Civil War Artillery and Cannon

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Civil War Artillery and Cannon
Union and Confederate Artillery and Cannon

Civil War Artillery and Cannon
Northern and Southern Artillery and Cannon


Cannonball results
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Civil War Artillery

Many historians, authors, and Civil War buffs have argued that artillery was not too important and didn't significantly alter the outcome of the Civil War. The writer has a dissenting view. If the Confederacy alone had artillery supporting its infantry and cavalry, while the Union, absent artillery, relied solely on infantry and cavalry, would the outcome of the conflict have been different?  The reader is encouraged to examine each of the Top Ten Civil War Battles with the Most Casualties, because artillery indeed played a major role in the outcome of each of the ten battles. Imagine Union artillery absent during Pickett's Charge as well as at Shiloh, Antietam, and Stones River. Because artillery was present at the battlefields, it influenced and altered the movement of Union and Confederate troops and it even determined which army was victorious. Both Union and Confederate armies consisted principally of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and each component was equally necessary and equally important to the overall execution and success of the war.
(Right) Headshot caused by a single iron ball from the canister shot from a 12-pounder field howitzer. The result of a single canister ball impacting the head, this skull was discovered in 1876 on Morris Island, South Carolina, near the site of Battery Wagner, a powerful earthwork fort that had protected the entrance to Charleston Harbor during the Civil War. The skull belonged to a man of African descent—a soldier of the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, which had led the assault on Wagner on the night of July 18, 1863. Of approximately 600 men who made the charge, 256 were killed, wounded, or missing. From the size of the wound, and the remains of the projectile itself, it can be determined what type of munition hit this man: an iron canister ball from one of two 12-pounder field howitzers known to have been used in the repulse of that attack. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteers was not the first black regiment in the Civil War, nor was it the first to fight. However, it was the first black regiment raised entirely of free men enrolled on exactly the same footing as white troops and the first to engage in a major action well-covered by the national press. Its gallant conduct in the doomed assault on Battery Wagner, at Charleston, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863, electrified the nation and proved once and for all that the black man, given the opportunity, could learn the soldier’s trade, and fight as well as any white man.

Cannon shot
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Case, aka Shrapnel

Field artillery in the American Civil War refers to the important artillery weapons, equipment, and practices used by the Artillery branch to support the infantry and cavalry forces in the field. It does not include siege artillery, use of artillery in fixed fortifications, or coastal or naval artillery. (See also Civil War Artillery Weapons.) Nor does it include smaller, specialized artillery termed as small arms. While the Civil War army consisted primarily of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, each retained a vital role and mission during the war.

(Left) Demonstration of case firing, which proved devastating on fields such as Gettysburg and Antietam.

Artillery determined the outcome of several major battles, including the Battle of Gettysburg, because, on the 3rd and final day, Union artillery decimated a Confederate division during Pickett's Charge, thus causing General Lee to retreat and remain in Virginia for the remainder of the conflict. Artillery was critical to the conclusion of many major battles, including AntietamChancellorsville, Stones River, Fredericksburg, Shiloh, Malvern Hill, and Gettysburg. See also Top Ten Civil War Battles with Most Casualties.

The battles of the eighteenth century emphasized close-order formations of soldiers trained to maneuver in concert and fire by volleys. These "linear" tactics stressed the tactical offensive. Assault troops advanced in line, two ranks deep, with cadenced steps, stopping to fire volleys on command and finally rushing the last few yards to pierce the enemy line with a bayonet charge. These tactics were adequate for troops armed with single-shot, muzzle-loading, smoothbore muskets with an effective range of roughly eighty yards. The close-order formation was necessary to concentrate the firepower of these inaccurate weapons. Bayonet charges had a chance of success because infantry could rush the last eighty yards before the defending infantrymen could reload their muskets.

Civil War Artillery in Action
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Civil War cannon in battle

The U.S. Army's transition from smoothbore to rifled muskets in the mid-nineteenth century had two main effects in the American Civil War: it strengthened the tactical defensive and increased the number of casualties in the attacking force. With weapons that could cause casualties at a distance of 1,000 yards, defenders firing rifles could decimate infantry formations attacking according to Napoleonic Linear Tactics.

During the Civil War the widespread use of the rifle often caused infantry assault formations to loosen somewhat, with individual soldiers seeking available cover and concealment. However, because officers needed to maintain visual and verbal control of their commands during the noise, smoke, and chaos of combat, close-order tactics to some degree continued to the end of the war. Occasionally, the artillery battery was subjected to close range combat because infantry overran its position. The cannoneers resorted to rifles, pistols and even sabers as the tide of battle swayed between opposing armies during each assault and counterassault. The primary cause of death for the artillerist, however, was not suffered on the battlefield, but rather from an enemy prison. As a result of the putrid conditions at the numerous Union and Confederate prisons, prisoners-of-war succumbed en masse to diseases.

