Civil War Artillery

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Civil War Artillery Weapons
Union and Confederate Artillery and Cannon

Civil War Artillery Weapons 
Organization, Battles, Tactics, Types, Characteristics, and Analysis


Artillery in the American Civil War
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300-pounder Parrott Rifle after bursting of muzzle. Courtesy Library of Congress

When the American Civil War (1861-1865) commenced, the Union Army classified its artillery into three types, depending on the gun's weight and intended use. Field artillery were light pieces that often traveled with the armies. Siege and garrison artillery were heavy pieces that could be used either in attacking or defending fortified places. Seacoast artillery were the heaviest pieces and were intended to be used in permanent fortifications along the seaboard. Regardless of type, however, exigencies of war caused artillery types to be interchanged often, and it was also common to view a Confederate battery comprised of different pieces. Because of the size and weight of the guns, many merely categorized or classified artillery as either heavy or light.
During the Civil War, artillery, infantry, and cavalry were each assigned to the army organization. Throughout the war, field artillery would generally be placed among infantry formations or on the flanks. Since Civil War field artillery was used for direct fire, guns might be placed a short distance in front of the infantry line, out of range of enemy small arms, to support offensive or defensive operations or to engage in “counterbattery” fire.
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.
(Right) Union Siege Artillery. A 10-inch (300-pounder) Parrott Rifle on Morris Island that burst in the campaign against Charleston harbor. The 10-inch (300-pounder) Parrott was the largest Parrott produced and one of the largest artillery pieces of the Civil War. While the Union army had sole possession of the three 10-in. Parrotts produced, the Confederates employed many of the smaller Parrotts on practically every major battlefield of the conflict. The three 10-inch (300-pounder) Parrotts saw service during the war, and all were placed on Morris Island during the campaign against Charleston harbor. The heavy Parrott was mounted on a center pintle, barbette carriage and was essentially an enlarged 8-inch Parrott rifle, although it was believed to be somewhat more accurate than the 8-inch rifle. This 10-inch Parrott rifle on Morris Island was disabled soon after it first opened fire by the premature detonation of a shell, which destroyed 18 inches off its muzzle. The ragged end of the muzzle was trimmed even by soldiers working with cold chisels, and the gun fired another 371 times without any appreciable difference in range or accuracy. The gun was subsequently permanently disabled by additional premature detonation of shells.
The artillery used at the Battle of Antietam were indicative of the principal artillery used by both the Union and Confederate artillery units during the Civil War. Because Antietam witnessed the greatest single-day loss in American warfare history, it is considered the standard for studying artillery warfare.
At Antietam, the Army of the Potomac had an estimated 293 guns, of which 166 were rifled, and the Army of Northern Virginia had an estimated 246 guns, of which 82 were rifled, 112 smoothbore, and 52 of unknown type. With more than 500 cannon employed at the Battle of Antietam and because of the destructiveness of these weapons, the battle was nicknamed "Artillery Hell" by the participants. The rolling hills of Sharpsburg provided a highly effective setting for the artillery of both sides. The numerous ridges were excellent locations for cannon. Meanwhile, the infantry of both sides made easy targets as they marched across low-lying, open fields nearby. Posted on the ridgelines, the cannoneers devastated the soldiers in the swales below them. The landscape and the heavy reliance on artillery by both sides made Antietam one of the most significant artillery battles of the Civil War.
Artillery also played a pivotal role in the outcome of 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. During the war, artillery was vital to the outcome of many major battles, including AntietamChancellorsville, Stones River, Fredericksburg, Shiloh, Malvern Hill, and Gettysburg.

Civil War Artillery
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Union field artillery battery supporting infantry during Battle of Fredericksburg

(Above) Napoleonic tactics made Civil War artillery crucial to the outcome of any Civil War battle. Mass formations of soldiers, with great discipline, would march across open fields and directly into enemy shot and shell from artillery pieces as viewed in the photo.


Civil War Artillery Weapons and Accoutrements
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Typical weapons carried into battle by the artillery

Civil War Artillery and Cannon Weapons
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Union artillerist with saber and revolver

Most Civil War artillery based, duplicated, improved, or adapted the ordnance of other nations. Between 1840 and 1860, John A. Dahlgren and Thomas Jackson Rodman improved the range and weight of shot used in cast guns, while Robert P. Parrott's rifled muzzle-loading gun outranged its smoothbore contemporaries.

