Bore Wear: 12-pdr Napoleons

One aspect I enjoy about studying Civil War artillery is the real, tangible link the guns provide to the events.  We often speak of “witness trees” and compare the battlefield with “now and then” photographs.  But the cannon are subjects which tie in battle, the ground, and the men who fought.

Now rarely are battlefield visitors treated to the sight of a gun placed at, or at least near, the location the crews positioned that exact cannon in battle.  I can think of a few cases, but associating a particular gun is difficult (and I’d say to some degree the “holy grail” of many cannon researchers).  More likely, visitors are lucky to see the historically accurate type of gun at a particular position.  Such is the case with Battery D, 1st New York Light Artillery (Winslow’s Battery) in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg.  Two guns represent that six gun battery.

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Battery D, 1st New York Light Artillery

In this case, a visitor can stand behind a cannon and see the a similar view gunners did 150 years ago.  Again, for emphasis before we start arguing over flank markers… similar.

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Gunner's View of the Wheatfield

But in the case of the two guns representing Winslow’s Battery, there is more a visitor might experience.

Let me do what I do best, and introduce the guns.  On the right of the memorial is a 12-pdr Napoleon from Cyrus Alger of Boston, Massachusetts.  Typical of those produced by that vendor, this is registry number 15 produced in 1862 weighing 1228 pounds.

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Alger Napoleon #15

That outstanding ordnance officer Thomas J. Rodman inspected the gun.  But his initials are barely legible on the weathered and worn muzzle face.

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Muzzle Face of Alger #15

On the left side is a Napoleon from Ames Manufacturing of Springfield, Massachusetts.  With registry number 72, this gun was cast in 1862 and weighed 1232 pounds.  Alexander B. Dyer inspected this piece.  While not as well known today as Rodman, Dyer invented a rifled projectile.  He ended the war as the Chief of Ordnance.

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Ames #72

Markings on the Ames gun are at least a bit more legible.

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Muzzle Face of Ames #72

So two guns, from two vendors, inspected by two important ordnance officers who were probably hundreds of miles from the battlefield.  So what?

Take a look at the muzzles again, and pay close attention to the bore sizes.  Napoleons, being 12-pdrs, fired a 4.62-inch diameter projectile.  With windage the bore should be somewhere between 4.68 and 4.72 inches in diameter.  So what is the measure of those worn, weathered guns today?

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Bore Measure of Ames #72

My field ruler shows the bore at 4 23/32nds, or 4.688 inches.  In other words very close to what it probably was at manufacture.  And of course, my field ruler is not as accurate as the finely tuned gauges and patterns used by the inspectors.  (And I doubt the park will allow me to take the guns into a lab for measures!)  So give or take a few more tenths.

Now take a look at the Alger gun.   Its bore is noticeably wider even without the measure.

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Bore Measure of Alger #15

The measure is 5 1/8th, or 5.125 inches.  At least four-tenths wider. Way, way off the regulation allowance for windage.  This gun is “worn out.”  And with the naked eye, one can see the lower rim of the gun is narrower than the upper rim.  Some ascribe this wear to the extended use of canister rounds.  But I would responded the use of any strapped projectile would produce such effects.  Regardless this gun was not stored away in some depot during the war.  It was in the field and was being used.

So when a visitor stands behind this gun and sights down the barrel…

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Gunner's View from Alger #15

… that visitor is looking along the same lines that some gunner sighted as he prepared to fire live projectiles at real, living targets.  This gun is not some museum replica.  This gun is the real deal and it has a story to tell.

Short and Stubby – Old American 24-pdr Howitzers

Some time back I traced the origins of the 24-pdr field howitzer, which saw limited field service during the Civil War.   The type evolved from short, stumpy weapons used during the Revolution to, by 1841, heavy cannons requiring eight-horse teams to maneuver.  However, the role of these howitzers remained essentially unchanged – to place explosive projectiles on enemy positions firing at higher trajectories than guns.  In The American Artillerist’s Companion (1809), Louis de Tousard wrote:

[The howitzer’s] object is to first produce the effect of a ball fired à ricochet, and afterwards to burst like the bombs…. The howitzers are pointed at six, ten, and fifteen degrees, to produce the ricochet; at thirty and forty-five degrees the howitzers will not ricochet.

