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"Naval Guns Carriage Colors 1814-15?" Topic

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robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2021 6:54 a.m. PST

Hoping against hope. Do we have any information at all on the color of the gun carriages of the USN guns at Bladensburg or Jean Lafitte's in defense of New Orleans? I'm sitting here with two naval guns and two Knuckleduster crews, so they're going to be painted something next week regardless.

Personal logo Grelber Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2021 8:44 a.m. PST

I Googled Joshua Barney, and came up with this picture from the Battle at Bladensburg. link
I would have expected ship type carriages, which would have had to be hauled to the battlefield in a wagon, instead of pulled behind a limber. Either they had some carriages at the Naval Yard or they hastily knocked something together.


Brechtel19809 Jan 2021 8:50 a.m. PST

Naval gun carriages for the US Navy of the period were generally painted red, because of blood spatter from dead and wounded gun crews.

See Arming the Fleet: US Navy Ordnance in the Muzzle Loading Era by Spencer Tucker, 159-160.

For the field artillery gun carriages that Barney's sailors and Marines also manned, the general color would have been either blue-gray or dark green.

There is a modern painting by Col Charles Waterhouse of the Marines and sailors at Bladensburg that shows the field pieces is blue-grey or light blue.


David Manley09 Jan 2021 8:56 a.m. PST

"Naval gun carriages for the US Navy of the period were generally painted red"

Indeed, a fairly dull, slightly washed out red rather than anything too bright. The carriages on the Constitution should give you a good idea if you Google for some images.

Personal logo Grelber Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2021 9:01 a.m. PST

The photo at the start of the website for the Chalmette/New Orleans Battlefield has blue-gray field carriages and a brown ship type carriage. link Maybe this is the dull red David Manley talks about. No idea how accurate that might be.


Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2021 9:49 a.m. PST

Yes, that would be the dull red color which is, IIRC, a red lead paint.


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2021 9:53 a.m. PST

Thank you one and all!

Meaning no offense to Col Waterhouse, does anyone know how he established that the naval guns at Bladensburg were on land carriages? And yes, I will buy another gun if I have to, transfer that second naval gun to the pirates and buy more pirate gunners from Knuckleduster--but I won't do it based on a painting by a non-contemporary. I've seen too many paintings with uniforms later than the battle.

Brechtel19809 Jan 2021 3:03 p.m. PST

How do you know that they were naval guns and not field pieces? I would suggest that using a naval gun carriage in the field would be somewhat awkward and hard to move at all. They certainly could not be attached to a limber…

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2021 3:29 p.m. PST

I don't know, Brechtel, which is why I asked. I only know they took the guns from naval vessels as the British chased them out of the Chesapeake and they had not initially been intended for field service.

Oh, hauling them would be a complete mess and presumably slow. That's why British militia artillery were mostly given guns with naval carriages when a Napoleonic invasion was anticipated. But it could certainly be done. They were only nine miles from the Navy Yard. I'd expect you could haul guns on naval carriages nine miles a lot faster than you could get artificers to make up five field gun carriages strong enough for 18-pound guns.

But I don't know. When I don't know, I ask questions about sources and evidence. I'm not big on "inherent military probability." Too many improbable things happen in warfare.

Brechtel19810 Jan 2021 5:00 a.m. PST

I would tend to agree with Col Waterhouse's version as the 12-pounder was the largest field piece, and the US did produce iron field pieces.

I have no idea, nor do I particularly care, in such devices as 'inherent military probability', but instead rely on research into military subjects. And that usually entails taking a look at books on the various subjects, both in print and on Google Books and Gallica.

Perhaps you have an idea how to transport 18-pounders on naval truck carriages to the field? One way is to take off the gun tube and use sling carts to transport the gun tubes and other types of wagons to transport the truck carriages. That was how siege artillery was usually transported in the field.

Naval truck carriages would have to have stable prepared positions in the field in order to be put into action, usually consisting of wooden firing platforms. I don't believe those were constructed at Bladensburg.

The lack of stable firing platforms for the British artillery at New Orleans in 1815 because of the nature of the wet terrain, inhibited the British artillery from firing effectively.

In Volume II of Military Uniforms in America: Years of Growth 1796-1851 there are two prints of US artillery: one shows, partially, a naval gun carriage of 1812-1815 on the plate facing page 62; the other shows a 12-pounder field piece with the gun carriage painted in the same green color used by the French artillery of the period. 'Its carriage has been painted in the color used by the French artillery of this time, since the 1812 correspondence of Colonel Decius Wadsworth, the newly appointed Chief of Ordnance, indicated that French carriages were being used as models for those he was manufacturing.'-36. The plate is facing page 36.