(Right) The Civil War as it appeared back home. It was almost 40 years before the public saw the thousands of photographs taken by Mathew Brady and his contemporaries.

The smallest tactical unit employed individually on the battlefield was a brigade, usually consisting of four regiments. Units generally moved on roads or cross-country in column formation, four men abreast. Upon reaching the battlefield, each regiment was typically formed into a line two ranks deep, each man's shoulders touching the shoulders of the men next to him. Regulations prescribed the distance between the ranks as thirteen inches. Both front and rear ranks were capable of firing either by volley or individually. Two paces behind the rear rank was an open rank of "file closers," selected noncommissioned officers charged with preventing straggling and desertion. During a battle each regiment might send forward two companies in extended skirmish order, keep six companies in its main line, and hold two in the rear as a reserve. As the fighting progressed, additional companies might be fed into the skirmish line or the skirmishers might regroup on the main line. A regiment of 500 men might have a front almost 200 yards wide. Artillery batteries also had regulations instructing each artillerist to perform certain responsibilities.

A popular prewar tactic was to have field artillery, with a typical range of 1,500 yards, advance with the infantry. The maneuver worked as long as the enemy was armed with the short-range smoothbore musket with a range of 100 yards or less. With the advent of the rifled musket in the mid-1850s, capable of a lethal range out to 1,000 yards, the tactic became obsolete. However, some were slow to grasp the implications of the effect of long-range small arms against artillery, and, when General McDowell ordered two batteries to within 400 yards of the Confederate line at First Bull Run, the decision quickly resulted in the loss of one battery and two other guns.

Total Civil War Artillery and Cannon
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Total Civil War Artillery Regiments and Units by State

(Above) Total Union Civil War Artillery Regiments and Units contributed by each State and Territory. Includes Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry, Sharpshooters, and Engineers.



The basic unit of artillery was the battery, which had 4 to 6 guns, was commanded by a captain, assisted by 4 lieutenants, 2 staff sergeants, 6 sergeants, 12 corporals, 6 artificers & farriers (blacksmiths), 2 buglers, 52 drivers and 70 cannoneers for a total of 155 men. It typically had 4 guns in the Confederacy and 6 guns in the Union. A battery is a subdivided into gun crews of 20 men and into sections of 2 gun crews, 2 or 3 sections per battery. A gun crew was commanded by a sergeant and a section by a lieutenant. Each gun was attached to a limber, which is a 2-wheel ammunition chest drawn by 3 pairs of horses in tandem, called lead, swing and wheel pairs. Each gun was supplied with 6 or more caissons, which are mounted on 2-wheel carts containing 2 or 3 ammunition chests. The caissons and limbers could be connected together (including extra wheel and connecting rod below the caisson) during travel. A traveling forge accompanied the battery. See also Civil War Horses.

Battalion (Confederacy) or Brigade (Union)

The battalion or brigade contained 3 or 5 batteries of artillery commanded by a colonel, lieutenant colonel, or major. There were 72 Union brigades and 16 Confederate battalions in the war.

Artillery Reserve

Each infantry division usually had an artillery battalion, and each corps or army had a reserve of 2 to 5 artillery battalions. Each division's artillery usually engaged alongside the infantry, and the artillery reserve was a mass of usually 5 brigades, of 21 batteries. The artillery reserve was commanded by a brigadier general or colonel.

Heavy Artillery

The Union organized some heavy artillery regiments containing 12 artillery batteries (aka companies) of 150, or 1800 total trained both as infantry and artillerists. They were organized in much the same way as infantry regiments, but were larger to provide enough men to man the guns. These originally defended Washington, but in 1864 they joined Lt. Gen. Grant's army, where they served more as infantry. There were 61 heavy artillery regiments in the war.

Civil War Artillery
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Parrott Rifle

(Left) The Parrott Rifle, recognizable by the wrought iron jacket reinforcing its breech, was one of the first rifled field guns used by the U.S. Army.
(Right) A Union battery in line, showing proper positions and spacing for crew members, limbers, caissons and horses.
After the Civil War, the most common complaint from the former artillerist was hearing loss and deafness.

