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U.S. Model 1857 12-Pounder Napoleon

Five centuries of evolution of bronze field pieces were climaxed by a single smoothbore. One cannon was to outperform, and, during the Civil War to make obsolete, both 6-pounder guns and 12-pounder howitzers of mixed light field artillery batteries. Although officially called the “light 12-pounder gun” in the North, this most popular smoothbore was better known as the “Napoleon”. It was named for a nephew of Napoleon I, Prince Charles Louise Napoleon Bonaparte, who became Emperor Napoleon III of France. The Napoleon was the favorite field gun of both armies. It was reasonably accurate as all ranges and was devastating when firing canister at close range. The Napoleon was robustly designed (in modern parlance it was “overengineered”) and was capable of firing large number of rounds (more than 1200 rounds for a six gun battery in a single engagement was not uncommon) without any noticeable distortion or wear on the tube. In one incident at Antietam, an enexperienced infantryman of the Iron Brigade helped man a gun of Campbell’s Battery (B, 4th U.S.) in repulse of Hood’s attack. The infantryman lithely loaded double canister and fired away-unaware the he was supposed to remove the powder charge from the second round before loading! The overcharged gun bucked violently into the air with each round, but was found to be fully serviceable at the end of the battle. WIth a propellant charge of 2.50  lbs of lback powder, the Napoleon fired a 12.30 lb. solid shot to a range of 1,619 yards at 5 degrees elevation. the muzzle velocity is 1,485 feet per second (F.P.S.).

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