Other sources mention the light blue/blue gray shown in the illustration by Col Waterhouse.

Brechtel19810 Jan 2021 5:18 a.m. PST

Regarding the subject of 'inherent military probability', that 'concept' was introduced by the British military historian in the first half of the twentieth century.

Apparently, the concept as stated by Burne, is 'My method here is to start with what appear to be undisputed facts, then to place myself in the shoes of each commander in turn, and to ask myself in each case what I would have done.'

Seems to me that is just a little suspect as a concept in studying and writing military history.

Brechtel19810 Jan 2021 5:21 a.m. PST

As previously posted by Grelber, the picture of the Chalmette battlefield is probably a good guide to the color of US gun carriages, both field and naval. The truck carriage was also used in fixed fortifications and in the photo of the battlefield, the naval carriage is on a firing platform.


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Jan 2021 6:00 a.m. PST

Not quite sure why concept rates quotation marks, Brechtel, but yes, of course, A H Burne.

And of course that's exactly what we're all doing here. I look at sailors with naval guns nine miles from the Navy yards and ask "did they haul them that far on naval carriages?" which makes me the agnostic of the thread, because I know I don't know. Grelber says they "must" have had or built field carriages, but has no sources. You seem to have the same thought: that they must have produced field carriages somehow because anything else would have been awkward and inconvenient--something no one would dispute. But awkward and inconvenient things are sometimes done in war and other emergencies. A belief that the guns were or were not remounted is, at this point, IMP.

For that matter, take another look at that Waterhouse painting. He's got marines manning the guns while sailors stand by to act as infantry. Well, he was painting it for the history of the USMC. But surely one would man the guns with trained sailor gunners and use marines armed and trained for musketry as infantry? Again, in the absence of an eye-witness source, we're back to IMP.

I think the lack of stable platforms is another of the long list of British excuses for New Orleans. Platforms can be built. Indeed the defenders built them. Is it your understanding that the various British redoubts had none?

Brechtel19810 Jan 2021 6:12 a.m. PST

If you take a look at Robin Reilly's excellent The British at the Gates, which is probably the definitive work on New Orleans, you'll see that the terrain did not effectively support the firing platforms the British did build.

As for Marines manning artillery, I have no problem with that at all. Undoubtedly, if necessary, they were capable of both being employed as artillerymen and infantry, as were the sailors.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Jan 2021 8:57 a.m. PST

Yes, I was looking at Reilly this morning. No doubt Dickson would have preferred a more even, level platform for his 18 and 24-pd guns (hauled some distance on naval carriages.) But I see no reason why his platforms should have been worse than those supporting American 24 and 32-pd guns on naval carriages 800 yards away on the same muddy plain, and no one was making excuses for those.

On the marines at Bladensburg, though, I was unduly suspicious of Col. Waterhouse. Chalk it up to having regularly toured the USMC area of the Pentagon. I went through Vogel, Lord, Sheads and Heitman. I am no better informed on gun carriages, but it's hard to interpret the narratives in any way which doesn't mean the three 12-pd guns at least had marine crews--and all five guns were taken from the Navy Yard and not Barney's flotilla. I think I'm going to have to reassign both naval gun and crew to Jackson, turning the flotillamen into the crew of the USS Carolina.

Brechtel19810 Jan 2021 9:54 a.m. PST

The Americans at New Orleans had time to build sturdy artillery platforms in their fortified line and the British had to literally do it overnight in 'soggy' ground.

Have you visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico? It's excellent as are the staff.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Jan 2021 1:31 p.m. PST

Don't kid yourself. A ditch which they hoped would someday be a canal is not the Lines of Torres Vedras, and the Americans were digging at the same time as the British. Reilly, which I am assured is probably the definitive work on New Orleans, says the earthworks were no more than waist high when the British appeared opposite, and he makes no mention of prepared artillery positions. I suspect the difference is that Dickson wrote about his difficulties and Dominique You did not.

Drove past Quantico regularly at several points in my life, but never got closer to the museum than the Running of the Tanks. Work with marines regularly, walk the marine sections of the Pentagon, and have marine taskers and bosses, and you can get a little marined out.

