A Walking Tour of Leutze Park
A visitor to the Washington Navy Yard may wish to start at The U.S. Navy Museum, where displays of weapons, models, and illustrations give a graphic idea of the weapons of the era of smoothbore artillery and of the way in which they were used. The Museum's collection includes a number of bronze and iron artillery pieces on period carriages, from a Dahlgren bronze boat howitzer to the massive iron 42-pounder gun - a monster weapon for its day - used by the privateer General Armstrong in an epic engagement with the British at Fayal during the War of 1812.
On leaving the Museum, walk around the right side of the white wooded house (building 1), and then north - away from the waterfront - on Dahlgren Avenue, named in honor of the famed inventor of the shell guns which served so well during our Civil War. You will see the first group of bronze ordnance on the left side of the street, between the street and the side of the Museum building.
As you examine these pieces, look for such things as size and proportion. Some of these weapons seem quite small to those of us accustomed to the big artillery pieces of our own time. Yet these were first line arms in their time. Most of the pieces seen here were made for the governments of Spain, France, Venice, or the United States and have some form of official identification. Earlier pieces were rather flamboyant and bear fairly elaborate inscriptions and national emblems. Royal guns might bear the arms of the king for whom they were made, as well as those of the official - his title varied from one country to another - who supervised the manufacture of the kings cannon. Ordnance of this time might also bear mottoes and inscriptions identifying the gun-founder who cast the piece and the date it was made. These earlier weapons were often given individual names, and a number of these will be seen here. As later bronze ordnance became more sober and functional in form, so did its ornamentation. The royal arms were replaced by a cipher, a crowned script monogram based on the initial of the kings name. Classical learning was still very much alive, and these royal ciphers were done in Latin. Thus, "C VI R" stood for Carolus Sextus Rex - King Charles the Sixth. One gun cast in Revolutionary France bears a large cipher, tantalizingly worn away to a point where it can be overlooked at first glance. The chase of the piece shows the motto "Liberte, egalite;" presumably, the cipher is the "RF" of the new French Republic. A later howitzer, made for the United States Army in 1858, simply bears a small "U.S." to indicate its nationality.
The weapons in this collection are identified here by consecutive numbers, beginning with 1 and continuing through 26. A look at them will illustrate some of the points discussed in John C. Reilly Jr.'s out-of-print publication The Bronze Guns of Leutze Park, Washington Navy Yard, Washington D.C., such as the general difference in appearance between earlier and later ordnance, as well as the distinction between the gun and the howitzer. There are no mortars in Leutze Park, but the three small iron eprouvette mortars arranged around the flagpole at the north end of the park will give a general idea of the proportions of early muzzle-loading mortars. The reader wishing to pursue the subject of bronze artillery will find valuable reading in the sources listed in the bibliography. Other specimens of old ordnance can be found in may places throughout the United States. In the Washington area for instance, the Naval Academy at Annapolis has a number of fine pieces. Two large Spanish bronze guns are displayed in front of the Naval Surface Weapons Center at White Oak, Maryland; four American bronze field guns, from the War of 1812 flank the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, across the street form the White House. Jackson's statue itself, dedicated in 1853, is cast from British trophy guns from that war. Library collections and existing specimens of period weapons, such as those to be seen here, can yield the interested researcher a considerable amount of information on the historic artillery and on its service.
No. 1. The first piece seen is an Austrian 6-pounder rifled howitzer manufactured at Vienna in 1843. Its weight is indicated at the forward end of the second reinforce as "7c 6f." In the Austrian measure of the time, this meant seven centners (hundredweight), six pfund (pound); the Austrian pfund weighed 1.23 of our pounds, making the weight of this howitzer 778.99 English pounds. This piece used what were called trunnion sights. An iron front sight blade is fixed to the right rimbase, and a portion of the right breech face is cut away to receive the rear sight. This piece is one of four in the Navy Yards collection (two more in Leutze Park, one in the Navy Memorial Museum) purchased by the Confederacy and captured in the blockade runner Columbia in 1862. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-AS.
No.2 This is a French 4-pounder smoothbore gun, cast at Lyons in 1793 and apparently captured during the Quasi-War with France (1798-1800). Manufactured in the year in which Louis XVI went to the guillotine, it has its founders identification on the breech face with the republican slogan "Liberte,egalite" on the chase. A nearly-obliterated device on the first reinforce seems to be a revolutionary national monogram substitute for the royal cipher used on earlier guns. Where 3-pounder and 6-pounder guns were used in the English service, the French preferred 4- and 8- pounders. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-AP.
No. 3 and No. 4. These are Austrian rifled 6-pounder howitzers of a pattern, later than that of No. 1. Both were made at Vienna; No. 3 in 1852 and No. 4 in 1854. They have one reinforce instead of the two of No. 1, and their outline is noticeably more functional, lacking the older weapons ornamental rings and astragals. In dimensions and lines, though, the relation between older and newer pieces shows clearly. Both howitzers have the same type of sights as the 1843 weapon and, like it, were captured in the blockade runner Columbia. A trophy inscription on No. 3 commemorates this. A number of Austrian rifled howitzers were bought and used by the Confederacy; 6-pounders like these can be seen at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as well as at Petersburg and Fort Monroe, Virginia; two bronze 24-pounder howitzers are at Gettysburg battlefield park. Seven pieces of this type were sold to the Grand Army of the Republic in 1883 to be melted down and cast into members' badges for that association of Union veterans. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-Go and 61-84-GN.