Similar descriptions appeared in the 1863 Course of Instruction in Ordnance and Gunnery used in the West Point curriculum and the 1865 Handbook of Artillery by Joseph Roberts.

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Revolutionary War Period 8-inch Howitzer at Yorktown

At the close of the Revolution, the American army possessed a variety of mostly European field howitzers.  Calibers inventoried included 3-1/2-inch, 5-1/2-inch, 8-inch, and 10-inch howitzers.  Of these American artillerists favored the 5-1/2- and 8-inch calibers as they fired projectiles with useful payloads, but not so heavy as to impair tactical maneuver.

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British 5-1/2-inch Howitzer at Yorktown

These European howitzers were a few calibers longer than mortars (usually 5 times the diameter of the bore) and generally conformed to contemporary exterior molding standards.  Internally, the howitzers used a sub-caliber powder chamber.  The bore size factored “windage” variations for the day and actually measured about 5-5/8ths (about 5.625 inches).

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Bore Measure of 5-1/2-inch Howitzer

Eventually, the US Army would phase out these old 18-th century weapons seeking to both standardize and improve the artillery arm.  While no surviving regulations or instructions (that I know of) state such, the Army likely adopted a slightly larger bore field howitzer to reduce the number of projectile sizes in the inventory.  The 24-pdr bore, at 5.82-inches, allowed the howitzers to share projectiles with the 24-pdr siege and garrison guns.

The design history of the 24-pdr field howitzer in the first half of the 19-th century parallels that of the 6-pdr field guns.   The Army and militia received some new production iron 24-pdrs prior to and during the War of 1812, but documentation of the particulars is non-existent.  Two howitzers at St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos exhibit features that lead artillery experts to tentatively identify them from this period.

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Early American 24-pdr Howitzer

Resembling those British weapons in size, the American iron howitzers have a simplified, but certainly not plain, form.  These howitzers lack rimbases and show superfluous lines that are dispensed on later American artillery castings. The bore of these guns measure 5.90 inches by my ruler.

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Early American 24-pdr Howitzer

Photos of the bore and chamber didn’t turn out well.  So I cannot confirm secondary sources which indicate the howitzers have 6-pdr (3.67-inch diameter) powder chambers.

Next to these two pieces is a howitzer which is a bit easier to identify.

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24-pdr Model 1819 Field Howitzer

The exterior form of this howitzer is an extreme variation of its contemporary Model 1819 gun designs (a.k.a. the “Walking Sticks”).  Absent are the additional rings and lines.  But present are rimbases and a sharp muzzle swell.

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24-pdr Model 1819 Field Howitzer

I could find no markings on the piece, but secondary sources cite Columbia Foundry, in Washington, D.C. as the manufacturer and a foundry number of 420.

While the Model 1819 field howitzer demonstrated some evolution with regard to exterior form, the length of the piece retained the proportions of the Revolutionary period weapons.  At some point between 1820 and around 1835, ordnance officers altered the proportions.  Without doubt, the increased length was driven by requirements for better range and accuracy.  But that narrative is lacking proper sources to complete the picture.

And that is not all which is lacking.  Of nearly seventy-five 24-pdr field howitzers ordered by the Army from 1834 to 1841, none survive today.  Instead I must offer a dashed line between the Model 1819 and the Model 1841.

24-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1841, Alger #5 at Shiloh

Turning dashed lines, like those of the 24-pdr field howitzer’s design history, into solidly documented narratives is what keeps me engaged in the study of Civil War artillery.

Blogroll Updates, Admin Notes, and Upcoming Posts

A few admin notes as we roll onward with this sesquicentennial march.

First off, a couple of updates to the blog roll.  I’ve listed Civil War Daily Gazette on the right side for some time, but wanted to give Eric special mention.  If you want a daily summary of events looking back 150 years, look no further. An excellent and timely project!

