Daily Archives: 18 November 2009

The 32-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1844

As big and ponderous as the 24-pdr Field Howitzers were, the Army issued and used an even larger howitzer during the Civil War – the 32-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1844.   The 32-pdr fired the largest caliber projectile, in terms of bore diameter, available in regular field service at the time.  The chart below compares the principle field and siege howitzer types used in the war.

The impressive features of the 32-pdr were the range and shell weight.  But its weight was 600 pounds more than the 24-pdr (and only about 650-700 pounds shy of the siege howitzers).   As mentioned in the post regarding the mobility of artillery, the 32-pdrs Howitzer on its carriage, with limber, chest, and equipment weighed 4,575 pounds.  The caisson for this big howitzer weighed 3,811 pounds.  Thus the 32-pdr Howitzer required sixteen horses to haul itself and ready ammunition into battle.   According to the Ordinance Manual of 1849 (page 11), the 32-pdr Field Howitzer used the same carriage as the 12-pdr Field Gun.

The Army developed the 32-pdr in the early 1840s for use in some heavy field batteries in lieu of 24-pdr howitzers.  These heavy batteries used four 12-pdr field guns (heavy, not the Napoleon) with two of the howitzers, either 32- or 24-pounder.   Authorized in 1843, the Army considered the 32-pdr a “shell-gun” (see page 283 of The Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material, and Tactics of the Artillery, published in 1884).

The term “shell-gun” implied the weapon fit in the class with naval guns designed to fire shells, instead of solid shot, at low angles.  Such employment seems unlikely, as the shot tables for the 32-pdr demonstrated ballistics in line with traditional howitzers.  The Army Ordnance Manuals cite several weapons of similar caliber in the tables listing foreign weapons.  Perhaps instead of operating in a rather unorthodox manner, for land service, the 32-pdr was simply the U.S. Army’s design to compete with heavy howitzers in the European armies.

The Ordnance Manual of 1862 designated this weapon with the model year 1844, noting the same general arrangement and adornment as the patterns of 1841. The howitzer tube featured, much like its smaller cousins, muzzle, chase, and base rings, with no muzzle swell.  The first reinforce ended with a step just forward of the trunnions.  As with the 24-pdr Howitzer, a pair of handles or dolphins adorned the area over the trunnions.  But the most distinctive feature was a small reinforce, four inches wide, between the trunnions and base ring, positioned over the lip of the chamber.

A 32-pdr Model 1844 lays, rather conveniently for comparison, next to a 24-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1841 in the artillery display at Petersburg National Battlefield.

24-pdr (left) and 32-pdr Field Howitzers - Petersburg NBP

Aside from the small reinforce band and the greater bulk, the 32-pdr had one internal difference.  The larger howitzer featured a 4.62 inch diameter, 7 inch deep chamber – the same diameter as the 24-pdr howitzer, only deeper.

Cyrus Alger and Ames Manufacturing produced, collectively, 25 of the 32-pdr howitzers between 1847 and 1857.  Both manufacturers conformed to existing styles for handles, with a half-octagon cross-section.  On Alger’s castings, a rectangular pad attached the handles to the tube.  Ames used a half-octagon pad instead.

Ames Half-Octagon Trunnion Attachment Pads

With limited production, all antebellum, the Army issued the 32-pdr as “limited standard.”  But even as late as 1877, the Army retained and required inventory of stocks and stores supporting the 32-pdr Field Howitzer.

During the Civil War, The Army shunted the 32-pdr, much like the 24-pdr howitzer, largely replacing the weapons with handier 12-pdr Light “Napoleon” Field Guns and light rifled guns.  But the 32-pdr howitzer saw active service in field armies, both east and west, appearing on at least a couple important battlefields.  Both Federal and Confederate armies used the type in fortifications and siege lines up to the end of the war.  I will look at the service history of the type in my next post on this topic.

But for now let me point to a “demo” of the 32-pdr Field Howitzer in action:

Looks like rounds on target!

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Aside from on site notes, inline citations, and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

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.

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997.

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