Foreign 24-pdr Howitzers

The US Army adopted the 24-pdr caliber for howitzers in conformance with European conventions.   Therefore a look at how the class appeared on the other side of the pond is in order, in the first place to compare with contemporary US manufactured weapons in the class.  Furthermore, a few of these European weapons saw service in American hands during the war.

The Military Commission to Europe of 1855-56 indicated, in their survey of the artillery of European powers, the use of the 24-pdr field howitzer was much as with American practice – in mixed “foot artillery” batteries with 12-pdr field guns.  The European howitzers used bronze, as iron was found unsuitable for light field guns, much as it had in the US.  Some countries continued to use the short 24-pdr, particularly the Prussians, while others included long barrel types or a mix of the two.   And the commission placed much emphasis on French developments to replace the 8-pdr field gun and 24-pdr field howitzer with a single 12-pdr light field gun (which of course lead to the American adoption of the 12-pdr light field gun we came to know as the Napoleon).   The officers noted that several European powers were following the French with regard to the light 12-pdr gun.

For heavier siege operations, officers noted the 24-pdr siege gun was the smallest caliber considered useful, based on experience in Crimea.  However, while the officers listed 24-pdr mortars in the siege artillery park in that war, apparently the 24-pdr howitzer was far too light for the siege.  Thus European experience with the 24-pdr howitzers was not much different from that in North America – too heavy for the field and too light for siege.

In the Ordnance Manuals, Army officers provided some particulars of foreign weapons for comparison and familiarization.  The chart below synthesizes the particulars provided from the Ordnance Manuals of 1850 and 1862.

foreign 24pdr

The annotation 7-pdr is not an error, but reflection of a different scale used by the Prussian, Austrian, and German principalities.  The Army manuals list the Navy’s Boat Howitzer for comparison.  The standard US Army pieces, listed at the bottom, were among the heavier in the caliber.  The American field piece matched well to the English 24-pdr, French 15 cm., Swedish Iron 24-pdr and the long Belgian 15 cm.  The only piece similar to the US flank howitzer was the British 5.5-inch iron siege howitzer.  Unfortunately, the US Army Ordnance Manuals fail to mention the range of these foreign pieces, which would make for an interesting comparison of technology across the different armies.  Readers should note the variation in bore size and windage allowed.  Batteries of mixed nationality presented logistical issues.

Relative to the number of weapons involved, few cannon of foreign manufacture saw active service during the Civil War.  Of course the most widely known types were rifled guns of British origin.  Numbers of “trophies” or otherwise obsolete weapons existed in the United States at the onset of the war.  Given the presence of weapons in the 24-pdr howitzer class of Spanish, French, English, and even Viennese manufacture today in the national parks, museums, and other exhibits, logically a few of these were accessible during the war.  But to my knowledge none of these were utilized by the combatants during the war.

British 5.5-inch Howitzer Washington Navy Yard

However, the Confederates did make use of imported Austrian 24-pdr howitzers.  In the Ordnance Manual, General Josiah Gorgas mentioned a batch of field pieces imported from Austria, in particular seven 24-pdr howitzers.  He pointed out the bore of these European weapons was 5.87 inches, adding unwanted windage when using standard Confederate (and Federal) shells which were 5.68 inches in diameter by regulation.  Thus with a 0.19 inch windage, Gorgas directed gunners wrap standard ammunition in canvas bags to mitigate the gap.

Two 24-pdr Austrian Field Howitzers represent the Madison (La.) Light Artillery (Moody’s Battery) at Gettysburg, along Confederate Avenue, and are well known to many readers (see Gettysburg Daily article here).

24-pdr Austrian Howitzers - Moody's Battery - Gettysburg
24-pdr Austrian Howitzers - Moody's Battery - Gettysburg

The Austrian howitzers have semi-circular “dauphins” or handles, with a circle cross-section. These howitzers are a bit over 59 inches long with a 5.87 inch bore diameter.

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Left Side Base Ring Markings

Left side of the base ring reads “Nro. 35  665 lb” indicating an identification number and weight.  The other piece reads “Nro. 15 652 lb.”  Note the Austrian howitzers have a recessed area over the breech, much like the American pattern.

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Right Side Base Ring Markings

On the right No. 35 displays “Wien 1859.” The other piece differs with the year 1858.  On the breech face, both display the markings “7 H  6 B // S” – annotations which I cannot decipher.

Clearly, these two pieces are not the “7-pdr howitzers” mentioned in the Ordnance Manuals, which were 34 inches long.  Rather, given the dates of manufacture, these were likely part of a new system of artillery introduced after the Military Commission’s trip.  Yet at 59 inches long, and only 665 pounds, the Austrian bronze howitzer were significantly smaller and lighter than the regulation US 24-pdrs.

While it is nice to speculate these two pieces were with Moody’s Battery at Gettysburg, two points work against this.  The shorter bores and the additional windage while using standard sized shells reduced both range and accuracy.  As such, its hard to believe Edward P. Alexander might have consider these his “favorite guns” and boasted of their performance.

Secondly, many Austrian 24-pdr Howitzers were used within the chain of fortifications defending the approaches to the Charleston, South Carolina.  The first mention came in November 1862 with the issue of two 24-pdr Austrian Howitzers to a battery on James Island (OR, Series I, Vol. 14, Serial 20, p. 685).  Later in September 1863, General P.G.T. Beauregard summarized the Charleston defenses suggesting three of these howitzers be held at Fort Johnson in reserve, but ready for movement opposing Federal advances.  In the same enclosure, the General indicates three other Austrian howitzers armed batteries on James Island (OR, Series I, Vol. 28, Serial 47, p. 362).  Apparently, additional shipments of Austrian Artillery arrived in 1863, adding more 24-pdrs to those seven mentioned by Gorgas.  In October 1863 another report on the defenses of Charleston indicated thirteen of the type in use in the James Island batteries (OR, Series I, Vol. 28, Serial 47, p. 407).   As late as January 1865, tallies of the weapons in use at Charleston indicated at least eleven Austrian howitzers still in the batteries (OR, Series I, Vol. 47, Serial 99, p. 1026).   Given those reports and the limited number of these weapons imported, likely the two howitzers pointed today at the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg were overlooking the marshes of South Carolina in 1863.

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Austrian 24-pdr Howitzer at Gettysburg

In summary, at least thirteen 24-pdr Field Howitzers imported from Austria served the Confederacy in the Civil War, mostly in the Charleston defenses.  While the Austrian types were smaller and lighter than contemporary US models, other European types were comparable to the American howitzers.   But as in the American Army, the 24-pdr caliber howitzer faded in importance after the 1850s.


Aside from on site notes, inline citations, 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.

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997.

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


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