The M1857 Napoleon

The first Napoleon was cast in December, 1856, by the Ames Manufacturing Co., Chicopee, Massachusetts. It was the only exact copy of the French Army's field piece, complete with handles on the top above the trunnions, and a full 61-in. long tube. There was some dissatisfaction with the results obtained with this length barrel, and future tubes were made some three inches longer. The original tube is presently located at the Petersburg (Virginia) National Military Park.

Ames cast four more lubes in 1857, followed by another four in February, 1861. All of these guns were the same as the first, save for the added three inches to die tube. This was the total complement of Napoleons when the Civil War broke out.

They proved highly successful. A Napoleon could fire a 2.5 lb. charge, sending solid shot some 1,680 yards, a range that easily encompassed the major battlefields of the period, its crews could fire solid shot, spherical case, and shell, not to mention canister, which against personnel at ranges of some 300 yards was amazingly deadly. Moreover, it was a dependable weapon. George D. Ramsay, then a brigadier genera! and Chief of Ordnance, reported in July, 1864. that: "No instance has occurred during the war ... of the 12-pdr. bronze gun (the Napoleon) having worn out or of its bursting ..."

Although the army had been using aversion of the Napoleon for almost four years when the war broke out, its ordnance officials wanted to compare it against the French models. Therefore, in ¬°tine, 1861, the Secretary of War requested "from France a sample of Napoleon gun, or one of each caliber, both rifled and smooth bored, if there he more than one caliber and kind."

In August, 1861, with the army satisfied that it

This M1857 12-pdr. Napoleon was made by Ames, serial number 79, and (fated 1862. (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

This M1857 12-pdr. Napoleon was made by Ames, serial number 79, and (fated 1862. (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

M1857 Pounder NapoleonFrench Cannons
The markings on the muzzle of the M1B57 12-pdr. include, clockwise from left, the weapon number, the weight of the tube, the date of manufacture, and the inspector's initials.

had a good imitation of the French cannon, Ames cast another ten Napoleons. Ames was not capable of producing all the cannon required by ilie U.S. Army, and contracts were granted that year to Cyrus Alger & Company (the South Boston Iron Works), which had produced cannon for the U.S. Army since 1836. Evert this addition was riot enough, and contracts were also given to The Revere (¬°opper Co. and 1 lenry N. I iooper & Co., both of Boston for yet more Napoleons. Miles Greenwood & Co., olCincinnati, Ohio, received contracts for a limited number of Napoleons for the western theater.

These weapons were intended to bear markings as required by an 1840 Ordnance Department regulation: "All cannon are required to be weighed and to be marked as follows, viz.: the number of the gun, and the initials of the inspector's name, on the face of the muzzle; the number in a separate series for each kind and caliber at each foundry; the initial letters of the name of the founder and of the foundry, on the end of the right trunnion; the year of fabrication on the end of the left trunnion; the foundry number on ihe end 6f the right rimbase, above the trunnion; the weight of the piece in pounds on the base of the breech; the letters 'U.S.* on the upper surface of the piece, near the end of the reinforce,"

In !K61 orders were sent out for all marks, save the rimbase number and the U.S., to be placed on the muzzle face. All the 1861 Ames guns used the okl marking system, but later Ames tubes used the new system. Alger changed u> the new system in December, 1861, and the other makers used the new system from the beginning. Napoleons cast after the first 36 weapons had been delivered to the army were simplified by the removal of the handles, or dolphins. These began to see service by late 1861.

At least one variation to the standard bronze U.S. Army Napoleon, made without handles, should be noted. The Phoenix Iron Co., which made 3-in. Ordnance Rifles under l .S. Army contract, made what appears to be a wrought iron copy of a Napoleon, without the characteristic muzzle swell, apparently in 1863. The tube, now in the town square of Jefferson, Pennsylvania, bears markings which are standard on the company's Ordnance Rifles, although the tube weighs around 1,220 lb. rather than the 815 lb, of the Ordnance Rifles. U lacks the required initials of a U.S. Army ordnance officer, suggesting it was made as an experimental piece to (est wrought iron as a substitute for bronze.

There was also an experiment to rifle the tubes. Six rifled Napoleons have survived: all are at the Gettysburg National Military Park. These were all made by Ames (numbers 77 to 82) and used a rifling system devised by a Charles T.James, with ten deep, narrow grooves cut into the bores of the tubes, which allowed the weapons to retain the same 4.62-in. bore diameter.

A letter from Ramsay, then a lieutenant-colonel, to Ordnance Department chief lirig. Gen, J. W. Ripley dated August 2, IK62. says that the trials of the three batteries of rilled Napoleons proved satisfactory.

