Generally speaking, the Federal 12-pdr Napoleons, or to be correct the 12-pdr Light Field Guns Pattern of 1857, Modified, were cast to a very consistent form. I’ve discussed the first “unmodified” Napoleon. Some of the early production models featured handles. And there is the variation with hause seat and base plate pads, specifically for Henry Hooper and Miles Greenwood (Eagle Foundry) production. Otherwise, save six rifled Napoleons and the lone wrought iron experiments, all Federal Napoleons look very much the same…
…Until you look at them close up.
Each foundry had slight differences with markings. Some, such as the large font used on the Greenwood guns, are easy to pick out. Other marking differences require some careful examination. Consider this Napoleon, cast by Cyrus Alger & Company of Boston, Massachusetts, standing guard at the “new” courthouse at Appomattox.
The registry number, foundry, and weight are barely visible after all these years out in the open with birds taking liberties. At the nine-o’clock position is the registry number “98.” At the top is “C.A. & Co.” On the right at the three-o’clock is the weapon weight of 1,219 pounds. Difficult to make out are the inspectors initials “T.J.R.” for Thomas J. Rodman and the date of 1862.
Let’s say those muzzle markings, as often happens, were too badly eroded to read. The next place to look is the right side rimbase.
As required by Federal regulations, the foundry stamped a control number – independent of the registry number – on the right rimbase. This was to aid in tracking casting sequence. Presumably, foundry numbers (or as I often call them “rimbase numbers”) were issued to rejected castings that, having failed inspection, did not receive registry numbers. Quite often, the foundry number survives as the location is among the most protected surfaces of the gun. However, with the position of the top strap over the trunnion often prevents easy reading (or photographs).
Another place to look is the acceptance mark, or the “U.S.” over the trunnions.
Cyrus Alger’s stamp was a rather simple font, just a bit over a half-inch high. Other Napoleons used other fonts and sizes. For example this Revere Copper Napoleon (registry number 41) at Antietam:
In some cases, the only identification one can offer for a Napoleon is that of the manufacturer, based on these “U.S.” acceptance marks.
But for Alger guns, there is one more mark to look for. Might be a long shot, given weathering, but something only seen on Alger Napoleons.
See the faint line running around the gun tube, just at the point the taper begins? Alger castings feature lines on both ends of the reinforce. Here’s a view of the rear reinforce line on an Alger Napoleon (registry number 39) outside the Antietam Visitor Center.
You can just make it out in front of the hause seat pad. These don’t always survive time and the elements. Likely these lines were used to confirm the reinforce dimensions during acceptance inspections. Why similar lines don’t exist for other manufactures? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps just Alger providing some aid to the inspecting officer, whom they worked closely with over the years – Major Thomas J. Rodman.
In summary, yes all Napoleons look the same from a distance. But up close those made by Cyrus Alger had some unique marks. Now not a single variation noted here offered a single point of consideration from a tactical perspective. But if you really want to get to know these artifacts, particularly if you think the gun has a story to tell, take a close look at the markings.
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.