Although rifled artillery promised to make smoothbore artillery obsolete, Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War did not abandon their muzzle‐loading smoothbores for rifled breechloaders or muzzleloaders. Prominent siege pieces included 10‐, 20‐, 30‐, 60‐, 100‐, 200‐, and 300‐pounder rifled artillery produced by Robert P. Parrott of the United States. Other important siege and coast artillery pieces were smoothbores developed by Capt. Thomas J. Rodman of the army. Some of the most popular rifled fieldpieces were the muzzle‐loading, wrought‐iron M1861 3‐inch rifle and muzzle‐loading 3- to 10-inch rifled guns. The latter, again manufactured by Robert P. Parrott, were of cast iron, with a wrought-iron hoop around the breech to prevent the weapon from bursting upon being fired. Like their smoothbore counterparts, rifled artillery fired solid shot, exploding shell, canister, and occasionally grapeshot, and used black powder as a propelling and bursting charge. However, smoothbore fieldpieces, especially the M1857 12‐pounder Napoleon, remained the favorite because direct fire (also called line-of-sight fire direction) and the difficult terrain of Civil War battlefields prevented gun crews from engaging targets beyond eyesight of roughly one mile and forced them to fire at targets at relatively short ranges. See also Civil War Artillery and Cannon: Field, Garrison and Siege, and Seacoast.

At the onset of the Civil War, the Confederacy had to scramble to meet the demands of the need for artillery and ammunition in the field. The Union had on hand 4,167 pieces of artillery, of which 163 were field guns and howitzers. "When the Confederates took over Federal arsenals, they acquired a considerable amount of heavy guns, but only 35 field pieces." Most of the country's powder mills were located in the North, and little ammunition had been made in the South for some fifty years. Starting almost from scratch, the South built some remarkably efficient mills and arsenals in places such as Augusta, Georgia; Nashville and Manchester, Tennessee; New Orleans, Louisiana; Marshall, Texas; and Petersburg, Virginia. The mill in Augusta didn't go into production until September of 1862, but managed to produce a total of two and three-quarter million pounds of fine quality powder.

Artillery was generally classed by its weight and caliber. Also taken into consideration was its mobility and the form of its carriage or mounting. "Field" artillery was the class name for ordnance light and mobile enough to move with the army, and to be maneuvered during battle. "Mountain" artillery was included in this class, as these guns had to be exceptionally light to be manhandled or transported over steep and rough terrain. "Heavy" artillery included siege guns and mortars. Although these guns were considered mobile, they were slow and unwieldy. Weighing slightly more than 115,000 pounds, the 20-inch Rodmans were considered the largest of these guns, firing a 1080-pound projectile.

Heavy Artillery units with highest battle deaths
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Heavy Artillery regiments with most killed in battle. Fox, William F.

(Right) Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889). Fox indicated the Union heavy artillery regiments that suffered the most killed and mortally wounded in battle during the four year Civil War. It must be noted, however, that Fox specifically stated that the artillerists were "killed and died of wounds" as a result of battle. Until the last year of the Civil War, most heavy artillery regiments were assigned from garrison duty at Washington and at Northern harbors such as Boston to forts, fortifications, and garrisons along the Southern coast and well to the rear of the fighting. The last 12 months of the war changed the life of the heavy artillerist, because most heavy artillery units were assigned or redesignated as infantry regiments and ordered to the front, causing numerous casualties in a short span. Most of the regiments in the list to the right met that fate. Many heavy artillery regiments also suffered far more casualties than what was stated in the adjacent list. Heavy artillery regiments suffered death and losses in the same manner as infantry and cavalry: killed in action, mortally wounded, died while prisoner of war, died of disease (primary cause of death for heavy artillerists), missing in action (unaccounted for because there were no physical remains to be found - but in fact, the artillerist was obliterated in battle), died from accidents, deaths from drowning, died from suicide, died from heatstroke, and deaths other than battle (or deaths all causes except battle). Wounded in battle (amputee for example) was another category (so was desertion), but Fox, along with fellow statistician Dyer, included the wounded (and desertions) in a work by itself. Mass desertions in the last two years of the Civil War plagued both Union and Confederate armies, but desertion too, must be considered a "loss," since the soldier was absent, leaving a vacancy. Fox, moreover, devotes and presents much statistical data in his exhaustive work for both light and heavy artillery in other chapters. Most statisticians, not just acclaimed statistician Fox, only stated and applied the word killed if the soldier was killed in action or mortally wounded in battle. Total deaths, according to most statisticians, on the other hand, included killed in action, mortally wounded, died of disease, died while in prison, deaths other than battle, or deaths from causes other than battle, and often included missing in action.

