The Society of Descendants of Militia Officers

serving from 1607 to 1861

Swivel Gun

A swivel, or swivel gun, is a small muzzle loading, smoothbore cannon, usually a one-half pounder or one pounder (the weight of the projectile fired, equivalent to a 2 gauge or 1 gauge gun).  These were commonly used in fortifications as heavy anti-personnel weapons  or against small boats,  For example, Fort Necessity had in its armament at least one swivel (and one is on display at the fort today) in the French and Indian War.  Fort Johnston in North Carolina had at least six swivels.  Swivels were also used extensively aboard ships, including the gunboats proposed to be manned by sea fencibles or naval militia.
The swivel gun is unusual in that the trunnions of the cannon (horizontal cylinders that extended from the sides of the barrel on which it pivots with the muzzle going up or down) were typically permanently mounted in a metal yoke as a complete unit that allowed elevation and depression, and the rotation of the gun in a complete circle.  In a fortification or aboard a ship they were mounted on a post or through the top of a horizontal railing.  Often the cascabel of the gun (the round knob at the back) was fitted with an extension that allowed easier aiming and control of the gun.
The swivel gun also appears in the unlikely role of field piece.  At the start of the War of the Regulation in North Carolina, Governor Tryon directed the commander of Fort Johnston to immediately forward six swivel guns along with 200 rounds of ammunition from the fort for use by his Army's Corps of Artillery.  These guns were mounted on two wheel carriages, most probably retaining the swivel feature, converting them to regular field pieces  roughly equivalent to gallopers (light guns designed to be  drawn by a single horse) and easily manhandled by the gun crew on the battlefield.  These were 6 of the 8 pieces of artillery in Tryon's force at the Battle of Alamance, and were sent west with General Waddell's forces to compel submission in the counties still dominated by the Regulators after the battle.