Indian Wars

Artillery on the Frontier 1866-1890
by Douglas J. Howser

American Indians
Frontier Army
Newsletter and Events



With the end of the Civil War, western expansion was again started in earnest. As the post war army re-garrisoned the west, along with the cavalry and infantry, came the artillery. Of course artillery had played a part from the earliest exploration of the west. The 12 pdr. mountain howitzer was in wide use and field guns had played a part in several campaigns.

As the army entered this new phase of operations against the Indian, artillery was to see use across the frontier and in most of the campaigns. Ofien the guns were manned by men of the cavalry or infantry. However, in a number of campaigns the guns were manned by men of the artillery regiments.

Perhaps the best known gun on the frontier would be the 12 pounder mountain howitzer Model of 1835. This small gun was designed to be packed on horses or could be drawn. It was well liked by the troops due to this portability. The little gun saw wide use through the late 70's when it was replaced by the Hotchkiss 1.65" mountain gun.

The Hotchkiss gun, both lighter and having three times the range of the old 12 pdr, was introduced in the Nez Perce War of 1877. It quickly became popular with the men, seeing use in actions against Sitting Bull, Victono, and at the last major Indian fight at Wounded Knee in 1890.

Field artillery was also used in the west. The 6 pounder gun Model of 1841 did see some limited use. But the main field gun used was the 12 pounder Napoleon. These weapons accompanied several military expeditions. And were used in combat against the Nez Perce and Sioux Indians. The 3" Ordnance rifle also saw some limited use on western expeditions and against the Sioux.

Two of the more unusual artillery weapons employed against the Indians would be the 24 pounder Coehorn mortar and the 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon. In the Modoc War of 1873 the Coehorn mortars were used to bombard the lava beds where Captain Jack had holed up. And during the Milk River Campaign of 1879, a IIotchkiss revolving cannon was used against Sitting Bulls warriors.

The Gatling gun was introduced to the west in 1867 and was to see wide use. It's combat record include the Red River War, Nez Perce War, Sioux Wars, and Bannock War.

Units of the artillery that served in the west were from the 1st, 2nd , and 4th Regiments of Artillery. The 4th was the most widely used regiment. Some batteries of this regiment accompanied expeditions, while others fought as cavalry or infantry as well as cannoneers. Campaigns that they fought in would include the Modoc War, Nez Perce War, Sioux Wars, and the Bannock War.

Artillery played an important part in the military campaigns of the west. It's weapons could break a most determined charge, could drive an enemy out from cover, and demoralize the foe. At times, it was the only weapon capable of preventing the Indians from over running a post or wagon train. Artillery proved an important asset to the western military effort.