Wiard Field Artillery

During the war, Norman Wiard, a Canadian by birth, held the job of Superintendent of Ordnance Stores for the U.S. Army. A talented inventor (he also designed and produced special river landing boats for the U.S. government), by 1863 he had developed an entirely new system of field artillery. Wiard's guns used semi-steel, a low carbon cast iron in which some scrap steel was mixed with the pig iron of the charge. The result was a tensile strength of 110,000 lb, per square inch, allowing for smaller barrels that could absorb greater charges. Wiard produced a

Muzzle Loading Pdr
A 6-pdr, Wiard rifle. The novel gun with its special carriage is seen from both sides. (Library of Congress)

A detail of the unique carriage used on the Wiard rifle. Carriages could be nestled into each other on railroad flatcars, making it possible to transport more of these weapons on each car than a standard cannon on its carriage. (George Lomas Collection)

Wiard Carriage

6-pdr, muzzle-loading rifled gun and a 12-pdr. howitzer that, complete with the unii|ut' carriage lie also designed, weighed only 1,850 poniids. Beyond that, however, a charge of only 1 oz. of cannon powder would, at an elevation of 35 degrees, throw a ft-lb. shot 800 yards down range. A 2 oz. charge had a range of 1,200 yards, while with a full charge, a shot would travel four miles.

Wiard's carriages were also quite different from the standard carriage design. To withstand the strain of firing at excep-tionallv high elevations, the carriage stock was fastened lo the underside oi the axle. A flat surface plate was placed at the bottom of the trail to limit recoil and indeed, Wiard guns averaged only a 20-in. recoil, about half that of standard cannon. The carriages were smaller and could be nested together, taking only two-thirds the space of a standard field carriage on a ship deck or railroad car.

The carriage wheels were novel in that replaceable parts allowed easy repair. A system of holts and wedges allowed for repairing the normal shrinkage of a wooden wheel and expansion of a tire, as well as quick repair of combat damage. In one test, Wiard showed that one man could repair the wheels more quickly than another man with an ax could actually damage them. The wheels had "shoes" that could be placed in from or behind a wheel to allow easy descent down steep slopes.

All the Wiard guns were cast at the Trenton, New Jersey, foundry which he owned, the first arriving at a Federal arsenal in December, 1861. The tubes were all marked on the right trunnions "N.W., N.Y.C., O.F."

It would be satisfying to report that such technologically superior weapons rapidly became the U.S. Army standard. They did not. In all, Wiard sold only 11 batteries, each with four 6-pdr, rifles and two smooth-bore 12-pdr. howitzers. Ibis was despite the fact that field commanders found the weapons to be highly successful. For example, one Federal commander involved in the action around Charleston, South Carolina, reported in August, 1863 that: "Two Wiard field guns now in position there have proven very destructive to platforms and embrasures; more so than any field guns which have come under my observation." The 12th Ohio Battery brought their Wiard guns into action at odl lull II

The Gettysburg Field Guns
A view of a 6-pdr. Wiard rifle, showing the wheels and sight that were unique to it. {George Lomas Collection)

McDowell, Cross Keys, Freeman's Ford, White Sulphur, and the Second Bull Run. At Cross Keys one of the Wiard guns had the wood of the axle torn off, exposing the iron skeleton, but the cannon was fired another 200 times without damage to carriage or axle.

Some of these weapons were captured by Confederates and were issued to their batteries. Two, for example, were sent to the Army of Tennessee in early 1863, but their new owners soon got rid of them in favor of the more common guns.

Was this article helpful?

+1 0


Post a comment