Civil War Cannon
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Union Artillery Battery

Cannoneers and their positions

During the fighting sequence cannoneers took their positions as in the diagram below. At the command "Commence firing," the gunner ordered "Load." While the gunner sighted the piece, Number 1 sponged the bore; Number 5 received a round from Number 7 at the limber and carried the round to Number 2, who placed it in the bore. Number 1 rammed the round to the breech, while Number 3 placed a thumb over the vent to prevent premature detonation of the charge. When the gun was loaded and sighted, Number 3 inserted a vent pick into the vent and punctured the cartridge bag. Number 4 attached a lanyard to a friction primer and inserted the primer into the vent. At the command "Fire," Number 4 yanked the lanyard. Number 6 cut the fuzes, if necessary. The proces was repeated until the command to cease firing was given.

Civil War Artillery Positions
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During the fighting sequence cannoneers took their positions

Widely Used Field Artillery
Tube Length
(in inches)
Effective Range
at 5 Elevation
(in yards)
6-pdr. Model 1841
Smoothbore field gun
3.67-in. dia. bore
12-pdr. "Napoleon"
Smoothbore gun-howitzer
Parrott rifle
2.9-in. dia. bore
Cast iron
Ordnance rifle
3.0-in. dia. bore
Wrought iron
Parrott rifle
6.67-in. dia. bore
Cast iron

Note: Cannon were generally identified by the weight of their solid iron round shot; though some, like the 3-inch ordnance rifle, used the diameter of the bore for identification.

Artillery Projectiles

Civil War field artillery employed four basic types of projectiles: solid shot for long-range accuracy, shells for medium-range blast, case shot for medium-range fragmentation, and canister for close-range defense.

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Shot, aka Cannon Ball

Solid Projectiles
Round (spherical) projectiles of solid iron for smoothbores were commonly called cannonballs, or shot. When elongated for rifled weapons, the projectile was known as a bolt. Solid projectiles were used against opposing batteries, wagons, buildings, etc., as well as enemy personnel. While shot could ricochet across open ground against advancing infantry or cavalry, bolts tended to bury themselves upon impact with the ground and therefore were not used a great deal by field artillery.

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Rifled Shell

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Spherical Shell

The shell, whether spherical or conical, was a hollow iron projectile filled with a black powder-bursting charge. It would typically break into five to ten large fragments. Spherical shells were exploded by fuzes set into an opening in the shell, which ignited the shell near the intended target. The time of detonation was determined by adjusting the length of the fuze. Rifled shells were detonated by similar-times fuzes or by a percussion fuze detonating the shell upon impact.

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Rifled Case Shot

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Spherical Case Shot

Case Shot
Case shot had a thinner wall than a shell and was filled with a number of smaller lead or iron balls (eighty for a 12-pounder). A timed fuze ignited a small bursting charge inside the shell, which fragmented the casing and scattered the contents into the air. Case shot was intended to burst fifty to seventy-five yards short of the target, the fragments being carried forward by the velocity of the shot.

Civil War Canister.jpg

Canister consisted of a tin cylinder filled with iron balls tightly packed in sawdust, which turned the cannon into a giant shotgun. Canister was an extremely effective antipersonnel weapon, with a maximum range of 350 yards. In emergencies, double loads of canister could be used at ranges less than 200 yards with a single propelling charge.

Civil War Artillery Battery in Battle Formation
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Civil War Artillery formed a line while in battle, aka battle formation

Union and Confederate Artillery at Battle of Antietam

Civil War artillery action
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Union artillery battery firing in battle

At the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, the Army of the Potomac had an estimated 293 guns, of which 166 were rifled. Although Antietam Creek physically separated many Union guns from the battlefield proper, many guns east of the creek could fire on Confederate positions along Hagerstown Pike. On the morning of 17 September approximately ninety Union guns were operating on the west side of the creek, mostly on the Union right flank north of Dunker Church. More guns were sent to the battlefield during the day, and by evening there were approximately 162 Union guns west of Antietam Creek.

On 17 September the Army of Northern Virginia had an estimated 246 guns, of which 82 were rifled, 112 smoothbore, and 52 of unknown type. The Confederates reported having captured 73 guns at Harper's Ferry on 15 September, but none were assembled into batteries in time to be used in the Battle of Antietam.

(Right) Artillerymen soften an objective for the infantry. Although field artillery was used extensively, it affected the enemy physically and emotionally. Although artillery frightened, demoralized, wounded, and killed the enemy, it also comprised 20 percent of all battle casualties.

The artillery of both armies was generally organized into batteries of four or six guns. Regulations prescribed a captain as battery commander, while lieutenants commanded two-gun "sections." Each gun made up a platoon, under a sergeant ("chief of the piece") with eight crewmen and six drivers.

