THE 2 3/4-INCH U.S. HOWITZER, 1792-1793
by Don H. Berkebile

This interesting, yet little known piece of U.S. ordnance has, for a number of years, been an object of curiosity and mystery to several COMPANY members. Our attention was first brought to this artillery piece at the 1953 COMPANY meeting in Philadelphia, where Herb Glass exhibited one he had borrowed from the West Point Museum. Shortly afterward efforts were begun to uncover the history of this howitzer. While the story is not yet complete, many interesting facts have been learned; perhaps other COMPANY members will discover the remainder of the details.

To date, nine surviving originals have been located, all in government collections.1 From these nine examples we learn that there were two distinct types, and probably two variations of one type. The lighter type, of which four remain, is approximately 16 inches long, has a bore of 2.85 inches and weighs 38 pounds. The heavier gun is nearly an inch longer, has a 3-inch bore and weighs 60 pounds. Both are cast of bronze and have chambered bores. It may be safe to assume, from evidence which will be mentioned later, that all bores were originally 2.85 inches.

The light howitzers have slightly raised pans, and differ in a number of ways from the heavier ones. The breech of the light tubes is smaller in diameter than the muzzle section and no sights were ever attached to them. Several of these are marked "D. King, Germantown," have "U.S." on each trunnion and a "U.S." on top the barrel. They also have the abbreviation "No." on top, with no number following, and the large letters "Z.C." chiseled in. What these letters signify is still a mystery. One of the light howitzers, while similar in pattern to the others, is unmarked, has a slightly different pan and smaller trunnions. This may be either the earlier 1792 type or possibly a foreign piece from which the U.S. versions were copied.

The five heavier howitzers all bear the inscription "D. King, Philada. 1793." All of them either have sights or show evidence of having had them, and one has a large "U.S." chiseled on top between the trunnions. The sights, made from iron, appear to be an afterthought since the rear one is set into the breech reinforce in such a manner as to partly obliterate the word "Philada." All bear a number, on one trunnion, in Roman numerals. The pans on these resembled those of the light howitzers, but rather than being raised, were chiseled into their surface. Each has a pronounced indentation on the under side, just forward of the vent and at right angles to the bore, possibly due to the manner in which they were mounted.

Many of the surviving specimens can be traced back to Watervliet Arsenal, the first being delivered from there to West Point in 1842, while two have been received at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, as late as 1935. Possibly all nine now in collections were once stored there. None of the howitzers have any authenticated histories, except the tradition that one of Fort Sill's pieces saw service at Fallen Timbers. It is interesting to note that the Ordnance Section at the International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 displayed nine "3-inch" howitzers, probably the same nine now known, and the only ones extant.2

Comparatively little is known about Daniel King, the founder of the howitzers.3 In 1759 he was located at the upper end of 2nd Street in Philadelphia, and some time later at 68 South Front Street. In 1776 he was appointed to the Committee of Safety and is known to have cast a number of cannon of various types.

References       Next