IronDuke596 Supporting Member of TMP10 Jan 2021 6:27 p.m. PST

Gentlemen, a good discussion that has developed from a question about the color of gun carriages.
The twelve pounders were certainly on field carriages and manned by marines under the command of Captain Miller. He had previously used them earlier on June24-26 in the campaign to support Commodore Barney's gunboats as they endeavored to escape the St Leonard Creek, which was being blockaded by several Royal Navy frigates. Captain Miller was under the overall command of Colonel Wadsworth, the senior American Artillery officer for the 10th district. Col Wadsworth brought with him two 18 pounders, operated by flotilla men under the command of Cmdre Barney's Sailing Master John Geoghegan, and a travelling furnace for hot shot. The latter is not definitive but suggests that the artillery was mobile and therefore likely field artillery. This same group would figure prominently at Bladensburg under the command of Cmdre. Barney.
Of note is the fact that American twelve pounders were sometimes re-bored to produce 18 pounders that gave them a dual role as siege and field artillery, although they tended used for a siege artillery role. Major-General Brown had 18 pounders on field carriages in his Niagara campaign as did Major-General Izard for his Plattsburg army and General Wilkinson for the Montreal campaign. So, I believe the portrayal of a large calibre field piece as per the disputed painting of the wounded Cmdre Barney, is possibly correct, although the barrel seems longer than the standard army 18 pounders.

Brechtel19811 Jan 2021 2:44 a.m. PST

Work with marines regularly, walk the marine sections of the Pentagon, and have marine taskers and bosses, and you can get a little marined out.

Apparently, not enough or you would be familiar with the practice that Marine and Marines is capitalized, not lower case.

Regarding the defenses at the Rodriguez Canal, 'A British engineer officer who inspected the American defenses after the war reported that the canal was about 8 feet deep and 15 feet wide for about 650 yards from the Mississippi. The remaining 350 yards measured only 4 and 10 feet respectively. The Americans had made no effort to deepen or widen it, and had left it full of brambles. Their breastwork had been made by scraping earth on the far side of the canal; the inner side was revetted with planks, held in place by posts.'-See John Elting, Amateurs, To Arms!, 300.

Regarding the artillery positions of both armies, the description of the British gun positions: 'The emplacements around the guns consisted of single rows of sugar barrels, loosely filled with dirt, with more dirt thrown up against them on the outside. The platforms for the heavy guns were uneven, but it was the best that could have been done in the eight hours available.'-John Elting, Amateurs, 302.

For the American artillery positions: 'American battery positions were strongly built, their walls revetted with cotton bales, plastered over with mud; gun crews were regular artillerymen, sailors from the Carolina, militia (some of them veterans of the great wars), and a few Baratarians…'-John Elting, Amateurs, 303.

No one has compared the American defenses with the British Lines of Torres Vedras in Portugal.

Regarding the firing platforms that the British constructed overnight, 'For protection of the batteries Dickson [the British artillery commander] obtained sugar casks, which were filled with earth and supported by soil heaped on either side, but the cover provided could not be greater than the height of one cask which left the gunners exposed, from the lower ribs upward, to the fire of the enemy. Dickson was also anxious that the platforms, to be constructed with the rest of the battery, in darkness, would be neither firm nor level enough to enable the guns to be fired with accuracy. The carriages of the guns from the fleet were unwieldy and unsuited for field work.'-Robin Reilly, The British at the Gates, 293.

Dickson described the firing platforms were 'ill laid, uneven, and unsteady…'-Reilly, Gates, 294.

Regarding the US artillery at the battle, it was emplaced in different batteries, composed of both field pieces and larger caliber guns, the largest being a 32-pounder. Dominique You and Renato Beluche commanded two 24-pounders, but not the entire artillery contingent. Captain Enoch Humphrey, US artillery, commanded battery Number One, which consisted of two 12-pounders and a 6.5-inch howitzer. Captain Harry Perry commanded Battery Number 5 of two 6-pounders, and Battery Number 6 which was composed of a 12-pounder commanded by General Garrigues Fleaujac. In the redoubt on the far right of the American line there were two 6-pounders served by a detachment of the 44th Infantry Regiment. In Battery Number 7 were an 18-pounder and a 6-pounder served by regular US artillery crews.-Reilly, Gates, 307-308.

The US artillery was mostly manned by either regular US artillermen or regular US infantry, not Baratarians and the artillery was apparently not commanded by Dominique You, only one two-gun battery.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2021 4:17 a.m. PST

Thank you, Iron Duke. Clearly it's off to New Orleans for my guns and crews.

Brechtel, you have an no point demonstrated that the American positions were previously prepared, or why British emplacements could not have been as good. Was there some shortage of mud, wood planks and cotton south of Jackson's lines? Did he take it all with him as he retreated?

Nor did I say that Dominique You commanded all American artillery. I just needed a name for AN artillery commander on the US side. I note that you didn't come up with THE commander either. There might not have been one.

