Up-Close: 32-pdr Howitzer

Anyone who has built scale model airplanes is familiar with Squadron Signal Publications.  I’m somewhat fond of their “Detail in Scale” and “Walk Around” series, which provide a wealth of detailed photos of their particular subjects – airplanes, armored fighting vehicles, or such.  I’ve always had the urge to do something similar, a photo essay book on particular Civil War artillery types.  But since the phone isn’t ringing, I’ll have to work out my photo essays here on the blog.

Recently I had the opportunity to examine two 32-pdr Model 1844 Field Howitzers at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.  I’ve covered many of the technical details of this weapon earlier, and further discussed the operational history.  The howitzers at Fort McNair come from two different foundries, allowing side by side comparison.

32-pdr FH Model 1844 - Alger #11

The howitzers flank the entrance to the post officer’s club.  On one side is registry number 11 produced by Cyrus Alger & Company of Boston, Massachusetts in 1856.  On the opposite side is registry number 10 produced by Ames Foundry of Chicopee, Massachusetts in 1852.

Muzzle Markings - Alger #11

On both howitzers the registry number is at the top, or 12 o’clock, position of the muzzle.  The inspectors initials at the bottom, or 6 o’clock.  In the case of Alger #11, “B.H.” indicates Benjamin Huger inspected this piece in 1856.  Hugar, of course, later resigned his US commission to join the Confederacy, having a less than stellar career as a field officer, although he seemed to be a capable staff officer.  In 1856, Huger commanded an arsenal outside Baltimore.  He traveled to Europe and observed the Crimean War as part of an Army commission.  And from the stamping on this howitzer, he also found time to proof ordnance in Massachusetts.

Right Trunnion - Alger #11

The right trunnion on the Alger piece has eroded to the point that only “Boston” is easily read.

Left Trunnion - Alger #11

The year of manufacture is clear on the left trunnion.

Breech - Alger #11

The weight stamp of “1940″ appears, slightly lopsided, on the face of the breech.

Handles - Alger #11

Alger used a half-octagon profile for the handles, but a squared join or “pad” where these met the howitzer.  A small “U.S.” acceptance mark was placed just short of the reinforce step in front of the handles.

Now to the other howitzer:

Muzzle Markings - Ames #10

Louis Augustus deBarth Walbach inspected the Ames howitzer, evidenced by “L.A.B.W.”  Louis was the son of General John Baptiste deBarth Walbach.  Himself the son of a German count, John served in several cavalry organizations before immigrating to the U.S. in 1798.  John joined the Army and served as a cavalry officer.  At the battle of Crysler’s Farm, November 11, 1813, John led bold charge by a detachment of dragoons to cover the withdrawal of American artillery.  John received a brevet to Lieutenant Colonel for this action, and later to Brigadier General.  Louis’ service in the Army was much less noteworthy than his fathers’.  Graduating in the West Point class of 1834, the only indications of Louis’ service I have ever seen are the stampings on cannon.  Louis died in 1853 while on active duty as an ordnance officer.

Right Trunnion - Ames #10

Right Trunnion - Ames #10

Unlike Alger, the Ames Foundry changed its name as it passed through the hands of different family members.  For the 1852 production, the company cited Chicopee as its location, while stamps on earlier weapons cited Springfield.  All indications are the factory did not move, but the front office may have, based on the preferences of different Ames family members.

Left Trunnion - Ames #10

The year stamp has eroded some with time.  The weight stamp, if ever placed at all, has eroded away from the breech face of Ames #10.

Handles - Ames #10

The reception mark on Ames pieces used a rather large font, but were lightly pressed.  On registry #10, the “U.S.” has now eroded down to almost a ghost of the letters in the bronze.  Note also the octagonal shaped join or pad between the handles and the howitzer.  Aside from the stampings, this is the only distinction between Alger and Ames pieces.

Breech and Band - Ames #10

Both pieces feature the four-inch wide band near the breech.  The band is about a foot from the breech face.  Based on diagrams, this band is directly above the chamber neck, presumably designed to contain extra pressures expected at that location upon powder ignition.

The breech for the Model 1844 howitzer took the form of a flattened cone, topped with the knob.  The knob joined the breech face with a simple fillet.

Aside from the base ring, band, handles, and reinforce step mentioned above, the only other adornments on the Model 1844 were a chase ring and a muzzle ring.  Both were simple, flat moldings without notable features.

As I mentioned in another post, of the twenty-five 32-pdrs produced, all by Alger and Ames, one trace and cite the use of sixteen to nineteen of the howitzers during 1862.  I’d say it is very likely the two howitzers at Fort McNair saw some active service during the war.  Perhaps these weapons covered the approaches to Washington, D.C.  Or perhaps the howitzers were trophy pieces, captured by their original owners when Confederate coastal fortifications fell.  Or perhaps these pieces were at Antietam with Kusserow’s Battery.  Once again, I would love to hear a story from these guns.

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