Who Rifled this Gun?

In the last post discussed four Mexican-American War trophies at the U.S. Navy Yard. There are several other artifacts from that war scattered about the nation’s capital. One is on display at Fort McNair’s flagpole.

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Spanish Gun - War Trophy from Mexican-American War

The gun matches the form of the Navy Yard’s Spanish guns with the same moldings and profile.   Again, typical Spanish adaption of the Gribeauval pattern.

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Seal on Reinforce - Foundry and Date on Base Ring

My on-site notes and measurements leads me to identify this as a 4-pdr (but I may be off on the bore diameter).  The seal of King Charles IV is on the first reinforce.  Weathered somewhat, the base ring indicates this gun was cast at Seville in 1789.  And following Spanish custom, the gun was assigned a name.

McNair 10 Apr 10 068

"Name" of the Cannon in Weathered Scroll

However the lettering in the scroll is difficult to read today.

The plaque next to the cannon indicates the U.S. Army captured the piece during the war with Mexico, but offers no further details.

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Muzzle Showing Six Groove Rifling

Where the Army’s trophy gun differs is at the muzzle.   Six rather deep, well-formed groves.   The form reminds me of the Austrian rifled cannon (mentioned in a previous post) on display at the Navy Yard.  But the rifling pattern is not a “fingerprint” for weapon identification.

So who rifled this gun? Assuming the plaque next to the gun is correct, there are a few possibilities.  (SEE UPDATE)

Was this an early experiment by the Spanish?  In the decades of Spanish decline, particularly during the Napoleonic era, the country was not at the fore of weapons development.  And for such an experiment to find its way to Mexico (assuming the plaque is correct) is unlikely.

Perhaps a Mexican modification?  If so, I would expect to see references throughout the contemporary discussions of U.S. ordnance personnel.  Instead all references to rifled cannon are in regard to domestic or European experiments.

Maybe another European source?  Unlikely.  As mentioned, by all indications the gun was captured as a smoothbore in 1848.  Why would the new owners send it back across the Atlantic for testing?

So was it an American experiment?   This sounds most plausible.  In the 1850s ordnance officers and other parties modified bronze guns during their efforts to reach the best design for rifled cannon.  A few of the old rifled 6-pdr field guns have 6 groove rifling.  But most survivors have more, and shallower, grooves.  Indeed the depth of the grooves on the Spanish gun is such that standard Civil War era projectiles (James, Parrott, Shenkl, or Hotchkiss) would not work.  My guess is this rifled gun was designed for “studded” or “flanged” projectiles, a form used in limited quantities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Maybe the Army used this old gun, which was otherwise only good for adorning the parade field, for a few experiments.  If so, the records of the test are unknown to this researcher.

And this gun remains silent, offering no further details, of what may be an interesting story.

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UPDATE:   Found a posting on the Company of Military Historian’s Message Board.  It may well be a piece captured in the Spanish-American War.  The best argument for this is the rifling.  Historian John Morris identifies the piece as a 4-pdr gun.

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