Artillery Pieces at Gettysburg

Posted to the Project on 19 Dec 11

The Gettysburg National Military Park is currently home to 371 cannons, displayed in various locations around the park. (At the turn of the century there were over four hundred cannons on display, and at one time or another, the park owned approximately 800 pieces.) Many cannons (approximately 270, mostly of the howitzer variety) were melted down, and their bronze used by the War Department to fashion the various brigade markers around the field, as well as to supply the bronze for the park’s many large equestrian monuments, including that to General Meade.

Each cannon on the field represents a battery of artillery present at Gettysburg. Most (301) are authentic, but some are replicas. I am far, far, far from an expert on Civil War artillery, but this post is intended to serve as an introduction to some of the cannons and artillery pieces on display in the park.

(The best reference for learning about artillery at the Gettysburg National Military Park is Silent Sentinels: A Reference Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg by George W. Newton. On the web, your “go to blog” for Civil War artillery is Craig Swain’s excellent To the Sound of the Guns)


12 Pounder Napoleon (and their replicas)

There are 133 authentic 12-pounder Napoleons at Gettysburg and 15 so-called “false Napoleons” — replicas of the originals. They are named for French Emperor Napoleon III, and the most popular was the Model 1857. It was the most popular smoothbore cannon used during the Civil War. These guns now have a greenish patina from their bronze weathering. The gun pictured to the left is a piece that represents Bigelow’s famous 9th Massachusetts Battery at their location on the Wheatfield Road. (More Napoleons representing this unit are located at the Trostle Farm). It is one of many of the park’s authentic Napoleons. The replicas are 6-pound guns modified to “look” like 12-pound guns.

(To see a “false” Napoleon, head over to South Hancock Avenue and visit the guns of Ames’ Battery.)

Confederate manufactured Napoleons tend to have a darker color than Union manufactured guns — the bronze used for these guns was of varying quality in the Confederacy. The Confederate manufactured guns also lack the muzzle “swell” present on Union guns (leaving off the swell was a way to save on the amount of bronze necessary to manufacture each gun). The Confederate Napoleons pictured here are on Oak Hill and represent Carter’s Battalion. You can see the darker discoloration to the bronze clearly in the gun furthermost away from the cannon in this image. Most Confederate-made guns used by the Army of Northern Virginia were manufactured at the Richmond Tredgar Iron Works. Many of the Confederate guns on the battlefield, however, were produced at Georgia foundries and were most likely used in the Western Theater.

12 Pounder Howitzer

There are eighteen 12-Pounder Howitzers at Gettysburg, and this particular gun, which was manufactured in 1837, is the oldest artillery piece on the Gettysburg battlefield. It served as part of Manly’s Battery in Cabell’s Battalion, attached to McLaws Division, and is located near the Georgia State Monument on West Confederate Avenue south of the Millerstown Road.

Howitzers were considered the weapon of choice if the opposing forces were concealed behind terrain features or other fortifications, but they were otherwise not favored by the armies in the field.

(I want to thank my friend Craig Swain, who knows way more about Civil War artillery than I ever will, for pointing out I had the wrong kind of cannon pictured as a 12-pounder howitzer. This gun is a 12-pounder howitzer.)

24 Pounder Howitzer

There are two 24-Pounder Howitzers at Gettysburg, representing the four actual guns of this type. All of the 24-Pounder Howitzers were used by the Army of Northern Virginia. Howitzers were designed to fire at a high trajectory. The two pieces at Gettysburg were manufactured in Vienna, Austria. They are located just north of the intersection with the Millerstown Road along West Confederate Avenue.

The howitzer is designed as a short barreled cannon, able to fire large projectiles. As mentioned above, these guns were not favored by either field army and many were eventually melted down to cast other more useful gun-types.

6 Pounder Gun

There is only one 6-Pounder gun on the battlefield in its original condition, and it is located on South Confederate Avenue pointed squarely at the Bushman Farm and Little Round Top. Only one of these guns was present on the battlefield and it was attached to Latham’s North Carolina Battery. Deemed virtually useless by artillerists in both armies, in early 1863 Robert E. Lee sent nearly all of the Army of Northern Virginia’s bronze 6-pounder guns to Tredegar to be melted down and recast as Napoleons.

Most of the 6-Pounder guns in the Gettysburg National Military Park’s collection were eventually melted down to be made into plaques or monuments, or in the alternative, were modified to become “replica” Napoleons. The gun on display with Latham’s Battery was manufactured by the Cyrus Alger Iron Company of Boston.

