Cast for Training, Used in Battle: The Cadet 6-pdrs

Although the regulation 6-pdr Model 1841 remained in production right up to the Civil War, several non-regulation light field guns appeared from the mid-1840s onwards.  These were cast to fill militia batteries, private concerns, or for experimental purposes.  Both Cyrus Alger and Ames Manufacturing produced light 4-pdr field guns, some of which saw action in Kansas.  And some time back I mentioned the “Alger Eagles” at Shiloh, which appeared in 1844.  Although their purpose is somewhat a mystery, the exterior form hinted at some evolution during the period.  Cyrus Alger, without Federal orders for light field guns from 1845 to 1851, courted any paying customer of course.  Of these various lots of non-regulation types, the best documented are the Cadet Guns cast for Virginia, Georgia, and Arkansas starting in 1847.

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The Four Apostles at V.M.I.

The story goes that in 1847, the Virginia Military Institute had a requirement for artillery to train cadets.  But the institute lacked horses to pull full sized field guns.  V.M.I. needed 6-pdr guns, but significantly lighter than the full sized Model 1841.  Some sources credit Major Rufus L. Baker at Watervliet Arsenal with the design of a small “Cadet Gun.”  The original plaque beside the guns indicated Watervliet cast the guns.  But the trunnion stamps leave no doubt as to the vendor who produced the guns.

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Right Trunnion of Cadet Gun

Alger, with the lull of Federal orders mentioned above, cast four of the Cadet Guns for Virginia along with two regulation pattern 12-pdr Field Howitzers.  The Cadet Guns measured just over 51 inches from knob to muzzle (46 inches from base ring to muzzle), and weighed 570 pounds.  The full sized 6-pdr caliber bore was 43 inches long. The base ring measured 9.5 inches in diameter.  The trunnions were 2.8 inches in diameter, necessitating a smaller version of the standard field carriage.

Alger finished these guns in 1848, as evidenced by the stamp on the left trunnion.

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Left Trunnion of Cadet Gun

The weight of the four guns varied only by fourteen pounds between 562 and 576 pounds.

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Breech of Cadet Gun with Weight Stamp

The four guns bore registry numbers 86, 87, 88, and 89.

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Muzzle of Registry Number 88

Hard to make out, due to many years of use, are the initials “R.L.B.” for Rufus Baker, which further confirms the Major’s connection to these guns.

And all four received the Seal of Virginia over the Trunnions.

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Seal of Virginia

But the most interesting feature of these guns, from the standpoint of design, is the external form.

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Cadet Guns in Profile

For those of us looking at the guns from over 160 years after their manufacture, these look like miniature Napoleon guns.  There’s the muzzle swell and the very smooth lines back to the breech.  The rimbases join the tube without any blending.  About the only part that detracts is the base ring at the breech.

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Cadet Guns at V.M.I. with view of Breech Profile

So while intended for training cadets, these guns offered a rather forward-looking exterior form lacking in the service pieces of the day.  From an “evolutionary” look, the Cadet Guns were a step towards the smooth forms seen in Civil War gun production.

On the other hand, the 12-pdr field howitzers ordered at the same time conformed to the standard Model 1841 design of that caliber.

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12-pdr Cadet Field Howitzer at V.M.I.

In addition to the guns produced for V.M.I. the Arkansas Military Institute received two Cadet Guns in 1851 along with two 12-pdr howitzers.  The Georgia Military Institute likewise received four Cadet Guns and two 12-pdr howitzers in 1852.  The later were inspected by Benjamin Huger, but otherwise the entire set of Cadet Guns differed only with the state seal applied over the trunnions.

All ten of these Cadet Guns went from the training grounds to the battlefields during the Civil War.  Perhaps Robert Moore might offer a detailed discussion of the Virginia guns use by the Rockbridge Artillery.  But I will say the four Cadet Guns saw action at Manassas on Henry Hill.  The guns wheeled into battery opposite the 10-pdr Parrotts on the Federal line.  While the Confederates got the upper hand in that exchange, the front line service of the Cadet Guns was cut short as the Rebels acquired more suitable artillery tubes over the following years of war.

And yes, I must mention the red carriages.  As mentioned above, these were down-scaled versions of the regulation carriages.  The red paint ensured the cadet battery stood out when on parade.  However, I have always wondered how soon into the war the traditional olive color for carriages (as seen on the howitzer at V.M.I. today).

Let me close, however, by noting that the four historic guns at V.M.I., with their red paint and authentic carriages, are on display today thanks to the support of author Jeff Shaara.