Model 1861 6-pdr Field Gun: The Ultimate Form, But a Little too Late

In American service the 6-pdr field gun, as a class of weapon, progressed from an “iron age” to a series of bronze guns (Model 1835, Models 1838 and 1840), evolving into the definitive Model 1841.  Through this evolution the ordnance officers paid some attention to the external form, so the exterior retained moldings with many sharp angles.  As I’ve pointed out in earlier posts, some experimental and non-regulation types introduced smoother exterior forms.  But the Army officially retained the moldings for regulation guns.

That changed at the eve of the Civil War as ordnance officers began crafting a new Ordnance Manual (actually published in 1862).  For the “Models of 1861” the manual prescribed the following form:

The bore, a cylinder terminated by a semi-ellipsoid, the chamfer [sic].  The breech: the cascabel, the knob, the neck.  The body of the gun: the reinforce, the chase, the muzzle, the face, the trunnions, the rimbases.  For rifled guns, vent-piece, wrought copper, screwed in.

The manual continued with “Moldings. – None.”  The desired form was a sweeping and blended exterior, which some contemporary accounts (and certainly we today) would call a “bottle-shape.”  Historians have taken the manual’s description to define the “ordnance shape” seen on many guns in different calibers produced through the Civil War.

For the 6-pdr class, the new manual did not offer particulars for a 6-pdr gun using this “Model of 1861” form, instead offering the data for the standard Model 1841.  However, Ames Manufacturing Company received an order for six “new model” 6-pdrs in the fall of 1861.  Two facts argue that the “new model” was indeed a batch of Model 1861 6-pdrs.  At the time Ames had contracts for Model 1841 6-pdrs, and such were annotated differently.  And even more convincing, six surviving guns at Shiloh National Battlefield, numbered one through six, bear the Ames stamps and 1861 dates.  (The one pictured below stands next to the marker for Roberts’ Arkansas Battery on Ruggles Line.)

Ruggles bty 409
6-pdr Model 1861, Ames #2 at Shiloh

Casual observers might mistake this gun for a James 3.8-inch rifle, Type 2.  The smoothbore 6-pdr is only an inch shorter than the rifle.  For comparison, the chart below offers the particulars for the Model 1841 and 1861 6-pdrs along side those of the James Type 2 and the 3-inch Ordnance Rifle.  The last three, of course, sharing the “ordnance shape.”

Weights varied with different metals, but all three “ordnance shape” guns had similar exterior dimensions.  All four gun types used the same basic carriage as indicated by the trunnion diameter and rimbase space.

Since Ames Manufacturing also produced all James Type 2 rifles, the logical conclusion is the company used the same casting pattern for both the Model 1861 smoothbores and the rifled guns – transitioning from the Model 1841 pattern form used with the James Type 1 rifles in the fall of 1861.  Some sources identify the Model 1861 6-pdrs as “James Smoothbores.”  I disagree with that nomenclature.  Such alludes to a connection with Charles James that is not documented (and likely did not exist).  I would argue the only connection is the use of the Model 1861 form by some of the James rifles.

After the six delivered in November 1861, Ames shifted field gun production to the rifles and Napoleon 12-pdrs.  But later the State of Connecticut ordered several 6-pdrs from Ames.  The last delivered sometime in 1864, likely these were the last 6-pdr smoothbores produced in the United States.

One of those “Connecticut” guns sits on Matthews Hill at Manassas today.  So keeping with the “Bull Run” focus for the 6-pdr discussions, here’s a walk-around that gun.

Manassas 28 May 11 018
Model 1861 6-pdr at Manassas

The breech of the gun offers a familiar profile.

Manassas 28 May 11 019
Breech of Model 1861 6-pdr

The 6-pdr lacks the sight socket and retaining screw hole seen on the James rifles.  I would point out that the Connecticut guns lack the tap holes for the hausse seat (see the first photo above from Shiloh).  The hausse seat is still on one of the guns at Shiloh which were produced for Federal contracts.

Ruggles bty 294
Hausse Seat on Model 1861 6-pdr at Shiloh, Ames #4

The absence of the screw holes on the Connecticut gun may indicate the weapon was never configured for service – perhaps only used for ornamental or ceremonial purposes.

Above the vent is the inscription “State of Conn.”  On the Manassas gun, this is weathered.  Its sister gun at Fort Doneslon is a bit less worn.  Note also the vent bushing seen here.

Manassas 28 May 11 020
"State of Conn." Stamp

The weight stamp of “862” appears below the knob.

Manassas 28 May 11 027
Weight Stamp on Model 1861 Gun

As per the practice of the time, Ames’  stamp appears on the right trunnion.  By this time the company went by the name “Ames Co.”, adding “founders” and the location of “Chicopee, Mass.”

Manassas 28 May 11 024
Right Trunnion of Model 1861

The left trunnion bears the year of manufacture – 1862.

Manassas 28 May 11 021
Left Trunnion of Model 1861

The trunnions attach to rimbases which blend into the barrel with a very gradual curve.  Over the trunnions of the Connecticut guns are the initials “W.A.B.”  This may stand for William Alfred Buckingham, wartime governor of Connecticut.

Manassas 28 May 11 026
Middle, over Trunnions, of Model 1861

Looking at the muzzle, the lack of blade sight and rifling provide other discriminators when separating the Model 1861 from James Type 2 rifles.  The Federal Model 1861 guns have the inspectors stamp and registry number on the muzzle.  Those apparently were left off for the Connecticut guns.

Manassas 28 May 11 022
Muzzle of Model 1861

The Model 1861 6-pdr (don’t call it a James!) was the last of the line for it’s class.  Perhaps the ultimate refinement of 6-pdr guns in American service dating back to the Colonial era.  But the caliber was obsolete by the Civil War.  The legacy of the Model 1861 was providing an exterior form for rifled guns that saw widespread service during the war.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Model 1861 6-pdr Field Gun: The Ultimate Form, But a Little too Late

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