For transport, each gun was attached to a two-wheeled cart, known as a limber and drawn by a six-horse team. The limber chest carried thirty to fifty rounds of ammunition, depending on the size of guns in the battery. In addition to the limbers, each gun had at least one caisson, also drawn by a six-horse team. The caisson carried additional ammunition in two chests, as well as a spare wheel and tools. A horse-drawn forge and a battery wagon with tools accompanied each battery. A battery at full regulation strength included all officers, noncommissioned officers, buglers, drivers, cannoneers, and other specialized functions and might exceed 100 officers and men. With spare horses included, a typical six-gun battery might have 100-150 horses.

A battery could unlimber and fire an initial volley within one minute, and each gun could continue firing two aimed shots a minute. A battery could "limber up" in nearly one minute as well. The battery practiced "direct fire": the target was in view of the gun. The prescribed distance between guns was fourteen yards from hub to hub. Therefore, a six-gun battery would represent a front of approximately 100 yards. Depth of the battery position from the gun muzzle, passing the limber, to the rear of the caisson was prescribed as forty-seven yards. In practice, these measurements might be altered by terrain.

Civil War Military Organization and Structure
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Civil War Artillery Organization

Civil War artillery killed horses and soldiers
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Confederate horses lay dead from artillery fire

For the North, the fight along Antietam Creek became known as the Battle of Antietam. In the South, it became known as the Battle of Sharpsburg. Of the nearly 70,000 Federal troops actually engaged in the battle, nearly 13,000 were killed, wounded, or missing; the approximately 35,000 Confederates engaged lost almost as many.

(Right) Confederate horses lay dead and artillery caissons destroyed on Antietam battlefield.

Writing to his wife, McClellan said, "Those in whose judgment I rely tell me that I fought the battle splendidly and that is was a masterpiece of art." In truth, however, McClellan missed a series of opportunities. By failing to commit his forces to battle on 15 and 16 September, McClellan squandered a chance to exploit his numerical superiority. On 17 September McClellan's piecemeal commitment of only a portion of his command during the battle "in driblets," as General Sumner later described it failed to deliver a knockout blow to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan's decision not to renew the battle on 18 September, with the same if not greater opportunity of success as the previous day, as well as his failure to energetically pursue the Confederate army on 19 September, allowed Lee to withdraw to the safety of the Virginia shore.

Lee, like McClellan, generally believed that the role of an army commander was to bring his army to the battlefield and allow his subordinates to handle the tactical details. But the desperate situation on 17 September forced Lee to become actively involved in the battle, despite injuries to both his hands. He spent most of the day on the heights in the area of the present-day National Cemetery, where he watched the progress of the battle and personally dispatched various units to endangered portions of the field. He sent the commands of Walker, McLaws, and G. T. Anderson just in time to halt Sedgwick's advance on the Confederate left flank; rushed R. H. Anderson to support D. H. Hill's defense of the Confederate center; and, when A. P. Hill's division began arriving at Sharpsburg in the afternoon, hurried Hill's command to save the Confederate right flank.

Although the Confederates had been forced out of Maryland, Lee's campaign had been a partial success. Jackson's capture of Harper's Ferry provided the Confederates with a large amount of supplies, including clothing, shoes, thousands of small arms and ammunition, and over seventy pieces of artillery. In addition, another major Federal offensive in Virginia had been delayed, albeit only briefly. In mid-December Burnside, now commanding The Army of the Potomac, attempted to interpose his command between Lee and Richmond. The maneuver culminated in a Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Although Antietam was not the decisive Union victory for which Lincoln had hoped, it did give the president an opportunity to strike at the Confederacy politically, psychologically, and economically. On 22 September Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that the Federal government would after 1 January 1863 consider slaves in any state in rebellion against the Federal government to be free. The proclamation had no immediate effect behind Confederate lines, nor did it free any slaves in states still in the Union. Nevertheless, Lincoln's proclamation would be the Federal government's first official step toward the abolition of human slavery.

Shortly after the battle, McClellan wrote that Confederate dreams of invading Pennsylvania had dissipated forever. During the coming months, however, Lee would wait for another opportunity to cross his army north of the Potomac. The summer of 1863 would find the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac, the latter commanded by the recently promoted Maj. Gen. George Meade, confronting each other at the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.

