Howitzers from the Big Easy: Leeds and Company Field Howitzers

Leeds & Company of New Orleans is another “western” private vendor who provided cannon to the Confederacy.  Before the war, the iron foundry produced steam and milling equipment.  At the onset of war, the firm transitioned to supply ordnance and stores for private, state, and Confederate customers.  Leeds & Company provided labor and other support such as rifling older weapons.

With respect to cannons, I’ve mentioned their 6-pdr field guns and 12-pdr light field guns (Napoleons) in earlier posts.  Also among the firm’s castings were columbiads, naval guns, 6-pdr rifles (actually 3.3-inch caliber), and 12-pdr field howitzers.  One of the later survives today on the Wilderness battlefield, and is the focus of today’s post.

Wilderness 24 Nov 12 439
Leeds & Company 12-pdr Field Howitzer at the Wilderness

In profile, this gun could easily pass for a Federal Model 1841 12-pdr Field Howitzer. The right trunnion stamps affirm the vendor’s identity and thus Confederate origin.

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Right Trunnion of Leeds howitzer

Allow me an “editorial” pinch here.  Notice the heavy layers of paint.  The practice of indiscriminately slathering the trunnion caps with black paint when performing maintenance on the carriage often obscures the markings. In this case, “Leeds & Co. // New Orleans” is clearly visible.  But how many more layers of black paint might be applied before those stamps are filled in?

The number “23” appears on the right rimbase. But alas my photo is rather blurry.  So you’ll have to take my word for it.  The left trunnion offers the year of manufacture.

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Left Trunnion of Leeds howitzer

The muzzle face shows no markings, or for that matter little variation from the Federal Model 1841 field howitzer.

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Muzzle face of Leeds howitzer

The muzzle profile conforms to the base Model 1841 pattern.

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Muzzle profile of Leeds howitzer

My field measurements indicate the muzzle ring and chase ring are a few tenths closer together than Federal howitzers. But the variance is hardly worth mentioning.  The measure of the muzzle ring, at one inch wide, and …

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Measure of muzzle ring on Leeds howitzer

… and the chase ring, at 11/16ths of an inch, match the dimensions of Federal howitzers I’ve measured.

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Measure of Leeds howitzer chase ring

The knob extends about 4 1/4 inches from the face of the breech.

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Measure of knob on Leeds howitzer

This is about a quarter inch shorter than Federal types.  Notice the significant fillet at the attachment to the breech face, which is also a deviation from the Federal pattern.

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Breech profile of Leeds howitzer

Otherwise the breech face and profile are little different than the Federal types.

Notice the three tapped holes on the upper breech face where the hausse seat was fixed, matching with the threaded socket for front sight.  These holes indicate the howitzer was indeed fitted for use.   That said, where might this cannon have been during the war?

The date on the trunnion offers room for speculation.  Looking to the paper trails in the Citizens Files, Leeds & Company sold howitzers to the Confederate Army in March and April 1862.

Page 35

An invoice from March 3, 1862 (above) bills for two 6-pdrs field guns and two 12-pdr howitzers.  Another from March 4 charges for two 6-pdrs guns and four howitzers. The receiving officer for these guns was a “Major Smith”, whom I could identify but not with certainty.  Notice the light writing at the bottom – “The above two Howitzers were issued to Captain Hodgson Battery Wash. Arty.”  The two howitzers mentioned on the invoice were probably among those used by the 5th Company, Washington Artillery on April 6, 1862 at Shiloh.

More howitzers (along with other guns) appear on a receipt filed by Captain Hypolite Oladowski for deliveries in April that year:

Page 93a

These were earmarked for troops under the command of General Braxton Bragg.

But the papers cover 1862 purchases and delivery, and the left trunnion on the howitzer indicates production in 1861.  What would account for the lag time between casting and issue? One possible explanation is that in the opening months of the war, Leeds & Company sold weapons to anyone asking.   Perhaps this howitzer was among those sold to private concerns, militia organizations, or state forces.  From there, the howitzer was “drafted” into Confederate service.  But the foundry number “23” alludes to production later in the year when the Confederate government took more control over purchases.

Another possibility is the howitzer was cast by Leeds & Company speculating on a demand.  If cast in late 1861, perhaps the howitzer was purchased and delivered until the following spring.  Odd as it may seem, requests from Smith and Oladowski might have been filled by weapons “on the shelf” at Leeds & Company.

Neither possible explanation I offer here would narrow down the service record of the howitzer currently at the Wilderness. But there is sufficient weight of evidence to indicate the weapon was used on Western battlefields and is today far away, geographically speaking, from its wartime story.

Oladowski’s receipt is worth further examination.  It is dated March 2, 1863, by which time he was a Lieutenant Colonel, and filed from Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Page 93

The accounts for Leeds & Company were not settled until long after the fall of New Orleans.  Rather nice, orderly of the Confederate Ordnance Department, don’t you think?

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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