State of Alaska > Natural Resources > Parks and Outdoor Recreation > History and Archaeology
Michael W. Strunk and J. David McMahan
The Castle Hill excavations producedapproximately 300 weaponry-related artifacts associated with hunting and defense of the Russian settlement. These munitions, gun parts, and firearm accoutrements constitute a sizable collection, although constituting a small part of the overall collection. They are categorized as gunflints (n = 135); lead shot (n = 52); lead sprue (n = 19); iron shot, including cannonballs, grape shot and/or canister shot (n = 49); gun parts (n = 23); a single powder can lid; and a single saber blade fragment. Additionally, the collection includes a variety of spent cartridge casings (n = 38) from disturbed deposits which post-date Russian occupation of the site. Some of these probably relate to the early U.S. occupation of Sitka following the transfer. Weaponry was an important component of New Arkhangels material culture, particularly in light of the tenuous relationship between the Russians and Tlingit. S.I. Yanovskii, acting Chief Manager at Sitka during 1818-1820, published an order:
Every commander should inspect his guns as often as possible; they should be clean; the powder should be dry and flints and all supplies should be in readiness; it should be impressed upon those who are assigned to the various posts that they should have their guns in good working order and know their posts...
The fort is strongly guarded. Everyone depends on our guards. Inspectors and guards alike should be on the alert all the time [Khlebnikov 1994:184-185].
When Litke visited Sitka in 1826, he noted "one of the towers along the fortress walls houses the arsenal, with enough firearms and hand arms for over a thousand men, kept in good order (Litke 1987:58)." For the same year, Khlebnikov calculated the capital worth of the arsenal at 140,600 rubles, excluding artillery on ships and at outposts. He itemized the main articles of the arsenal as follows: "49 cast iron cannons and carronades; 15 falconets; 28 copper [brass?] cannons of various calibers; 43 various muskets; 1,368 various military rifles; 34 hunting rifles; 53 carbines; 291 pistols; 205 rifles; 95 carbines, sabers, cutlass, shot, canisters and various artillery shells; and powder" (Khlebnikov 1994:174). Khlebnikov also described several rare weapons from the main office:
... two Persian carbines, one of which is worth 450 rubles; one saber inlaid with precious stones worth 560 rubles; two Persian yatagans made of silver, 210 rubles; one Dalmatian saber, 112 rubles; one set of Persian pistols made of silver, 300 rubles, and one rifle with gold inlay, 150 rubles [Khlebnikov 1994:175].
Some information is available on the types and sources of Russian artillery pieces that remained in Sitka during the mid-20th century. A document prepared by Donald Clark (n.d.), apparently for Sitka National Historical Park around 1965, indicates that 18 cannons were on display in Sitka and others were in private collections. Clark cited documentation that 150 cannons were transferred to the U.S. at the time of the Alaska Purchase in 1867. While the fate of these is largely unknown, some were eventually used as dead-man pilings or placed in private collections (George Hall, personal communication) and others may have been used as anchors in the channel at Sitka (Clark n.d.). A number of Russian cannons and carronades remain in Sitka, and are displayed around Castle Hill and other public areas (Figure 12.1). These are believed to be naval guns removed from ships for coastal defense.
The Castle Hill Assemblage
Iron shot: Iron shot in the Castle Hill assemblage includes spherical solid shot used in cannons and carronades, as well as smaller grape shot and canister shot. No hollow explosive projectiles were recovered, although Clark (n.d.) reported examples at Sheldon Jackson Museum. The majority of the Castle Hill specimens are attributed to grape or canister shot, and a lesser number to lightweight swivel guns. Measurements of the Castle Hill specimens are regarded approximate due to corrosion and the presence of rust encrustation on some specimens at the time of measurement.
Only three larger cannonballs were recovered (Table 12.1; Figure 12.2). The largest (98-8207), weighing 13.3 lbs. (diameter = 4.8 in.), might have been intended for use in a naval gun of the twelve-to-eighteen pounder class. It was recovered from the base of a large postmold near the top of the hill where it was apparently used as a post prop. Pottery sherds from this feature
Table 12.1. Dimensions and weights for Castle Hill iron shot.