Union and Confederate artillery weapons
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After parapet was breached, artillery was useless

When Civil War artillery and infantry collide
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Lines of battle converged into fierce hand-to-hand fighting

Artillery at Battle of Gettysburg

Civil War artillery at Battle of Gettysburg
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Artillery Positions, 03 July 1863, approx. 1:00 - 3:00pm

The last assault on the final day at the Battle of Gettysburg, known as Pickett's Charge, was a bloodbath, and artillery was a contributing factor in its outcome and high casualties. While the Union lost approximately 1,500 killed and wounded, the Confederate casualty rate was greater than 50%. Pickett's division suffered 2,655 casualties (498 killed, 643 wounded, 833 wounded and captured, and 681 captured, unwounded). Pettigrew's losses were estimated at 2,700 (470 killed, 1,893 wounded, 337 captured). Trimble's two brigades lost 885 (155 killed, 650 wounded, and 80 captured). Wilcox's brigade reported losses of 200, Lang's approximately 400. Thus, total losses during the attack were 6,555, of which at least 1,123 Confederates were killed on the battlefield, 4,019 were wounded, and a good number of the injured were also captured. Confederate prisoner totals are difficult to estimate from their reports; Union reports indicated that 3,750 men were captured.

The early afternoon of July 3, 1863, what would be the 3rd and final day at Gettysburg, was hot, humid and uncomfortable. With the temperature destined to reach 87 degrees by 2 p.m., soldiers of the Army of the Potomac lay sprawled about Cemetery Ridge, seeking whatever relief could be found from their enemy of the moment, the unrelenting summer sun. Some had erected crude shelters, using muskets and shelter-halves to escape the direct rays beaming down upon them. These proved of dubious value, and many of the men had simply gone to sleep.

In preparation for General James Longstreet's large-scale infantry assault to follow, a massive cannonade of nearly 150 Confederate artillery pieces, designed to cripple the Union artillery and clear the way for the infantry, had begun. How effective would the Union artillery response to this challenge be? In large part, victory or defeat rested upon whether the Union gunners could hold their own against this onslaught.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee knew the value of artillery upon high ground in a defensive situation. His experiences at Malvern Hill, in defeat, and at Chancellorsville, in victory, had shown him the tremendous power of artillery massed against infantry. As he now prepared an infantry attack against positions well-covered by artillery, he knew the Yankee batteries must be reduced for his assault to succeed. He issued orders to his artillery commanders that reflected this. Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, acting chief of artillery for Longstreet's corps, remarked that:

My orders were as follows. First, to give the enemy the most effective cannonade possible. It was not meant simply to make a noise, but to try and cripple him-to tear him limbless, as it were, if possible...[T]hen further, I was to "advance such artillery as [could be used] in aiding the attack."

With proper concert of action between the Confederate artillery, hammering away at the Union guns and the Confederate infantry breaking the Union infantry line, success was deemed possible. Much depended upon neutralizing the Federal guns.

(Right) Day 3 at Battle of Gettysburg: The Artillery Lines. Union and Confederate artillery lines were stretched but well concentrated in the center during the final day of fighting. While massive, but ineffective, Confederate artillery concentrated on the Union center on day 3, Union gen. Meade, during a council of war the previous night, stated that if Lee attacks, he will attack our center. Meade would soon be proved correct by Lee, and Meade had prepared well. Because Meade reinforced the center and brought up plenty of reserve artillery units and held them just to the rear of the center, Lee, unknowingly, had no chance of cracking the Union line. After the grueling artillery duel between the opposing cannoneers, Lee advanced the ill-fated division of Pickett over a 3/4 mile open field and watched its subsequent decimation in the span of just 50 minutes. Years later, when asked why his charge at Gettysburg failed, General Pickett replied: "I've always thought the Yankees had something to do with it."

On the late morning of the 3rd of July the Federal artillery line extended nearly two miles in length, from Little Round Top, north to the area of Cemetery Hill. Deployed on this position were some twenty-six batteries, representing 132 guns. In the rear of the line, in the reserve park, were twenty more batteries with 112 more pieces.

The types of guns in this line, as well as the other artillery employed by the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, were rifled or smoothbore muzzle-loaders. While the ammunition was not interchangeable between them, four basic types of ammunition were used: solid shot, common shell, case shot, and canister.

Solid shot, known as "bolts" in rifled guns, were useful against structures or enemy gun carriages. They could also be used effectively against massed troops, to demoralize and weaken infantry units at long range.

Two types of exploding shells, common shell and case shot, or shrapnel, were available for antipersonnel use. While shells could be fired at targets a mile distant, they were much more effective at intermediate ranges of approximately 1200 yards down to 600. Both were hollow, cast-iron projectiles containing a bursting charge of powder ignited by a fuse or percussion primer. Depending upon the nature of the intended target, the shell would burst on contact or in the immediate area, and scatter fragments about. Common shells were also useful for igniting fires, and were the ammunition of choice when attempting to burst an enemy's limbers or caissons during counter-battery fire.

