John C. Fremont’s Mountain Howitzer

A few days ago I received an email from Bob Graham mountain howitzer used before the Civil War in the west.  Bob maintains an excellent site about the mid-1840s Fremont expedition.  He has documented the story of a mountain howitzer lost by the Fremont expedition while traversing the mountains near the California-Nevada border in January 1844.   (And here’s more on the story of the search for this lost howitzer.)  In his email Bob related:

This is still an ongoing project.

But the recovered parts, including a trunnion plate/axle band/axle strap assembly, another chin bolt, and the iron tires have shown that the first 12 carriages built at Watervliet in 1837 followed the pattern of the French Mod. 1828 carriage.

Like French carriage, the first model US carriage had a round-sectioned axle, which is the main point in the ID of the recovered parts.

The change to a square axle (and other changes) came after the Mexican War.
There is no other extant example of the first (1837) production of 12.

Readers might recall my discussion of the Model 1835 Mountain Howitzer from last year.  As I noted in that post, the Americans copied the French design, but placed the trunnions on the center-line of the cannon.  I didn’t know at the time of that post, but I know now, that the American howitzer also measured a bit shorter than the French weapon.  John Morris posted an interesting side-by-side comparison between American, French, and Spanish mountain howitzers, on the Company of Military Historians forum.

Bob’s research, however, brings up another interesting detail of the mountain howitzer’s history.  As he noted, the first carriages built in America followed the French pattern.  The carriage featured a different stock assembly and axle than later American carriages.  The image below is from Bob’s website:

French Carriage

Notice the French carriage lacks separate “cheeks” as seen on more familiar American carriages of Civil War vintage.  Bob offered up this photoshopped version of one of my photos for comparison:

While the changes might seem superficial, I would offer that any changes to the carriage pattern was approved only after study by the Army’s Ordnance Board.  The board, for the most part, only offered changes in direct response to tests and feedback from field use.  So any variation speaks to the serviceability and availability of the weapon.

As Bob notes, searchers recovered parts of the carriage, but not the howitzer itself.  That howitzer may actually be the one on display at the Nevada State Museum (Cyrus Alger registry number 3, cast in 1837).  Further, there is no record of recovery for the expedition’s supply of 12-pdr ammunition, likely left at the site.

Thanks, Bob!