Officers of the Horse Artillery… had a handle on their Napoleon

One of the interesting facets to the Winter Encampment of the Army of the Potomac in 1864 is the large number of photographs taken.  Anyone who was anyone posed for a photo or two as the photographers practiced their trade.  Among the many photos is this one showing the officers of the Horse Artillery:

The summary provided for this photo states, “Photograph shows Lt. A.M.C. Pennington, Lt. T. Riley, Lt. C.K. Warner, Lt. R. King, Lt. H.B. Read, Lt. A.M. Randol, Lt. S.S. Elder and another officer at artillery headquarters.”  In other words… a gathering of ace artillerists.

Out in front of the tent fly, we see three of those mentioned engaged in some map reading.


No jokes about lieutenants and maps, OK?

Of course, I’m drawn to the right where three others pose around this Napoleon.


The shading and light make it impossible to read any markings on the muzzle.  Hard to tell if it is more an effect of lighting, but there seems to be a lot of scratch marks in front of the carriage cheek.  And there’s a lot of discolor back to the rear where the vent is.  Perhaps the sign of heavy use.

No doubt you notice the handles.


Only the first batches of Napoleons cast by Cyrus Alger, Ames, and Revere featured these handles.  And notice the vendor stamp on the right trunnion.  Of those three vendors, Ames used a four line stamp on the right trunnion, as partially seen on this example located at Petersburg today:

Petersburg 4 Mar 12 276

Here’s a better view of the same type of stamp on a James rifle at Gettysburg:

Gettysburg 174

The trunnion vendor’s stamp was suppressed after 1861, with the manufacturer’s stamp added to those on the muzzle.  Story for another day.

Another attribute linking this gun to Ames is the shape of the handles and how they are molded into the barrel.  Looking to the Ames Napoleon with handles at Petersburg again:

Petersburg 4 Mar 12 277

Notice the rounded profile and cross section of the handles.  Also the round “pads” where the handles join the barrel.  This was Ames’ practice in regard to the handles.  Alger patterns used a square shaped pad.  Revere, while using a circular pad, kept the the the pads and the flair at the base to a minimum.

I submit the visible stamp and the handles identify this weapon as a 12-pdr Napoleon from Ames Manufacturing. Since only the first 23 or so from Ames had handles, the gun in the photo comes from a very small set, relatively speaking.  Nineteen of those survive today, most of which at Fort Niagara, New York.  So run the odds that particular Napoleon is around today.

Beyond just a simple weapon identification, the presence of the gun in the photo tells us a bit more about the guns in the Army of the Potomac.  No doubt that early production gun was issued prior to the 1862 season.  And we see it was in the field about the time the army broke camp for the 1864 season.  Despite the production of hundreds of new Napoleons, this gun remained on the line past two full campaign season… hard campaign seasons.  And apparently treasured enough to park at headquarters for a photograph.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

3 thoughts on “Officers of the Horse Artillery… had a handle on their Napoleon

  1. Craig, I once tallied up all of the Civil War photographs known to me (many many dozens) taken in Culpeper County, VA, during the war and concluded that the officer most depicted in these images is Capt. James M. Robertson, Chief Horse Artillery. I have no explanation for this phenomenon except to offer that during the winter encampment, ’63-’64, the horse artillery was headquartered very near Meade’s own headquarters tents.
    One thing is for certain: The crusty Captain James Robertson was not photographed for his looks, as he resembles (at least to me) Willie Nelson.

    But as you well know, he was an outstanding artillerist and his men adored him.

  2. Craig, excellent site, I refer to it frequently! My research indicates approximately 36 12 pound Napleons were manufactured with dolphins. Pennington is an interesting addition in the picture as he commanded Battery M 2nd US Artillery, which was the first Union Army artillery company to be equipped with the Napoleon Gun in 1859. This was likely one of M Companies guns possibly cascaded to someone else as I think the battery switched to ordnance rifles in 1862.

    1. Yes, there were around 36 total produced with dolphins. Of that Ames produced 23. Though I wouldn’t think the gun would be one of Battery M’s guns.

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