And I have done worse things to the Marines than fail to capitalize the name of the sacred Corps--and they to me. But all in good fun both ways.

Brechtel19811 Jan 2021 4:56 a.m. PST

…you have an no point demonstrated that the American positions were previously prepared…

That comment is counterfactual and merely demonstrates that you have not either read the posting that clearly demonstrates that the American defensive positions were prepared or merely choose to ignore it.

In either case, you are incorrect in fact.

This is what was posted:

Regarding the defenses at the Rodriguez Canal, 'A British engineer officer who inspected the American defenses after the war reported that the canal was about 8 feet deep and 15 feet wide for about 650 yards from the Mississippi. The remaining 350 yards measured only 4 and 10 feet respectively. The Americans had made no effort to deepen or widen it, and had left it full of brambles. Their breastwork had been made by scraping earth on the far side of the canal; the inner side was revetted with planks, held in place by posts.'-See John Elting, Amateurs, To Arms!, 300.

For the American artillery positions: 'American battery positions were strongly built, their walls revetted with cotton bales, plastered over with mud; gun crews were regular artillerymen, sailors from the Carolina, militia (some of them veterans of the great wars), and a few Baratarians…'-John Elting, Amateurs, 303.

Both quotations clearly demonstrate that the American defenses and artillery positions in the Rodriguez Canal were prepared for action and improved.

I will now entertain questions until the end of the class period.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2021 7:07 a.m. PST

Not, Brechtel, prior to the arrival of the British. You've switched the "previously" which when you first used it, meant there were already American artillery platforms befor the British built theirs.

Forming up along the bank of a partially-dug and overgrown canal no more denotes a "previously prepared position" than forming up on a river bank or behind a railroad embankment. If Jackson then made better use of British hesitation than the British did, that's really not his fault--and fails to explain why British gun positions were inferior to American ones, or even to establish that it was so.

Your initial contention was that naval guns could not be used in the field unless provided with suitable platforms, and I'm not sure how complaints about Louisiana winter mud illuminated ground conditions in a hot Maryland summer in any event. Iron Duke, of course, made that academic.

IronDuke596 Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2021 8:17 a.m. PST

The assertion that the ‘Line Jackson' walls were well built is correct. Nine acres of picket fencing, the lumber from many dismantled "slave cabins, stables, even chicken coops", and when that source was exhausted Jackson contracted local sawmills to produce cypress boards that were utilized to reinforce and heighten the walls. Just one sawmill produced 100,000 board feet of planking and 6,000 cypress pickets. Incidentally, the infamous cotton bales were not used on the wall, rather 250 bales were used as ‘epaulements' or shoulders for the gun positions.

Also, that Jackson ordered cuts in the levee to flood the fields between line Jackson and the British lines, which made extremely difficult for the British gunners and engineers to use the ground to fortify the hogsheads redoubts.

On the oblique or left flank portion of the wall along the swamp parallel rows of stacked logs two feet apart and filled with mud were built mostly by Tennessean militia who were manning that portion of the line. Ref: The Greatest Fury: The Battle of New Orleans and the Rebirth of America. By William C. Davis, P133-134.

The first 24 pounder was emplaced on the evening of the 27th using "wooden beams and boards to build a platform to mount it in its embrasure." Ibid, p 142.

It is interesting to note that while the Americans were rapidly building the wall over several days, they did so unmolested by the British. Notwithstanding the fact that Dickson was building and successfully using his gun batteries against the Carolina and Louisiana and that the British were busy steadily accumulating men, guns, ammunition, and provisions, strangely no harassing fire was directed against the men building the wall. Even a small demonstration with field artillery and rockets would likely have slowed or possibly halted the completion of the Line Jackson. Immediately after the 23rd night battle Jackson constantly worried that the British would counterattack while the walls was being built. He and Coffee knew that their motely collection would likely be defeated in an open field battle with the seasoned British regulars.

Regarding the guns on Line Jackson, except for the regular artillery six pounders that were used for the 23rd December night battle, the heavy artillery and its associated shot and powder (Lafitte later provided additional powder and shot) was drawn from the naval stores in New Orleans and the army stores at Fort Charles. Ibid, p. 134. So, one could conclude that the heavy guns were a mounted on a mixture of garrison and ship wooden carriages. I speculate that the naval guns were manned by the Baratarian and Naval crews and garrison guns by the regular army. So, respectively dull red or natural wood and a dull sky blue army colors as has been previously mentioned.

