Rifled Napoleons

Six Napoleons at Gettysburg stand out as perhaps the rarest of the Federal Napoleons.  What sets these six apart from all other Napoleons is their rifling.  This set were part of an experimental battery delivered in 1862, and did not see active field service.  These six guns are:

No. 80 in the National Cemetery
No. 80 - Bty. C, 4th US -National Cemetery
No. 82 in the National Cemetery
No. 82 - Bty. C, 4th US - National Cemetery
No. 81 - 15th N.Y. Bty - Peach Orchard
No. 81 - 15th N.Y. Bty - Peach Orchard
No. 78 - 15th N.Y. Bty - Peach Orchard
No. 78 - 15th N.Y. Bty - Peach Orchard
No. 79 - 9th Mass Bty. - Peach Orchard
No. 79 - 9th Mass Bty. - Peach Orchard
No. 77 - 3rd Mass. Bty - Plum Run Valley
No. 77 - 3rd Mass. Bty - Plum Run Valley

Yes, the last features a strange “shell.”  (And I’d like to know what winged animal laid a numbered egg….)

Looking at all six “business ends” notice the blade sight.

Blade Sight and Muzzle Profile
Blade Sight and Muzzle Profile

And a look down the bore confirms the rifling:

10 Flat Lands and Grooves
10 Flat Lands and Grooves

On the breech end, also some differences between these rifled guns and a standard Napoleon:

Sight and Retaining Screw Holes
Sight and Retaining Screw Holes
Breech Profile
Breech Profile

The rifled Napoleons retained the “base plate” at the bottom, as with others cast by Ames, but clearly the hausse seat mounting tab was altered for the new sights.

These differences in sights and rifling compare favorably with James 14-pounder Bronze Rifles, which also feature a triangular blade front sight, holes for rear tangent sights, and 10 x 10 rifling.  In fact, aside from the “Napoleon” exterior form, the main difference between the 14-pdr and these Rifled Napoleons is the bore diameter.  The 14-pounder had a 3.8 inch bore, while the Napoleons retained the 4.62 inch bore of their smoothbore parentage.

14-pounder James Rifle on Matthews Hill, Manassas
14-pounder James Rifle on Matthews Hill, Manassas
Rifled Napoleon in Gettysburg National Cemetery
Rifled Napoleon in Gettysburg National Cemetery

The six rifled Napoleons were all produced by Ames Manufacturing Company in 1862, and were likely delivered early in 1863.  Clearly the intent was to determine if any advantage could be exacted from a proven smoothbore design.  No details are known of the results of testing.  But it would be interesting if the rifled guns offered any range advantage over the smoothbores.

The deduction I would make is two factors worked against the rifled Napoleons.  Bronze rifled guns wore out quickly in the field.  Secondly, the James projectile had fallen into disfavor by 1863.  In the east, most of the James bronze rifles were already being replaced.  To my knowledge, the only Federal 14-pounder rifles to see service at Gettysburg were from the 2nd Connecticut Light Artillery Battery of the 2nd Volunteer Brigade, Artillery Reserve.  And that battery had just been moved up from the Washington defenses prior to the campaign.

As it stands, perhaps these six guns are just examples of what might have been – illustrating the lengths to which ordnance officers would go in pursuit of any technical edge.  To me, however, given the sequential numbers and uniformity of the lot, the guns offer the hint of some dusty story.  The six were likely stored together and issued from a depot to Gettysburg as a lot, sometime in the early days of the park.  So why would the U.S. Army store these arguably failed experiments for decades after the war?  And I wonder if there were any notes of curiosity between the Battlefield Board and Army Depot when these were delivered.

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Aside from on site notes, 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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6 thoughts on “Rifled Napoleons

    • Thanks Mannie.

      The “down the bore” shots always seem to be, in the words of Forrest Gump, “like a box of chocolates,” you really never know what’s down there!

  1. Thank you so much! Studying for the LBG test at Gettysburg. This is one of the famous “140 Places” and it has been driving me crazy trying to figure out where they were. Tried a number of times to research this including speaking with a few LBG’s at Gettyburg. I thought 2 were at the 2nd Connecticut on Hancock. Guess I was wrong. Now it’s cleared up.

    Best ~

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