(Feature 98-UT-3) produced a mean ceramic date of 1825 and a terminus post quem ceramic date of 1838. Another large projectile (98-8630), weighing 10 lbs. (diameter = 4.4 in.), might have been intended for use in a naval gun of the nine-to-twelve pounder class. It was recovered from the surface during construction monitoring on the slopes of the hill. The third largest specimen (98-2205) consists of half of a solid shot that was broken hemispherically. The specimen served as a prop in the base of a postmold associated with Building 3, a probable workshop (mean ceramic date = 1822). The fragment weighs 3.46 lbs. The complete weight, by extension, was approximately 6.9 lbs. (diameter = 3.6 in.). It probably was intended for use in a six-pounder class naval gun. The remaining projectiles in the collection (n = 46) range from 0.59-1.97 in. (15-50 mm) in diameter. The largest of these (n = 7; 1.57-1.97 in.) probably were intended for use in swivel guns. The others are probably grape and/or canister shot. Measurements of the Castle Hill specimens were compared against British standards for naval ordnance, which may vary from Russian standards. This may account for our inability to precisely match the Castle Hill specimens against bore diameters for British ordnance. Because many grape and canister shot are contained within a single charge, size variation between the shot is inconsequential. Lead Shot: The Castle Hill lead shot (n = 52), with the exception of two modern conical specimens from disturbed levels, is comprised of roundballs ranging in size from .068 - 0.956 in. (1.7 24 mm). The smallest is a single bird shot, eight are within the general size limits of buckshot, 23 are within the .36 to .58 caliber range, 12 are within the .60 caliber range, and 7 are in the .77 to .80 caliber range. Figure 12.3 attempts to estimate projectile/bore caliber from corresponding weights. Weight-caliber correlations were obtained from the 2002 Dixie Gunworks catalog and from Donald Spires (personal communication), an archaeologist with an extensive collection and knowledge of black-powder firearms. While tabulation by weight overcomes diameter distortion due to projectile deformation, it should be regarded approximate due to differences in lead alloy and corrosion. Considerable variability may be found in the ball diameters used in a weapon of a particular bore size, depending on windage (i.e., the difference between the bore and ball diameters). Due to the buildup of powder deposits on the walls of the bore, balls considerably smaller than the bore were shot (Hamilton 1987:125). The thickness of the patch material placed around a ball also determines usable size. For example, some of the rifled revolvers didnt use patches at all (Donald Spires, personal communication). The term "caliber" in Figure 12.3 follows modern usage (e.g., .32 caliber = a bore with a diameter of .32 in.). There is no correlation between modern usage of the term caliber and the 18th century French calibre (Hamilton 1987:125). The majority of the Castle Hill specimens are of large caliber, which would be expected of the smoothbore military muskets in use during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. For example, the British colonial "Brown Bess" musket had a bore diameter of approximately .75 caliber. These type muskets, which fired round balls approaching the diameter of quarters, were very slow to load, highly inaccurate, and prone to frequent misfires (Canadian War Museum). Almost a century later, Sydney Skertchly (1879:4) conducted an experiment by firing a flintlock pistol 100 times, beginning with a new flint. He found that the pistol fired 36 times, flashed without setting off the charge 25 times, and missed fire 39 times. The early Russian firearms were also viewed as inaccurate and unreliable. As late as the 1840s, Zagoskin (1967:132) wrote "the natives themselves recognize that they have nothing to fear from our weapons, as they can seize them." Despite these misgivings, flintlock technology existed for almost 300 years without change. BLM archaeologist Charles Adkins (personal communication), experienced in the use of flintlocks, attributes the perceived unreliability to problems of teaching soldiers with no mechanical background to operate complex machinery under stress. The largest number of Castle Hill roundballs (n = 12) fall within the general size range of .69 caliber, a popular musket size throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The standard arm of American military troops during the late 18th and early 19th centuries was the .69 caliber Springfield musket. Many Civil War era weapons also used .69 caliber roundballs. The French Tulle hunting gun, a popular trade musket throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, was characterized by a .61-.62 in. bore and may account for a few Castle Hill specimens in the .58-.61 caliber range. The broad range of intermediate calibers (i.e., .36,.40, .44-.50, and .58) in the Castle Hill collection might suggest diversification of the arsenal and acquisition from new markets as the large, smoothbore muskets were replaced over time with more efficient weapons. Without detailed stratigraphic analysis, however, this is speculative.
