Old Iron: Veteran Field Cannons of the Iron Persuasion in the Civil War

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May 12, 2018
A topic about which I have a particular interest, but others have\will have been able to cover far better than I have. Our experts here are welcome to chime in. My particular knowledge is greatly informed by the excellent blog To The Sounds of the Guns, by Craig Swaim and the article US Field Gun Carriages—Their History and Evolution by Matthew C. Switlik (Which was on the net but has disappeared, at least to me. Anyhow it also appeared in a 2001 edition of The Artilleryman.

Anyways, some quick background on old iron field cannons in the Civil War: there weren't many left, after the passage of time from their making to the war, which for many was at least 30 years, and often when they did see use it was in Northern training camps or in Southern Militia hands. These guns, unlike the modern iron rifles, had been made using older "hot blast" forging techniques that left the iron somewhat more brittle and the cannons prone to bursting. Generally, these guns were produced between 1819 and 1834, by which time Michigan's copper ranges had been discovered, and the family of bronze smoothbore guns we're are generally familiar with. This period also marked a rapid change in the technology of field cannons.

Right after the War of 1812, the artillery park of the US Army was truly a polyglot group. Guns of all sizes, ages, and national origins were intermixed in service, would be for some years to come. Yet, many of these guns were already starting to fall behind the times. For this reason, a new system of artillery & artillery carriages was introduced around about 1816-1819, though it would be quite some time until all the new guns & carriages had entered service.

Carriages were based on the French Gribeauval system, mainly, with many American adaptations and improvements. Outwardly they resembled earlier revolutionary era carriages but where already progressing in terms of design. Probably the most important improvement of this era, visa vi carriages was the introduction of the elevation screw, vs the old quoin (just a wooden wedge, really) for elevating and depressing the gun. Mostly, though, carriages followed the typical pattern of having a box trail, an ammo box mounted between said trails, and a limber which was merely another pair of wheels attached to the team driving the piece, with a towing hook for the cannon. For reasons I don't totally understand, this arrangement was very inflexible when it came to make turns, so getting a cannon turned about and into action was kind of an ordeal.

Outwardly, the Pattern 1819 guns were all long, slender, and elegant. Their trunions were the first to introduce on American cannons the rumbas feature, and they all had a distinctive, abrupt muzzle flair. It was a revolutionary design, which often gets short shrift thanks to my (ironically) favorite gun and avatar, the 6 pounder "walking stick" which had a nasty tendency to burst. I actually believe, though I can by no means prove it, that this issue actually only affected low serial numbers of the small production so the reputation may be undeserved. Though one could argue this is more than counterbalanced by the fact that out of the production run of 100 from Pittsuburg, I think only maybe 85 were accepted into service? I might have the number wrong there. Anyways, the heavier forms of the 1819 Pattern did just fine. Survivors today can be seen in 6 pounder field gun, 24 pdr field howitzer, and 24 pdf siege gun forms.

Anyhow, some later variations of field guns, specifically the 1827 & 1834 models of the 6 pounder (which was by far the most popular field artillery piece of it's day) returned to more traditional looking cannon styles for their exterior, and were definitely "stubby" compared to their 1819 pattern counterparts. In addition, they also started to modify the way their elevation gear was set up, so that the screw, instead of having just a screw with handles on which the gun barrel rested, was attached by an peculiar yoke arrangement that via a bolt through the cannons cascabel. I'll confess to having no idea what they were going for there, but it was the style at the time! Also in fashion was another technological dead end, the fitment of the percussion hammer lock piece to the gun. Although this was a good idea, it hadn't had it's day yet, and proved to not be equal to replacing the old linstock & portfirestock ways of firing the cannon... which itself involved a lot of loose powder around the touchhole of the cannon, and thus many misfires due to moisture ect ect.