Another blog chronologically following the events of the Civil War is Longwood University’s That a Nation Might Live.  Drs. David Coles and Charles Ross offer weekly pod-casts, roughly five minutes in length.  I’ve already cited these audio clips as a good “start point” for those who want to build their understanding of the war as we move through the sesquicentennial.

Next, I get to sound my own bugle a bit.  If you read Adam Goodheart’s article titled “Hell in the Harbor” in the June 2011 issue of Civil War Times, note a couple of photo captions with my credits.  Yes, more stuff on cannons.  If you read this blog, perhaps information you’ve seen before.  I was happy to help out the crew at Civil War Times with the identification of the guns in those old photos.

Lastly, an eye to the next string of posts on this blog – considering the next few months of sesquicentennial observances, and taking into account the readers’ feedback, I will start looking at the field artillery used in the early phases of the war.  In the past, I’ve covered the field howitzers and parrott rifles in detail, so this time around look for more on the 6-pdr field guns.

In addition, I’m going to work in some discussion of the field artillery tactics as practiced at the start of the war.  Now “tactics” is sort of a nebulous term in that regard.  We can break down “artillery tactics” of the time period into three main categories – drill of the piece, maneuver of the battery, and use of artillery in the battlespace.  While the first two are important for an understanding as to “how” artillery was used in the war, the later looks more at “why” artillery was used.  Although I plan to touch upon all three, I will put a bit more emphasis on the “why” part.

Why?  Well it is my opinion that we tend to assume the artillery was just there on the battlefield to make noise, causing the other side grief and discomfort.  There was indeed some logic and method to placing artillery on the battlefield which formed into a set of intended effects.  So when the commander issued an order to place artillery “there!”, I want to consider what frame of reference was used to define what he intended that artillery to do “there.”

That of course must lead into a battle you may have heard about near some creek called Bull Run.

32-pdr Seacoast Gun Model 1829

As discussed in the introduction to 32-pdr seacoast guns, the Army revived the caliber in the late 1820s with the Model of 1829.  With some 1,222 ordered, these represent the largest make and model of seacoast guns produced before the Civil War.  Until the arrival of the Rodman guns at the eve of the Civil War, the 32-pdr Model 1829 was the mainstay of the American coastal defenses.

Referring to the particulars for 32-pdr guns:

Compared to the War of 1812 vintage 32-pdrs, the Model 1829 increased weight  but reduced overall length by three inches.  The increased weight was due to a generous increase in reinforce size.

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Bellona Foundry Model 1829, Registry #275 at Fort Donelson

Taking the gun from the breech, the first significant fixture is the breeching ring or ringknob.  A breeching rope passed through this fixture, helping with handling the gun and carriage.  While use of breeching ropes and tackle were limited (rare might be a better word), navies made extensive use of such.  Although no documentation states such, the presence of the ring may indicate a requirement for potential navy use.  During the early years, the Navy often “borrowed” Army cannons to outfit ships (and of course exchanges the other way were common also).

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Breech Profile of Model 1829 (Bellona #141 at Fort Donelson)

Note also the raised base ring at the breech, roughly 22.5 inches in diameter.  In front of the base ring is a raised lockpiece block with the vent hole.

The reinforce extended forward beyond the trunnions.

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Reinforce Shoulder and Trunnions

The trunnions were set back about eight inches from the end of the reinforce, compared to about three inches for a contemporary 42-pdr (which is useful when determining the gun type from wartime photos!).  Another modification over the older 32-pdrs was the addition of rimbases.  Rimbases help center the gun on the carriage.  In this case, the 32-pdrs rimbases were just over one and a half inches larger in diameter than the trunnions.

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Right Trunnion

Conforming with regulation marking guidelines, the right trunnion bore the year of manufacture.

