Model 1857 12-Pounder Napoleon Field Gun

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M1857 12-Pounder "Napoleon" at Gettysburg National Military Park, 2005. The bronze barrel has a green patina because it is not in service and is not polished.

The Model 1857 12-Pounder Napoleon Field Gun, officially called the “light 12-pounder gun” by the United States Army, was the most popular smoothbore cannon used during the American Civil War.[1] The cannon was named after French president and emperor, Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte.

History[change | change source]

The French Canon obusier de campagne de 12 cm, modèle 1853, also known as the Canon de l’Empereur, was a type of canon-obusier (shell cannon) or gun-howitzer developed in 1853 by the French army.[2] It could fire ball, shell, canister or grapeshot which allowed it to replace all the earlier French cannons. It was of a cast bronze smoothbore design and could double as a howitzer. It was light enough to be pulled by a team of horses. At the same time it had enough firepower to destroy fortifications at a distance of a half-mile (805 meters).[3] When it entered the service of Emperor Napoléon III it was named after him.[3]

In 1857 the design was adopted by the U.S. Army as the light 12-pounder M1857.[3] The Union made 1,156 units while the Confederacy made 501.[4] Because they did not have the manufacturing capacity of the North, Confederates attempted to capture as many Union-made Napoleon 12-pounders as they could.[4] The Confederate army also developed their own version. In 1863, General Robert E. Lee was so impressed by the M1857 that he had all six-pounders in the Army of Northern Virginia gathered up and sent to Richmond to be melted down and re-cast into 12-pounders.[3] The Confederates kept producing 12-pounder Napoleons until the Union army captured the Ducktown copper mines near Chattanooga, Tennessee. This reduced Confederates bronze production.[3] After that Confederate 1857s were cast of iron.[5]

U.S. M1857[change | change source]

When first model 1857s were cast in Northern foundries they had two handles or "dolphins".[6] After 1861 the dolphins were eliminated, the barrel was shortened from the French version, and it was made lighter.[6] Like most cannons in use at the time, they were muzzleloading weapons.[7] The Model 1857 12-pounder Napoleon with its bronze barrel made up 40% of the cannons on both sides.[8] The U.S. version of the Napoleon could hit a target up to 1,700 yards (1,600 m) away.[9] However they were most accurate at closer ranges of about 250 yards (230 m).[9] It used a charge of 2.5 pounds (1.1 kg) of black powder.[8] The M1857 Napoleon fired a cannonball or canister shot at a speed of 1,440 feet per second (or 439 meters per second).[4] The barrel had a bore of 4.62 inches (117 mm) in diameter and was 62 inches (1,600 mm) long.[4] The barrel alone weighed 1,220 pounds (550 kg).[4] With its gun carriage it weighed 2,445 pounds (1,109 kg) and was pulled by a team of six horses.[6] The average gun crew was six men.[6]

References[change | change source]

  1. "U.S. Model 1857 12-Pounder Napoleon". Steen Cannons. Retrieved 26 July 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. "Canon Obusier de 12". onwar.com. Retrieved 26 July 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)[permanent dead link]
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 John Guttman. "12-Pounder Napoléon: A French Cannon in the 'Civil' Service". HistoryNet. Retrieved 26 July 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Model 1857 12-Pounder Napoleon Towed Field Gun (1857)". MilitaryFactory.com. Retrieved 24 July 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. "Civil War Cannon". civilwarartillery.com. Retrieved 26 July 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Joseph V. Collins, Battle of West Frederick, July 7, 1864: Prelude to Battle Of Monocacy (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corporation, 2011), p. 87
  7. "Civil War Artillery". Civil War Academy. Retrieved 24 July 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Artillery" (PDF). United States Army Ordnance Corps & School. Retrieved 24 July 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Jim Ollhoff, The Civil War: Weapons (Minneapolis, MN: ABDO Publishing Co., 2012), p. 21

Other websites[change | change source]