The Creole Napoleon: Leeds and Company 12-pdr Light Field Guns

There are three oft-repeated lines about Confederate 12-pdr field guns (a.k.a. the Napoleons):

  • Confederate versions have straight muzzles, in contrast to the muzzle swells of the Federal types.
  • The Confederate Army ordered Napoleons after field experience demonstrated the inadequacies of 6-pdr guns and 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Confederate Napoleon production came from government-owned facilities, save Tredegar (which worked close with the Confederate Ordnance Department).

These lines are true for the majority of Confederate Napoleons.  But when considering the details, all three have notable exceptions.  Indeed, a gun on display at Petersburg National Battlefield tells a story which contradicts all three bullets.

Petersburg 340

Leeds & Company 12-pdr Napoleon at Petersburg

But before I go into the particulars of this gun, some background context is required.  The “12-pdr light gun” was only a recent addition to the American weapon catalog at the start of the war.  In July 1861 there were only five 12-pdr Napoleons in Federal service.  One was the prototype, deemed unsuitable for field use.  The other four were, as Harry Smeltzer likes to remind me, in Company M, 2nd U.S. Artillery under direction of Major Henry Hunt.

But the pattern was well known among Army officers.  And apparently Tredegar Iron Works also knew the pattern – either by way of normal correspondence with the Army, or passed along by officers who’d just resigned from key positions (although I put more weight on the former possibility).  In early February 1861 the State of Georgia struck a contract with Tredegar for twelve 12-pdr Napoleons [1].  If these guns were produced at all, none survive today.  But the presence of the order indicates the artillerists in grey already knew of the weapon’s potential.  Very likely these Napoleons for Georgia followed (or at least SHOULD have followed since we don’t know if they were produced) Federal patterns to include the handles seen on early production models.[2]

Shuffling forward in time, by late fall of 1861 the Confederate commanders in the western theater faced an acute shortage of weapons – particularly cannons.  Turning to local sources, Captain Hypolite Oladowski, ordnance officer for General Braxton Bragg, ordered six 12-pdr light field guns.

Correspondence Mentioning Initial Orders from Leeds

Oladowski soon increased that order to a dozen.  The paper trail between authorities and Leeds is somewhat difficult to match up, but additional orders may have increased that total.  Production continued right up to the days in front of the Federal occupation of New Orleans.  The records show the Leeds invoices for all government contracts were not settled until the following year.

April 21,1862 Letter Noting Leeds' Cannon Production

These Leeds Napoleons undoubtedly saw service right from the start.  Records show Robertson’s Alabama Battery deployed four 12-pdr guns at Shiloh.  Very likely those were part of Leeds’ initial production batch.  At least five of the Leeds guns survive today.

Looking at the survivor at Petersburg, from a distance the Leeds Napoleon has a family resemblance to the Federal Napoleon.  Absent are the handles of the original Federal guns.  Otherwise the profile, with muzzle swell, is close to the later Yankee production.

Petersburg 345

Muzzle Swell of Leeds Napoleon

But the similarity ceases at the breech.  The breech face is flatter and lacks the “tabs” used on Federal guns.  Although the knob resembles that on the northern guns, the neck joins the breech with a fillet, as opposed to a blended sweep.

Petersburg 341

Breech of Leeds Napoleon

On the right trunnion is the maker’s mark – “Leeds & Co. // New Orleans.”

Petersburg 343

Right Trunnion of Leeds Napoleon

On the left is the year of manufacture.  This rules out all but the December production lot.

Petersburg 344

Left Trunnion of Leeds Napoleon

Sources indicate a foundry number of 19 stamped somewhere on the gun, but that does not stand out in my photos.  One other deviation from Federal designs was the length of the reinforce.  Leeds cast the Napoleons with a 16 inch long cylindrical reinforce – one full inch longer than Federal standards and most later Confederate production.

Overall the Leeds gun bears more resemblance to Federal Napoleons than later Confederate types, such as the example below (cast at Augusta Foundry in 1863), which stands a few feet away at Petersburg.

Petersburg 352

Augusta Foundry Napoleon #22AF

The very existence of the Leeds Napoleons, particularly the gun at Petersburg cast in 1861, refutes some of the standard interpretation about Confederate ordnance.  The fine points about muzzle swells and production sources are noteworthy but do not indicate great changes.   However, the Leeds gun’s production date indicates that someone on the Confederate side already knew about the superiority of the light 12-pdr design early in the war.

UPDATE:  And I had forgot about an earlier post about this same gun.  All’s well I guess, as in this post I got to introduce more of the “paperwork” pedigree of the gun.

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NOTES:

1.  Charles Dew, Ironmaker to the Confederacy (Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, 1999), page 77.

2.  James C. Hazlett, Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks, Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War (University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 2004), page 101.

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