Confederate artillerymen at Vicksburg, Mississippi used a variety of guns to defend against U.S. Navy gunboats during the campaign and siege of that city, including smoothbore and rifled cannon, plus heavy mortars. The rifled cannon included one Blakely 7.5 inch rifle; because it was the only one of its type present, it was nicknamed “The Widow Blakely”.
Blakely rifles were designed by Captain Theophilus A. Blakely of the British army. Blakely owned no foundries or factories for the production of his cannons, but contracted with established manufacturers to make the weapons. Blakely could not get the British government interested in his cannons, but he did sell a few hundred overseas, including several to the Confederate government. A few Blakelys made it into Federal service, but most of those found on this side of the Atlantic were used by the Confederate army.
The Mississippi River defenses at Vicksburg were challenged regularly by the Federal Navy, so the Widow Blakely saw plenty of action. The gun was manned by the 1st Louisiana Heavy Artillery. During the Mississippi Squadron’s passage of Vicksburg on April 16, 1863, the Widow Blakely landed three shots on the U.S.S. Lafayette from several hundred yards away. On May 22nd, while firing on some Union ironclads, a shell exploded in the barrel of the gun, blowing off part of the end of the gun tube. The damaged portion was cut off, and the shorter barreled Widow Blakely fought the rest of the campaign as a howitzer.
After the surrender of Vicksburg, the Widow Blakely was taken to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where it stayed for 96 years before being returned to Vicksburg. It is now on display at the Louisiana Circle park unit of Vicksburg National Military Park, about a mile south of its location during the campaign.
Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, revised edition
by James C. Hazlett, Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks.