication of the type — wood or iron) on traversing platforms on circular curbs.20 The 1852 plan shows circular curbs in the appropriate places, and there is no good reason to doubt its accuracy.

The question of the carriages and platforms for the rest of the 32-pounders intended for the body of the work is a little more complicated. The fundamental question is whether they were mounted on segmental curbs or on "curbs for Dwarf Platforms," which are mentioned in the partly revised version of the 1846 estimate. My own opinion is that the latter was the case. The positions shown on the 1852 plan are the wrong shape for segmental curbs,21 but the same revision of the estimate contains an item for five of the segmental curbs, which indicates that both types may conceivably have been used.

As we have seen, Colonel Calder intended to mount the four 32-pounders in the flanks on "Lt Col Alderson's Siege Platforms" — or, rather, he intended to construct the platforms and keep both them and the guns in storage until they should be needed. There is, again, no reason to question this intention.

But there is some doubt whether the Alderson platforms were ever built to mount the 12 mortars provided for in the armament proposal. A photograph taken in the late 1870s clearly shows the two mortar platforms,22 and they differ considerably from plans of both the Alderson siege gun platforms and the Alderson siege mortar platforms.23 It would seem, therefore, either that the original Citadel mortar platforms were replaced with ones of a different pattern sometime between 1850 and 1870, or that the Alderson platforms were never constructed for the mortars. Without more evidence, one cannot be more specific than that.

Finally, there are problems concerning the ground platforms and the howitzers. None of the documents mentioned above makes any mention of carriages or platforms for the howitzers. The 1852 plan, however, shows enough gun positions to account for both the guns and howitzers intended for the body of the work. It shows, moreover, 12 positions which are clearly occupied by ground platforms. Four of these are in the flanks and were obviously for the 32-pounders which were intended for those locations. The distribution of the other eight parallels the proposed distribution of the howitzers on the various fronts. This begs two questions: What sort of ground platforms were they, and were they intended for the howitzers?

In answer to the first question, there are three alternatives: stone ground platforms as provided in the 1846 estimate;24 wooden platforms of the Alderson pattern,25 or wooden ground platforms of another type. The first alternative seems most unlikely. One modern writer has calculated the weight of a 32-pounder mounted on a garrison carriage on a stone platform at 65 tons. On the basis of this, he concludes that stone ground platforms were used only on the ravelins, and that the platforms for the body of the work were of wood.26 It is difficult to disagree with this conclusion, it seems unlikely that any of the engineers responsible would have risked placing such a heavy platform on top of a work with escarps as doubtful as those in the Citadel. It seems far more probable, then, that the ground platforms were wooden.

Were they of the Alderson pattern? We know that platforms of this pattern were ordered at one point,27 so it seems likely. On the other hand, the ground platforms shown on the 1852 plan are the wrong shape (the Alderson platforms were rectangular). This discrepancy may be the result of a draughtsman's error, for, as we shall see, it is exceedingly unlikely that wooden platforms of any description were ever actually put in position on the ramparts.

The final question is whether or not the ground platforms shown were ever intended for the howitzers. There is no definite answer to this question either, but the coincidence of numbers of howitzers and number of positions makes it likely that they were.

A final word on the 1852 plan. It shows the positions and embrasures for the 32-pounders in the flanks, despite the fact that the engineers never intended to cut embrasures or to mount the guns until it was necessary to do so. This suggests that the 1852 plan shows the intended — not the actual — position of the guns. The fact that the plan was drawn before the ramparts were completed may be taken as further support for this assumption. I would suggest, in addition, that the remaining eight ground platforms were also shown in their intended, not their actual, positions. If we accept the fact that the other positions were intended for howitzers, then it is reasonable to assume that the howitzers and ground platforms were kept in storage, and the embrasures shown on these positions were not cut. The 1856 report supports this hypothesis.28

None of the documentation cited above provides any information about the type of carraige intended for the 24-pounders mounted in the casemates of defence. Until more evidence comes to light, this subject will remain a mystery.

The report of the 1856 committee on the state of the Citadel29 sheds light on some of the specific problems of the armament and ramparts. The report also contains recommendations for the reconstruction of the parapet revetments in the ravelins. The parapet of the north and south ravelins was originally revetted with brick. The committee noted that the Commanding Royal Engineer already had permission to remove the brickwork, and went on to recommend that the masonry and brickwork in the interior of the ravelins be reduced "as far as possible."30 The brick revetments in the north and south ravelins were removed.31 It is impossible to tell whether those in the west ravelin were likewise removed. Certainly the masonry embrasures (unique in the Citadel) were not altered.32

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