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.
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.
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.
That outstanding ordnance officer Thomas J. Rodman inspected the gun. But his initials are barely legible on the weathered and worn muzzle face.
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.
Markings on the Ames gun are at least a bit more legible.
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?
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.
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…
… 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.