3-Inch Ordnance Rifle and their replicas

There are 113 three-inch ordnance rifles at Gettysburg, and 18 replicas, making it the second most numerous gun on the battlefield behind the 12-Pounder Napoleons. The only gun known for absolute certain to be used at Gettysburg is the three-inch rifle at the base of General Buford’s statue on US 30. This particular 3 inch ordnance rifle is used to represent Cushing’s Battery at the Angle.

Invented by John Griffen, these guns were known for their exceptional accuracy and good reliability, making them a particular favorite among Civil War artillerists. They were cast from wrought iron, making them typically durable and dependable.

10 Pounder Parrott and their replicas.

There are nineteen authentic 10 Pounder Parrotts (all of Union manufacture) and 36 replicas on the battlefield. An authentic Parrott can be told from a replica by the authentic piece’s muzzle swell. All of the authentic Parrotts were cast by the West Point Foundry in New York. Designed by Robert Parrott, Parrotts had a reputation for being very accurate, but also for occasionally proving unreliable, even sometimes exploding. Henry Hunt, Union Chief of Artillery, disliked Parrotts so much for their unreliable tendencies that he even tried to have all of the Parrotts removed from the Army of the Potomac at one point. This particular example of a 10-Pounder Parrott is located on the crest of Little Round Top and represents Hazlett’s United States Regular Battery.

Parrotts can be most easily identified and distinguished from other similar iron guns on the field by the reinforcing band that is present around the breech of the gun.

20 Pounder Parrott and the Replica.

There are eleven examples of the 20 Pounder Parrotts present at Gettysburg, and 1 replica gun. Parrotts came in sizes ranging from an 8-Pounder up to a 300-Pounder, but only two sizes were used at Gettysburg — the 10 pounder and 20 pounder models. In the actual armies at Gettysburg, there were eighteen of these guns present — 6 in the Army of the Potomac, and 12 in the Army of Northern Virginia. This 20-Pounder Howitzer represents Woolfolk’s Battery of Alexander’s Battalion, and is located near the Longstreet Tower on Seminary Ridge, just south of the Millerstown Road. There are two such guns at this location, and both of these Confederate artillery pieces were manufactured at the Richmond Tredegar Iron Works.

The barrel of a 20-Pounder Parrott typically weighed around 1800 pounds, making it one of the heaviest guns used by Civil War field armies.

12 Pounder Whitworth Rifle

There are 2 authentic Whitworth cannons at Gettysburg, both located on Oak Hill. Designed by Joseph Whitworth, these guns were manufactured in England, and are noted because they were breech loaders, although they could also be muzzle loaded as well. Although they were very accurate, they did not hold up well to hard work in the field because the breech loading mechanism was prone to breaking. At a high enough elevation of the gun, a Whitworth could throw a shell approximately six miles. These guns represent Captain Hurt’s Alabama “Hardaway” Artillery Battery.

14 Pounder James Rifle

There are two 14-Pounder James Rifles on the battlefield, both manufactured in Connecticut and attached to the 2nd Connecticut Battery. They have bronze barrels like the much more popular Napoleons. These pieces are located along South Hancock Avenue near Father Corby’s Monument, flanking the monument to Sterling’s Battery. The only mixed battery at Gettysburg, Sterling’s Battery consisted of four James Rifles and two 12-pounder Howitzers.

Although accurate, James Rifles suffered from a lack of durability due to rifling not lasting very long in a bronze muzzle. They ceased being produced in 1862.

Comments on this Post

3 Responses to “Artillery Pieces at Gettysburg”

  1. Jack Mountcastle says:

    Jenny,

    This is a great presentation on the many different types of artillery pieces found at Gettysburg. Thanks so much for providing it to those of us who enjoy your website.

    Best wishes,

    Jack

  2. Lee says:

    When you had the information for the 20 pound Parrotts, you have 1 replica listed. I was curious where that gun is on the field? Thanks!

  3. Tom Eno says:

    I am a member of the 1st. Pa. Arty, in the N-SSA skirmishers. We have an Original. Griffen number 18. Made in Coatesville, Pa. It is a rifled gun and we shoot it in competition at Ft, Shenandoah, Va. I would like to know if there is any way to find out if this gun was used at Gettysburg. I am told most Griffens never left the state. Thank you for your info, PFC. Thomas Eno. !st. Pa. Arty.

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