After being divided into classes, ordnance was again divided into types. Those types were "Guns," "Howitzers" and "Mortars." A rare exception to these types was the 12-pound Napoleon model of 1857, which was a gun-howitzer. Guns were fairly heavy, had a long range and flat trajectory, while Howitzers were lighter, shorter and fired a heavy shell. Mortars were the shortest of the three, heavy and fired large projectiles with high trajectory.

Guns were either smoothbore or rifled, firing solid shot, shell, spherical, grapeshot and canister (or "case" shot). The smoothbore Howitzers fired shell and case, while the smoothbore mortars fired only shell and spherical case. Few guns during the Civil War, were breechloaders, since they could be loaded "down the spout" just as fast as operating a breech mechanism.

In this period there were no recoil mechanisms, and when guns were fired they would leap back in recoil and have to be redirected for the next round. Gunners had to push their pieces back into position after each round, a tiring process. Aiming, rather than loading the gun, was the most time consuming of the process. Accuracy degenerated over time as cannoneers got tired and smoke blotted the battlefield.

Civil War Artillery Chart
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Civil War Artillery Organization

Parrott "Class" Guns by Size
Model Length Weight Munition Charge size Maximum range at elevation Flight time Crew size
2.9-in (10-lb) Army Parrott 73 in 1,799 lb (816 kg) 10 lb (4.5 kg) shell 1 lb (0.45 kg) 5,000 yd (4,600 m) at 20 degrees 21 secs 6
3.0-in (10-lb) Army Parrott 74 in 1,726 lb (783 kg) 10 lb (4.5 kg) shell 1 lb (0.45 kg) 1,830 yd (1,670 m) at 5 degrees 7 secs 6
3.67-in (20-lb) Army Parrott 79 in 1,795 lb (814 kg) 19 lb (8.6 kg) shell 2 lb (0.91 kg) 4,400 yd (4,000 m) at 15 degrees 17 secs 7
3.67-in (20-lb) Naval Parrott 81 in 1,795 lb (814 kg) 19 lb (8.6 kg) shell 2 lb (0.91 kg) 4,400 yd (4,000 m) at 15 degrees 17 secs 7
4.2-in (30-lb) Army Parrott 126 in 4,200 lb (1,900 kg) 29 lb (13 kg) shell 3.25 lb (1.47 kg) 6,700 yd (6,100 m) at 25 degrees 27 secs 9
4.2-in (30-lb) Naval Parrott 102 in 3,550 lb (1,610 kg) 29 lb (13 kg) shell 3.25 lb (1.47 kg) 6,700 yd (6,100 m) at 25 degrees 27 secs 9
5.3-in (60-lb) Naval Parrott 111 in 5,430 lb (2,460 kg) 50 lb (23 kg) or 60 lb (27 kg) shell 6 lb (2.7 kg) 7,400 yd (6,800 m) at 30 degrees 30 secs 14
5.3-in (60-lb) Naval Parrott (breechload) 111 in 5,242 lb (2,378 kg) 50-lb or 60 lb (27 kg) shell 6 lb (2.7 kg) 7,400 yd (6,800 m) at 30 degrees 30 secs 14
6.4-in (100-lb) Naval Parrott 138 in 9,727 lb (4,412 kg) 80 lb (36 kg) or 100 lb (45 kg) shell 10 lb (4.5 kg) 7,810 yd (7,140 m) at 30 degrees (80-lb) 32 secs 17
6.4-in (100-lb) Naval Parrott (breechload) 138 in 10,266 lb (4,657 kg) 80 lb (36 kg) or 100 lb (45 kg) shell 10 lb (4.5 kg) 7,810 yd (7,140 m) at 30 degrees (80-lb) 32 secs 17
8-in (150-lb) Naval Parrott 146 in 16,500 lb (7,500 kg) 150 lb (68 kg) shell 16 lb (7.3 kg) 8,000 yd (7,300 m) at 35 degrees 180  ?
8-in (200-lb) Army Parrott 146 in 16,500 lb (7,500 kg) 200 lb (91 kg) shell 16 lb (7.3 kg) 8,000 yd (7,300 m) at 35 degrees  ?  ?
10-in (300-lb) Army Parrott 156 in 26,900 lb (12,200 kg) 300 lb (140 kg) shell 26 lb (12 kg) 9,000 yd (8,200 m) at 30 degrees 202.5 secs*  ?

