42-pdr Seacoast Models 1840 and 1845

Thus far the story of the 42-pdr seacoast guns remains linear without many side threads.  In summary after a departure from the caliber in the early days of the American republic, the Army returned to the 42-pdrs for seacoast defense in the 1830s.  Following a substantial production run of Model 1831, the Army experimented with a slightly new design.  One vendor, Bellona, mistakenly produced a batch of those as production. In 1840, the Army standardized a new design and issued contracts for more guns.

Columbia foundry produced 19 and West Point delivered 21 of the new seacoast pattern.  As noted in the post on the Model 1839, Bellona selected the wrong pattern for the first 12 cast on their contract for 26 Model 1840.  The Army chose to accept those 12 as cast, but canceled further orders on the contract.    Most Model 1840 gun production occurred in 1841-2.  The only one other gun to that pattern appeared when West Point delivered a single example in 1845 (and that gun is one of three survivors, on display at the US Military Academy at West Point today).

Consider the forty gun production run in context of broader history.  During the Jacksonian-era, the War Department focused on arsenals, with an aversion to elaborate forts.  Funding for seacoast defense waned during the Mexican War.  Afterward, the War Department’s leaders returned emphasis to the coastal defenses and no doubt for some political reasons, that played into the early stages of the Civil War,  southern ports received considerable emphasis.  With so many new forts to arm, in 1855 the Army issued a new round of contracts.

For reasons unrecorded, the Army opted to designate patterns used for the new contracts as Model 1845.  Usually an indicator of significant design change is a reset of the registry number sequence.  With the transition between the Model 1840 and 1845 only one vendor continued series production – West Point (Columbia ceased making cannons and as mentioned above Bellona delivered no Model 1840s).  And that foundry continued from the old registry number sequence.  Such implies only a small specification change. So I tend to use a modern amalgamation when discussing the type – Model 1840/45 – for brevity.

As indicated on the table above, the Model 1840/45 series introduced changes to the reinforce arrangements.  From the breech forward, roughly the first two feet of the exterior was a uniform cylinder.  Technically this is known as a “first reinforce” alluding to ancient cannon composition.  After that two foot section, the reinforce gradually tapered to the shoulder just past the trunnions.  The very slight shoulder almost bended into the chase, offering no sharp edges on the form.  One can easily surmise a progression towards the “bottle” shape introduced in 1861 for guns in that pattern year.

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42-pdr Seacoast Gun Model 1845 at Fort Sumter

The Model 1840/45 series simplified the muzzle form and added a chase ring.  Compare the photo below with that of the Model 1831 displayed at McLean, Virginia.  The new model offered only a “lip” or echinus instead of a concave cavetto with fillet.

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Muzzle of 42-pdr Model 1845

Specifications also reduced the windage allowed on the new 42-pdrs, restricting the bore diameter to an even seven inches.  From a gunnery standpoint, this should have improved performance somewhat.  If so, no indications appeared in the manuals of the time.

Also as mentioned earlier, the Model 1840/45 dispensed with the breeching ring over the knob.  Again, compare the view below to that of a Model 1831.

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Breech View of 42-pdr Model 1845

The Model 1840/45 retained the lockpiece block over the vent,* but blended the back into the base ring and reduced the overall profile.

The only visible difference between Model 1840s and 1845s is so slight as to require a trained eye.  Model 1845 contracts called for all over machining to smooth the appearance.  (I can hear the sighs of relief from gunners who fought corrosion from the salty coastal air from even 160 years distance!)

First contracts for Model 1845 went to Cyrus Alger, Fort Pitt, Tredegar, and West Point.  Alger, then becoming one of the nation’s leading arms producer, had their initial contract for twenty-five increased to thirty-three, and delivered two more for good measure.  A later order added eight more for Alger.

Fort Pitt produced an initial batch of twenty-five in 1856, plus one more for “experimental purposes.”  In 1859 the Army asked Fort Pitt Foundry to produce more Model 1845s.  When the 42-pdrs were suppressed as seacoast guns in 1861, the Army canceled the contract for nineteen guns.

The other two vendors named produced the type in larger quantities.  Tredegar’s production started with twenty-five delivered in 1856, followed by three more batches over the next three years for a total just over a hundred.  West Point, the most active of the foundries, produced over a hundred in five batches between 1855 and 1859.

Bellona came late to the new 42-pdr production.  In 1857, the Army asked the Virginia foundry to produce a batch of twenty-five.  Records show the Army credited Bellona, which implies disbursement of money, for eleven in 1857 and a the reminder between December 1859 and November 1860.  But apparently those guns were not delivered to the Army.

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Bellona 42-pdr at Washington Navy Yard

As the secession crisis played out in Virginia, the gun pictured above, along with several similar weapons, became pieces in the political chess game.  The guns were soon acquired by the state of Virginia and used in the state’s defense.  Later the Navy captured this piece and brought it to Washington as a trophy.  The whole story is fodder for separate post, so stay tuned!

I mentioned above the rather linear story of the 42-pdr guns.  As the war clouds loomed, the technical history of the type began to thread out.  Although the Army canceled series production, they placed limited orders for rifled versions.  In the south, Tredegar continued production for the Confederate government.  And both sides, seeing limited value of the 42-pdr against ironclads, banded and rifled several guns in attempts to make something of otherwise obsolete weapons.  I’ll attempt to chase down some of those threads in future posts.

* Ripley and a few others noted the surviving Model 1840 gun at West Point has no lock piece.  I have not seen the gun myself but would note this as one possible variation between the 1840 and 1845 models.  At the same time, that gun was ordered as a separate line item, possibly for experiments.  Such may also account for variations.

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

Birkhimer, William. Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1884.  Particularly pages 274-8 discussing the evolution of the American systems of artillery.

Kaufmann, J.E. and H.W. Kaufmann. Fortress America: The Forts that Defended America, 1600 to the Present. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, 2004.  Pages 205-230 discuss the evolution, armament, progress, and funding of seacoast forts in the pre-Civil War period.

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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