The Fine Craftsmanship of the Revere Copper Napoleon Guns

Federal production 12-pdr Model 1857 “Light” Field Guns are one of, if not THE, largest group of surviving field pieces from the Civil War.  These came from five vendors – Cyrus Alger, Ames Manufacturing, Miles Greenwood (Eagle Iron Works), Henry N. Hooper, and Revere Copper.  For the most part, one Federal Napoleon looks much the same as the next.  But as noted before with regard to posts on each vendor (linked above), the astute observer can identify these guns by their source with careful attention to some fine details.

Revere Copper Company is indeed connected to the hero of the American Revolution, Paul Revere.  While I’ve seen plenty of claims linking the company (which still exists today) from the Revolution through to the Civil War and beyond, the company today does not make note of past cannon production.   So I’m not sure if the current “Revere Copper” is directly related via lineage to the cannon facility, or if 150 years of mergers and acquisitions have spun the cannon-maker into another line.

Regardless, Revere Copper Company of Boston, Massachusetts produced more 12-pdr light field guns during the Civil War than any other source.  All told, Revere delivered 443 Napoleons against Federal contracts.  Revere’s guns matched the specified pattern with one variation.  While the first gun produced by Revere lacked handles, at least one of the first production batch of six had them.  All later Revere guns lack handles.

With all the guns produced, Revere Napoleons are familiar to most battlefield stompers.  One good spot to see and compare Revere guns is Malvern Hill on the Richmond Battlefields.

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Revere Napoleon in Position at Malvern Hill

Conforming with regulations of 1861, Revere guns have muzzle stampings indicating the vendor, weight, year of production, inspector, and registry number.  In the photo below, those read clockwise from the top – “Revere Copper Co. // 1230 lbs. // 1863. // T.J.R. // No. 255.”

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Muzzle of Registry Number 255

Inspectors initials indicate the famous ordnance officer Thomas J. Rodman proofed this particular piece.  Note also the rather small font used for the vendor’s name at the top.  In many cases time and weather have removed that stamp, leaving a blank spot between the registry number and weight, which used a larger font.  Such is the case with registry number 22 also at Malvern Hill.

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Muzzle of Registry Number 22 showing Worn Stamps

Cannon-hunters today might use the blank space to help correlate a particular piece to Copper production.  Another useful mark present on many Napoleons is the foundry number on the right rimbase.  In the case of registry number 22, that appears as “23.”

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Rimbase - Foundry Number 23

In my experience, the rimbase number appear readable about as often as the muzzle stamps.  Seems to follow if the gun’s muzzle marks eroded away, the rimbase marks did also.  And often the metal fittings of the carriage prevent clear reading.  Still, where these exist, these are a useful indicator to trace a gun.  Easier to read is the foundry number from registry number 255.

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Foundry Number 265 on Registry number 255

The foundry number “265” here lends support to the identification of registry number 255.  Notice that the foundry number and registry numbers used different sequences.

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Reception Mark over the Trunnions

Another distinction on Revere markings is the reception mark over the trunnions.  The “U.S.” is rather ornate with texture through the open block letters.  The periods, somewhat elevated above the base line of text, are crosses.

Most Revere Napoleons have the hausse seat mounting tab on the breech top and matching tab called a “base plate” or seat at the bottom of the breech.  The bottom tab provided a level surface for the elevating screw.

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Breech of Registry Number 255

However, the first Revere Napoleon – registry number 1 – also on display at Malvern Hill exhibits two slight variations.  First the muzzle markings are out of sequence.

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Muzzle of Registry Number 1

The muzzle reads “Revere Copper Co. // 1862 // 1,194 lbs. // J.P.F. // No. 1.”  Only a trivial transposition of the year and weight.  As the first gun produced for a large contract, perhaps this indicates the inexperience of those finishing the gun.  J.P.F. are the initials of Joseph P. Farley who inspected this gun.   But one more variation awaits at the breech.

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Breech of Registry Number 1

Missing is the “base seat” at the bottom of the breech.  Here’s a closer view.

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Underside of Breech

Hard to see on the photo, but on site I noted what looked like filing lines or other machine marks running front to back across the location of the base seat.  Was this a factory modification or field modification?  Unknown. However also note the hausse mounting tab.

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Registry Number 1 Breech

The hausse still attached to the gun is not squarely mounted as on other Revere guns (see number 255 above with the back-plate and three screws).  Instead the hausse seat is conformal to the breech curvature.  Here’s a closer look.

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Hausse Seat on Registry Number 1

While I see a crease directly across the hausse base, there also appears to be an adapter or fillet between the hausse and the gun’s breech.  And the oxidation pattern brings that out as separate from the gun.

One possible explanation comes to mind.  Greenwood Napoleons lacked the tab for the hausse seat.  In batteries equipped with Greenwood guns used a modified hausse seat.  Where other vendors’ guns mixed with Greenwood guns, some artificers modified the breech tabs to allow use of the Greenwood hausse seat.  Perhaps an unrecorded artificer made that modification to Revere registry number 1 to allow the use of the otherwise incompatible Greenwood hausse seat. If so, all we have to go on is the current appearance of the gun.

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

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.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

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7 responses to “The Fine Craftsmanship of the Revere Copper Napoleon Guns

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  3. don applegate nj

    where can i find info on # 15 revere cannon 1862 we have it in our town and like to find out where it has been used and who owned it

    • Don, as you point out #15 was a low registry number produced in early 1862 (likely completed by March that year). The traditional response when inquiring about a specific gun is that the Army destroyed all ordnance returns, since such tracking was of little historical consequence. On the other hand, Occasionally copies of such inventories emerge from the archives. But for now I know of little beyond the stampings or contract dates of the gun in question.

      • Carlos Cruz

        I happened upon this site today – wondering / researching the orgins of #72 also made in 1862. I came across #72 at the National Cemetary at Gettysburg last week. I inquired at the park about the cannons. as basically what they told me was,

        “after the battles at Gettysburg, the armies carted their remaining, non-captured cannons with them to be used in other battles. States that have since placed monuments at Gettysburg honoring their soliders often returned cannons that were used in the battle at Gettysburg. The cannons placed on the Battlefield today are believed to be the cannons (and type of cannon) used and located were they would have been located during the fighting.”

        While it sounds good, I’m having a hard time believing they maintained records back then that were accurate enough to know which cannon was used where. I can forward you a picture of #72 if you’re interest.

        • There are a lot of convoluted stories regarding surviving artillery at Gettysburg. A few are documented as being at the battle and on the field today. But guess what? Those guns were also at several other battles of note!

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