A close-up of the James rifle, showing the novel front sight that was cast as part of the barrel. (Gettysburg Battlefield National Park)

Even so, the existing tubes were never stamped with an ordnance inspector's initials, nor with the "U.S." on their tops. No further James-rifled Napoleons were made. The comparatively soft bronze tubes wore out sooner than iron-rifled tubes, and if smoldering cartridge fragments settled into the grooves and were not put out by sponging, they could provoke premature discharges.

Other than these experimental weapons, Napoleons were produced throughout the war without major variations. Minor variations included two small bronze blocks cast into the tube at its breech. The pendulum hausse bracket was cast at the top of the tube's breech, and these were omitted on Greenwood tubes. The bracket at the bottom was the base plate, designed to provide a flattened surface where the tube rested on the elevating screw bore. Hooper tubes lacked the base plate. All other tubes had both.

As senior Confederate officers had almost universally been U.S. Army officers, it is not surprising that the Southern Army eventually adopted the 12-pdr. Napoleon as its standard field piece. However, the lack of manufacturing ability affected the quality and types of soutliem-made Napoleons. Moreover, the Confederate Army had many older weapons in its batteries, including quite a number of 6-pdrs., which came from various southern slate arsenals, and did not find an immediate need to change to a new weapon.

On December 5, 1862, Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, wrote to the Secretary of War: "1 am greatly in need of longer range smooth-bore guns, and propose that, if metal cannot otherwise be procured, a portion, if not all, of our 6-pounder smoothbores (bronze), and, if necessary, a part of our 12-pdunder howitzers, be recast into I 2-po under Napoleons... The Contest between our 6-pounder smooth-bores and the 12-pOunder Napoleons of the enemy is very unequal, and, in addition, is discouraging to our artillerists."

Change was already underway. On November 13, 1862, the Confederate Chief of Ordnance, Col. josiah Gorgas, issued a circular stating:

A close-up of the James rifle, showing the novel front sight that was cast as part of the barrel. (Gettysburg Battlefield National Park)

"Until further order, no artillery will be made except the following caliber:

Bronze - Light 12-pounder or Napoleon gnus, caliber 4.62.

Iron - For field battery of maneuver, 10-pounder Parrotts, banded, caliber 2.9. For field battery of reserve, 20-poundei Parrotts on 12-pounder carriages, caliber 3.67. For siege guns, 30-pounder Parrotts on 18-pounder siege-carriages, caliber 4.2."

The most important supplier of southern Napoleons was J. R. Anderson & Co., better known as the Tredegar Iron Works, in Richmond, Virginia. It had experience casting cannon dating back to the 1840s, and began casting guns first for southern states and, by summer 1861, for the Confederate government itself. Unfortunately for the production of Napoleons, the south ran into a severe copper

Gettysburg Weapons
Another view of the most common weapon of the war: the northern-made M1857 Napoleon. (Gettysburg Battlefield National Park)

A Confederate-made Napoleon 12-pdr. cannon from the Columbus, Georgia, Foundry. (Gettysburg Battlefield National Park)

shortage that by May, 1861, halted the manufacture of any bronze guns. By December, when enough copper was found, {much of which came from Mills and church bells) bronze casting could resume, but the metal shortage was to plague southern gun founders throughout the war. Although copper was available from time to time, Tredegar found it difficult to get enough of the precious material to produce Napoleons in even the required numbers. By early 1863 Lee had sent his 6-pdr. tubes hack to Richmond where they were made into new cannon, so that Tredegar Napoleon production began in earnest in the first half of 1863. Lee received a number just before Chancellorsville, and a second batch somewhat later. By Gettysburg he had received 49 Tredegar Napoleons, and was able to replace all the army's 6-pounders.

By July, 1863, a visiting Austrian Army officer, FitzGerald Ross, was able to record: "The field-piece most generally employed is the smooth-bored 12-pound 'Napoleon* (canon obusier), which fires solid shot, shell, case, and canister: it is much lighter than the ordinary 12-pounder, and they ran give it an elevation of nine to ten degrees." Ross went on to say: "In Northern Virginia 12-pound howitzers and 6-pdr. guns are discarded, and Napoleons have been cast from their metal," adding, "for general use, almost all consider the Napoleon most serviceable."

The Tredegar Napoleons were also different from Federal Napoleons in that they lacked the muzzle swell. Some Confederate officers said the Tredegar version jarred less than northern-made weapons, but many others felt that the U.S. Army versions were superior. The majority of Tredegar Napoleons went ro the Army of Northern Virginia.

The other major Confederate Army, the Army of Tennessee, originally received its Napoleons from two sources. The first, Leeds & Co., went out of production when their home city of New Orleans was captured in April, 1862; the second, Qumby & Robinson, cast guns until their home city of Memphis fell to the L'.S. Navy in June, 1802, and then switched production to Cartersville, Georgia.