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Left Trunnion

The left trunnion displayed stamps for the foundry owner and foundry, in this case “J.C” or “I.C” for John Clarke and “B.F.” for Bellona Foundry.  The hole in the center of the trunnion is the result of metal samples taken in the late 1840s or 1850s to test gun metal.  Another of those sample scars appears on the muzzle of this gun.

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Muzzle of 32-pdr

The testing scars are a good topic for a later blog post. However these appear with frequency on pre-war iron artillery pieces.  The guns remained fit for service despite the removal of metal.  Also on the muzzle are the marks of the inspector “J.B”, for James Bankhead, and the registry number 141.

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Muzzle Profile

In profile the muzzle swelled out sharply.  After a fillet, the molding incorporated a slight cavetto before meeting the face.  Notice the lack of a chase ring.

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32-pdr Model 1845 at Fort Donelson, and a 12-pdr Model 1841 in background

Production of the Model 1829 ran from 1828 to 1840.  The Army accepted 443 from Bellona Foundry, and recorded seventeen burst guns in the course of testing and proofing.  John Mason’s Columbia Foundry in Washington, D.C. added a total of 311 more, with two recorded burst or broken.  Fort Pitt Foundry in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania produced 221, of which 11 burst.  And West Point Foundry in New York cast at least 247 for Army orders with two recorded as burst.    West Point registry numbers run through 338, but numbers 218 through 307 do not appear in any delivery records.  If such records ever emerge, this may add an additional 89 to the overall tally of Model 1829 guns.

As noted in the introduction, the Army considered the 32-pdrs obsolete at the start of the war. But with such numbers on hand the Model 1829s served in the forts.  Photographic and documentary evidence indicates several were in position at Fort Sumter in April 1861.

Several Model 1828s were rifled and in some cases banded.  Some surviving examples are actually just parts from a burst guns.  Interesting in their own right, these deserve discussion in a separate post.

Of over 1,200 produced, under fifty are known to survive today.  Many of these serve as memorials in national cemeteries, buried upright.

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32-pdr at Fredericksburg National Cemetery

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Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Birkhimer, William. Historical Sketch of the Organization, Administration, Material and Tactics of the Artillery, United States Army.  Washington:  James J. Chapman, 1884.  Particularly pages 274-8 discussing the evolution of the American systems of artillery.

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

Jine the Artillery!

Volunteer artillery crew needed at Petersburg National Battlefield:

PETERSBURG – The National Park Service is seeking volunteers for a new living history unit that will portray an African American Civil War artillery unit – Battery B, 2nd United States Colored Troops Light Artillery at the Petersburg National Battlefield. Volunteers will be part of a six-person crew that will demonstrate the live firing of a Civil War 12-pounder cannon and interpret the role of artillery during the 1864-65 Siege of Petersburg.

Applicants must be 18 years of age or older, willing to work as part of a team to accurately and safely portray the artillery crew, and research the 1864-65 Siege of Petersburg, 19th- century artillery, and the United States Colored Troops to be proficient to answer visitor questions. Previous experience working with 18th- or 19th-century artillery is desirable, though not required. New volunteer recruits will be provided uniforms and equipment, as well as hands-on training utilizing the National Park Service manual of arms for 19th-century artillery.

For more information or an application to participate in the United States Colored Troops Light Artillery program, contact Ranger Randy Watkins at (804) 732-3531, ext. 205 or at randolph_watkins@nps.gov.

Now that would be a good summer gig!

Battery B, 2nd US Colored Light Artillery is, like many of the USCT units, one which saw action but rarely gets mentioned in the larger story of the siege of Petersburg.  Early in the campaign they were attached to Hink’s Division.

Petersburg NB has, in the past, employed living historians to depict both Union and Confederate artillerists.  The crews I’ve seen are always well dressed, directed, and drilled.  I look forward to visiting later this year to see a USCT crew on the guns.

8-inch Parrott Rifle, Part 1

The next larger Parrott rifle to discuss is the 8-inch model.  As related on the table presented before, the Army and Navy had different designations for the weapon (bottom of the third data column from the left).

