Spanish 6-pdr, Part 2 – The Gribeauval Gun

In an earlier post I mentioned these two Spanish 6-pdr guns at Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine, Florida.

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Spanish 6-pdrs at the Castillo

As detailed in that earlier post, the gun on the left was cast in 1762 with a design dating back to the first part of the 18th century.  That gun came into American hands as a trophy from the Mexican-American War.  In this post I’ll look at the gun to the right, which is a Spanish Gribeauval 6-pdr.

That system of artillery is named for French General Jean Baptiste Gribeauval.  Established by royal decree in 1765, this was one of the first systems of artillery adopted by a major power.  And it was certainly the most influential of the 18th century.  While Gribeauval probably didn’t design the entire system himself, but rather directed the reforms.

The Gribeauval system called for lighter guns, weighing no more than fifty times the weight of the shot fired.  The system limited the length of guns to 18 calibers – or 18 times the diameter of the bore.  And Gribeauval removed most ornamentation, although retaining many rings and moldings.  The profile of a 24-pdr siege howitzer demonstrates the main components of the gun design.

24-pdr Gribeauval Siege from Napoleon III's "Studies in Artillery"

The Gribeauval system standardized French service calibers to 4-, 8-, and 12-pdrs for field use.  The system included larger calibers, such as the 24-pdr above, for siege operations and fortification garrisons.

The system also standardized the artillery carriages.  A reproduction example of one such carriage is seen below, from a display at Yorktown Battlefield. (The gun is actually an older Valliere pattern weapon.)

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French 4-pdr on Reproduction Gribeauval Carriage

Unlike the Civil War era carriages, which are more familiar to readers, the Gribeauvals mounted the gun between brackets.  For field guns, the breech lay on top of a shelf.  A hand turned screw under the shelf elevated the gun. And also note the second dip in the brackets.  When transporting the gun, the crew pulled it back to rest the trunnions there.

While successful, the Gribeauval system was not perfect.  Through the Napoleonic era, the French attempted to reform the system but never fully replaced Gribeauval’s in service.  With close family ties between the royal houses, the Spanish army adopted the French system.  However the Spanish opted to use British calibers – 6-, 9-, and 12-pdr in particular.  But the Spanish retained the exterior form.

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Spanish 6-pdr Gribeauval Gun

From muzzle swell back, the gun has a chase ring, rings for the first and second reinforce, and a raised base ring.  The reinforce rings incorporate ogees which are molded steps down on the forward edge of the ring.  Between the reinforce rings are the trunnions and dolphins.  The dolphins are simplified to squared off handles.  Notice the trunnions have rimbases, which helped center the weapon on the carriage.  These were very important where the crew had to move the gun between firing and traveling positions on the carriage.

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Muzzle and Chase of Spanish 6-pdr

Like many Spanish guns, this one has a name – “El Uenado” which I think translates to “stag” or “deer” in English.

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Breech and Inscripton on Spanish 6-pdr

The base ring on the gun contains a typical Spanish inscription set. The gun was cast at Barcelona.  I’m not an expert on the inscription styles used, but the date given appears to be December 18, 1767.  If so, this was among the earliest Spanish Gribeauvals.  The seal of King Charles III appears in front of the vent.  Notice the pierced knob, which may be a modification to fit non-Gribeauval carriages.

No plaques or trophy marks aid interpretation of this gun’s past.  A similar piece, down to the inscription and name, were reported in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a turn of the century guidebook.  Speculation at that time placed the gun as one supplied to the Americans during the Revolution. Very likely this gun served an ornamental purpose during the Civil War, if it was in the country at all.

Yet, from a Civil War artillerist’s perspective, there are a couple of reasons to mention this Spanish 6-pdr.  While few French Gribeauval guns found their way to North America, a fair number of Spanish guns ended up in the U.S. – particularly by way of Florida and Mexico.  I’ve already mentioned some 9- and 12-pdrs at the Navy Yard that saw limited employment during the Civil War.  Occasional references in wartime correspondence mentions “old Spanish guns” impressed for limited service.

The second reason to pay mind to the Spanish Gribeauval is to mention the influence of that system on American artillery design through the 19th century.  Lacking uniformity in the early days of the country, ordnance officers mimicked the French system in spirit, but not in caliber.  While using iron guns similar to British designs, the Americans opted for Gribeauval style carriages.  John Gibbon’s Artillerist Manual of 1861 gave mention to the Gribeauval system, noting modifications made by Americans to improve the carriages.  In reality, Gibbon is perhaps far too generous as the American “modifications” were more to adapt another French system, named for Sylvain Charles Valée developed in 1825-1831.   That system was heavily influenced by the British carriage designs, which Griffin dismissed in the text.

So while the two Spanish 6-pdrs highlighted here had no combat employment during the Civil War, each offers stories.  Those stories tell a bit more about the guns and the men who served them.

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