High Water Mark Monument
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Where Pickett's Charge was stopped

Where common shells contained only a bursting charge, case shot also contained a handful of round lead musket-balls. This improved the efficiency of the exploding shell as an antipersonnel round at intermediate distances. For close-up work of 500 yards or less, however, canister was the ammunition of choice. As the name suggests, a canister round was a tin can containing a number of round metal balls (27 cast-iron roughly golf-ball size in a 12-pounder smoothbore, 110 lead large marble-size in a rifled pieces). Upon firing, the tin can was blown apart and the individual balls flew freely out the muzzle of the gun. Canister was the last-ditch defensive round in the artillery service, as the range of an infantryman's rifle-musket was approximately 500 yards.

With the exception of canister rounds, all other projectiles fired from smoothbore pieces were round. As they were fired, a smoothbore would "ring" as well as boom, producing a secondary sound not unlike that of a church bell. This was the result of the loose-fitting projectile literally bouncing its way out the barrel. This loose fit, while helpful in the loading, cost the smoothbore somewhat in accuracy.

The most popular smooth-bore field-piece was made of cast bronze. The twelve pounder, Model 1857 "Napoleon" had developed a reputation among artillerists as a fine weapon. A Napoleon could throw an exploding shell a considerable distance - nearly a mile. Napoleons were often preferred for closer range work, as their larger 4.62 inch diameter bores meant that more metal went downrange with each shot. Another advantage of the smoothbore was that it fired canister rounds more accurately than a rifled gun. As they did in the Confederate artillery at Gettysburg, Napoleons constituted 39% of the Union artillery forces.

Rifled field guns had smaller bores, usually 3 inches in diameter. These guns were primarily made of cast or wrought iron. Since the shells were designed to more tightly fit the rifled bore of the gun at firing, they were accurate at longer distances.

Typical of the rifled artillery piece was the wrought iron 3" Ordnance Rifle. Capable of throwing an exploding shell over a mile at an elevation of 5 degrees, it was an effective weapon. 3" Ordnance Rifles made up 41% of the Federal artillery force at Gettysburg.

To maximize the power of these guns, 360 in all, the Union artillery at Gettysburg employed the brigade system. In this system, each brigade contained from four to six batteries, under the direct control of the corps artillery chief. A battery consisted of six guns, ideally all of the same type. The battery was divided into three two-gun sections. Each gun was provided with its own limber and caisson, stocked with ammunition. A battery wagon for spare parts also followed each gun. Five officers and one hundred and fifty enlisted men maintained and operated this equipment, and 110 horses were provided to move it.

A gun detachment required nine men to load and fire a gun, with each cannoneer performing a specific set of functions. Cross-training within artillery units allowed cannoneers to work a battery with reduced numbers. However, the specialized nature of artillery duties meant that heavier casualties could seriously cripple a battery. Units might be forced to cannibalize gun crews, thus reducing the number of guns available for service. In times of imminent crisis, a battery commander could recruit infantry volunteers to help fill his depleted ranks.

Artillery Duel at One O'Clock

Artillery at Battle of Gettysburg
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Three days at Gettysburg with main lines

Artillery at Gettysburg
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Dead soldiers at Gettysburg

At 1 p.m. two guns of Miller's Battery, posted near the Peach Orchard, opened fire in rapid succession. It was the signal for the entire line to let loose their terrific blast. Gunners rushed to their cannon, and in a few moments the massed batteries shook the countryside. Firing in volleys and in succession, the air was soon filled with smoke and heavy dust, which darkened the sky. Union gunners on Cemetery Ridge waited a few minutes until the positions of the Confederate batteries were located; then 80 guns, placed in close order, opened fire. For nearly 2 hours the duel continued, then the Union fire slackened. Hunt had ordered a partial cessation in order to cool the guns and conserve ammunition.

Colonel Alexander, in position on the Emmitsburg Road near the Peach Orchard, could observe the effectiveness of his fire on the Union lines and also keep the Confederate troops in view. To him, it appeared that Union artillery fire was weakening. His own supply of ammunition was running low. Believing this was the time to attack, Alexander sent a message to Pickett who in turn rode over to Longstreet. General Longstreet, who had persistently opposed Lee's plan of sending 15,000 men across the open ground, was now faced with a final decision. Longstreet merely nodded approval and Pickett saluted, saying, "I am going to move forward, sir." He rode back to his men and ordered the advance. With Kemper on the right, Garnett on the left, and Armistead a few yards to the rear, the division marched out in brigade front, first northeastward into the open fields, then eastward toward the Union lines. As Pickett's men came into view near the woods, Pettigrew and Trimble gave the order to advance. Sons of Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi, comprising the brigades of Mayo, Davis, Marshall, and Fry in front, followed closely by Lane and Lowrance, now moved out to attack. A gap between Pickett's left and Pettigrew's right would be closed as the advance progressed. The units were to converge as they approached the Union lines so that the final stage of the charge would present a solid front.