The Army rated the gun based on the weight of the long projectile preferred for land use.  The Navy preferred a shorter, lighter projectile to achieve higher velocities at short range.  Hence the different “pounder” designation.  To avoid confusion, I prefer to use the identification based on the bore diameter – 8-inch Parrott.  Not only a nice round number, the 8-inch diameter matched to the 64-pdr smoothbore gauge (although Americans seldom used that designation).

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8-inch Parrott Rifle - Fort Moultrie, S.C.

If you have followed the discussion of smaller Parrotts, no surprises here.  The 8-inch Parrott used the same form, which generally followed the “ordnance shape.”

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Breech Band of 8-inch Parrott

The distinctive Parrott breech band was 34 inches long and 4 inches thick.  A socket for the rear sight was on the upper right of the breech.

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Right Trunnion - 8-inch Parrott

Trunnion dimensions on the 8-inch Parrott were similar to 10-inch Columbiads and Rodman guns (and for what it is worth the 10-inch Parrotts also).  Thus the 8-inch Parrott used similar carriages.  The right trunnion rimbase supported a  mount for a blade sight.

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Bore of 8-inch Parrott

Eleven groove rifling increased in pitch from zero at the breech out to 1-in-23 feet at the muzzle.

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Muzzle Markings on 8-inch Parrott

The Muzzle markings conformed to standard Ordnance Department practice.  In this case, working clockwise from the twelve o’clock around clockwise, this gun was produced in 1864; by West Point Foundry (W.P.F.); is an “8 IN” gun; inspected by Richard Mason Hill (R.H.M.); weighed 16,487 pounds; and is registry number 56.

Yes, the 8-inch Parrott weighed nearly three and a half tons more than the smaller 6.4-inch.

West Point Foundry produced 91 of the 8-inch Parrotts for the Army and 87 for the Navy between March 1862 and July 1865.   After 1863 orders specified the use of hollow casting and water cooling production techniques.   As with the 6.4-inch Parrotts, the Army used the 8-inch rifles in seacoast forts and for siege operations, particularly around Charleston.  The Navy used the 8-inch Parrotts on pivot mounts or in monitor turrets.

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8-inch Parrott at Fort Sumter

Of those produced, only eight Army examples survive today.  A battered registry number 58 sits on display at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.   Another is on display at Trenton, New Jersey.

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The Swamp Angel in Cadwalader Park, Trenton, N.J.

Missing its band, this gun is the most famous single artillery piece of the Civil War – the “Swamp Angel.”  In a later post I will detail that weapon’s employment outside Charleston.  Before that, let me first detail some other features and discuss the use of the 8-inch Parrotts.

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Aside from on site notes and links provided above, sources consulted for this post were:

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon. Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1997.

Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th Edition. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984.

John Cark and Company Field Howitzers

As mentioned on the weekly marker updates, I’m currently working on the War Department tablets and monuments found along the Ruggles’ Batteries trail at Shiloh National Military Park.  Shiloh offers one of the most diverse collections of Civil War era artillery found today.  The weapons representing Ruggles’ Batteries is in my opinion the showcase of that collection.  Two of the pieces at Shiloh are 12-pdr Field Howitzers produced by John Clark & Company of New Orleans, Louisiana.

12-pdr John Clark Field Howitzer at Shiloh
12-pdr John Clark Field Howitzer at Shiloh

Before the war, John Clark owned a foundry at the intersection of Race and Tchoupitoulas Streets in what is today the Lower Garden District, close to the Mississippi River.  At the outbreak of war, Clark announced his firm could produce bronze field pieces for interested parties.  From June 1861 to the fall of New Orleans to the Federals in April 1862 the firm produced over 100 cannons.  Most of these were for private contracts.  Many of these went to the artillery batteries from New Orleans.   For the most part, the foundry produced two types – 6-pounder Field Guns and 12-pounder Field Howitzers.  Orders by the Confederate government for Armstrong pattern guns were unfilled when the city fell.

John Clark. // Maker. // N.O.
John Clark. // Maker. // N.O.

