United States Cannon
of the Early 1800's
The United States adopted the Gribeauval system of
artillery carriages in 1809, just about the time it was becoming
obsolete (the French abandoned it in 1829). The change to this system,
however, did not include adoption of the French gun calibers. Early in
the century cast iron replaced bronze as a gunmetal, a move pushed by
the growing United States iron industry; and not until 1836 was bronze
readopted in this country for mobile cannon. In the meantime, U. S.
Artillery in the War of 1812 did most of its fighting with iron
6-pounders. Fort McHenry, which is administered by the National Park
Service as a national monument and historic shrine, has a few ordnance
pieces of the period.
FIGURE 10—U. S. 32-POUNDER ON BARBETTE CARRIAGE (1860).
During the Mexican War, the artillery carried 6- and
12-pounder guns, the 12-pounder mountain howitzer (a light piece of 220
pounds which had been added for the Indian campaigns), a 12-pounder
field howitzer (788 pounds), the 24- and 32-pounder howitzers, and 8-
and 10-inch mortars. For siege, garrison, and seacoast there were pieces
of 16 types, ranging from a 1-pounder to the giant 10-inch Columbiad of
7-1/2 tons. In 1857, the United States adopted the 12-pounder Napoleon
gun-howitzer, a bronze smoothbore designed by Napoleon III, and this
muzzleloader remained standard in the army until the 1880's.
The U.S. naval ironclads, which were usually armed
with powerful 11- or 15-inch smoothbores, were a revolutionary
development in mid-century. Most were low-hulled, armored, steam
vessels, with one or two revolving turrets. Although most cannonballs
bounced from the armor, lack of speed made the "cheese box on a raft"
vulnerable, and poor visibility through the turret slots was a serious
handicap in battle.
FIGURE 11—U. S. NAVY 9-INCH SHELL-GUN ON MARSILLY CARRIAGE (1866).
While 20-, 30-, and 60-pounder Parrott rifles soon
made an appearance in the Federal Navy, along with Dahlgren's 12- and
20-pounder rifled howitzers, the Navy relied mainly upon its
"shell-guns": the 9-, 10-, 11-, and 15-inch iron smoothbores. There were
also 8-inch guns of 55 and 63 "hundredweight" (the contemporary naval
nomenclature), and four sizes of 32-pounders ranging from 27- to
57-hundredweight. The heavier guns took more powder and got slightly
longer ranges. Many naval guns of the period are characterized by a hole
in the cascabel, through which the breeching tackle was run to check
recoil. The Navy also had a 13-inch mortar, mounted aboard ship on a
revolving circular platform. Landing parties were equipped with 12- or
24-pounder howitzers either on boat carriages (a flat bed something like
a mortar bed) or on three-wheeled "field" carriages.
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