Fluvanna Artillery

Many batteries at the war's outset were armed with obsolete 6-pdr. cannon with iron tubes, such as this M1631 example. (Ft. McHenry National Park)

j Li the 1860s, at the start of the American Civil War, American artillery , experts were in the midst of a major change of direction. In the early years of the 19th century, American artillery had an overwhelmingly English influence, which stemmed from the War of Independence: nearly a century earlier. At that time, the British army used 3-, (k 12-, and 24-pdr, light brass guns, carried on wooden carriages with split trails. During the War of Independence, the Continental Army received some French-made field artillery, 4-, 8-, and 12-pdrs. mounted on carriages that were very similar to those of the British, They also used Swedish-made 4-pdrs. that were utilized by the French Army as regimental close support weapons.

Although these weapons used brass tubes, the copper needed for manufacturing brass was scarce in America, while iron was plentiful throughout the country. Cannon foundries were located in both the north and south of the country before the Civil War, and after 18(H) the American army almost exclusively adopted iron for making gun barrels. The exception was the: American-designed "King Howitzer," which used a short brass tube with a 2 3/4-in. bore designed to shoot a grenade a short distance, a typical use for a howitzer. It was ideal for fighting Indians in the densely wooded northeast, but was of little use against organized forces using their own artillery.

After the adoption of iron, American-made artillery used the British caliber system of 6-, 12-, 18-, and 24-pdrs. instead of the French system.

On the other hand, French

Many batteries at the war's outset were armed with obsolete 6-pdr. cannon with iron tubes, such as this M1631 example. (Ft. McHenry National Park)

Cannon Pounder Napoleon

carriage design was chosen over the British style. A series of M1818 "walking slick" cannon burst during tests in 1827, however, and a number of artillerymen began to lose trust in iron. The known brittle qualities of the metal, coupled with its weight, made it unsuitable for cannon tubes, they felt. In 1836, therefore, the Ordnance Board, after testing iron and bronze as barrel metals, decided that America's field pieces

1840 Cannon

should thereafter employ bronze barrels. This ruling did not settle the question immediately, and both metals were usee! until a commission of ordnance officers toured European foundries, arsenals, and armories in 1840. On their return to the U.S. ihey reported, and the Ordnance Board confirmed, that bronze was the superior metal and would thereafter be the sole field artillery barrel metal.

In 1840 the U.S. Army adopted a French carriage, copied from a British design, that used a single rather than a split trail. The most common was the 6-pdr. gun carriage, used to mount the standard 6-pdr. iron gun and the !2-pdr, bronze howitzer. Eventually, this would become the standard carriage of the American Civil War for all field artillery (carriages for Napoleons had slightly separated cheeks to accommodate the greater tube diameter). At the same time a new limber and ammunition chest was adopted, ilie tatter with iron handles so that cannoneers could ride on it while it was being transported. The limber was also used to pull newly adopted battery wagons and traveling forges.

The principle gun immediately before the Civil War was the 6-pounder which had been used to great effect during the Mexican-American War {1846-48) by mounted batteries in particular. Mexican artillery, which ranged from 4- to 16-pdrs. with mostly 8-pdrs, in the field, was not as mobile and therefore offered little in the way of effective counter battery fire against highly mobile 6-pdr. batteries. Moreover, Mexican artillery was poorly coordinated and fired mostly solid copper shot that was so slow in flight that the Americans were able to duck easily.

The war reinforced American belief in mobile field artillery, which meant at that point the 6-pounder. but the 6-pdr. had some real problems. The longest range at 5 degrees was 1,523 yards with solid shot, and 1,200 yards with spherical case. Artillerymen wanted a gun that fired heavier shot a greater distance. The 12-pdr. howitzer had the projectile weight, but not the range, since it was basically designed for close-quarter fighting. Moreover, it was relatively heavy, as it was not intended to be a mobile piece but to be used in and around fortifications.

Much the same debate had been going on in France, resulting in a field artillery piece firing a 12 lb. shot, but with a bronze tube weighing only 1,200 pounds. A shorter weapon than the M1841 American model, it was an excellent field piece. The Ordnance Board quickly adopted a copy of this weapon, the Model 1857, as its standard weapon. It was officially known as the "Gun-Howitzer," the "Light 12-pounder," and the "12-pdr. Gun, Model 1857,"

The muzzle of a Napoleon made by the Columbus, Georgia, Arsenal bearing, clockwise from left, the inspector's initials, "C.S ARSENAL COLUMBUS GEO. 1664," and the weight of the tube. (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park}

A U.S. Army gun crew stands in the position of "action front11 with a 12-pdr. Napoleon in a fort near Atlanta, Georgia, in 1864, From this position they could either begin firing or hitch up the cannon for movement. (Library of Congress)

but il was most commonly called tin1 "Napoleon," Like a howitzer, it was able to Ore shells or canister, although technically it was not a true howitzer because it was could also fire shot like a gun.

The Napoleon was adopted in 1857 but few were in use in the south before war shut down the borders. The Confederate arsenals and the local forts they captured were stocked mainly with 6-pdrs., and these made up iheir main field artillery power at first. The handful of guns available from the pre war military forces, (both the regular U.S. Army and some artillery militia groups) was so small i hat both sides would have to depend on their industries to supply the large volunteer armies needed to fight this war.

Moreover, the southern foundries had been making 6-pdrs, before the war and had ihe technology and expertise to continue, which was vital in getting a force armed quickly. With the expense of acquiring artillery overseas and the uncertainty of acquiring extra cannon on the battlefield, southern foundries, especially during the war's first years, would bear the brunt of supplying Confederate troops in the field.

At the same time, the U.S. Army started acquiring rifled field pieces, which fired projectiles almost the same weight as the Napoleon, but with much more accuracy than the smoothbore tubes used until then. Civen the might of the relatively industrialized north, lite Union Army could be relatively quickly supplied with the latest iu Napoleons and iron rifled guns, including the 3-in. Ordnance Rifle and 10-pdr. Parrott gun. Except iu fringe areas, such as the far western campaigns in places like New Mexico, the 6-pdr, gun was never a front-line gun iu the Union forces.

The result, at the battle of Shilob for example, was tfiat 80 percent of the (Confederate artillery was made up of 6-pdr. and 12-pdr. howitzers, while almost half the opposing artillery was modern, rifled 3-in, and 10-pdr, weapons. The 6-pdrs. were vastly outclassed: "Six-pdr. guns cannot maintain a fight with long range guns," one Confederate artilleryman wrote after the battle of Marfreesboro, At Chick-amauga, lite Confederate ordnance chief reported all his 6-pdrs. had been "repulsed by 12-pounder light guns." At Antietam in September, 1862, although desperately short of guns to stop Union attacks, 6-pdr, batteries such as Huckstep's 1st Fluvanna Artillery were sent to quiet places in the rear to guard fords rather than face sure defeat in fights against Union artillery.

In March, 1862, the commander of the Confederate Armv of Tennessee

Fluvanna Artillery

ordered that all the 6-pdrs. in this force be sent back to foundries and recast as light 12-pounders. Army of Northern Virginia commander Robert E. Lee recommended that all his army's 6-pdrs. be melted down and made into 12-pdrs. in December, I8(>2. In July, 1862, the Confederate Ordnance Department ordered the main southern gun foundry, Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, to cease production of 6-pdrs. and start making nothing but 12-pdr. Napoleons, By mid-1863 the 6-pdr. was effectively out of service in the main theaters of action, beginning with the Army of Northern Virginia and spreading thereafter to other forces in the field.

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