30-pounder Parrott rifles adjacent Charleston, SC
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Two 4.2-inch (30-pounder) Parrott rifles and stacks of shells inside Fort Putnam on Morris Island

(Above) Although the 4.2-inch (30-pounder) rifles were the most widely used of the Parrott siege guns, it had the honor of occasionally being employed as field artillery.

Total Civil War Artillery units serving the Union
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Total heavy and light artillery units that each state, includes South, contributed to the Union Army

(Above) Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908). Acclaimed Civil War statistician Dyer, in the table, indicates the total number of units--infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers, and sharpshooters--for each state, North and South, that supported the Union, and in the bottom right corner is the grand total. While Dyer indicates the total Northern and Southern units that served in the Union military and concludes with the grand total, he also includes the contributions of African-Americans, Native Americans, and Border States in an easy to read format. See also Organization of Union and Confederate Armies: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery.

The most lethal load of a field artilleryman was canister. Canister consisted of tin cylinders filled with iron shot, or musket balls, which would explode into a mass of troops, wreaking devastation.

To be effective on the battlefield, gunners had to get the piece within range of the enemy. Rarely though was an artillery battery ordered to gallop up at close range and unlimber their gun. Officers, knowing this was suicidal for the gun crews and their horses, did so only in moments of absolute necessity.

At the Bloody Angle, Spotsylvania, an artilleryman of Battery C, 5th U. S. Artillery, recounted an episode where just such an order was given. "...We were a considerable distance in front of our infantry, and of course artillery could not live long under such a fire as the enemy were putting through there. Our men went down in short order...Our men went into action with 23 men and one officer. The only ones who came out sound were the lieutenant and myself. Every horse was killed, 7 of the men were killed outright, 16 wounded; the gun carriages were so cut with bullets as to be of no further service... 27 balls passed through the lid of the limber chest..."

Many of the larger guns in both North and South were located in permanent fortifications. The Washington defense alone contained 807 guns and 98 mortars. A majority of these garrison guns never fired a shot at the enemy through the entire war. In 1864 some heavy artillery regiments were larger than infantry divisions which had suffered massive attrition from combat. In 1864 when Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant assumed command of all Union armies, he began reassigning, as well as redesignating, heavy artillery units to infantry units. Because heavy artillery units, now serving as infantry, were heavily engaged in the fighting of the Overland Campaign (aka Wilderness Campaign), and in the nearly 10 month Siege of Petersburg, the units sustained heavy casualties. Since heavy artillery units fought as infantry during the hotly contested major battles of the final year of the conflict, many suffered higher casualties than the infantry regiments that had been in the field for the entire four year war.

Types of Artillery

Smoothbore and Rifled cannon
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Difference between smoothbore and rifled artillery

Smoothbore vs Rifled
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Difference in range between widely used Smoothbore and Rifled artillery pieces

Artillery near Hanover Court House, May 27, 1862
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A 12-pdr. howitzer gun captured by Butterfield's Brigade

