Alger 6 pounder “Eagles” from 1844

Shiloh Battlefield Park boasts many unique and interesting field pieces.  Included in the inventory are a set four of 6-pounder field guns produced by Cyrus Alger & Company in 1844 to a non-standard form.  While the pieces show far less adornment than the Field Guns of the 1841 series, the 1844 pieces are not quite to the 1861 “Ordinance shape” with smooth blended lines.  As such, these 1844 guns might be examples of the evolutionary path.  But other than what is gleaned from the markings, little else is known about these pieces.  And to boot the pieces on display at Shiloh are rifled to the James system!

Over the years, I’ve taken to calling these “Alger Eagles.”  Not based on anything other than an ornamental escutcheon on the barrel of each piece:

Eagle and Globe
Eagle and Globe

Note the “globe” is split, apparently to allow sighting down to a blade site on the muzzle.  If so, that sighting arrangement must have been most annoying to the gunner.  Overall in profile the gun at first glance resembles a small Confederate Napoleon:

6-pdr of 1844 Near Visitor Center
6-pdr of 1844 Near Visitor Center

But compare to a 6-pdr Model 1841 produced by Ames Manufacturing in 1853:

Ames 6-pdr Model 1841 (Rifled at a Later Date)
Ames 6-pdr Model 1841 (Rifled at a Later Date)

This example of the standard 6-pdr, sitting on “Grant’s Last Line” today, was produced in 1853 by Ames Manufacturing of Boston, Massachusetts.  It was originally smoothbore, but rifled to the James system with ten lands and grooves.  The “official” Model of 1841 featured a pronounced muzzle swell, a chase ring, a step (in front of the trunnions) for the reinforce, and a stepped breech base ring.  In comparison the 1844 type offers a clean taper from the breech to the muzzle, with no chase ring or base ring.  Note that both 6-pdrs pictured here have a sight base added over the knob.  This looks to support a James style sight piece.

The “Eagles” were also rifled at some point after manufacture, the rifling might have been part of an early experiment.  On the other hand, early in the war when the demand for rifled guns far exceeded the early production runs, these weapons might have been modified.  Like other details of the weapon’s past, nothing indicates when or by whom the bore was modified.  If the guns were issued after the rifling process, no unique nomenclature was used.  Then again, contemporary accounts used many terms in reference to rifled 6-pounders, with none completely authoritative.  So while possible these guns saw action, it is equally possible the set remained in some depot or training facility.

10 by 10 Rifling of the "Eagle"
10 by 10 Rifling of the "Eagle"

The right trunnion cap on the “Eagle” displays “C.A. & Co. // BOSTON”:

Right Trunnion Cap
Right Trunnion Cap

And on the left simply 1844:

Left Trunnion Cap
Left Trunnion Cap

In terms of particulars, the 1844 “Eagles” were not far off the Model 1841 6-pounders.  The standard Model 1841 was 60 inches long (without the knob), with a 57.5 inch bore.  The “Eagle” also measures 60 inches long, and estimating based on the location of the vent, the bore is very close to 57 inches long.  In terms of dimensions, the most important difference was the base diameter at the breech – 10.3 inches for the Model 1841 compared to under 9  inches for the “Eagle.”  Both types weighed about the same, approximately 880 pounds.

Alger No. 18 near Ruggles Battery
Alger No. 18 near Ruggles Battery

The fact that all four Shiloh examples were rifled indicates in spite of a difference in external patterns, the “Eagles” were accepted by officials for at least limited use or testing.  The guns must have been  ballistically similar to the standard weapons.  And not possessed serious defects.  Otherwise I doubt anyone would have taken the time to rifle the guns.

No 18 Near Ruggles Battery
Muzzle of No. 18

The guns at  Shiloh display the muzzle numbers 17, 18, 21, and 22.  (One other example, number 19, is referenced by the sources below, in private hands, and is a smoothbore.)  This implies that a small production run was made, at least 22 examples.  Being non-standard ordnance, such speculative production might have been for state militia or other customer outside the Department of the Army.  Since the four guns issued in the allotment to Shiloh are close in sequence and rifled, I’d make the reasonable assumption the guns were stored together at a central arsenal (Rock Island is likely).  As with the 12-pounder Rifled Napoleon, this grouping may indicate the weapons chosen for rifling were experimental types, not issued but rather placed into storage when the tests were done.

Numbers 21 and 22 in Battery
Numbers 21 and 22 in Battery

As mentioned above, all four examples have a modified sight base on the breech.  The base is a fitted variation of the same type used on other rifled 6-pdr field guns or early version of the James Rifle (which used the Model 1841 form).

Breech of Number 21 Showing Sight Base
Breech of Number 21 Showing Sight Base

The base is simply screwed on the breech above the knob, with an untapped hole at the top and a tapped hole at the back.  This conforms with the arrangements made on the later Ordnance shape James Rifles, and even the rifled Napoleons.  Of note, numbers 21 and 22 stand next to Battery B, 1st Illinois Battery (Taylor’s Battery, commanded by Captain Samuel Barrett at the battle).

Details of the “Alger Eagles” are sketchy at best.  Here’s my best swag at the weapons’ history:  In 1844 a non-Federal customer (state militia or other) ordered some 6-pdr field guns from Cyrus Alger.  The gunmaker was fully aware that the frills and adornment of the gun form often led to imperfections in the casting, and freed from such specifications, opted for a simplified form to speed production.  The guns saw no noteworthy service; and were not considered extra-ordinary; and received no special markings (state stampings or other).  At least four of the guns were singled out, either because they were in storage (unsold perhaps?) or considered superfluous to operational needs.  Sometime either just before the war or early in the war, those guns were then rifled to the James system and used for tests.  Tests completed, the guns were placed in storage until the 1890s when Shiloh needed some cannon.

It would be nice to speculate that the guns were part of some “Arm the Texans” plot.  Or even that Cyrus Alger & Company were conducting experiments that pre-dated the Ordnance Department’s with regard to gun tube forms in the 1850s.  But frankly, I’m reaching to even speculate in the paragraph above with a rather boring story line.   The simple facts are at least four guns were produced in 1844 to a modified design, later rifled, and eventually found their way to Shiloh as display pieces.  If only they could talk….

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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.

Smith, Timothy B.  The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation:  The Decade of the 1890s and the Establishment of America’s First Five Military Parks, Knoxville, Tenn.:   The University of Tennessee Press, 2008.

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