Model 1853 12-Pounder Napoleon
Towed Field Gun
The 12-Pounder Napoleon was an excellent tactical weapon of French design, able to fire a variety of shot at range.
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The French Army enjoyed success through the service life of the revolutionary Model 1853 "Napoleon" 12-Pounder field gun (known formally as the "Canon Obusier de 12"). The weapon was of approximately 117mm (4.62") caliber (usually rounded to 120mm) and fired a 4.1 kilogram projectile (ball, shell or canister/grapeshot) at a muzzle velocity of 1,440 feet per second out to targets 1,440 yards away. The artillery system proved versatile enough to tackle concentrations of enemy troops as well as fortifications at range and its ability to accept different ammunition types immediately established it as the preeminent artillery piece in the world. The weapon was also adopted by the American Army which locally produced it as the "Model 1857 Napoleon 12-Pounder" (detailed elsewhere on this site) just in time for its widespread use in the American Civil War (used by both sides in the conflict in the thousands). Both guns were named in honor of French President/Emperor Napoleon III, nephew to the famous French Army general/emperor Napoleon I.
Design of the Model 1853 was conventional featuring a bronze barrel fitted atop a heavy duty mount which rode on two multi-spoked carriage wheels. The weapon was transportable through use of a "limber" which attached to the rear support arms and made the system into a four-wheeled cart of sorts. In this fashion the weapon could be relocated at speed via horse to another front. Beyond that, the weapon could be precisely positioned or moved short distances by handlers in a conventional way. Ammunition was limited by the ammunition cart supply. A crew of seven was needed to manage successful and efficient firing of the weapon which involved aiming for range and elevation, preparing each charge and projectile, readying the ignition process and ramming/swabbing the barrel. As a "smoothbore" weapon (as opposed to rifled), the cannon was loaded from the muzzle end. Model 1853 guns were physically identified by their muzzle "swell". A trained and experienced crew could fire between three and four shots per minute. Since there was no integrated recoil mechanism, the cannon threw rearwards after firing, forcing the gunnery crew to reposition and re-sight the weapon prior to the subsequent shot being fired. All told, the weapon system weighed in at 2,350lb and featured a running length of 1.9 meters.
Once in service, the Model 1853 replaced all available French types and was used in anger during the Crimean War (1853-1856). When used as a collective battery, the salvo could obliterate enemy formations and even destroy lesser fortifications allowing it to be used as an ad hoc siege weapon. The solid shot held the terrible ability to decapitate a man or cleave limbs through its sheer velocity. Additionally, cannonballs bounced several times after contacting the ground, allowing even more carnage to ensure - particularly against an advancing group of infantry. The days of the smoothbore weapon as a primary artillery piece were soon to end, however, as the "rifled" barrel became the standard in decades to come. Rifling provided a slower rate-of-fire but increased accuracy and range considerably.
The "12" in the formal designation of "Canon Obusier de 12" signifies its caliber of 12cm (12cm = 120mm).