While touring in May, I ran across many rare and interesting artillery pieces. One of these is a rare field piece on display in the visitor center of Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina.
This Confederate 12-pdr Napoleon field gun bears the stamp of “Charleston Arsenal” on the left trunnion. The right trunnion indicates manufacture in 1863. While Confederate sources provided an estimated 535 Napoleons during the war, Charleston Arsenal produced just over a dozen. The Moultrie gun is one of two known survivors. Poor lighting in the theater foiled my attempts to collect close up photos of the markings. However, aside from the trunnion stamps the Napoleon offered only a small weight stamp on the muzzle indicating 1218 pounds.
The profile matches the familiar shape of other “late” model Confederate Napoleons, a form often called Type 5 by secondary sources. From a distance, the Confederate Type 5 is easy to pick out as it lacks the muzzle swell of the standard Federal Napoleon. The knob of the Confederate field guns differs in profile from the Federal type.
While the Federals have what I call a “door knob” profile, the neck of the Confederate weapon seems thicker and does not offer a consistent sweeping arc. Some call the Confederate knob a “rolling pin handle” because of the profile. This Confederate variation did not impact performance.
The Charleston Arsenal pre-dated the Civil War. Established in the 1840s, the arsenal was seized in December 1860 by state forces. Later, under Confederate government direction, the arsenal expanded and produced munitions for the war effort. Shops at the arsenal repaired weapons used around the Charleston area. The shops may have rifled and banded some smoothbore field pieces, or at least supervised the contract work. The Arsenal’s only known artillery piece production are the Napoleons mentioned here.
No records I know of have ever surfaced to document the arsenal’s production. Correspondence between General P.G.T. Beauregard, then commanding the area covering South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and his chief of artillery and ordnance, Colonel A. J. Gonzales mentions the arsenal in connection with Napoleons. Dated May 21, 1863, Gonzales indicates four Napoleons being cast at Charleston Arsenal were slated for issue to the Beaufort Artillery (OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, p. 946).
The Fort Moultrie Napoleon came to the park in a round about way. According to Mike Ryan in The Historic Guns of Fort Sumter and Moultrie, the gun was originally a war trophy in New York. Given to the National Park Service in the 1970s, it remained in storage at Fredericksburg. In 1982 the gun arrived at Fort Moultrie as part of a swap, sending an early production Cyrus Alger Napoleon to Fredericksburg. So in a round about way, the gun returned “home.”
In terms of tactical considerations, this Charleston Napoleon was no different from any other in its class. Perhaps most, if not all, of Charleston’s small production of the type were employed in South Carolina. This gun might not relate stories of great battles, but were it to speak it would carry a distinctive low-country accent.
Aside from on site notes and that mentioned or linked in the text, sources consulted for this post were:
Daniel, Larry J., and Riley W. Gunter. Confederate Cannon Foundries. Union City, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1977
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.