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.