Served in Mexican and Civil Wars
By D.L. Adams
The Model 1841 6-pound gun was one of a family of weapons designed by the U.S. Army Ordnance Department in 1841 (other members of the family were the Model 1841 12-lb., 24-lb. and 32-lb field howitzers; the Model 1841 12-lb. Gun and the 12-1b. mountain howitzer). The weapons proved their effectiveness during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, where they gained an outstanding reputation for maneuverability and reliability.
The most common 6-lb. guns were cast in bronze. The Model 1841 had 57.5 inch bore length and added more metal around the breech than its predecessors, the Models 1835 and 1838, with the 10.3 inch diameter.
In August and September 1841, Captain William Maynadier inspected two cast iron 6-lb guns identified at West Point Foundry. These are recorded as being “Model[s] of 1841.” Essentially the same length and weight as those of bronze for the same model year, their base rings were 0.7 inches larger, or 11 inches in diameter, further supporting the tradition of broader taper for cast iron than for bronze weapons.
From 1841 to 1862, the Ordnance Department produced more than 850 Model 1841 field guns. The 6-lb field gun was common to both Union and Confederate armies during the early war years.
The “6-pounder” name refers to the weight of a solid shot (round ball) fired from this type of gun. The guns could also fire an explosive shell with a time fuse, a round shell known as “spherical case” (a hollow shell filled with small lead or iron balls and a bursting charge, also with a time fuse) and canister, essentially a tin can filled with iron balls that spread out from the muzzle when fired, turning the gun into a large shotgun. The maximum effective range of the M1841 gun was about 1,500 yards. Crews fired canister at 400 yards or less.
At the outbreak of the war, most artillery units conformed to specifications as identified by the 1850 Ordnance Manual. As for contents of the ammunition chest, the Manual instructed it should consists of 35 shot, 5 spherical case and 10 canister rounds. The 1862 Ordnance Manual changed this slightly, however, specifying the optimum contents would contain 25 shot, 20 spherical case (also known as “case shot” or “shrapnel”) and 5 canister rounds.
At the first Battle of Manasses in 1861, Union forces fielded at least 10 M1841 6-lb field guns and Confederate artillery deployed at least 41 of the maneuverable pieces, the 6-lb. guns were soon seen to be to small and ineffective when compared to the 12-lb “light” gun or Napoleon. By 1862, the Federals stopped ordering Model 1841 type guns. Likewise, Confederate Ordnance officers went so far as to recommend the best use of the 6-lb guns was to melt them down to make the larger, more powerful Napoleon guns!
Regardless, Southern foundries continued to produce and deliver 6-lb guns to fulfill individual state’s orders throughout the war. The Federal Ordnance Department kept the small field guns in their inventory into the 1880s.
Today, 6-lb guns can be seen on various Civil War battlefields. Reproductions are available and are a favorite with cannon shooters and reenactors because of the weapon’s manageable size and (relatively) modest consumption of black powder.
When originals come to market, prices are truly affected by demand, but two recent sales have proven that original tubes on original carriages will fetch more than $80,000.