No. 5 An unusual Japanese gun, its bore 6.875 inches in diameter; this would enable it to fire a 39-pound solid shot. It bears no mark other than the numeral "8" on the right trunnion and a trophy inscription on the first reinforce. This powerful gun formed part of the armament of the batteries guarding the Shimonoseki Straits, the narrow passage between the islands of Kyushu and Honshu leading from the Inland Sea to the Korea Strait. During the early 1860s, the feudal clans of southern Japan were at war with the leading Tokugawa clan for political supremacy. They resented the recent opening of their country to foreign influences, and antiforeign feeling ran strong in this part of Japan. The Shimonoseki batteries fired on French and Dutch vessels and on the American steam sloop-of-war Wyoming. On 5 and 6 September 1864, a combined French-Dutch-British squadron, joined by the chartered American naval steamer Ta Kiang, bombarded and silenced the Shimonoseki forts. This retaliatory naval bombardment is credited with putting an end to the antiforeign movement in Japan. This large gun was designed for use with breeching tackle, a heavy cable passed around the cascabel to check recoil within a certain space. The large sight bases - called sight pieces or sight masses - are out of the ordinary for weapons of this period. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-BC.
No. 7. A U.S. Army 24-pounder howitzer, model of 1844. Markings on its trunnions show that it was made at Boston in 1858 by Cyrus Alger and Company. The initials B.H. on the muzzle face are those of Major Benjamin Huger, then an inspector of ordnance for the Army and later a major general in the Confederate service. This piece passed into Confederate hands during the Civil War and, as the inscription on the breech shows, was recaptured when Morris Island, Charleston, S.C., was evacuated after a long siege by Rear Admiral S. P. Lee's North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-AM.
No. 14 A Spanish 12-pounder, named GENEROSO (Generous), presumably for its readiness to dispense its iron favors. Cast at Barcelona on 28 March 1795, it bears the serial number 2673 on the breech ring. A large elevated vent piece has been added at some time after the manufacture, and the vent field (on the top of the vent piece) is shaped to correspond with a flint firing lock. The holes drilled in the right side of the vent piece, with the cutaway in the gun tube beside it, were intended to accommodate the lock. This gun is believed to have been captured at Derna during the war with Tripoli and brought to the United States late in 1805 in the brig Franklin. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-AG.
No.16. Cast at Seville on 8 January 1829, this piece was originally made as a 12-pounder smoothbore along the line of No.15. At a later date, it was converted to a 4.75-inch muzzle-loading rifle, a common expedient here and abroad in the mid-19th century when many old smoothbore guns were so modified. As a rifle, it has a hexagonal bore with eight lands and was equipped with rimbase sights like those of No.15. It bears the Latin name ALEATOR -- literally, a dice player - connoting dice and recklessness or, perhaps, referring to the 12-pound dice that it could throw. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-EK.
No. 18. Another 12-pounder, EL TOSICO (The Poisonous One), dated 6 July 1767. Like EL TORO, it was made for King Charles III and displays his cipher on the first reinforce. It was also a Mexican War trophy, and as an inscription on the breech face indicates - was lost and recovered at the Norfolk Naval Yard during the Civil War. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-EQ.
No. 20. Bearing the proper name CAMBERNON, this 9-pounder of Charles IV (1788-1808) was cast on 18 December 1790. Though 23 years newer then EL GALGO, its lines are virtually identical. Trunnion markings show that it, too, was made from Chilean copper and weighs 1387.56 pounds. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-AI.
No.21. This piece, as well as the five which follow, are typical howitzers of the kind used from the late 1600s into the early 1800s. Unlike their longer-barrelled mid-19th century descendants in this collection (Nos. 1,3,4, and 7), they are only about four calibers long. This howitzer and No.22 are believed to be of British make, though neither bears any marking to confirm this. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-AZ.
No. 22. A second 5.625-inch howitzer; the lack of identification on these weapons indicates that they may have been cast for the export trade. These howitzers, like most of their contemporaries, are chambered; that is, the powder chamber is"necked" down to a smaller diameter than the bore. The breech section of the tube is thus thicker and can withstand firing pressure without the need for a reinforce. This gives Nos. 21-24 the "potbellied" shape which characterizes most - though, as will be seen, not all - howitzers of their period Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-BA.
No. 23. The founder's or user's identification number "249" is the only identification on this 4.63-inch howitzer. Though its caliber is smaller than that of Nos. 21 and 22, its proportions are similar. A small vent piece is raised forward of the breech ring. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-E.
No.24. This 6.5-inch Spanish howitzer was made on 13 November 1782 at Barcelona. Its prominent vent piece has two holes tapped in each side, possibly a vent cover. Trunnion markings give its weight as the equivalent of 726.01 English pounds, and refer to its material as bronzes viejos (old bronzes; that is, metal obtained by melting down earlier ordnance). Its name JUSTICIERO, is an adjective meaning just or fair. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-Z.