Few of the Castle Hill roundballs, based on deformation, appear to actually have been fired from a weapon. The condition of several specimens suggests they were discarded prior to use due to unsatisfactory mold results. Indicators include balls with misaligned hemispheres, untrimmed sprue, and cavities opposite the sprue. The latter characteristic is produced as a result of "cold molds," prior to the mold being heated by subsequent uses of hot lead. Other specimens are encircled by phalanges due to incomplete mold closure. These observations suggest that bullet making was a daily activity in the workshop area, reinforced by the recovery of sprue (lead trimmed from the pour holes of the molds) from both gang molds (multiple shot) and single-shot molds (Figure 12.4). A database with lead shot measurements is included in Appendix 4.2.
Gunflints: The Castle Hill assemblage includes 135 whole and fragmentary gunflints, of which 90 were complete enough to record attributes. It is possible that some of the fragmentary specimens excluded from the attribute database were strike-a-lights used with a "flint-and-steel" for producing sparks. There is no archaeological evidence for the use of percussion firearms inCastle Hills early 19th century workshop deposits, although the technology was available. As early as 1826, Baron von Kittlitz made note of the percussion musket that he used in Sitka:
The swampy spots in the bushes made hunting especially difficult at the time because we were using rather obsolete muzzle-loaders. To be sure, Dr. Mertens had left me one since I needed one more here than any place else but it did not help me much at all, because many of the detonating caps were spoiled and the gun itself soon needed repairs something that could not be done on board ship [in Litke 1987:136, italics added].
The lack of evidence for percussion technology in the deposits might be due to a general lack of preservation of copper caps, but is more likely a product of general firearms usage. Despite the reference by von Kittlitz to "obsolete muzzle-loaders," the percussion technology was still relatively rare in the first quarter of the 19th century. While company employees of higher status may have had access to these newer or re-fitted weapons, standard issue for the troops and laborers more likely consisted of smooth-bore military flintlocks. This is born out by both the large number of gunflints from the workshop deposits and by the preponderance of large caliber balls in the lead shot assemblage. The Sitka arsenal may have been gradually upgraded and/or re-fitted as percussion technology became more widespread on a global basis. In the United States, for example, many of the previously issued military flintlock muskets were re-fitted with percussion locks during the mid-19th century. Illustrations by the Japanese drifter, Jerokichi, depict both flintlock and percussion lock muskets in the Russian arsenal at Okhotsk in 1841 (Plummer 1991:64-65), perhaps indicating a transitional period that extended into Russian America. By 1879, the gunflint trade was greatly reduced in Britain, but was due more from lack of labor than from lack of demand (Skertchly 1879:4). In more remote areas of the world, flintlock usage continued into the 20th century.
Attributes of the Castle Hill gunflints (n = 90) are reported in Appendix 4.2 (database files). Gunflints are comprised of two basic types: those made from flakes struck from prepared blade cores and those made from spalls struck from nodules or cores (Hamilton 1987:138). The former, which are prismatic in appearance, were first made by the French in the late 17th century. Although carefully guarded by the French, the British discovered this manufacturing technology around 1780, probably from a French prisoner (Hamilton 1987:141). British and French gunflints are typically distinguished on the basis of color and length/width attributes, although the separation may not be as simple as once believed (e.g., Hamilton 1987:146; Emery 1987:148-153). French gunflints were typically struck from a glossy translucent yellowish "honey" flint, whereas British gunflints were struck from a non-glossy flint of dark gray to solid black color (Hamilton and Emery 1988:13). French gunflints are generally longer from side-to-side (parallel to prism) than from edge-to-edge, but evolved into an almost square shape by the beginning of the 19th century (ibid). British gunflints are generally shorter side-to-side than from edge-to-edge (ibid). They were retouched or replaced as necessary to consistently spark when contacting the frizzen. Recurring modification during the life of a flint sometimes reversed the original axis. For this reason, Castle Hill gunflints were classified on the basis of material type.