Billows of smoke lay ahead of the Union men at the stone wall, momentarily obscuring the enemy. But trained observers on Little Round Top, far to the south, could see in the rear of this curtain of smoke the waves of Confederates starting forward. Pickett finding his brigades drifting southeastward, ordered them to bear to the left, and the men turned toward the copse of trees. Kemper was now approaching on the south of the Codori buildings; Garnett and Armistead were on the north. Halted momentarily at the Emmitsburg Road to remove fence rails, Pickett's troops, with Pettigrew on the left, renewed the advance. Pickett had anticipated frontal fire of artillery and infantry from the strong Union positions at the stone walls on the ridge, but now an unforeseen attack developed. Union guns as far south as Little Round Top, along with batteries on Cemetery Hill, relieved from Confederate fire at the Seminary buildings, opened on the right and left flanks. As Pickett's men drove toward the Union works at The Angle, Stannard's Vermont troops, executing a right turn movement from their position south of the copse, fired into the flank of the charging Confederates. The advancing lines crumbled, re-formed, and again pressed ahead under terrific fire from the Union batteries.

Civil War smoothbore artillery
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Model 1857 12-pounder Napoleon, aka Napoleon Light

Civil War artillery at Gettysburg
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3-inch Ordnance rifle, aka 3-inch Wrought Iron rifle

(Left) The 3-inch (76 mm) rifle (aka 3-inch Wrought Iron rifle, 3-inch Ordnance rifle, Griffen Rifle) was the most widely used rifled gun during the war. Invented by John Griffen, it was extremely durable, with the barrel made of wrought iron, primarily produced by the Phoenix Iron Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. While the Napoleon was the weapon of choice for short-range fighting, the Ordnance rifle was valued for its long range accuracy. Originally called a "Griffin Gun," after its' designer, John Griffen, the Ordnance rifle field piece was adopted by the Federal Ordnance Department in early 1861. The design of this rifle, soon a favorite with artillerists in both armies, is recognized by the complete absence of any discontinuities in the surface of the gun. It was also a major step forward in material, being made entirely of wrought iron. The 3-in. Ordnance rifle field artillery was capable of hurling an exploding shell over one mile at an elevation of 5 degrees, making it an effective weapon. 3" Ordnance rifles comprised 41% of the Union artillery at Gettysburg. (Right) The Model 1857 12-pounder Napoleon smoothbore was the primary cannon used in the American Civil War. More than 1,100 such Napoleons were manufactured by the North, and 600 by the South. At Gettysburg, 142 out of 360 Federal guns (36%) were Napoleons. The 12-pounder Napoleon was widely admired because of its safety, reliability, line-of-sight firing, and killing power, especially at close range. While many Confederates fell in the early stages of Pickett's advance, the remnants of Pickett's Division who had crossed the nearly 3/4 mile open field at Gettysburg were greeted by the Union M1857 Napoleon and canister shot at close range. The outcome was devastating for the division, and one Confederate soldier stated it best: "We approached the Yankee battery [we] were met by canister, and everyone around me just disappeared ." While Pickett's Division consisted of many veteran soldiers who had previously fought in some of the Civil War's deadliest battles, they had vanished in less than one hour while traversing the field in that final charge at Gettysburg.

But valor was not enough. As the attackers neared the stone wall they lost cohesion in the fury that engulfed them. All along the wall the Union infantry opened with volley after volley into the depleted ranks of Garnett and Fry. Armistead closed in, and with Lane and Lowrance joining him, made a last concerted drive. At this close range, double canister and concentrated infantry fire cut wide gaps in the attacking front. Garnett was mortally wounded; Kemper was down, his lines falling away on the right and left. Armistead reached the low stone fence. In a final surge, he crossed the wall with 150 men and, with his cap on his sword, shouted "Follow me!" At the peak of the charge, he fell mortally wounded. From the ridge, Union troops rushed forward and Hall's Michigan regiments let loose a blast of musketry. The gray column was surrounded. The ride of the Confederacy had "swept to its crest, paused, and receded."

