British Field Artillery in North America

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William Pitt served as the Secretary of State for the South Department from December 1756 - April 1757 and then from June 1757 until October 1761. In this position, Pitt directed Britain's war effort. For Army use, Pitt strongly favored brass and the truly massive siege trains sent to the Americas starting in 1757 were overwhelming brass for all classes of artillery — siege cannon, field cannon, mortars, and howitzers. Pitt would append the ordnance lists directly to his letters to his theater commanders. Showing this distinct preference, Pitt sent large numbers of heavy brass guns to the Americas plus a near equal number of light brass guns (Cubbison 2010, Page 27; Pargellis 1933, Page 233; and Cubbison 2014, Page 103). The heavy brass 24-pdrs (pounders) would have weighed about 5,940 pounds with the heavy brass 12-pdrs weighing about 3,250 pounds, barrels only. A review of Cubbison's works suggests that Pitt was sending both brass and iron 13-inch mortars to North America for use in Army siege trains — a 13-inch iron mortar had double the range of the much lighter 13-inch brass mortar (2,700 yards and 1,300 yards, respectively; Hughes 1969, Page 37). By this time, the British Navy was "iron". In the mid-1700s, the 9-pdr was rarely cast in brass, so it is often entirely absent from British Army siege trains and field artilleries, but 9-pdrs were used on campaign in Flanders during the late 1740s (Muller 1768, Page 179-192).

Pitt was a deep strategic thinker, long-term. Pitt's keen focus was on stripping France of her overseas colonies before the inevitable peace would be signed, effectively removing them as bargaining chips in the negotiations. Under the protection of the British Navy, Pitt would overwhelm France's colonial holdings. In July 1757, there were sixteen battalions of British regulars sitting at Halifax (Nova Scotia) ready to proceed against Louisbourg, but a French Fleet blocked the move north. The 78th Fraser’s Highlanders would arrive at Halifax later that August. This was the last time the French Navy was able to project enough power to interrupt and thwart the British Navy. The British would take Louisbourg in 1758.

British Ordnance in North America (Pitt's Guns)
Ordnance Louisbourg
Lake Champlain
Heavy Brass 24-pdrs 26 18   6 6
Heavy Brass 12-pdrs 12 12   6 3
Light Brass 12-pdrs   4 6   6
Light Brass 6-pdrs 6 14 8   4
Light Brass 3-pdrs   4      
Brass 8-inch Howitzers 2 4 2   4
Brass Royal 5½-inch Howitzers 4 4 2 4 2
Iron 13-inch Mortars         2
Brass 13-inch Mortars 2 2      
Brass 10-inch Mortars 2 2   2 2
Brass 8-inch Mortars 7 4 1 2  
Brass 5½-inch Mortars 10   2   8
Brass Coehorn 4 2/5-inch Mortars 30 30 12 20 omitted?
Louisbourg = Duncan 1879, Page 198; Philadelphia and Duquesne = Cubbison 2010, Page 27; Ticonderoga = Nester 2008, Page 77, this is from Pitt’s January Letter; and Lake Champlain = Cubbison 2014, Page 104. Only the Louisbourg and Philadelphia shipments were distinct and separate. Most of these Louisbourg guns arrived at Halifax in July 1757 intended for Loudoun’s Expedition which was “cancelled”. Louisbourg was taken by the British in 1758 under Amherst.

The eight heavy 24-pdrs, the six heavy 12-pdrs, the two 8-inch howitzers, and the ten 5 1/2-inch mortars sent to Louisbourg in 1758 were not part of this Philadelphia shipment. Ordnance arriving at Philadelphia was used in the Duquesne Campaign, but it is certain that most pieces listed were actually part Abercromby's failed Ticonderoga Campaign, the ship docking in New York prior to reaching Philadelphia on June 11, 1758. The Board of Ordnance sends a much higher number of cannon to New York/Philadelphia than anticipated in Pitt’s January 1758 Correspondence (CO 5 34/44. January 5, 1858). Abercromby could easily have augmented the number of cannon in his artillery train, including adding heavy 12-pdrs. But any “surplus” heavy cannon would be too heavy to be used in the campaign against Duquesne. Some six light 6-pdrs were left in Philadelphia along with a sizable ordnance store. Abercromby would have needed to leave a similar store of heavy cannon in New York. Here, Pitt sends some 199 pieces of brass ordnance to North America including 60 coehorn mortars. Additional ordnance, particularly larger mortars including sea-service mortars, would be sent to Québec (1759).

Braddock lost four 8-howitzers at the Monongahela (1755). At least two, if not three, of these pieces were subsequently recaptured at Québec (1759).


Cubbison, Douglas R. 2010. The British Defeat of the French in Pennsylvania, 1758: A Military History of the Forbes Campaign Against Fort Duquesne. McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina.

Cubbison, Douglas R. 2014. All of Canada in the Hands of the British: General Jeffery Amherst and the 1760 Campaign to Conquer New France. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman.

Cubbison, Douglas R. 2015. On Campaign Against Fort Duquesne: The Braddock and Forbes Expeditions, 1755-1758, through the Experiences of Quartermaster Sir John St. Clair. McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina.

Duncan, Francis. 1879. History of the Royal Artillery, Volume I, 3rd Edition. John Murray, London.

Muller, John. 1768. A Treatise of Artillery. John Millan, Whitehall, London. Online. (First edition is 1757, available online as well. Not identical, notable in the Introduction).

Pargellis, Stanley 1936. Military Affairs in North America, 1748-1765. "MANA". Selected Documents from the Cumberland Papers in Windsor Castle. American Historical Association, 1936. Reprinted: Archon Books, 1969. Online.


Kenneth P Dunne for the initial version of this article