Bells into Guns: Tredegar’s Bronze 6-pdrs

When discussing the long production run of the Model 1841 6-pdr, I mentioned Confederate manufacture of the type.  At least six vendors produced 6-pdrs using the Model 1841 pattern for Confederate orders.  As with Federal manufacture, the production of the type ebbed and then ceased by mid-war.  Tredegar Foundry, in Richmond, produced just short of thirty of the type before switching to 12-pdr Napoleon types in late 1862.

Lexington 129 28 May 11
Tredegar 6-pdr Model 1841, #1444, at V.M.I.

A recent visit to the Virginia Military Institute allowed me to examine two of these guns in detail.  While there is nothing I would point out that effected the tactical performance of the gun, there are some subtle detail variations to note.  Quite possibly these details allude to short-cuts made by the Richmond based vendor to speed production.   Readers may wish to compare photos here with the Model 1841 “walk around” post covering a standard Federal production gun.

Looking first to the breech end of the Tredegar gun, the profile matches those of pre-war production guns from Ames and Alger.  Although from this perspective the neck appears thicker.

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Breech Profile of Tredegar 6-pdr, #1444

Three tapped holes on the breech face show where the hausse seat mounted (and indicates these guns were at least prepared for field service).  The vent does not appear to have any bushing.  The weight stamp, usually placed on the lower breech face on Federal guns, is above the vent in this case – 850.  Tredegar #1443 also located in the trophy display has a weight of 838.

But the fine detail change seen here is the smooth slope from the base ring down to the barrel.  Here’s a view of #1443 to show this was not just a singular variation.

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Breech Profile of Tredegar 6-pdr #1443

Compare that with one of the first 6-pdrs produced by Ames, now on display at Fort Washington, Maryland.

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Breech Profile of Ames #33 at Fort Washington

There was, perhaps, a gradual evolution of the join over time, starting from the very angular early production.  By 1854, Alger had introduced a cavetto with a very fine fillet (see this photo, also used in the walk around linked above).  But Tredegar dispensed with the cavetto and fillet, offering only a slope down from the base ring to the reinforce.

Another detail change appears where the reinforce joins the chase.

Lexington 136 28 May 11
Close Up of the Reinforce-Chase Join on Tredegar Gun #1444

Again, compare to the very early Ames production.

Fort Trip 26 Mar 11 204
Reinforce Shoulder and Trunnions of Model 1841, Ames #33

Tredegar continued a gradual simplification and blending of the join and completely dispensed with the cavetto and fillet.

But Tredegar did not significantly change the muzzle profile.

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Muzzle Profile of Tredegar #1444

Other differences with the Tredegar guns involve the stampings.  On the right trunnion are the typical foundry stamps for the company.

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Right Trunnion of Tredegar #1443

The date stamp appears on the left trunnion.  According to the Tredegar foundry book records, these guns were cast in March 1862.

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Left Trunnion of Tredegar #1444

The foundry number appears at the top of the muzzle face, as is typical for Tredegar guns for Confederate manufacture.

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Muzzle of Tredegar #1443

The V.M.I. guns retain the front blade sight, which is often removed or broken on examples in the National Parks.    Such is the case of Tredegar #1127 located on Ruggles Line at Shiloh (representing Roberts’ Battery, which I referenced yesterday, by the way).

Ruggles bty 404
Tredegar #1127 at Shiloh

This particular gun has the initials “N.C.” stamped over the trunnions, possibly alluding to manufacture for a state order early in the war.  Another gun of this type is on display at Edenton, North Carolina.  Tredegar cast #1531 from metal obtained from Edenton’s bells.  That particular 6-pdr served the Confederacy up to the end of the war.

As mentioned above, Tredegar produced under thirty of the bronze smoothbore 6-pdrs following the Model 1841 form.  The company also produced a handful of bronze 3-inch rifles, also using the Model 1841 form (thus providing an interesting parallel with the early James Type 1 rifles).  But a shortage of bronze caused Tredegar to shift to iron for 6-pdrs and 3-inch rifles.  Later Confederate authorities required another shift to 12-pdr Napoleons (often cast from melted down 6-pdrs) and Parrott rifles.

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Tredegar 6-pdr Model 1841, #1443

The four guns mentioned here (two at V.M.I., one at Shiloh, and one now at Edenton) certainly offer a small profile of early Confederate armament production. Early in the war Tredegar opted for proven designs, and often using less than desirable metals.  As the war continued, the bronze 6-pdrs gave way to heavier guns.  And were often sacrificed in the melting pot toward that end.

Perhaps further emphasizing the ersatz nature of Confederate weapons production, a copy of Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Washington stands beside the trophy guns at V.M.I.

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Bronze Washington Statue at V.M.I.

Recall the connection between that statue and the Washington Foundry which also produced cannon for the Confederacy.

NOTE:  If any readers can shed light on the “plaque” that appears between the trunnions on the V.M.I guns, I’d invite you to share via comments.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

8 thoughts on “Bells into Guns: Tredegar’s Bronze 6-pdrs

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