Standing near the Washington Artillery’s Clark and Wolff howitzers is a field howitzer from yet another Confederate arms maker from the western theater. While those two types have the gray-green patina of bronze, the other howitzer is a black-painted, stumpy iron piece.
12-pdr Brennan Field Howitzer
The Nashville based T.M. Brennan produced this cannon at a facility, known both as the Claiborne Machine Works and Brennan Foundry. Brennan’s work with field artillery began in May 1861 with contracts to produce four batteries worth of cannon for the State of Tennessee. These were mixed batteries with both 6-pdr guns and 12-pdr howitzers.
In September 1861, Brennan wrote a letter to Confederate General Leonidas Polk outlining his firm’s capabilities. Brennan bragged that his product was, “…a very superior cast iron gun from the best Tennessee cold blast iron thoroughly mixed and manipulated in an air furnace put up expressly for the manufacture of guns and combining all the recent improvements.” Brennan went on to note the guns had survived testing with quadruple charges.
The phrase “all the recent improvements” offers a step-stone for some speculation. As Brennan alluded to his cold blast furnace, along with the manipulation of the iron mix, clearly this references how his firm developed the iron for the guns. In the two decades prior to the Civil War, extensive tests by the US Army provided several conclusions about the best mix of ingredients for gun metal. The Army also identified the ills of using hot blast iron in cannon production.
Another point to consider is the shape of Brennan’s cannon. The 12-pdr in the photo above features a smooth profile, not greatly different than the “ordnance shape” established on the eve of the war by the Army.
So when referencing “recent improvements” Brennan may have been applying new procedures conveniently borrowed from the US Ordnance Department’s summaries. Or he may have acted under the guidance of ordnance officers or other knowledgeable authorities. Or perhaps, Brennan is referencing tests conducted locally to refine gun design. Perhaps a little of all three.
What ever influenced Brennan’s efforts, his firm produced a notable quantity of cannon for Confederate orders in the first year of the war. In addition to field and siege guns (which I’ll cover in other posts), the foundry delivered eighteen to twenty 12-pdr field howitzers. When the facility suffered a fire, Brennan sent batches of guns already cast out to a company in Clarksville for boring and finishing. However, the course of the war permanently shut down Brennan’s facility in February 1862 as the Federals occupied Nashville.
The howitzer on display at Shiloh is one of three surviving 12-pdrs from the firm. It measures 58 inches, with a diameter around the breech of 11 inches. Again, using the “one size fits all” carriage as an indicator, note the position of the elevating screw. About the same length as regulation 12-pdrs, the weight of iron around the breech required the trunnions further back on the howitzer for balance. Markings on the left trunnion confirm the production year of 1861.
Left Trunnion of Brennan Howitzer
On the right, barely readable, are stamps indicating the manufacturer.
Right Trunnion of Brennan Howitzer
This reads “T.M. Brennan // Maker // Nashville // Tenn”.
Muzzle of Brennan Howitzer
The muzzle offers no additional markings. However the simple lip and flat face are similar to late Federal patterns, notably the 12-pdr Model 1857 “Napoleon.” But of course in iron instead of bronze.
As noted, Brennan produced several batteries worth of field artillery before being overrun. Some of the Tennessee batteries used Brennan’s guns and howitzers in the 1862 battles. That raises the possibility the example on display along Ruggles Line at Shiloh stands today near the spot it was used during the war.
Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:
Papers and letters for T.M. Brennan, Confederate Citizens Files. (Access through Footnote.com)
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.
Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.