A Rare Make of Cannon

While touring around Petersburg Battlefield last weekend, I took some time to get re-examine one of the park’s rare artillery pieces.  Quiz of the week – Name the make and model of this Civil War field gun:

Name that gun!
Name that gun!

Looking at the profile, one might guess James 14-pounder Rifle.  It is definitely bronze.  Very smooth lines.  The breech is almost hemispherical.  The barrel tapers smoothly, without any reinforce steps, to the muzzle.  Well there’s one problem…

It is a smoothbore.
It is a smoothbore.

Look, smoothbore.  Well those well acquainted with Civil War field guns will note the James used the “ordnance department” profile, which was not only used on Iron 3-inch Rifles, but also on a set of 6-pdr Smoothbores produced by Ames Manufacturing.  But this piece is not of U.S. manufacture.

Nice Big "C.S." over the Trunions
Nice Big"C.S" over the trunnions

Looking at the trunnion faces, this piece’s origins are clear.

Right Trunnion Face
Right Trunnion Face

This weapon was made at Brierfield Arsenal, from Selma Alabama, in 1963.  A stamping on the upper muzzle face denotes the weight measurement of 982 pounds.  The length of the piece is right at 77 inches.  Muzzle diameter is close to standard 6-pounder sizes (I measured it at a shade under 3 and 3/4 inches).  Trunnion measurements are similar to regulation 6-pounder also.  By comparison, the very similar looking Ames smoothbores mentioned above are 68 inces long, weighing about 860 pounds.  (Examples of those Ames smoothbores can be seen on Matthew’s Hill at Manassas National Battlefield Park.)

Left Trunnion Face
Left Trunnion Face

Brierfield, sometimes spelled Briarfield, was not exactly a prolific producer of ordnance.  The arsenal was first established in Columbus, Mississippi, but relocated to Selma by early 1863.  This lone example at Peterburg, displayed at the Battery No. 5 exhibit near the Visitor Center, is the sole survivor of the arsenal’s work.  While one might think there should be is some connection to the Brierfield Iron Works in Brierfield, Alabama (also known as the Bibb Furnace), none is apparent.  The ironworks provided iron to the Confederate Arsenal some 45 miles to the south (in Selma of course).   At any rate, the Brierfield Arsenal’s sole example is a bronze piece.

This piece seems to leave a lot more unanswered questions.  Why would the Confederates continue to produce 6-pdr smoothbore bronze guns at a time when most field officers were urging the production of 12-pdr types similar to the Federal Napoleons.  Perhaps the manufacturing facility only had boring equipment for the 6-pdr caliber?  (Not withstanding that 12-pdr lathes for field howitzers of that class existed elsewhere in quantity.)  In fact, it would have logically followed that Brierfield, after producing this advanced looking field piece, would switch to Napoleon production later in the year.

There’s probably more to the story of this gun than meets the eye.  Like nearly all the old 6-pdr, and particularly the Confederate types, it survived calls for melting down to more adequate pieces during the war.  It survived storage for many years as a “trophy.”  Even while at Petersburg, it survived scrap drives and the weathering of time.  Now it stands as the only known example of an obscure Confederate gun founder.

8 thoughts on “A Rare Make of Cannon

  1. Brierfield Arsenal is mentioned as boring and turning bronze rifle guns and 12 pound howitzers in March 1862 letter. A September 1862 inventory of Brierfield Arsenal lists a rifling machine. In late 1862 The Ordnance Department ordered arsenals to cease manufacture of 6 pounders. I can’t help but wonder if this gun was started in Columbus in late 62, moved, finished and stamped at Selma. Could it be an example of what was manufactured at Columbus?

    • The Confederate Officers file of Captain Hypolite Oladowski (Odrnance Officer) who reported in March 1862 from the arsenal in Columbus, Mississippi “…They also turning and boring three field bronze rifled guns and 5 – 12 pounder field bronze howitzers. “

  2. Today I visited a cemetery in Waverly NY. In front of the cemetery was a cannon proudly displayed under a new roofed and fenced . In talking with the cemetery care giver he told me the story behind the cannon. The war history was not known. The cannon was mounted sense the early 1900s in the cemetery on a concrete and stone base. He told me that in resent years a man offered the town $10,000 for the cannon. The town jumped at the chance to cash in on that old junk cannon doing nothing in the cemetery. The care taker told them they couldn’t sell it,it wasn’t theirs to sell. Their claim was it’s in our cemetery so it’s ours. I might add there are well over 100 CW soldiers buried there. They backed down. The man came back with a $30,000 offer. The greed of the town board wanted the cash. The care giver convinced them it wasn’t theirs to give away. He told me shortly after this the Federal Gov. passed a law stating all monument cannons ect. were the property of the Federal Gov. and as such made anyone with them the care takers.The town bought a caisson beautifully refinished it and mounted the cannon on it. This Memorial Weekend they are having a rededication ceremony with reenactment soldiers and all war veterans . The center piece of the ceremony will be their bronze Ames smooth bore cannon. I have pictures of it and wish I could post them but I don’t see where I can add them at this time

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