18 pound Confederate Cannon called 'Whistling Dick'
There are several artillery pieces used during the Civil War that have famous nicknames. There is the famed Federal siege gun called the 'Swamp Angel' at Charleston, South Carolina. Brigadier General William Pendleton who was a pre-war preacher named his four cannons after the four gospels of the Bible. There is also the famed 'Widow Blakely' of Vicksburg fame. There was another artillery piece at Vicksburg with a nickname and that piece was called 'Whistling Dick'.
'Whistling Dick' wasn't that large of a piece, it was small in comparison with the 150 pound Armstrong and other siege guns. It was too heavy to be used in field service. Although there were 20 pound field pieces and even 32 pound field guns, 'Whistling Dick' was heavy for an 18 pounder. The iron cannon was rifled and had reinforced bands on the back to prevent the tube from exploding when fired. It had been built at Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond.
The gun would gain fame because of a whistling sound the oddly rifled weapon caused the shells to make in flight. The weapon was originally a model 1839 smoothbore cannon that was later rifled. It became a legend when Union veterans at post-war reunions would claim to have been narrowly missed by fire from 'Whistling Dick'. There have been many theories on why the shells made a whistling sound after the gun was rifled, but no one today can be sure what caused this phenomenon.
'Whistling Dick' served more as a psychological weapon than a true threat to Federal forces. It interrupted Ulysses Grant's canal digging operation when he tried to bypass Vicksburg. Although the chances of 'Whistling Dick' hitting someone was minute, it caused slaves and soldiers Grant used for digging to run for cover. It is also rumored to have caused severe damage on Federal dredging machines.
The ironic part about the famous Confederate artillery piece is the fact that it was served by a company of Louisiana Cavalry. These cavalrymen were well disciplined and learned to handle 'Whistling Dick' rather well. They have been credited with sinking the Federal ironclad U.S.S. Cincinnati. The most amazing part about this particular cannon is the fact that it served well throughout the siege of Vicksburg and following the surrender of that river fortress it disappeared. There is no evidence today of what happened to this famed Confederate artillery piece that earned the nickname 'Whistling Dick'.