12-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1841

In a previous post I introduced the 12-pdr Field Howitzer type, its origin, and two early production models, leaving off with the Model 1841.  This, the last standardized howitzer of the class, became the most widely produced and employed 12-pdr howitzer.

The Ordnance Manual of 1862 described the type with a ring at the base of breach, a single reinforce, a chase ring, and a muzzle ring.   Regulations stated the weapon featured a 46.25-inch bore with a 4.25-inch deep chamber (total of 50.5 inches), and a total length of 58.6 inches.  The chamber was formed by section which necked from the 4.62-inch diameter bore to a 3.67-inch cylinder, or cup.  The piece featured a 10-inch diameter base ring, larger than the previous two production models.  Trunnions were 2.8 inches long and 3.67 inches in diameter.  A rimbase spacing of 9.5 inches matched that of the 6-pdr Field Gun of the same year model.  The weapon weighed 788 pounds by regulation, with a 95 pound preponderance.  The regulations authorized a bore windage of 0.10-inch.

Comparison of Regulation Field Howitzers

The Model 1841 was stouter than its predecessors, but was about 100 pounds lighter than its battery mate 6-pdr Field Gun.  Per the 1864 Field Artillery Tactics Manual, the “6-pdr battery” received four (or six for wartime allocations) 6-pdr guns and two 12-pdr howitzers.  The howitzers provided tactical options, including plunging and ricochet fire, to support the guns optimized for “battering” the enemy line.  The Army factored in an issue of two artillery pieces per 1000 infantry or cavalry – or roughly one battery to support each brigade.   Of course this reflected pre-war conventions.   Practical experience demonstrated the need for uniform caliber weapons in batteries consolidated at division or corps levels to achieve maximum effect.

12-pdr FH Model 1841, Ames #180 at Manassas

The 12-pdr howitzer was light and handy.  On the move, a team of six horses towed both the howitzer and a limber.  The limber included a chest with 15 shells, 20 spherical case shot, and 4 canister rounds, for a total of 39 rounds.  Total weight of the howitzer and limber was 3,214 pounds.  Two additional, identically loaded, chests on a caisson added 78 rounds.  The caisson, also towed by six horses, weighed 3,868 pounds.  The 12-pdr used fixed rounds with the projectile fixed to a sabot and powder charge.

The howitzer used standard caliber projectiles. The 12-pdr shell weighed 8.34 pounds designed to contain an 8 ounce bursting charge.  The spherical case shot weighed 6.22 pounds empty, to which was added 37 musket balls and a half ounce of powder. Canister consisted of a tin cylinder with 48 1-inch diameter cast iron balls, packed with sawdust.  Generally speaking, the Army did not issue solid shot or grapeshot to the field howitzers.  The former would stress the piece and the later was long replaced by canister.

Ames #6 produced in 1841, on Ruggles Line at Shiloh

(Representing Trabue’s or Cobb’s Kentucky Battery.)

Range tables demonstrated one pound of powder propelled the 12-pdr shell, with an elevation of 5 degrees, to a maximum range of 1072 yards.  A three-quarter pound charge fired the case shot to 1050 yards at 3 degrees, 45 minutes elevation. Canister was effective out to 400 yards.  For sights the gunners used a rear pendulum hause, cradled on a seat fixed to the upper breach, paired with a blade sight on the muzzle ring.

The Model 1841 entered production the same year as design, with quantities produced by Cyrus Alger of Boston and N.P. Ames of Springfield, Massachusetts.  Alger temporarily ceased production in 1854 at twenty (including two for Virginia Military Institute, 1 for the Arkansas Military Institute, and 2 for the State of Georgia).  Ames continued through 1858, with totals reaching 136 (including a quantity for the State of New York).  With the start of war, full scale production resumed with 36 more from Alger and at least 16 additions from Ames before all production ceased at those sources in 1862.  The final set from Ames included at least four delivered to the State of Connecticut.

Greenwood #15 at Shiloh
Greenwood #15 at Shiloh

(Representing Swett’s Mississippi Battery along Ruggles’ Line)

Additional Federal production came from several western foundries.  Miles Greenwood’s Eagle Foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio produced 14 of the howitzers starting in 1861.  William Marshall’s Western Foundry in St. Louis added 16.  And a rather obscure B. F. Lemmon of New Albany, Indiana delivered three pieces.

Marshall #23 at Manassas

(Representing Confederate artillery at First Manassas)

Today surviving 12-pdr Model 1841 Field Howitzer are numerous, scattered around the various National Parks in addition to a fair quantity on city squares.   These are easily identified, with the only major variation within production lots being the stampings.  Most produced for Federal use conform to the 1841 regulations for marking.  The registry number appears on the top of the muzzle face, with the inspector’s initials on the bottom.  The example below is Alger registry number 17, inspected by James Wolfe Ripley in 1853.  However, some have the placement of these two stamps inverted.

Muzzle of Alger #17 at Manassas

(Representing Griffin’s Battery D, 5th US at First Manassas)

The weapons weight was stamped below (sometimes above) the knob, as here on Ames #32 at Shiloh (representing Powell’s Battery F, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery).

Weight Marking of Ames #32

By regulation, the founder placed the year of manufacture on the left trunnion, as seen here on Ames #46 at Shiloh (representing Smith’s Mississippi Battery along Ruggles’ line)

Date Stamp on Ames #46

Note the small hole in the center of the trunnions.  This may be a simple hole drilled for handling, or it may be a metal sample.

On the right trunnion is the manufacturer’s mark.

"Marshall & Co. // St. Louis" on #23 at Manassas

However, those for Greenwood use a stamping incorporating the manufacturer’s name, city, and date – which is a standard for the foundry.

Trunnion Stamp for Greenwood #15 at Shiloh

The 12-pdr field howitzer, while light and possessing a projectile of sufficient performance, lacked range.  A 12-pdr Model 1857 Light Field Gun or “Napoleon” weighed only about 625 pounds more when limbered, fired shells 300 yards further, and brought almost as many ready rounds into the battle line.  Furthermore the Napoleon could fire solid shot.   The two types were equal when considering close combat, however.

Marshall #20 in the Shiloh Visitor Center

Widely used in the first half of the war, the 12-pdr howitzers soldiered on through the war in diminishing roles.    Survivors remained on the Army’s armories into the 1890s.  Many then were issued to the fledgling battlefield parks – in a new role honoring the men who had served the pieces in time of war.


Aside from on site notes 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.

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

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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