The Castle Hill gunflints for which attributes were recorded
(n = 90) may be broken down into British (82%), French (14%),
and indeterminate (4%) (Figures 12.5 and 12.6). Almost all are
prismatic. There is no good evidence for the use of local materials
in the collection. While the Castle Hill assemblage includes a
preponderance of finished gunflints, several examples of unmodified
British flint nodules were recovered. These are distinguished
by the characteristic dark flint covered by a chalky cortex. It
is conceivable that these small specimens were fortuitously included
in containers of gunflints shipped from England. The manufacture
of prismatic gunflints required specialized skill probably not
available in Sitka.
Gun Parts and Accoutrements: Twenty-four miscellaneous gun parts and accoutrements were recovered from the workshop area (Table 12.2, Appendix 4.2). These include a bullet mold handle (n = 1), cockscrew (n = 1), frizzen (n = 1), powder can cap (n = 1), ramrod ferrules (n = 8), sideplates (n = 3), sling swivel (n = 1), trigger guards (n = 5), and worms (n = 3). All except the bullet mold handle and one of the ramrod ferrules, from the sheet midden, can be associated with the dated buildings.
Table 12.2. Gun parts and accoutrements
from the Castle Hill workshop area.
The excavation of Building 1, with a mean ceramic date of 1827, produced the cockscrew, a sideplate, and four of the ramrod ferrules. All are of copper or copper alloy. This building is believed to have been quarters for the shopworkers (Chapter 6), although evidence suggests that the building was used for work activities as well. Chief Manager F.P. Wrangell, writing to the main office in June 1832 regarding necessary work, states:
12. In the gunsmiths [trade]. Examine and repair the company guns requiring repair and keep them clean.
13. In the house builders [trade]. Completely finish the new workshops and move out of the old ones, with the condition that the artisans no longer live in the shops, the new ones [Wrangell, in Arndt and Pierce 2001:96].
The sideplate from Building 1 is mostly complete with no discernable
markings. The cockscrew, indicative of flintlock maintenance or
repair, is the screw that closes the jaws on the flint. Ramrod
ferrules are the cylindrical guides that hold the wooden ramrods
in place on the under-side of the stock (Lenk 1965:8-9). Some
ferrules appear to have been cast, while others were constructed
of sheet copper (Figure 12.7). Each firearm had several such guides,
which would have required routine maintenance due to constant
use of the ramrod for loading and cleaning. These items indicate
that gun repair was an activity associated with Building 1. A
single saber blade segment with a longitudinal "blood groove"
(Figure 12.8) was recovered 15 cm below the Building 1 floor deposit
and relates to pre-1827 activities. Buildings stood in this vicinity
as early as 1805.
The excavation of Building 3, with a mean ceramic date of 1822, produced a sideplate fragment and the tang (rear) end of a trigger guard. This building is believed to have been a metalworkers shop (Chapter 6). The gun parts, which are incomplete, might have been removed and discarded during the re-fitting of weapons. The excavation of Building 4, with a mean ceramic date of 1835, produced two ramrod ferrules, the finial (forward) portion of a trigger guard, and a powder can cap. This building, represented by few structural remains, probably stood until at least the mid-19th century. It may have been the building depicted as a bath house on the 1867 transfer map (DeArmond 1981:72-73, Bldg. 9). The building ruins are difficult to interpret due to extensive disturbance by 20th century gardening and trail construction. It is possible that some artifacts were originally associated with the earlier workshops, but were disturbed by construction of Building 4 or subsequent activities. The cast lead powder can screw cap bears the markings "CPW" over "SC" (Figure 12.9), and is somewhat similar to one recovered at Kolmakovskiy Redoubt (Oswalt 1980:50-51). The Kolmakovskiy specimen was marked "C.P.W.S.F. CAL," and believed to be an abbreviation for the California Powder Works. The California Powder Works, in Santa Cruz ("SC") was founded in December 1861 to manufacture gunpowder for use in the Civil War (Museum of the City of San Francisco 2002).
