Napoleons in Gray: Confederate light 12-pdr Field Guns

Thus far most of my “Napoleonic” posts have focused on guns made for the Federal side of the war.  But as any student of the war knows, the Confederates made light 12-pdr field guns too.  So time I put descriptions of those guns in my posting queue.

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Leeds & Company "Type 2" Napoleon

Recall the Napoleon was the “new toy” in the field artillery batteries when the war broke out.  Of five 12-pdr Model 1857 Field Guns in service by July 1861, one – the prototype – was considered unserviceable and the other four were in Captain Henry Hunt’s Company M, 2nd US Artillery.  Of course the Confederates started the war with none.  Very early, artillerists on both sides recognized the advantage of the light 12-pdr.  Last summer I wrote of Brigadier General William Barry’s preference.  On the Confederate side, the preference shift came later during the 1862 campaign season. By December of that year, General Robert E. Lee cited the need to upgrade all smoothbore weapons in the Army of Northern Virginia to 12-pdr light field guns.

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Quinby & Robinson "Type 3" Napoleon

Confederate Napoleon production, although on a limited scale, preceded the demand.  J.R. Anderson (Tredegar) held a contract from the State of Georgia, issued in February 1861, which included twelve 12-pdr light field guns.  However, wartime demands likely overtook the completion of that contract.  To the west, foundries in New Orleans and Memphis both produced 12-pdr Napoleons prior to the fall of those river cities in the spring of 1862.  Only after the winter of 1862-3 did Confederate Napoleon production start in earnest, when production shifted to government run foundries and arsenals.  Overall production totals, estimated at over 500 examples, was less than half that of the Federal foundries.

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Confederate "Type 5" Napoleon from Macon Arsenal

In Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, the historians James C. Hazlett, Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks offered six categories to define the documented and surviving Confederate Napoleons:

  • Type 1 – early designs attributed to Tredegar.  Similar to the early Federal types with handles.  However with a 12-inch long reinforce, higher breech face (“more conical”), and bulbous muzzle swell.  The Type known only from a plan found in the National Archives, with no matching survivors.
  • Type 2 – early production from Leeds & Company and Quinby & Robinson.  These resemble standard Federal production patterns, with slightly different moldings at the muzzle and cascabel.
  • Type 3 – represented by a single surviving gun from Quinby & Robinson, lacking muzzle swell but with a chase ring.
  • Type 4 – Tredegar production from November 1862.  These survivors feature the breech face and 12-inch reinforce from the paper Type 1, but without the muzzle swell.
  • Type 5 – the most widely produced and what might be considered the “standard” Confederate design.  This type featured a 15 inch reinforce, elongated knob and neck cascabel, and a straight taper to the muzzle, with no swell.  Although each has detail variations, four government gun factories made this type along with Tredegar.
  • Type 6 – in the last year of the war Tredegar turned to cast iron when bronze came in short supply.  These feature a breech band and blended rimbases.

Tredegar produced just under half of the Confederate Napoleons, in both bronze and iron types.   And half of Tredegar’s deliveries were cast iron Type 6 guns.

Tredegar "Type 6" Iron Napoleon

Aside from the small quantity of Type 2 and 3 guns, an estimated 20, the remainder of the Confederate Napoleons came from the deep south government run facilities – the Government Foundry and Machine Works, Augusta Georgia; Macon Arsenal, Macon, Georgia; the Confederate States Arsenal, Columbus, Georgia; and the Charleston Arsenal, Charleston, South Carolina.  An estimated 270 came from those four facilities.

Charleston Arsenal "Type 5" Napoleon

With the various types and sources, the story of the Confederate Napoleon is good fodder for future posts.

9 thoughts on “Napoleons in Gray: Confederate light 12-pdr Field Guns

  1. Hi Craig

    Was the different types deployed all over – in eastern and western theaters – or were they distributed to the “local” armies ? Tredegar for ANV and so on ?

    • We don’t know for sure. Certainly the Leeds, Q&R guns remained in the west. Most of the Tredegar guns were earmarked for the ANV. But guns from the government foundries went where the need was.

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