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.
Terms used in the individual gun descriptions which follow are defined in the glossary.
Austrian 6-pounder rifled howitzer
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.
French 4-pounder smoothbore gun
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.
Austrian rifled 6-pounder howitzer
Austrian rifled 6-pounder howitzer
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.6 A 4-pounder gun without national markings. Records indicate that this piece was captured during the war of 1812; its vent field is conspicuously mutilated by extensive drilling or hammering with a pick-like instrument. Its general configuration dates it in the second half of the 18th century, or, possibly, the first years of the19th. The 4-pounder, as noted under No. 2 above, was a Continental caliber although some iron 4-pounders were in British service until about 1800. It may well have been purchased or captured by the English, since trophy guns were often put to use. It was at the Norfolk Navy Yard when the Civil War began, making it likely that is was originally captured at sea. Its small caliber means that, in all probability, it armed a privateer or armed merchant. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-AB.
US Army 24-pounder howitzer 1844 model
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.
Carriage of Spanish 12-pounder gun
No. 8 The legend cast into the breech ring of this Spanish 12-pounder gun shows that it was made at Barcelona on 6 June 1767. The royal cipher on the first reinforce is translated C III R, or Carolus III Rex, for Charles III, King of Spain form 1759 to 1788. Like many Continental guns, this one has an individual name cast into its chase. The name EL ALANO means a mastiff, a large hunting dog; not an inappropriate name for a piece of heavy ordnance. A 12-pounder gun would be considered heavy at this time for field use but would be suitable for siege and garrison service and might be used in larger warships. It was sent to the Philippines for use in the defenses of Manila and was captured there by Rear Admiral Dewey in 1898. This cannon is currently undergoing conservation. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-N.
No. 9 This is the oldest piece in Leutze Park, a Spanish 6-pounder saker cast by one Andres Melendez in 1686 for King Charles II (1665-1700), whose arms it bears in high relief on the first reinforce. The founder's name appears around the neck of the muzzle; the gun is named, as many period guns were. It honors Saint Bruno, 11th-century scholar and founder of the Carthusian monastic order; S BRVNO (San Bruno) is cast into the second reinforce. The arms on the chase are those of the official in charge of the royal ordnance or in command of the service for which the gun was made. When this gun was cast, artillery pieces were still described by names which generally indicated their caliber and proportion. This 3.69-inch, 6-pounder weapon is 23 calibers long falling into the category of gun called sacre (saker). A sacre was lighter than the media culebrina (demiculverin), and heavier than a falcon. Its muzzle is strengthened by reinforcing bands or rings, rather than by the bell-shaped muzzle swell seen on later pieces; muzzle rings characterize guns cast into the first quarter of the 18th century. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-AE.
No.10,11,12,13. These can, appropriately, be called the "Decatur guns."
Nos. 10 and 13 are Spanish 27-pounder guns, both cast at Barcelona in 1788 for King Charles III; they armed two gunboats captured in hand-to-hand combat by Decatur at Tripoli on 3 August 1804. Nos. 11 and 12 are French 12-pounders made at Douay in 1740 for Louis XV and taken by Decatur during his operations against Algiers in 1815. Named CAMILLO (the Christian name Camillus) and CORZO (the male roe deer, with the connotation of swiftness), the two Spanish guns have the vent astragal and chase girdle characteristic of 18th-century ordnance but are functional in line. The French 12-pounders were, as the Latin inscription on their breech rings show, made at Douay in 1740 by the famed works established for Louis XIV in 1667; Claude Berenger de la Falise was appointed Commissaire des Fontes de France in 1696, and he and his descendants continued to produce guns for the French service at Douay until 1819. Both guns are named. LE VIGOUREUX (The Vigorous One) has its original vent cup for priming with loose powder, while LE BELLIQUEUX (The Warlike One) has had a large hexagonal vent piece added. This vent piece, lacking the cup-shaped depression around the vent) for powder, was evidently added in the late 1700's after tube primers had supplanted loose-powder priming. Though made after the death of Louis XIV, they are still ornamented in the style of his regime. Besides the royal arms, the first reinforce bears the famous device of the "Sun King" with his motto, Nec pluribus impar. "Not unequal to many" was Louis' roundabout way of describing himself as a match for any number of adversaries. On the chase is the inscription Ultima ratio regum, "the last argument of kings," widely used on European ordinance during this age of royal absolutism.
Nos. 11 and 12 were made under the system of ordnance reform proposed by General Valliere and adopted in 1732; this was the first rationalization of French land artillery and prefigured Gribeauval's reforms of the 1770s. The rooster head cascabel knobs were a feature of Valliere's scheme. Muzzle-loading smoothbore guns were similar in size and appearance, and a gunner had to measure the bore of a strange gun to determine its caliber. Guns in each of Vallerie's five standard calibers had an identifying cascabel design. The rooster told a gunner that this was a 12-pounder. Since the French livre weighed 1.097 English pounds, this "12-pounder" fired a heavier (13.164 pounds) ball than its British or American counterparts. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Numbers: 61-84-J, 61-84-S, 61-84-Q and 61-84-L.
Spanish 12-pounder - named Generoso
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.15. This 12-pounder, made at Barcelona on 21 November 1803, is slightly shorter than No. 14 and lacks a vent astragal and chase girdle; handles have also been omitted. A prominent vertical cutaway in the breech face, to the right of the cascabel knob, took a rear sight; three semicircular recesses at the sides of the cutaway evidently matched lugs on the sight base. Three screw holes show where a front sight was mounted on the right rimbase. The royal cipher is that of Charles IV (1788-1808). This gun was originally mounted in the defenses of Manila and was taken when the city fell to Dewey in 1898. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-EK.
4.75-inch muzzle-loading rifle
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.
El Toro a Barcelona 12-pounder
No.17. This Barcelona 12-pounder is EL TORO (The Bull), made on 1 May 1767. A V-notch rear sight is cast into the breech ring, with a small front sight blade on the swell of the muzzle. This simple arrangement indicates the importance of point-blank firing in the age of smoothbore gunnery. EL TORO passed into Mexican hands when that country won its independence from Spain and was captured by naval forces during the Mexican War. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-O.
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. 19. A 9-pounder contemporary of Nos. 17 and 18, made at Barcelona on 3 December 1767. COBRE... DE...AMERICA...on the left trunnion means that its founder used copper from the rich Spanish mines of Chile. Its PESO CASO (peso Castellano, Castilian weight) is marked on the right trunnion at 13 quintales, 75 libras, or 1394.66 of our pounds. It is named EL GALGO (The Greyhound). Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Number: 61-84-AH.
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.
Justiciero 6.5 inch Spanish howitzer
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.
Venetian 5.75-inch bronze howitzer
||No. 25 and No. 26. These two pieces, mounted on either side of the eastern entrance to Leutze Park, are Venetian 5.75-inch bronze howitzers captured during the Barbary Wars. On the second reinforce is a winged lion, its paws resting on an open book. This is the ancient symbol of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the patron saint of Venice. The Lion of Saint Mark indicates that these howitzers were cast at the famed Arsenal in Venice, a combined shipyard and munitions plant which for centuries built and armed the naval squadrons of this powerful Italian city-state. Unlike the early howitzers (Nos. 21-24) in this collection, these are apparently not chambered since, besides the midsection reinforce seen on the other pieces, these two have a first reinforce at the breech as well. Cup-shaped vent pieces indicate that both weapons were made before the introduction of priming tubes in the1760s. Naval Historical Center Artifact Catalog Numbers: 61-84-V and 61-84-X.
Venetian 5.75-inch bronze howitzer