Two of the divisions in the charge were reduced to mere fragments. In front of the Union line, 20 fallen battle flags lay in a space of 100 yards square. Singly and in little clumps, the remnants of the gray columns that had made the magnificent charge of a few minutes earlier now sullenly retreated across the fields toward the Confederate lines. Lee, who had watched anxiously from Spangler's Woods, now rode out to meet his men. "All this has been my fault," he said to General Wilcox who had brought off his command after heavy losses. "It is I that have lost this fight, and you must help me out of it in the best way you can." And again that night, in a moment of contemplation, he remarked to a comrade, "Too bad! too bad! Oh! too bad!"

Diagram of Civil War cannon parts
Diagram of Civil War Cannon parts.jpg
The parts of Civil War artillery

Civil War cannon
Civil War cannon.gif
Union field artillery at Battle of Gettysburg

As the strength of Lee's mighty effort at The Angle was ebbing and the scattered remnants of the charge were seeking shelter, action of a different kind was taking place on another field not far distant. Early in the afternoon, Stuart's cavalry was making its way down the valley of Cress Run, 3 miles east of Gettysburg. The brigades of Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee, at the rear of the line of march, momentarily lost the trail and came out into open ground at the north end of Rummel's Woods, Stuart, soon learning of the mistake, attempted to bring them into line and to proceed southward. But at this point, Gen. D. M. Gregg's Union cavalry, in position along the Hanover Road a mile southeast, saw the Confederates. Gregg prepared at once to attack, and Stuart had no choice but to fight on this ground. As the two forces moved closer, dismounted men opened a brisk fire, supported by the accurate shelling of artillerists.

Then came the initial cavalry charge and countercharge. The Confederate Jenkins was forced to withdraw when his small supply of ammunition became exhausted. Hampton, Fitzhugh Lee, and Chambliss charged again and again, only to be met with the equally spirited counterattack of McIntosh. Custer's Michigan regiments assailed the front of the charging Confederate troopers, and Miller's squadron of the 3d Pennsylvania, disobeying orders to hold its position, struck opportunely on the Confederate left. The thrusts of the Union horsemen, so well coordinated, stopped the onslaught of Stuart's troopers. After 3 hours of turbulent action, the Confederates left the field and retired to the north of Gettysburg. The Union horsemen, holding their ground, had successfully cut off any prospect of Confederate cavalry aid in the rear of the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge.

Lee, as he looked over the desolate field of dead and wounded and the broken remnants of his once-powerful army still ready for renewed battle, must have realized that not only was Gettysburg lost, but that eventually it might all end this way. Meade did not counterattack, as expected. The following day, July 4, the two armies lay facing each other, exhausted and torn.

Late on the afternoon of July 4, Lee began an orderly retreat. The wagon train of wounded, 17 miles in length, guarded by Imboden's cavalry, started homeward through Greenwood and Greencastle. At night, the able-bodied men marched over the Hagerstown Road by way of Monterey Pass to the Potomac. Roads had become nearly impassable from the heavy rains that day, hindering the movements of both armies. Meade, realizing that the Confederate Army was actually retreating and not retiring to the mountain passes, sent detachments of cavalry and infantry in pursuit and ordered the mountain passes west of Frederick covered. Lee, having the advantage of the more direct route to the Potomac, reached the river several days ahead of his pursuers, but heavy rains had swollen the current and he could not cross. Meade arrived on the night of July 12 and prepared for a general attack. On the following night, however, the river receded and Lee crossed safely into Virginia. The Confederate Army, Meade's critics said, had been permitted to slip from the Union grasp.

See also

Sources: National Park Service; Antietam National Battlefield Park; Gettysburg National Battlefield Park; National Archives; Library of Congress; Sources: Henry L. Abbott, Siege Artillery in the Campaigns against Richmond with Notes on the 15-inch Gun, Professional Papers 14 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1867); Alfred Mordecai, Artillery for the United States Land Service as Devised and Arranged by the Ordnance Board, Including Drawings and Tables of Dimensions of the Ordnance for the Land Service of the United States, 1841 (Washington, D.C.: J&G. S. Gideon, 1849); Instruction for Field Artillery, Prepared by a Board of Artillery Officers (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1863); Rpt, Joseph M. Hanson, 27 May 1940, sub: A Report on the Deployment of the Artillery at the Battle of Antietam, Md., With a View To Making Battery Positions at the Antietam National Battlefield Site, in National Park Service Files, Antietam National Battlefield; Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889); Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908); Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical record of the armies of the United States (1883); Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Gettysburg National Military Park.


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