Clark’s pattern deviated from that of the standard 12-pdr Field Howitzer (Model of 1841) somewhat.  To the casual observer, the most apparent is a bulbous muzzle swell, instead of the straight muzzles of the regulation weapons.

Clark Howitzer Muzzle Swell and Chase Astragal
Clark Howitzer Muzzle Swell and Chase Astragal

The swell is more pronounced than that of a 12-pdr Napoleon (of the same caliber).  Note also the over sized chase astragal, which replaces the plain chase ring of the regulation howitzer.  The moldings on the muzzle face are also distinctive, not conforming to the Ordnance department designs.  And as seen in the photo below, the knob joins the base of the howitzer with a shallow curve, with barely any fillet.

Knob of Howitzer at Manassas NBP
Knob of Howitzer at Manassas NBP

And the pieces are definitely howitzers, with a chamber, as seen around the debris in this photo:

Bore of a Clark Howitzer at Shiloh
Bore of a Clark Howitzer at Shiloh

All examples have defects, indications of poor casting, and general roughly handled surfaces.  This is likely due to the inexperience with bronze gun casting at the Clark foundry.

In my travels over this last year, I’ve encountered five examples of the Clark howitzers.  Two are at Shiloh.  The first (pictured in the first photo above) is on exhibit next to the 5th Company of the Louisiana Washington Artillery tablet.  The piece is paired with another 12-pdr Howitzer of Confederate origin, this one produced by S. Wolff & Company, also of New Orleans (and a story for another day).

CS Howitzers - Wolff on the left, Clark on the Right
CS Howitzers - Wolff on the left, Clark on the Right

The 5th Company was formed after the first four companies of the Louisiana Washington Artillery departed for Virginia early in the war.  The 5th served the war in the Western Theater.   With both howitzers produced in New Orleans prior to the fall of the city in 1862, there are some good odds that one or both tubes were present at Shiloh during the battle.  And there is the possibility the pieces were actually employed near the spot they now occupy during the battle.

About 300 feet away at the tablet for Stanford’s Mississippi Battery is another Clark howitzer.

Clark Howitzer at Stanford's Battery Position
Clark Howitzer at Stanford's Battery Position

Stanford’s was another long serving battery in the Western Theater, seeing action in all the major battles up to Nashville in 1864.

Moving to Virginia, a single Clark howitzer at Petersburg NBP stands on the remains of Confederate Battery No. 6, just south of the park visitor center.

Clark Howitzer at Petersburg
Clark Howitzer at Petersburg

I am unaware of any specific unit this cannon represents.   Likely it is simply an efficient use of one of the park’s quite diverse set of artillery, to depict a Confederate position.

Lastly, at Manassas NBP two Clark howitzers stand in the line of bronze cannon representing the Confederate artillery in their position opposite the Henry House on the First Manassas battlefield.  The first stands near the “…Like a Stone Wall” wayside on the Henry Hill walking trail.  The closest unit marker is one reciting various batteries assembled at that point in the battle.

Clark Howitzer at Manassas (one of two)
Clark Howitzer at Manassas (one of two)

The other howitzer stands near the Louisiana Washington Artillery Battalion marker, which means it represents in part the first four companies of the Washington Artillery.

Clark Howitzer at Manassas - Washington Artillery
Clark Howitzer at Manassas - Washington Artillery

As with those tubes at Shiloh, is it possible that this particular piece saw action at Manassas?  Well according to Harry’s Confederate order of battle, the 1st Company of the Washington Artillery brought four 12-pdrs to the battle.  But with nothing in the way of markings on either piece at Manassas, we’d be asking silent guns to speak out loud again.

So five examples of the Clark howitzers – a little something for enthusiasts from both Eastern and Western Theaters!

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Sources consulted:

Daniel, Larry J., and Riley W. Gunter.  Confederate Cannon Foundries.  Union City, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1977

Daniel, Larry J.  Cannoneers in Gray: The Field Artillery of the Army of Tennessee, 1961-1865. University of Alabama Press, 1984.

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Revised Edition. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.