I submit these cannon as the record holders in the “changes of ownership” category.
The gun is a Spanish 12-pdr field gun. A companion 12-pdr along with two 9-pdr guns of similar vintage are part of the Leutze Park collection in the Washington Navy Yard.
The exact dates of manufacture are known, as Spanish practice of the time called for inclusion of the date and foundry name.
The 12-pdrs and one of the 9-pdrs were cast in 1767, and the remaining 9-pdr in 1790. Notice that the guns made in 1767 had the particulars inlaid, perhaps even set as part of the casting. The 9-pdr from 1790 appears to have stampings.
Another aspect of Spanish markings included “naming” the gun by way of an inscription on the chase. Those at the Navy Yard include “El Toro,” the Bull, a 12-pdr:
“El Tosico,” the poisonous one, the other 12-pdr:
“El Galgo,” the greyhound, a 9-pdr:
and “Cambernon,” a feminine name for the other 9-pdr:
These Spanish guns conformed to the Gribeauval system borrowed from France in the 1760s. Features included round cascabel attached to the breech with a fillet. The breech face had a slight raised ring around the cascabel, but is generally simplified compared to ornate predecessors. The breech ring, as mentioned, contained the date of manufacture and foundry. In line with the French pattern, the first reinforce extended almost to the trunnions, with the royal seal applied.
That of King Charles III was placed on the 1767 guns. And the 1790 gun received the seal of Charles IV.
A ring separates the first and second reinforces, where the trunnions and handles were mounted. A ring then separates the second reinforce from the chase. The chase ended with an astragal. From the astragal forward was a conventional muzzle swell. An echinus and a cavetto connected the muzzle face.
The only other particulars indicated by the markings are the weights of the 9-pdrs – about 1390 pounds. One of the 9-pdrs has an inscription “Cobre de America” indicating the use of copper from South American mines.
These would easily pass for weapons used by Napoleon’s Army, so close was the Spanish pattern (in fact the French impressed many Spanish guns during the wars). However, according to the trophy documentation, these four guns were captured by the Navy during the Mexican-American War. The assumption is these armed Spanish colonial forces before Mexico took ownership after independence in 1821. At some point in the Mexican-American War (1846-48) the Navy acquired these guns as trophies of war. So the U.S. Navy became the third owner of these guns.
In early 1861, when the Confederates occupied Norfolk and surrounding navy facilities, among the many cannons that fell into their hands were these four old bronze guns. (A fourth ownership change.)
Unlike other ordnance at the yards, the Confederates probably found little use for the Spanish-Mexican trophies. The 12-pdrs weighed near 2200 pounds, compared to 1800 pounds for an American 12-pdr Model 1841 “heavy” Field Gun or 1200 pounds for a 12-pdr Model 1857 “light” Field Gun (or “Napoleon”). The Spanish guns used slightly different diameter projectiles from the standard American ordnance. And recall these guns were cast in the 1700s, three of which nearing 100 years old at the time of the American Civil War. Three strikes against use, even for the Confederates.
Given that, why didn’t the Confederates melt these down into something useful? There’s enough metal for three, perhaps even four field pieces. Perhaps the Confederates impressed the guns in defense of the harbor. Or perhaps they also respected the “trophy” status, retaining them as prizes.
For what ever reason, these four guns were recaptured by Union forces at Norfolk on May 10, 1862.
So a fifth change of ownership for four tired old guns.
From there, the guns eventually found their way to the Navy Yard. Take a look at this photo of the Navy Yard just after the war.
The “trophy” gun in the foreground looks very similar in profile to the Spanish guns. And mounted on a similar (if not the same) mount.
Imagine the stories these guns could tell.