01238 - 13 inch mortar 'Dictator'; Petersburg, Virginia September 1, 1864 [LC-DIG-cwpb-01238]
Weighing in at a staggering 17,000 pounds, the “Dictator” could swallow mortar shells 13 inches across and then fire the 220 pound shell more than two and a half miles, using 20 pounds of powder. By comparison, typical field cannons fired a shell of 12 pounds, using 1-2 pounds of powder. The “large” cannons that were permanently mounted in forts, would fire a 20 pound ball, using two pounds of powder. Both of these cannons had a range of just over a mile, both with bore diameters fewer than five inches and a weight of 1/10 that of the Dictator.
The Dictator was so staggering in size that a special rail car had to be built just to move it into position. Special track was laid to move it to a position outside of Petersburg in 1864. Between July and September, it fired 218 rounds, causing the ground to quake as the shells impacted. This fire power was enough to destroy any bomb shelter and caused the Confederates to withdraw from a firing position on the Union line.
Following the war, the mortar disappeared. Record of its destruction has not been found. However, it probably no longer exists.