Rhode Island–born Charles Tillinghast James, the namesake inventor of the James Rifle, was an expert on textile machinery who sought and won election to the U.S. Senate. His assignments included the chairmanship of the Patents Committee.

James also served in the Rhode Island militia, and while serving in Congress, he took active interest in ordnance. James’ first projectile patent cited the use of “a band of fibrous packing around a cannon-ball with a means of distending it into the scores or rifles of the cannon…by the pressure of the explosive gas….” That projectile caught the interest of the U.S. Army, keen to move to rifled artillery, and the Ordnance Department issued a contract to James on December 15, 1860, to rifle one-half of the cannon in the Army’s inventory, and all calibers from 6-pounder field guns up to 42-pounder seacoast guns.

James Rifles is a catch-all name given to any bronze smoothbore that has been rifled. But a true James Rifle is one that was bored to a diameter to use one of Charles T. James unique shells.
James Rifles is a catch-all name given to any bronze smoothbore that has been rifled. But a true James Rifle is one that was bored to a diameter to use one of Charles T. James unique shells.

At the First Battle of Bull Run, a Union battery of James Rifles was the first in action on Matthews Hill. The James, however, was never very popular in the Eastern Theater, and by Gettysburg in July 1863, only one Union battery used them. Rather, the James was used mostly in the Western Theater and played a prominent role at Vicksburg, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. But by the time of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, the bronze rifles were on the decline, sent mostly to outposts and garrisons as front-line batteries received Ordnance and Parrott rifles. Confederates did use the James Rifles they captured. Given limited ammunition supplies, however, a good number of these were salvaged for the bronze and were recast as Napoleons. (For a full discussion of the James Rifle and its variants, go to https://www.historynet.com/the-james-rifle.htm.) ✯