Confederate 12-pdr Field Howitzers – Part 2, Iron Types

Under the pressures of war and shortage of resources, Confederate gun-makers often turned to cast iron instead of bronze.  Even though production shifted away from the 12-pdr Howitzers by mid-war, Southern foundries delivered a fair number of the type cast in iron.  As mentioned in the previous post on Confederate 12-pdr Howitzers, I arbitrarily group surviving examples of these iron howitzers into two groups – those that resemble the Model 1841 form to some degree and those with smooth lines resembling the Model 1861 forms.

Of the former group, perhaps the best known representative is a howitzer of unknown origin located at Antietam.  The weapon is presumed Confederate, and represents Brockenbrough’s Baltimore Battery in the West Woods.

12-pdr Iron Howitzer of Unknown Manufacture

The piece is just over 60 inches long including the knob, or about an inch and a half longer than the regulation bronze Model 1841.  Parts of the form, particularly the muzzle and chase, recall the Federal pattern.  However, this piece lacks a step between the reinforce and chase, normally seen just in front of the trunnions.  The base ring around the breech is significantly larger than the bronze type, measuring a full 12-inches in diameter.  The knob is flattened at the back and is attached to the breech with a substantial fillet.

Muzzle of Unknown 12-pdr FH

Muzzle damage breaks up the otherwise well-defined form.  But most of the front sight survived handling and time.  The overall form implies the foundry used some elements of the Model 1841 pattern.  However, the addition of two inches of thickness at the breech may indicate the need to compensate for the fragile nature of cast iron.

In contrast, cast iron 12-pdr howitzers from Tredegar in Richmond present cleaner lines, indicating either some knowledge of stress lines or a need to simplify the casting molds.  The example below is one of a pair representing Confederate positions at Petersburg, near the Massachusetts memorial.

12-pdr Iron FH from Tredegar

From a distance, these resemble squat Ordnance Rifles, but the thickness of the barrel give away their caliber.  Around the breech is a distinct reinforce, with a carefully blended step down to the barrel.  Even the neck of the knob presents a sweeping line without any fillet.  Weight of the Tredegar iron howitzers varied between 830 to 950 pounds, easily 50 to 170 pounds more than a standard bronze type of the caliber.  Even with the extra metal, the howitzers experienced some failures.  All told Tredegar delivered around 25 of these howitzers.

Of the Western foundries, T.M. Brennan of Nashville, Tennessee provided eighteen 12-pdr cast iron howitzers before the city fell to the advancing Union army after the fall of Fort Donelson.  The piece below stands between Ketchm’s Alabama Battery and the Washington Artillery on Ruggles’ Line at Shiloh.

12-pdr Brennan FH

As with the Tredegar piece, the Brennan offers a smooth form, much resembling the Federal Model 1861 profile.  The muzzle swell is the main difference on the Brennan.  The howitzer is just over 58 inches long overall.

Other vendors producing iron 12-pdr howitzers for the Confederacy included Quinby & Robinson of Memphis, Tennessee (identified by one survivor) and  Noble Brothers of Rome, Georgia (also with one surviving example).  Some source indicate Bellona Foundry outside Richmond produced some 12-pdr field howitzers during the war, if so those likely were cast iron also.  But production of both cast iron and bronze 12-pdr howitzers ceased at the end of 1862 with directives to focus production on 12-pdr Napoleon-type guns and 10-pdr Parrotts. (see OR, Series 1, Volume 21, Serial 31, p. 1047.)

Before closing  I should mention a few other Confederate foundries where evidence indicates at least some activity associated with 12-pdr howitzers:

- A.B. Reading & Brothers of Vicksburg, Mississippi produced two bronze examples, one of which was recaptured from the Federals at Chickamauga (see Report of Capt. O.T. Gribbs, C.S. Artillery, Ordnance Officer, OR, Series 1, Volume 30, Serial 51, p. 40-43).

- Skates & Co. of Mobile, Alabama delivered one bronze 12-pdr in December 1861.

- Ellis & Moore of Nashville, Tennessee may have delivered two iron 12-pdr howitzers for the State of Tennessee in May 1861.

- Deane & Son of Lynchburg, Virginia received a contract to produce forty 12-pdr howitzers in the summer of 1861.  Likely none were delivered.

- Webster, Thomas, & Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee contracted for the State of Tennessee to deliver a battery of guns including two 12-pdr howitzers.

- J.R. Young & Company, using the Madison Iron Foundry near Huntsville, Alabama, worked to deliver batches of iron field artillery, which likely included some 12-pdr howitzers.  However production was slow and no deliveries are documented.

In summary, the Confederates out of necessity made wide use of the 12-pdr field howitzer.  Where quantities acquired from Federal sources fell short, limited production batches attempted to arm the rebel artillerists.   I would put the total number delivered as around 150 tubes all told.  While most came from Tredegar in both bronze and cast iron, sources ranged as far west as the major Mississippi River ports.  However, many of these production facilities fell to the advancing Federals by the end of 1862.  Those that didn’t were ordered to shift to production of better types.

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

Daniel, Larry J., and Riley W. Gunter.  Confederate Cannon Foundries.  Union City, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1977

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.

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2 responses to “Confederate 12-pdr Field Howitzers – Part 2, Iron Types

  1. I am preparing a paper on the aspects of the War directly related to actions afloat and want to emphasise the importance of the Cumberland which led to the loss of possible iron foundries in Tennessee. This paper is directed at the South African Military History Society which meets monthly in Johannesburg, South Africa and where we cover a huge range of subjects

  2. Pingback: Confederate 6-pdr Field Guns | To the Sound of the Guns