Daily Archives: 9 January 2009

Henry N. Hooper Napoleons

Keeping with a post topic theme – the minuscule differences among the Federal 12-pounder Napoleon – a couple of guns near the High Water Mark at Gettysburg demonstrate one more variation.

The High Water Mark Monument at Gettysburg

The High Water Mark Monument at Gettysburg

Lots of minutia to examine around the monument, but I’ll save that for a marker entry.  What is on topic today is the breech end of these two Napoleons with the brown hue.  These guns were produced by Henry N. Hooper & Company, of Boston, Massachusetts.

Hooper Napoleon #281 at the High Water Mark

Breech of Hooper Napoleon #281

Breech of Hooper Napoleon # 24

Breech of Hooper Napoleon # 24

Note at the top of the breech, the Hooper Napoleon has the mounting point for the hausse seat.  However, at the bottom of the breech, no fixture mirrors the hausse seat mount.   Registry number 281 actually has the hausse seat still mounted, and damaged I might add.

Compare the Hooper guns to that of a gun displayed nearby at the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery (Brown’s) Battery.

Alger Napoleon #58

Alger Napoleon #58

Yes that’s the 42nd New York Infantry monument in the background.

Here’s an off angle view of the other piece at the battery.

Alger Napoleon #122

Alger Napoleon #122

Easier to make out is that “tab” at the bottom of the breech face.  The fixture at the bottom was sometimes referred as a “base plate” and helped interface the gun with the elevation screw.  Before making the comment “but it doesn’t touch the elevating screw,” recall the modern day display carriage is a generic reproduction.  It was designed and built as a “one size fits all” carriage to display the Park’s extensive artillery collection, not as a purely accurate 12-pounder carriage.  The “real” carriage was a bit larger in dimension from those on display today (and of course featuring a wood construction).  The elevating screw on the authentic carriages actually beared against the fixture at the bottom of the breech.

The older pattern field artillery types, notably those using the “Model 1841″ profile, had a breech ring around that end of the gun.  With the “Model 1857″ (and even more so in the “Model 1861″ profile), the breech ring was removed to avoid stress points in castings.  My take is the Ordnance officers felt the need for a “base plate” fixture in order to ensure the elevating screw worked flush against the gun.  But, well into the production run, someone noticed it really didn’t make much difference.  A 1200 pound gun tube is going to lay on the elevating screw any darn way it wants to!

The Cyrus Alger and Ames contracts for Napoleons were all initiated before 1862.  Revere Copper’s first contracts for Napoleons were in 1861.  Perhaps the Ordnance officers opted not to tinker with the established and proofed casting molds there.  But when Henry N. Hooper of Boston was first contracted in 1862, the design omitted the “base plate.”  And as discussed on an earlier post, out in Cincinnati, the Miles Greenwood foundry just removed both the “base plate” and hausse mounting fixture.  For review and reference, here’s the breech of the “Western” Napoleon:

Breech of Greenwood Napoleon

And just so one does not think the High Water Mark guns are just some production lot variation at Hooper, a gun on display at the National Cemetery representing Battery I,  1st Ohio (Dilger’s) also lacks the “base plate”:

Hooper Napoleon #146

Hooper Napoleon #146

And to boot, this one has the hausse seat attached.

Was there any real operational difference between a “Hooper” and an “Alger” Napoleon?  None that I would see.  Of course in today’s army, the Hooper guns would have some ancillary nomenclature like “Gun, Field, M-1857A1E1″ or such.  (And when the laser gun sight was mounted, this would become “Gun, Field, M-1857A1E1B1″, got it? Neither does anyone outside of Aberdeen if it makes you feel better.)

However, this slight difference in the guns is of note for “cannon hunters” today.  Since nearly all the markings on the Napoleons are muzzle end, and all too often corroded beyond casual identification, the lack of a “base plate” is another clue to the gun’s origin.

Muzzle of Hooper #281 at High Water Mark

Muzzle of Hooper #281 at High Water Mark

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Sources consulted:

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.