The bullet mold handle and a ramrod ferrule were recovered from the sheet midden associated with Buildings 1, 2, and 3. Ceramic dating suggests that the midden (Stratum IIa) dates from 1805-1840. The remaining gun parts in the collection, from either Stratum I or the surface collection, cannot be assigned to a specific context due to disturbance. They include three worms (implements used for extracting shot), a ramrod ferrule, a sling swivel, a frizzen (the part of a flintlock mechanism struck by the flint to produce a spark), a mostly complete trigger guard, the mid-section of a trigger guard, the finial portion of a trigger guard, and a complete sideplate. Examples are depicted in Figure 12.10. The sideplate bears the stamped markings "L_O" (exterior surface) and "__P" (interior surface) (Figure 12.11). It is reminiscent of components of the sturdy but plain French Tulle hunting gun, although in brass rather than iron (Hamilton 1987:31, 47).
Cartridges: Excavations produced 38 cartridge casings and shot shells from upper disturbed deposits in the workshop area (Table 12.3). While most are modern, the assemblage spans the period from the earliest American military occupation to the present. Archaeologist Donald Spires, from a cursory examination of the data, observed:
All marked UMC date from the later 1800s to around 1940. The military use of the 30 U.S. (30/40 Krag) dates from c. 1892-1903. The 6 mm UMC is the Lee (.236) Navy cartridge, in use from c. 18851910. No factory ammunition has been produced for this caliber since 1935. The 50/70 was standard military issue from 1867 to 1873, but may have lasted for several more years in Alaska until the modified MZ trapdoor Springfields could be replaced with the newly made 1873 45/70 caliber. The 45/70 dates from 1873 to the early 1900s for military usage, with civilian usage until present. The 38 long (Colt) dates from 1875 to present, or from 1865 to present if a 38 long RF, with a centerfire version being developed in the early 1870s. The 44 SWR (Smith and Wesson Russian) was developed around 1867-68 for the S&W Model 3 revolver. The Czar equipped his troops with this model [after 1870]. While a Russian military caliber, it was common on the western frontier with both civilians and the military [Spires 2002; also, see Barnes 1993].
In all likelihood, none of the cartridges would have been available in Sitka until after the 1867 transfer ceremony. Several specimens, such as the 50/70, 45/70, and 44 SWR probably relate to the American military presence in Sitka from 1867-1877. Although the popular .22 rimfire cartridge was developed in the 1850s, the recovered examples are attributed to modern usage based on style and markings.
Table 12.3. Cartridges from the Castle Hill workshop area,
The arms and ordnance from Castle Hill document patterns of use and disposal consistent with interpretations of other material classes. Of the four buildings identified in the workshop area, two are interpreted as metalshops (Buildings 2 and 3) and one as a combination workshop and barracks (Building 1). The fourth structure (Building 4), considerably later that the others, was too disturbed to draw a conclusion based on archaeological evidence. The gun parts, some in broken condition, associated with Building 1 and 3 floor deposits suggest that small arms, probably solely flintlock, repair was one of several activities conducted within or around these structures. Gun parts were notably absent from deposits associated with Building 2, which slightly predates Buildings 1 and 3. This building, which housed a forge, may have been too small and hot for prolonged activities such as gun repair. Khlebnikov, in his report for July and August, 1830, wrote of the specialized trades at New Arkhangel:
Metalworkers in two shops. One worker is responsible for cleaning and repairing firearms from the arsenal; the other for repairing instruments in port and performing work on ships; for building, repairing locks, etc. Due to the large amount of work, it is seldom impossible to perform any new work [Khlebnikov, in Pierce 1994:140].
It is likely that Khlebnikov was describing Building 1 or 3 with regard to gunsmithing. The presence of gangmold sprue, lead spatter, and defective/discarded lead shot suggests that the workers were also manufacturing ammunition in the workshop area. Gun parts in the most recent structure (Building 4) may be the result of disturbance of earlier deposits, although a post-1861 powder can top is clearly within the range of use for Building 4.
Artillery ordnance, comprised of solid spherical iron shot, was more dispersed across the site. These items, mostly from disturbed context, are probably the products of day-to-day maintenance of the batteries. The sizes of recovered specimens are consistent with the use of Naval artillery that included swivel guns, six-pounders, 9-12 pounders, and 12-18 pounders. Interestingly, some of the larger projectiles were secondarily used as post supports for early 19th century structures. Spent cartridge casings in the collection are virtually all from disturbed context, and span the range of American use of the site after 1867.
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