12-pdr Field Gun Model 1841

From the time of the Revolution, the 12-pdr gun was the largest of its type in the American field artillery batteries.  Guns of the caliber saw wide use  in the siege & garrison and naval gun roles, mostly as the smallest weapons applicable to those roles.  But in the field artillery the 12-pdr was the “big gun” supporting the smaller 6-pdrs and field howitzers.

According to doctrine of the time, the 12-pdr field gun suppressed enemy artillery and targeted enemy infantry at long ranges.  Under pre-Civil War allocations, the 12-pdr field gun served in mixed batteries with 24- and 32-pdr field howitzers.  The ratio of issue was four field guns with two howitzers.

The first American 12-pdr field guns were pieces acquired during the Revolution. The Army purchased small batches of cast iron 12-pdrs in the first decades of the 19th Century, mostly for experimental purposes.  In 1835, Cyrus Alger and N.P. Ames collectively 23 bronze Model 1835 Field Guns.  After those deliveries, the Army ordered experimental types using “malleable”, “annealed”, and common cast iron for testing, along with a few imported examples for comparison.  Following the Ordnance Board of 1841, series production resumed with the Model 1841.

Fort Donelson, along the Cumberland River, has a fine example of the 12-pdr Field Gun Model 1841 on display outside the visitor center.  With the exception of the handles, the 12-pdr resembled the smaller 6-pdr Model 1841 in profile.

Fort Donelson 248
12-Field Gun Model 1841 at Fort Donelson

N.P. Ames, of Chicopee, Massachusetts, produced this piece in 1854.  Inspected by Benjamin Huger and given registry number 53, the gun weighed 1,746 pounds.

Models 1835 and 1841 were similar in design.  The main external difference between the two models was the rimbases.  The Model 1835 featured an 8-inch diameter rimbase, while the Model 1841 reduced that to 6.42-inches.

Fort Donelson 249
Left Trunnion and rimbase of 12-pdr Model 1841

The trunnions were 4.62-inch in diameter and 3.5-inches long.  With such dimensions, the 12-pdr field gun shared a common carriage with the 24- and 32-pdr field howitzers.  The 12-pdr field gun also shared the use of handles with the large field howitzers.

Fort Donelson 250
Handles of 12-pdr Field Gun

While both Alger and Ames used a half-octagon cross-section for the handles, the manufacturers employed different “pads” where the handles attached to the gun. As seen here, Ames preferred an octagonal shaped pad. Alger used a rectangular pad, as witnessed by the 12-pdr marking Meade’s Headquarters at Gettysburg.

GB 27 Dec 995
Right Trunnion and Handles of Alger Production

The 12-pdr field gun had the same sight arrangements as smaller guns.  Fixed to the upper breech face, a bracket or seat supported a pendulum hausse.  The front sight was a simple post on the muzzle lip.  Note the small hole for the front sight in the picture below.

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Muzzle of 12-pdr Field Gun

The muzzle profile closely resembles the contemporary 6-pdr Model 1841, to include the chase ring.  A view of the muzzle face shows the registry number and inspector’s initials.

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Muzzle of the 12-pdr Field Gun

The U.S. Army accepted 65 of the 12-pdr Field Gun Model 1841.  Alger produced 14 between 1841 and 1855, with a single example delivered in 1861.  Ames provided 48, batches running from 1841 to 1855.  Outside the scope of this post, eight of the type were on hand during the Mexican War.  In addition to Federal orders, both vendors produced small quantities for state orders.   Tredegar Iron Works also produced a handful of the Model 1841 at the start of the Civil War.

The main problem with the 12-pdr field gun was overall weight.  As discussed in a earlier post, the field gun required an eight horse team.  The weight of gun, carriage, limber, chest, and implements for a 12-pdr Model 1841 was 4,457 pounds.  In 1857, ordnance officers, inspired by French types, designed a  lighter 12-pdr field gun which dropped the service weight down to 3,865 pounds.  We know the type mostly by its nickname “Napoleon.”  The chart below compares important contemporaries of the 12-pdr Model 1841.

The 12-pdr field gun itself weighed twice that of the 6-pdr.  The Napoleon weighed roughly three-quarters that of the Model 1841.  I’ve included the 12-pdr siege gun on the right for reference.  Iron siege guns weighed almost double the bronze field pieces.  The 12-pdr Napoleon offered all the benefits of the caliber at a reduced weight.  After the adoption of the Napoleon, the Model 1841 became the “12-pdr Heavy Field Gun.”

In an effort to extend the use of the 12-pdr Model 1841, the Army directed some of the guns rifled.  In addition both Alger and Ames rifled a small quantity of new production guns.  Surviving rifled 12-pdrs have 12 or 18 groove right-hand twist rifling.

At the start of the war, except the first prototype, only four Napoleons were in service.  While waiting for the Napoleon production to start, the armies pressed the 12-pdr “heavy” field guns into service.  References to “12-pdr guns” in the first half of 1861 indicate some use of the “heavy” gun.  But their front line service was brief, as Napoleon production ramped up quickly.  Their owners then moved the heavy field guns to garrison outposts.


Aside from on site notes, inline citations, 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.

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997.

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

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