12-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1838

For me, an attraction of the “western” Civil War battlefields is encountering rare or at least uncommon artillery pieces.  Last week I was able to examine not one but two 12-pdr Field Howitzers of Model 1838 pattern.

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12-pdr Model 1838, Ames Reg #13, Wilson's Creek NBP

The example at Wilson’s Creek is the Visitor Center.  Lighting prevented a quality photo of the markings, but my notes verify this as registry number 13 from N.P. Ames, produced in 1840.    I’ve mentioned the type in a post last December covering the early 12-pdr Field Howitzers (those preceding the familiar Model 1841).

I was able to check another Ames Model 1838 at Pea Ridge in more detail.

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12-pdr Model 1838, Ames Reg #15, Pea Ridge NMP

The main difference between the Model 1838, its predecessor the Model 1835 and the Model 1841 was the length of the piece.  The Model 1838 was four inches shorter than the other models.  This is not easily determined without measurements.  The distance between the muzzle and chase ring is perhaps an inch shorter than the other models.

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Muzzle and Chase Ring of Model 1838

The easiest for a field observer to pick out is the weight, if the stampings are visible.

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Breech of Model 1838 - Markings, Vent, and Lockpiece Mount

The registry number (15), weight (691 pounds), and inspector (J.W.R. – John Wolfe Ripley) appear on the upper breech face.  Model 1841 howitzers weighed about 85 to 90 pounds more.

Note the multiple threaded holes around the vent.  I am told these are definitely mounting points for a lockpiece.  In brief, this was a firing mechanism similar to that used on naval guns of the period, using a primer placed over the vent.

Cyrus Alger and N.P. Ames produced 21 Model 1838 howitzers between 1838 and 1840 (nine of which survive).  For all practical purposes, the type was simply an evolutionary step, if not misstep, towards the Model 1841.

Next time you see a 12-pdr on the battlefield that looks smaller than usual, check the weight stamps.  You may have found a Model 1838.

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