Twenty-one Years of Production: 6-pdr Model 1841

The last post covered the design and performance of the Model 1841 6-pdr Field Gun.  Now we’ll turn to the production figures for this weapon.  At the eve of the Civil War this model of field gun was the most widely used in service with the regular army, along with state and local militia forces.  When a commander called up artillery in the early battles of 1861, the most likely guns to appear were Model 1841 6-pdrs.

When first issued to the artillery batteries, the Army’s doctrine called for mixed batteries with four guns and two howitzers.  The 6-pdr field guns paired with 12-pdr field howitzers under that configuration.  That in mind, production contracts usually proceeded in a 2:1 ratio with the contemporary Model 1841 12-pdr Field Howitzer.

Two Massachusetts vendors filled the Army’s bronze cannon requirements in the years leading up to the Civil War – Cyrus Alger & Company and Ames Manufacturing Company (also going by N.P. Ames and Ames Company). The Army placed its first orders for the Model 1841 guns in March of that year.  The aforementioned vendors provided ten each by the fall of that year.  Orders continued with batches (often in quantities of 25) over the next five years.  By the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, Alger’s deliveries reached registry number 85, while Ames reached 237.

With those numbers, the Model 1841 6-pdr formed the backbone of the artillery batteries used in that war.   One of those “early” production Model 1841 sits today at Fort Washington, Maryland.   Ames registry number 33, inspected by James Wolfe Ripley in 1842, features extensive engravings.  Although the service history of this particular piece is unknown, the engravings allude to perhaps an ornamental or ceremonial role.

Fort Trip 26 Mar 11 204
Engravings on Ames Registry #33

On the other hand, several of these early Model 1841 6-pdrs are known, by registry number, as Mexican War veterans.  Historian John Morris uncovered a remarkable inventory of such weapons made by then Captain Benjamin Huger in September 1847 while the Chief of Ordnance for the Department of Vera Cruz.  Among those weapons inventoried was Ames registry #182.  The gun is presently at Gettysburg NMP, but was unfortunately converted to a “False Napoleon.

GB 27 Dec 773
Muzzle of Ames #182

After the Mexican War, Model 1841 6-pdrs remained in production.  By the end of 1860, Alger registry numbers reached 164, while those of Ames topped 528.  Those are of course official Army tracking numbers.  Both companies delivered sizable numbers for state and private contracts. In exterior form, the smoothbore 6-pdrs remained unchanged through the period.  Again perhaps a testament to sound design.

Perhaps the only significant variation from the pre-Civil War lots involved early attempts to provide rifled field guns.  I’ve discussed those in detail during posts about the James Rifles.  Model 1841 6-pdrs received rifling as part of General Charles T. James early experiments.  Later many of the old guns became James Type 1, when bored out to 3.80 inches and with rifling applied.  One of those represents Confederate batteries at Manassas today.

Manassas 19 July 043
Ames #176 now a James Rifle Type 1

Ames cast registry #176 as a smoothbore.  At some point, presumably just before or at the start of the Civil War, after boring to 3.8-inch diameter the gun received 15 groove rifling.

Other Model 1841 6-pdrs were not bored out to 3.8-inch but instead had the rifling applied directly to the original 3.67-inch bores.  I’ve discussed those at length in an earlier post.  As noted there, some of these “rifled 6-pdrs” were certainly part of pre-war experiments, thus the “bridge” between the smoothbore and rifled guns.  Others were produced as rifled guns from the start, using the form of the Model 1841.  In the early days of the Civil War, combatants were eager for anything that would shoot.  So vendors found a market for these otherwise marginal bronze rifles.

The rather exclusive pre-war sourcing of the Model 1841 6-pdr allowed the manufacturers to perfect casting techniques.  But it also left much of that “art” remote from southern manufacturing facilities.  However the Army did share the plans for the guns with other gunmakers and state authorities.  When the Civil War broke out, these patterns served to guide many “new” bronze gunmakers.  Two other Massachusetts foundries, Henry N. Hooper and Revere Copper, produced small quantities of the type.  From west of the Appalachians, Eagle Foundry (Miles Greenwood) in Cincinnati, the Western Foundry (William Marshall) in St. Louis, and Benjamin Lemmon of Indianapolis produced quantities of Model 1841 6-pdrs (along with rifled variations).

Confederate foundries also followed the pattern.  Tredegar, John Clarke (New Orleans), Leeds & Company (New Orleans), Quinby & Robinson (Memphis), A.M. Paxton (Vicksburg), A.B. Reading & Brother (Vicksburg), and others followed the Model 1841 pattern, sometimes not so faithfully.   All of which I plan to look at in follow up posts.

Civil War service indicated the shortfalls of 6-pdr calibers compared to the 12-pdr “light” gun or Napoleon.  By 1862 the Federals stopped ordering more Model 1841 type guns.  Likewise, Confederate ordnance officers suggested melting down the 6-pdrs for the metal’s use in Napoleon guns.  However, even in the later years of the war, foundries delivered 6-pdrs for state orders, but using the Model 1861 pattern, which I will turn to in a later post, instead of the 1841.

Although declared obsolete after the war, with well over 850 produced, the Model 1841 remained on the Army’s inventory reports well into the 1880s.  From there, the story of the guns merges into the story of the battlefield parks and Civil War memorials.

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Aside from on site notes 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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