Anyways, by about the 1840s a massive change over began in the field guns of the US Army. Firstly, the "stock trail" or Valee system, also copied from the French was introduced. This is the typical type of cannon carriage that we are familiar with from the Civil War, although there were some really variants. Firstly, some "conversion" carriages applied to the guns of the 1830s retained the odd system of elevation gear, and also modified iron fittings from their earlier carriages as an economical way to bring them up to date. Secondly, earlier dated stock trail carriages can be easily identified by the bricole hooks that were attached to the linch washers on the wheel hubs. This was a hold over from earlier practice, where ropes called bricole were used to move the cannon short distance by human power: prior to the Mexican American War, artillery horse drivers were hired civilians (called ofter matrosses) who would often flee and leave the cannon crew stuck in position at the first sign of action. Even before the carraige switchover people had realized the bricole system wasn't exactly practical, although interestingly it seems like maneuver by prolongs was then in vogue, probably to deal with the issues faced with quickly bringing the guns with stock trails into action from the march.

It appears the 1819 6 pounders actually were converted directly over to the new system with a completely new carriages at this time, possibly because they were the oldest and thus needed the most updating. Either way, after about 1837 the Army decreed that no future guns were to be of iron, but rather the guns of the Union would henceforth be bronze. Nevertheless, at least some of the old veterans saw use in ancillary duties or as guns for the militia, and some even got sold off or otherwise absconded with during the turmoil in the West in the 1850s in the hands of some irregular types.


May 12, 2018
My particular interest in the Pattern 1819 6 Per Feild Gun (Aka Model 1822 after when they were cast), has led me to try an compile a list of survivors. I'm particularly interested in the history of several guns from Ohio, which were kept unserviceable in the arsenal at Columbus for many years... I believe my avatar is one of these. Oh! I also forgot to mention in the post that the carriage colors for guns gradually shifted from blue to green.

Here's my list, by location, of the survivors:
  1. 103 OVI OH
  2. Sackets Harbor NY
  3. Chickamauga GA FPF WT 743
  4. Fort Sill Oklahoma ?
  5. Burst Gun Online “No 12?”
  6. King WI Vetrans Home “No 45”
  7. Kanney KS Sunnyside Cemetary “No 54?”
  8. Reynolds GA
  9. Union Park Manitowoc WI, Remains of Original Carraige!
  10. Humbolt Historical Museum Kansas
  11. Cabin Creek WV “Watervillet 1837 #66” on Carraige
  12. Perrysville KY
  13. Private Collection Leesburg VA?

Note the "Watervillet 1837 #66" gun carriage is a very early stock train carriage, and more excitingly the Union Park cannon has it's original carriage and is the only only serving example of an Model 1819 gun in such a state. The one at Chickamaugua was actually involved in and captured during the battle there, proving at least some of the old timers came out to play.


LHR Lead

Dec 1, 2018
Arlington, WA
We have a few more on our list:

Wilmington DE
Chick-Chatt NMP GA
Reynolds GA
Stone Mountain GA
Barrington IL (2)
Marion IN
Caney KS
Humboldt KS
Perryville KY
Lenox MA
Lexington Park MD
Mechanicsville MD
Jefferson Barracks MO
Lincoln NE
Peebles Island NY (2)
Portville NY (2)
Sheffield Lake OH
Fort Sill OK
Lancaster PA
Ligonier PA (2)
Warminster PA
Hubbard TX
Sequin TX
King WI
Manitowoc WI
Cabin Creek WV
Sinclair WY (2)
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May 12, 2018
A few more pictures of old Iron guns, one showing an arsenal in Wisconsin with older pattern guns in use during the Civil War, and one showing better detail on the trail of the “Old Betsy” cannon in Ohio that was mounted on an old style carriage and preserved in the 1850s... the style of elevation gear is practically identical to the screw on the Model 1819 6 pounder which suggest a similar source, the Watevillet Arsenal, for both surviving carriages.



Here are some pictures of the Model 1827 and 1834 guns, too, from Robinson’s Battery. These guns all have production runs of about 100 or so, so it is quite likely that some of the iron cannons that now survive and don’t fit these patterns were in fact purchased by state or private militia groups. In 1835, the shift to bronze came, but the calibers (length) remained short in order to reuse existing carriage stocks. That didn’t last long as everyone quickly realized this was for the large part a false economy, and hence the slightly longer and much more common Model 1841 Six Pounder came into being.


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