BTW, although I am still working through chapter eleven of a twenty-two chapters, I highly recommend the referenced book. I have several books on the Battle of New Orleans, including my much used The British At the Gates by Reilly and Quimby's The U.S. Army in the War of 1812, however, there is so much more detailed information in this relatively new book. Although a well documented scholarly work it is well written in the style of Walter Lord's The Dawn's Early Light.

Good luck on your Battle of New Orleans project. I too am steadily researching the history for the OOB and collecting/painting figures to game the battle.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2021 9:47 a.m. PST

Brechtel, my apologies. I posted intemperately. As is too often the case, other people make clearer and more pertinent arguments once I am rested and well fed. Let's try again.
The initial query was gun carriage colors, which has been answered. Thank you all.
The secondary question was the kind of carriages used Barney's command at Bladensburg, which also now appears answered. Again, thanks to all concerned.
We got sidetracked into what was feasible for guns on ships carriages. I'm not sure we've altogether settled that. What was possible in a dry Maryland summer may be quite different from what is possible in a Louisiana winter. But it really is academic. It seems clear that naval gun carriages were not used at Bladensburg but were used at New Orleans.
Certainly you'd need a firm surface for any gun--which Louisiana gumbo mud does not provide--and smaller wheels are more troublesome on uneven ground.
And no question that by the time of the climactic battle, both sides had built gun platforms. Jackson clearly sheltered his guns better. Whether the actual gun platforms were more level, I can't tell on the information at hand. Dickson wasn't happy with his, but no one cites an American gunnery officer one way or the other.
I bridled at the initial description of Jackson's "prepared position" as it pertained to the preliminaries. Jackson was certainly well-prepared at the time of the final British attack. But it's by no means clear that the ship's cannon firing on the British when they first approached were firing from carefully made gun platforms. Early descriptions of the overall position--a short line of heaped dirt about waist high, and this AFTER the British had halted--suggest otherwise to me. But I'm reasoning in the absence of evidence, which is always dangerous. I would have thought firm level gun platforms in an otherwise very sketchy line would have attracted notice and mention, but what is logical to me is not always logical to other people.
Have I misstated anything? Are there still points under dispute? Otherwise, I'm going on to my next area of ignorance.

Brechtel19811 Jan 2021 12:09 p.m. PST

The artillery action of 1 January 1815 is a clear indicator that the American artillery emplacements were well-prepared and those of the British not so much.

And British artillery General Dickson was one of the best artillery officers in any army, and one of two excellent senior British artillery officers of the period.

Rudysnelson11 Jan 2021 2:56 p.m. PST

While the difference between blue-gray and blue-white is a shade or two, the National Park rangers at Horseshoe Bend confirmed that the Jackson Tennessee cannon carriages were painted with a color mix of 50% blue and 50%white. They also determined with extensive research that the crews were Tennessee State troops and not regulars which had been speculated for decades.
The Georgia guns in Alabama were own naval trucks. The dark ‘rust' red comments makes sense with the artwork.

IronDuke596 Supporting Member of TMP12 Jan 2021 7:50 a.m. PST

Re the artillery emplacements I totally agree as per the details that you have already described.
A small clarification, Dickson was a lieutenant-colonel at New Orleans.

Brechtel19812 Jan 2021 8:14 a.m. PST

I'm aware of that, but he was eventually a general officer, so I usually prefer to use that rank for him. He should have been made one in the Peninsula for both his skill and his accomplishments.

Unfortunately for both Dickson and Wellington, he returned too late from New Orleans to again be made Wellington's chief of artillery as the appointment had already been given to another. He was given command of the siege train, but I believe that Wellington would have preferred that he be assigned as the chief of artillery.

Brechtel19812 Jan 2021 2:14 p.m. PST

I have The Greatest Fury but have to dig it out of the 'not used yet' pile.

And along with Robin Reilly's book on New Orleans, the narrative on Robert Quimby's two-volume study on the US operations during the War of 1812 is also excellent and highly recommended.

Not only was the American line at the Rodriquez Canal well fortified, but both a second and third line were under construction.

Quimby also makes a point that the British firing platforms were 'unsatisfactory.' The British 24-pounder pieces on naval carriages 'recoiled off the platforms at every discharge' and had to be reemplaced and relaid after every round. That tends to wear out gun crews.

Dickson's comments are noteworthy:

'…our fire did not attain the precision it ought, neither could it be kept up with the rapidity necessary to silence the enemy guns. (877).

And 'In addition to this explanation it may easily be supposed that the insufficiency of the batteries, and the men being so unprotected, assisted in rendering the fire less active than it otherwise would, and it is not surprising that they failed in silencing the enemies cannon which were protected by good solid cover.'(877).

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