By James Brabenec, Fort SillOctober 13, 2011
FORT SILL, Okla. -- In September, the Fort Sill Field Artillery Museum added a British light infantry 3-pounder to its artillery collection, about 130 years after the American military added it to its arsenal.
British soldiers used the gun throughout the Revolutionary War up until the Siege of Yorktown, Va. In that engagement, the final act of the war, 6,000 British soldiers faced 8,800 Americans and 7,800 Frenchmen who confined the Redcoats to the city. Led by Gen. George Washington, who fired the first cannon, American artillery bombarded the town and French ships blocked the British navy from delivering supplies or providing an escape route. Together the allies laid siege to the town beginning Sept. 28, 1781 and ending Oct. 19. The British then surrendered due to depleted supplies of ammunition and food.
"This gun was a great example of the light infantry guns used by British and American forces," said Gordon Blaker, museum curator and director. "It could be moved on a carriage by a single horse or carried by men as it was meant to be moved quickly and easily."
Located near the entrance to the museum's South Gallery, the gun, originally known as Lord Townsend's Light Infantry 3-pounder was the first of a new type of light bronze gun ordered in February, 1775. With a weight of less than 200 pounds, it was intended to be highly mobile and provide close support to infantry on the battlefield. The 3-pounder could be carried on men's shoulders, packed on horses or mules, or landed by boat and rapidly moved by man or beast. Its light weight enabled soldiers to haul it up cliffs, over mountains or through any adverse terrain to wherever it was most needed.
The gun shot either a 3-pound iron ball or a bag of musket balls or junk of equal weight. Ammunition was carried in boxes on either side of the gun and in a third box between the trails or flasks of the carriage. Two different types of gun carriages were used; one with a normal trail style, and the second, with two long poles extended back to allow for hitching a horse in between them. The long poles also gave the gun crew an easy way to move the gun.
Gun crews gave the piece a few nicknames that spoke of its characteristics in battle:
- grasshopper for its tendency to jump when fired;
- galloper for when it was towed behind one horse occasionally at a gallop; and
- butterfly for when it was fitted with long poles for carrying by soldiers.
The combined American and French forces secured about 240 pieces of artillery, small arms, ammunition and equipment. Blaker said this likely included about 50-60 field artillery pieces.
More importantly, the battle heralded the end of hostilities making way for a peace treaty and the recognition of American independence from British rule.
Inscribed on the top of the gun was the following text: "Surrendered by the capitulation of Yorktown, Oct. 17, 1781." Blaker said the words were inscribed right over a cypher of the British king and likely meant as an insult.
Fort Sill obtained the artillery piece from the Watervliet Arsenal Museum in West Virginia. Previous exchanged between the two museums resulted in Fort Sill receiving a Confederate iron napoleon, a Revolutionary War 24-pound howitzer and a Coehorn 12-pounder British mortar.