Military Cannon

During the 1800’s several forts built on the U.S. West Coast are now great sites to see the various types of military cannon exhibits once employed for protection. Two of these forts are popular tourist destinations and each is at the mouth of a major water inlet. One is Fort Point which has the distinction of now being located directly under the Golden Gate Bridge at the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Fort Point was put into service in 1861 and was built to hold 126 powerful cannons. Interestingly enough, Fort Point never had to fire a cannon during the Civil War. The other is Fort Stevens, located west of Astoria Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River. In the case of Fort Stevens, it has the distinction of being fired upon by a Japanese submarine during World Wat Two. That certainly is unique history.

napolean 12 pound cannon

Napolean 12 Pound Cannon 1857 Model

The military cannon shown at left is a Napolean 12 Pounder 1857 Model on display at Fort Point in San Francisco. This piece was also a part of Civil War artillery. In fact, this was the most used smoothbore cannon during the American Civil War. The cannon was also referred to as the “light 12 pounder gun“.This cannon was obviously quite portable and was usually pulled by horse or mule. The gun was known for it’s power and reliability.

san martin cannon

San Martin Cannon

This next military cannon shown at right is the “San Martin” which was cast in Peru in 1684 and used by the Spanish military in California. This cannon was discovered by Captain John B. Montgomery in 1846 as it had been buried at the Presidio in San Francisco. Montgomery had taken over the fort which was then named “Castillo de San Joaquin” without a fight. The fort had been abandoned and was in disrepair as were it’s cannon. The Captain was able to put the cannon back in working order and along with two others brought down from Sonoma placed them in the new battery. This military cannon also on display at Fort Point has a Spanish crest engraved on the top on the rear third of the barrel.

m1897 artillery gun

M1897 Artillery Gun

The military cannon shown left is on display at Fort Stevens State Park, west of Astoria Oregon on the Pacific coast. The cannon can be seen at the Pratt Battery pointing out toward the Columbia River. The gun is a 75 MM M1897 artillery piece. Interestingly enough, this model gun had a life expectancy of about 10,000 rounds. This gun or more appropriately, cannon, weighs 16,216 pounds, fired a 104 pound projectile with a range of nine miles. Muzzle velocity was 2,600 feet per second using a 30 pound nitrocellulose powder charge. An interesting fact about the Japanese submarine shelling Fort Stevens during the war was that the shore batteries didn’t return fire. The story is that the post commander of Fort Stevens decided that returning fire during the midnight attack would only serve to give the submarine a better target. As it turned out, the Japanese shells were flying everywhere and the only official damage reported was to a baseball field backstop. While the attack was not significant in any way, it did liven things up at old Fort Stevens.

10 inch rodman cannon

10 Inch Rodman Smooth Bore Cannon

The cannon on the right is a replica 10 Inch Rodman Smooth Bore Model. It’s on display at Fort Stevens. This model cannon was reported to cost $1,795 in the year 1865. The cannons were made in 8 inch, 10 inch, 15 inch and 20 inch diameters. It took 20 pounds of gunpowder to fire a 125 pound projectile with a range of about three miles. Several of these can be found around coastal batteries in the San Francisco Bay Area as well. The gun weighs 15,400 lbs and was the most popular coastal cannon between the mid 1860’s to the 1890’s. The guns were so popular that many of the 10 inch models were later sleeved to 8 inches to help prolong their lifespan. The Rodman Guns were developed by Thomas J. Rodman who used a patented hollow core and water cooled method in their construction.

pre civil wat mortar

US Pre-Civil War Mortar

The small cannon shown at left is at Fort Point and is a Mortar Cannon. The Mortar Cannon essentially is made to fire low velocity projectiles over relatively short distances. This type of small muzzle loading cannon has been around for centuries, dating back to the 1400’s. Their small size can make them hard to aim especially if they are fired on unstable soil or snow. This particular mortar is a reproduction of a  pre-Civil War mortar which was mounted on the tiers of seacoast forts. It is identical to weapons used in posts all around the San Francisco Bay area.

Links to two additional articles we’ve published that you’ll enjoy are the Mountain Howitzer and on our Western Trips site, 1800’s Frontier Firearms.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)


The Mountain Howitzer


Mountain Howitzer at Sutter's Fort, Sacramento California

The Mountain Howitzer was one of the most effective weapons employed by the U.S. Army Cavalry during the latter part of the 1800’s. The Mountain Howitzer was essentially a compact cannon that could easily be taken along by cavalry units on the field. Ironically, it was the Mountain Howitzer that was not taken along by George Armstrong Custer during the Sioux War of 1876. If he had not declined bringing along this weapon the history books may have been written differently. The Mountain Howitzer’s compact size and portability was ideal for such cavalry expeditions.

The Mountain Howitzer was built in several styles, with the 12 pound gun probably the most used in the frontier west. Being first designed in Sweden during the latter 17th century, the practical utility of this weapon goes back to Europe and the Peninsular War when the Spaniards used these weapons against Napoleon. That war began in 1808 and ened with Napoleon’s defeat in 1814.

You’ll also enjoy our article and photos of Military Cannons used at our old west coast forts.

Mountain Howitzer at Fort Union New Mexico

In America, the Mountain Howitzer saw action in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and during the various western Indian wars. The Mountain Howitzer got it’s name because the original cannons were taken apart for transport into the mountains and then reassembled when needed. The weapons were designed to be portable. The twelve pound designation means that the cannon shot a twelve pound cannon ball.The Mountain Howitzers were often referred to as “Bull Pups”. The barrel was 38 inches long with a 4.62 bore. These small yet powerful cannons had a range of from about 900 to 1,000 yards.The first models were made in bronze. The later models of the howitzer were affixed to small carriages and these could be pulled along by horse or mule with little trouble.

An interesting story comes from the two Mountain Howitzers on display in Old Town Albuquerque’s plaza. The howitzer’s made there way to Albuquerque during the Civil War when the confederates made a push north into New Mexico. At one time, the Confederates occupied Albuquerque on their way further north. Their advance was stopped at the historic Battle of Glorieta Pass just to the east of Santa Fe. There are two Mountain Howitzers located on the plaza in Old Town Albuquerque just a few miles west of the modern downtown location. These are exact replicas of the cannons that were in place there during the Confederate occupation in 1862.

Mountain Howitzer exact replicas in Old Town Albuquerque

The Howitzer barrels were buried when the Confederates retreated. In 1889 all eight barrels that were buried were unearthed when an officer returned to the site and showed where they had been buried. Because of the great historical value of these eight barrels they were eventually place in the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History which is located only three blocks northeast of the Old Town plaza. The museum is a great addition to a trip planner for anyone visiting or vacationing in Albuquerque. The exact replica Mountain Howitzers on the plaza today are mounted on “Prairie” gun carriages which were thought to be the type utilized by the Confederate troops.

You may be interested in these related articles…The California State Military Museum and a Tour of Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento.

When you travel around the United States you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see these historic Mountain Howitzer cannons at many locations. In addition to the cannons located on the Albuquerque Old Town plaza is an authentic Mountain Howitzer on the grounds of the Fort Union National Monument in northern New Mexico between Raton and Las Vegas. You’ll also see a Mountain Howitzer on display at the Fort George G. Meade Museum in Maryland, Sutters Fort in Sacramento California, Fort Sill Oklahoma, the Sheldon Prairie Museum in Sheldon Iowa, Fort Laramie in Wyoming, Fort Concho in San Angelo Texas and at many other historic sites and old military forts.