In March, 1863, much the same as in the east. Army of Tennessee commander Gen. Braxton Bragg ordered that his army's 6-pdrs, gradually be phased out, and recast into Napoleons. Most of this work was done in three arsenals. The Augusta Arsenal, Augusta, Georgia, cast N;i[>-oleons that differed from other southern weapons in that the junction of the barrel and breech was rounded and not sharp.

A Confederate-made Napoleon 12-pdr. cannon from the Columbus, Georgia, Foundry. (Gettysburg Battlefield National Park)

Ohio Gettysburg National ParkPdr Napoleon

A southern-made copy ol the Napoleon made by the Macon, Georgia, Arsenal in 1863. (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

flear view showing the elevating screw of a Confederate Napoleon made in 1664. (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

Confederate Made Augusta

These guns were first produced in late 1802. The Augusta guns were made of a metal developed by Austrian gunsmiths which included copper, lin, wrought iron, and zinc. Each weapon was tested by loading with a charge of powder, followed by bolts rammed in clear to the muzzle.

The remaining two arsenals were the Columbus, Georgia, which was formed with equipment taken from the Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Arsenal, and began producing Napoleons in mid-1863 and the Macon, Georgia, Arsenal, which produced its first Napoleons in early 1863.

Two Napoleons cast and marked by the Charleston, South Carolina, Arsenal are known to exist today. One is dated 1863 and the other, a year later. The weapons cast in this arsenal likely saw use with forces defending the coastline. In May, 1863, Col. A.J. Gonzales, wrote to the commander of defending forces in that city that: "as soon as Napoleon guns are procured, of which four will soon be cast at the Charleston Arsenal, ! will have the honor to earnestly advocate ... the formation of batteries of horse artillery, with four Napoleons each ..." All of these other southern-made Napoleons also lack the muzzle swell found in U.S. Army versions.

In November, 1863, northern forces captured the vital copper mines in Ducktown, Tennessee, something that brought an instant halt to the casting of bronze Napoleons in the south. Tredegar's experts produced an experimental version of the Napoleon made of iron, with a two-inch thick breech reinforcement added for extra strength. Heavier than the bronze model, the iron Napoleon proved serviceable. After testing in March, the Ordnance Department authorized the making of iron Napoleons with a higher priority than any other type of artillery. One Richmond Howitzers member later recalled that: "the iron gun was not only equally safe from explosion, but soon accomplished every purpose against the foe possible with the brass gun and did not create the sharp, piercing ring so severe as not infrequently caused blood to break from the ear of the cannoneer,"

Despite the number of Napoleon makers in the south, the major supplier of Confederate artillery was the U.S. Army. Lt Col. Arthur Fremande, Coldstream Guards, visited Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in July, 1863, noting that: "The artillery is of all kinds - Parrots [sic], Napoleons, rifled and smooth bores, all shapes and sizes. Most of them bear the letters U.S., showing that they have changed masters." Confederate artillerymen preferred to use the higher quality U.S. Army-issue weapons rather than sonthern-made ones. Private Joseph Garey, Hudson's Battery, recorded a typical reaction to southern-made cannon in his diary on October 17, 1861: "We received our howitzers last night. They proved of a very inferior quality, especially the wood work which is too weak to stand hard usage."

A southern-made copy ol the Napoleon made by the Macon, Georgia, Arsenal in 1863. (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)

flear view showing the elevating screw of a Confederate Napoleon made in 1664. (Gettysburg National Battlefield Park)




Number delivered

Ames Manufacturing Co.

Chicopee, MA


Cyrus Alger & Co.

Boston, MA


Henry N. Hooper & Co.

Boston, MA


Miles Greenwood & Co.

Cincinnati, OH


Revere Copper Co.

Boston, MA







Number Delivered

J. R. Anderson Co."

Richmond, VA


Augusta Arsenal

Augusta. GA

c. 130

Charleston Arsenal

Charleston, SC

C. 20

Columbus Arsenal

Columbus, GA


Leeds & Co,

New Orleans, LA


Macon Arsenal

Macon, GA


Quinby & Robinson

Memphis, TN



C. 501

'Tredegar Iron Works, cast both brass and iron


A comparison in listing of ranges from the CS Ordnance Manual, 1863,

and the U.S. Instruction for Field Artillery, 1864.

Weapon Charge Ammunition Elevation

CS Range

U.S. Range





6-lb. gun 1.25 Shot



















12-lb. gun 2.5 Shot



















124b. howitzer 1 Shell

















Was this article helpful?

+1 -1

Post a comment