The Cyrus Alger Napoleon

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.

Napoleon Muzzle - Alger No. 98

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.

Foundry Number 1133

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.

Acceptance Mark - Alger

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:

Revere Acceptance Mark

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.

Alger Reinforce Lines

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.

Rear Reinforce Mark

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.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

7 thoughts on “The Cyrus Alger Napoleon

  1. Love your site, didn’t know about the foundry No. or the reinforce lines, I will look for them.
    I am trying to track a C.A.& Co. Napoleon’s History that we have located at our County Courthouse. we don’t know where it came from or where it has been. Most people thought it was a Confederate piece because it has sat next to a Confederate Memorial for ever, but with it made in Boston that sure rules that out.I have gone over the cannon and feel I have all or most of the markings located. can you help me or tell me who can track down some history on our Cannon?
    Thank You

    1. Ok, Lets see if I have it all;
      C.A. & Co.
      1225 lb
      T.J.R. 1863
      Foundry # 1207
      U.S. Stamped
      Reinforce Lines present
      It is mounted on a concrete stand at the Wilbarger County Courthouse in Vernon,TX. It still has part of the Metal? aiming screwed to the hause seat pad and the front Metal? site is still there. Thank you so much for looking into this.

    2. Larry, The foundry number is listed in “Big Guns” as matched to registry number 138. But the writers of that book note the registry number may be off. Regardless it was produced as you say in 1863 by Alger. Inspected by T.J. Rodman.

      A cursory look through copies of ordnance returns show no matches. But that is typical for Civil War era guns. With so many in the field, often just indicating the type was sufficient for the records. Since the Napoleon was used well into the post-war era, likely this cannon was granted to Vernon for use in the memorial. It was not uncommon for a local politician to request a gun from the Army. (In the North, we often see the GAR or other organization involved, but in the South it is almost invariably a prominent political figure with some pull.)

      Might be a good point to start – are there any papers or other collections associated with the locality’s congressmen from the 1890s or 1910s? If they had “secured” a gun for display, you know the politicians would have mentioned it for good measure.

  2. We have just separated a cannon from its cement base. I have found it is a Cyrus Alger with the following notation: CA & CO No 522 57 3 05.
    Can you give me any information regarding its age? Would it be too much to expect to know where it was before Walpole, MA ? Itwas first mounted on a wooden cariage. Thanks.
    Thesecond one has not been removed from the cement yet, but appears to be the same model.

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