First developed in the 17th century, the Coehorn Mortar was designed as a mobile siege weapon, light enough to be carried by two soldiers and brought close to a target to fire a bomb in a short, high arc over walls or other obstacles. Named for its inventor Dutch Baron Menno van Coehoorn (1641-1701), these mortars were made to outwit advances in fortifications which made them harder to breach by direct artillery fire- sending bombs over rather than trying to go through.
In the United States, Coehorn Mortars were made in both 12 and 24lb versions for use in the Revolutionary War, though both fell out of manufacture soon after. Coehorn mortars were brought back into American manufacture and military use in 1838 with an updated 24lb. design and were made through the end of the Civil War. Mounted on a four handled wooden "bed", a mortar could be carried by two soldiers but moved quickly by four. Mounting mortars on wheels was impractical as the high angle of fire creates substantial downward force on the recoil, enough to quickly break most wheeled carriages.
The Coehorn 24lb mortar could fire its standard 16.8lb. shell with ½lb of powder at ranges of 20 to 1,200 yards. Even if the maximum distance wasn't needed, firing high was a tactical advantage, allowing gravity to increase a bomb's impact. Per the 1863 "HAND-BOOK OF ARTILLERY, FOR THE SERVICE OF THE UNITED STATES" by Joseph Roberts the principal advantage of a mortar was by:
"Reaching objects by their vertical fire—such as a town, battery, or other place—whose destruction or injury cannot be effected by direct or ricochet fire; dismounting the enemy's artillery; setting fire to and overthrowing works; blowing up magazines; breaking through the roofs of barracks, casemates, & and producing havoc and disorder amongst troops."
The Handbook also states that five men were required to service the Coehorn mortar- three to fire and another two for transport and to prepare ammunition.
Demand for Coehorn mortars only increased as the war went on; U.S. General U.S. Grant wrote that they were very useful in trench warfare, more common in later engagements.
Both cannons are marked "Smith's Battery, Norfolk, Virginia" on one trunnion and "First Regiment Virginia Volunteers" on the other. One is also dated 1861 on both trunnions. The cannons are also marked on the muzzle fillets "Smiths" and one is numbered 1-2 and the other 1-3.
We believe these are from the 1970's and were used by the North-South Skirmish Association in re-enactments. The First Virginia Volunteer reenactors likely used these to compete in mortar competitions. They are very well made and are in excellent condition with a great patina. These have a very "period" look about them.
It is believed that these remain fireable. However, we strongly recommend that any cannon to be fired be checked out by a firearms expert to assure safety before firing is attempted.
Bore 5.82 inches, Tube: 16" length, Trunnion to trunnion: 17"
Powder chamber 3" deep, 2" at widest
Weight with bed approx. 300lbs.
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