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THE DICTATOR

SIEGE OF PETERSBURG

JUNE 1864- APRIL 1865

The monster mortar, cast by Mr. Carles Knapp, at his celebrated iron works in Pittsburg, Pa., was used for a short time in the summer of 1864, during the siege operations in front of Petersburg. Owing to its immense weight, 17,120 pounds, it was transported from City Point on a railway truck along the City Point and Petersburg Railroad, to a point in the ravine in rear of what is now generally known as Battery No. 5, near the Jordan House, a side track from the main road being constructed especially for the purpose of moving it. The position selected from which to fire it, was admirably concealed from the ever-vigilant eye of the enemy. The truck was so strong and substantially built as to answer a platform for the mortar.

The Dictator is a 13-inch mortar, firing a shell weighing two hundred pounds, with a charge of twenty pounds of powder. At an angle of elevation of forty-five degrees the range is set down in the Ordnance Manual at 4,235 yards; but, if it is true that the shell thrown by it reached Centre Hill, in Petersburg, as the writer was informed by a very reliable gentleman of that city, then it must have been carried at least 2.7 miles, or 4,752 yards. The bursting of the shell was described as terrific, an immense crater being formed in the ground where it fell, and earth, stones, and sod being scattered in every direction, much to the consternation of the inhabitants of the place.

Caption taken from original text, Plate 75, Vol. II, Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War (Washington: Philp & Solomons, 1865-66)

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Original Acrylic Painitng
Dec 2005
Photos showing the Dictator installed on a fixed firing platform. The transporting rail car can be seen next to the platform. My best guess is that this was a special side track built by the USMRR off of the CP&P right of way.

This photo is the inspiration for the latest diorama. The artillery officer casually leaning against the massive Dictator Mortar makes an interesting contrast. As fearsome as the Dictator appeared, it was relatively ineffective due to it's low rate of fire and inaccuracy.

The cart that transported the mortar was crude, even by ACW standards. It was relatively easy to scratchbuild. The wheel was an unusual nine-spoke design. I could not find one from model railroad sources, so I had to scratchbuild it. I made molds of the wheels and trucks and cast copies

These are the masters and molds. I used a new Aluminite product called 5 Minute Mold Putty. It is a RTV that is in putty, not liquid, form. You mix it in your hands like epoxy putty. Then impress the master in the putty and wait five minutes. The putty cures fast. You an cast parts right away. No waiting over night!

To make sure I get good coverage I mix extra putty so that an excess protrudes from the master mold box. Then I use a block of wood and a clamp to pressurize the putty. The resulting stress forces the putty into all the cracks and undercuts, Works well for small parts so far.

I scratchbuilt the officer using an mannekin master I created and cast. It can be used for other figures too. Then I added a stock head from Shenandoah that looks amazing like the figure in the photo.

The 13 inch mortar is a stock Verlinden 1/32 scale kit.

The scene is coming along. I sculpted a wicker basket using a Pink Pearl eraser as a mandrel. I had to break the basket carefully to get the dried putty off the mandrel, but I was able to reglue it without a problem. Now I need to detail the inside of the basket. The other parts come with the mortar kit.

This is the result of three iterations of primer and sanding to remove flaws. I know I reached the stop point when I started making more flaws than I was fixing. Next step is paint.