Laying the Gun
Mexico, 1847

The development of mobile field artillery gave the NCO a new and expanded role in the war with Mexico. Capable of rapid movement on the battlefield, individual fieldpieces now became the responsibility of noncommissioned officers. The NCO in charge of each gun was responsible not only for the care and placement of his piece, but also for the necessary teamwork of the gun crew, which might number as many as eight men. Here the gunner, a corporal, checks the aim of the six-pounder in one of General Zachary Taylor's batteries fighting in northern Mexico.

The evolution of the artillery into a more mobile, mounted arm, together with the heat and the dust of the Southwest, had an impact on the Army's uniforms during the Mexican War. The anticipated combat conditions precluded the more elaborate dress of Europe's military forces. Fatigue jackets and forage caps replaced the uniform coat and cap as campaign attire, with worsted chevrons on the former to indicate NCOs. As in earlier times, the color of the worsted lace and buttons identified the soldier's branch. The crew of this 1841 model bronze six-pounder depended upon a routine as carefully choreographed as a ballet. Part of the eight-man team served with the limber and brought ammunition forward; the remaining five men, led by the gunner, manned the fieldpiece. The number one cannoneer is shown with a sponge-rammer on his toe and with a bucket of water to extinguish any remaining embers in the gun tube before the next round was loaded. The cannoneers were privates; the duty position of gunner held the rank of corporal, here seen checking to ensure that the gun is laid (aimed) correctly.