12 pdr. "Napoleon" Light Field Gun
- Type: Smoothbore gun-howitzer
- Rarity: Common
- Years of Manufacture: 1857 to 1863
- Tube Composition: Bronze or cast iron
- Bore Diameter: 4.62 inches
- Standard Powder Charge: 2.5 lbs.
- Projectiles: 12 lb. round balls
- Tube Length: 66 inches
- Bronze Tube Weight: 1,227 lbs.
- Iron Tube Weight: 1,249 lbs.
- Effective Range (at 5°): up to 1,619 yards
- No. in North America: approx. 1100
- Cost in 1861 Dollars: $490(US) $ 565(CS)
- Cost in 1864 Dollars: $614(US) $1840(CS)
- Special Notes: Named after French Emperor Louis Napoleon III
More about 12 pdr. Light Guns
The Napoleon Gun Howitzer was the most popular, common, and deadly field piece of the American Civil War. Developed under the auspices of Louis Napoleon of France, it first appeared in the American artillery in 1857. In the North, the smoothbore Napoleon was officially designated the "light 12-pounder gun". A Napoleon fired a 12.3 lb projectile and had a maximum effective range of about 1,600 yards. Union Napoleons had a slight swell at the muzzle of the 4.62 inch bore. The barrel with its carriage weighed 2,445 pounds, light enough to be hauled by men for short distances, however, the usual method of transportation was by a six-horse team with a driver aside one of each pair of horses.
The Confederacy produced a great many Napoleons, the majority out of bronze. Confederate made pieces were generally tapered and some iron variants had a band-reinforced breech.
The copper that was used in the making of the bronze Napoleons at the famous Tredegar Iron Works of Richmond, Virginia, came primarily from one source: The Ducktown mines near Chattanooga Tennessee. Each Napoleon produced by Tredegar, and presumably most other foundries, required over 1000 pounds of copper. At the recommendation of General Robert E. Lee, bronze cannons that fired lighter shot, such as the 6-pounder, were melted down and turned into Napoleons, which were more effective weapons.
Unfortunately for the Confederacy, the Ducktown mines were taken in November of 1863 by the Union. This ended bronze Napoleon production in the South. This did not end Napoleon production, however. In 1864, Tredegar started to produce iron Napoleons. These were manufactured in a similar fashion as the Parrott Rifles, out of cast iron with wrought iron reinforcing bands. While 120 of these guns were produced by the South before the end of the war, this method of manufacturing had its drawbacks.
Artillerymen favored bronze Napoleons because their barrels were stronger and safer than guns made of iron -- thus there was less chance the gun would burst during firing killing or wounding the crew.
A Napoleon was able to fire all of the four basic types of ammunition. The solid shot, shell, and case rounds were all spherical and were used against enemies at distances greater than 600 yards. For shorter distances the gun was loaded with canister, which turned it into a giant shotgun with lethal effects. Firing canister, the Napoleon probably inflicted more casualties than all other Civil War era artillery pieces combined.