Skip to comments.Park gets working cannon (Fredericksburg)
Posted on 04/10/2006 12:53:30 PM PDT by stainlessbanner
The sound and smell of the brutal cannon barrages at the Battle of Fredericksburg must have been overwhelming.
The deep, rich booming of the 12-pound, smoothbore Napoleons. The high-pitched "crack, crack" of Parrott rifles. And the acrid, sulfuric stench of black powder at each explosion.
"A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it," said a Confederate cannoneer atop Marye's Heights to Lt. Gen. James Longstreet as they looked down upon advancing wave after wave of blue-coated Union soldiers.
Soon, visitors to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park will get a taste of what it must have been like to have been positioned with Washington's Artillery of New Orleans on that commanding spot above Fredericksburg or with the 4th U.S. Artillery across the Rappahannock River on Stafford Heights.
The military park, which is run by the National Park Service, has just received a finely detailed replica of a Napoleon, known as the "workhorse" of Civil War artillery. It will be named during a ceremony sometime next month, and fired in living-history demonstrations featuring those units starting June 8-11.
"We're really excited because it will draw people to the park and help make history come alive," said Stacy Humphreys, a park supervisor and its black powder expert.
The Napoleon, with its gleaming bronze barrel and handcrafted carriage, was delivered on a trailer to the park headquarters on Lafayette Boulevard Saturday by Marshall Steen of Steen Cannons in Ashland, Ky. He is the country's top manufacturer of full-scale, reproduction field artillery.
"This is better than any Christmas I've ever experienced," said an ecstatic Humphreys, who did the necessary paperwork for the $30,000 purchase.
The money is part of the $1 million Congress approved to help the National Park Service update its living-history programs. Last year, the military park here used some of that money to buy a powder magazine. This time, it picked the Napoleon because it was used throughout the war by both the Confederate and Union forces.
"That way, we can do the most interpretations with it, and can use it at all four of our sites," said Humphreys, who has been fascinated by cannon ever since her parents took her to New Market Battlefield Historical State Park when she was 4.
This new cannon is a replica of one at Gettysburg National Military Park, and even has the same year, 1862, model number, 29, and foundry's initials, G.T.B. A.M.C. for Ames Manufacturing Co. of Chicopee, Mass., stamped on the muzzle.
Steen said he prefers to make replicas of cannon that are in the park where his will be used. That way, visitors can watch his being fired, then go see the original. Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, however, does not have an authentic 1862 Napoleon.
Still, the handful of park service personnel, living-history volunteers and tourists who watched him unwrap the cannon in the headquarters parking lot yesterday couldn't have been more delighted.
"The public loves this stuff [watching the firing]," said Terry Thomann, who runs the Civil War Life--The Soldiers' Museum in Spotsylvania County. "When you can actually fire a cannon, it's great."
The Napoleon was a smooth-bore cannon invented by the French Army under Emperor Louis Napoleon in 1850. Only a handful existed in the United States when the Civil War broke out, but it had become the most popular smoothbore cannon for both sides by the Battle of Gettysburg.
"They were good short-range guns," Humphreys said. "It was the workhorse of both armies."
The Napoleon was called a 12-pounder because it fired 12-pound cannon balls that would bounce as they landed. Artillerymen would switch to a more deadly canister as the enemy drew near. These would disintegrate and spray out lead shot the size of golf balls.
Two groups of living-history volunteers will use the cannon at special events and in weekend programs. One will represent the Washington Artillery, a group of well-heeled Louisiana gentleman who paid for their uniforms and equipment. They wore their motto, "Try Us," on gold pins bearing the head of their mascot, the tiger.
The other group will depict the 4th U.S. Artillery, which was part of the famed Iron Brigade. These were hardy midwesterners who picked "Skill is better than luck" as their motto.
"That is what artillery is all about," Humphreys said. "You had to be good in math and science and you had to work as a team. The crew or detachment of 10 men really had to depend on each other."
Having the new cannon, she said, will help the park service bring their stories to life.
12-pounder in Fredericksburg
I want one!
That's a beautiful picture.
Old Dominion bump
Cool! I used to live within an easy stroll's distance of Marye's Heights and the Military Park at Fredburg. I may have to motor down there soon.
Then I think you should have one. Go to this site with your credit card and pick the one you like best!
I prefer my 10-pounder M1861 Parrott rifle. More accurate and a 2.9 inch bore takes a lot less powder to make a convincing BOOM than a 4.67 inch one.
I want two!!
geez, and we can't even fire a pellet gun in Fulton County!
Credit where credit is due:
Mine is a South Bend Replicas barrel on a Paulson Brothers carriage.
And roll. Many feet were lost to these rolling cannonballs since they seem to be moving slow enough to stop by putting the leg down in front. Surprise!
Sam Watkins in his book 'Company Aytch' describes just such an incident before the (horrifying) battle of Franklin.
God Bless America! LOL... gotta get one of those...
AND it's decendents are being used today! Electric powered gatlings kick butt!
"The high-pitched "crack, crack" of Parrott rifles."
Cheaper, but not authentic or safe.
Dixie Gun Works artillery can only be safely used as lawn ornaments.
I used to own an 1846 heavy 12 pounder. A divorce created a situation that ended up with the Paulsen Brothers adding it to their collection.
When I was a kid and first learnt about Gatling's Gun, I thought it was old fashioned. Silly me.
Geez, for what I paid for my espresso machine I could have had a mortar. Durn the luck.
Nice field piece. I have a small desktop model that is non-firing, but I have my Confederate Flags around it. I used to fire a 105MM Howitzer, and would love to fire one of the old Napoleons. Once an Ordie, always an Ordie.
FReepmail me if you can be around Maryland some weekend and I will see what I can do. One warning - black powder is VERY addictive!
there shoulda been a hundred Fredricksburgs....
Washington Artillery of New Orleans
More good pics over here.
"A little more grape, Captain Bragg!"
"Artillery lends dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl!"