Military Wiki
"Canon de l’Empereur"
Canon obusier de campagne de 12
12-pounder "Napoleon"
Canon obusier de campagne de 12 modele 1853.jpg
Canon obusier de campagne de 12 modèle 1853 on display in Les Invalides.
Type Regimental artillery field gun
Place of origin France France
Service history
Used by France, United States, Confederate States of America
Wars Crimean War, American Civil War
Production history
Designed 1853
Number built France: ?
United States: Union States: 1,100, Confederate states: 600
Weight 626 kg (1,227 lb), with carriage: 1,200 kg (2,353 lb)
Length 1.91 m (66 in)
Crew 4

Shell 4.1 kg shell, ball, canister
Caliber 121 mm (4.62 in)
Muzzle velocity 439 m/s (1,440 ft/s)
Effective range 1,480 m at 5° elevation (1,440 yd)

The Canon obusier de 12 (French:"Canon obusier de campagne de 12 cm, modèle 1853", USA: 12-pounder Napoleon), also known as the "Canon de l’Empereur" was a type of canon-obusier (literally "Shell-gun cannon", "gun-howitzer") developed by France in 1853. Its performance and versatility (it was able to fire either ball, shell, canister or grapeshot) allowed it to replace all the previous field guns, especially the Canon de 8 and the Canon de 12 as well as the two howitzers of the Valée system.

The cannon owes its alias to French president and emperor Napoleon III.


Canon-obusier Le Lassaigne, modèle 1853.

The "canon obusier" was a smoothbore cannon using either shells, balls or canisters, and was therefore a vast improvement over previous cannon firing metal balls, such as the Gribeauval system. Although the "Canon obusier de 12" is commonly described as a 12-pounder in English, the "12" in the cannon's designation actually represents the caliber (12 cm). The new weapon "revolutionized field artillery. The Napoleon was light enough to be moved rapidly on the battlefield by horses, heavy enough to destroy field fortifications almost a mile away, and versatile enough to fire solid shot, shell, spherical case, and canister."[1] The French Army introduced the "canon obusier de 12" in 1853.

American career

This type of "canon obusier", commonly called in English the "12-pounder Napoleon Model 1857", was the primary cannon used in the American Civil War.[2][3] Over 1,100 such Napoleons were manufactured by the North, and 600 by the South.[4] At Gettysburg, 142 out of 360 Federal guns (36%) were Napoleons.

The "12-pounder Napoleon" was widely admired because of its safety, reliability, and killing power, especially at close range. It was the last cast bronze gun used by an American army. The Federal version of the Napoleon can be recognized by the flared front end of the barrel, called the muzzle swell. Confederate Napoleons were produced in at least six variations, most of which had straight muzzles, but at least eight cataloged survivors of 133 identified have muzzle swells.


From 1858, Napoleon III had his existing Canon obusiers rifled in order to accommodate the new La Hitte system for muzzle-loading rifled guns. Here, such a shell used in Japan in the 1860s and the Boshin war, where it was called a "Napoleon shell".[5] Ryozen Museum of History, Kyoto, Japan.

The smoothbore "canon obusier" was soon superseded by rifled cannons, which had much more accuracy and range, with the developments of Antoine Treuille de Beaulieu and the introduction of the La Hitte system in 1858.[6]

Napoleon III had his existing guns, such as the Canon obusier de 12, rifled to accommodate the La Hitte system. Such guns remained in use until 1870.[7]

See also


  1. "The Napoleon" National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior
  2. The Mitrailleuse by Dr. Patrick Marder Military History Online
  5. Notice at the Ryozen Museum of History, Kyoto, Japan
  6. "...the introduction by the French army of the Beaulieu 4-pounder rifled field-gun in 1858: the new artillery, though much more accurate and long-ranged than the smoothbore 'canon-obusier' it replaced (which, incidentally, was the most prevalent artillery piece of the US Civil War), was not suited to firing anti-personnel case-shot (which, in French, is called 'mitraille')." in The Mitrailleuse by Dr. Patrick Marder Military History Online
  7. "Napoleon went so far, however, in 1858, as to order his SB guns rifled, under the bastard system known as the "Lahitte System," which continued in general use in France until 1870" in The Long Arm of Lee by Jennings Cropper Wise, Gary W. Gallagher p.30 [1]

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).