The Union Army classified its artillery into three types, depending on the gun's weight and intended use. Field artillery were light pieces that often traveled with the armies, while siege and garrison artillery were heavy pieces that could be used either in attacking or defending fortified places. Seacoast artillery were the heaviest pieces and were intended to be used in permanent fortifications along the seaboard and were primarily designed to fire on attacking warships. The distinctions, however, are arbitrary, because field, siege and garrison, and seacoast artillery (aka coastal artillery) were all used in various attacks and defenses of fortifications.
Field artillery was mobile artillery used to support armies in the field. These weapons were specialized for mobility, tactical proficiency, long range, short range and extremely long range target engagement. Field artillery in the 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. Nor does it include smaller, specialized artillery termed as small arms. 
Siege artillery was heavy artillery primarily used in military attacks on fortified positions. Siege artillery consisted almost exclusively of guns and mortars that were transported by "siege trains" during the Civil War. Guns fired projectiles on horizontal trajectory and could batter heavy construction with solid shot or shell at long or short range, destroy fort parapets, and dismount cannon.
Mortars fired shells in a high arcing trajectory to reach targets behind obstructions, destroying construction and personnel. The Civil War was the first major war to employ rifled artillery. Rifling gave the guns greater velocity, range, accuracy and penetrating power, thus rendering smoothbore siege guns obsolete.
Seacoast artillery was the branch concerned with operating anti-ship artillery or fixed gun batteries in coastal fortifications. Naval and military historians believed that one shore-based gun equaled three naval guns of the same caliber, due to the steadiness of the coastal gun which allowed for significantly higher accuracy than their sea-mounted counterparts. Land-based guns also benefited in most cases from the additional protection of walls or earth mounds.
There were two general types of artillery weapons used during the Civil War: smoothbores and rifles. Smoothbores included howitzers and guns. A smoothbore cannon barrel resembled a pipe, smooth on the inside. In contrast, a rifled cannon had grooves cut into the inside of the barrel, which forced the ammunition to rotate like a football. A rifled cannon was more accurate and had a greater range than a smoothbore gun.

Smoothbore artillery refers to weapons that are not rifled, which included guns and howitzers. Smoothbore guns were designed to fire solid shot projectiles at high velocity, over low trajectories at targets in the open, although shot and canister were acceptable for use. The barrels of the guns were longer than corresponding howitzers, and required higher powder charges to achieve the desired performance. Howitzers were short-barreled guns that were optimized for firing explosive shells in a high trajectory, but also for spherical case shot and canister, over a shorter range than the guns. While field use alluded to firing at targets consisting of enemy forces arrayed in the open, Howitzers were considered the weapon of choice if the opposing forces were concealed behind terrain features or fortifications. Howitzers used lower powder charges than guns of corresponding caliber.

Civil War Smoothbore Cannon
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Model 1857 12-pounder Napoleons

Cannon barrel
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Smoothbore barrel

The most popular smoothbore cannon used during the Civil War was the 12-pounder Model 1857, Light, commonly called "Napoleon". The Model 1857 field piece was of lighter weight than the previous 12-pounder guns, and could be pulled by a six-horse draft, yet offered the heavier projectile payload of the larger bore.
At the time of the Civil War, metallurgy and other supporting technologies had just recently evolved to a point allowing the large scale production of rifled field artillery. As such, many smoothbore weapons were still in use and production even at the end of the war. Smoothbore field artillery of the day fit into two role-based categories: guns and howitzers. Further classifications of the weapons were made based on the type of metal used, typically bronze or iron (cast or wrought), although some examples of steel were produced. Additionally, the artillery was often identified by the year of design in the Ordnance department references.
The smoothbore artillery was also categorized by the bore dimensions, based on the rough weight of the solid shot projectile fired from the weapon. For instance a 12-pounder field gun fired a 12 pound solid shot projectile from its 4.62-inch (117 mm) diameter bore. It was practice, dating back to the 18th century, to mix gun and howitzers into batteries. Pre-war allocations called for 6-pounder field guns matched with 12-pounder howitzers, 9 and 12-pounder field guns matched with 24-pounder howitzers. But the rapid expansions of both combatant armies, mass introduction of rifled artillery, and the versatility of the 12-pounder "Napoleon" class of weapons all contributed to a change in the mixed battery practices.
(Right) Two Model 1857 12-pounder Napoleons. The M1857 12-pounder Napoleon was a bronze smoothbore with an effective range of 1,000 yards and a range of 1,680 yards at five degrees elevation. It fired solid shot, shell, case shot and canister rounds with a 2 1/2 lb. charge of powder. The gun with its carriage and equipment weighed 2,500 lbs. and was served by a crew of eight. Casualties of disease and battle often reduced the crew to the minimum of three men.
The Model 1857 12-pounder Napoleon was the most widely used smoothbore cannon during the Civil War. It was named after Napoleon III of France and was widely admired because of its safety, reliability, and killing power, especially at close range. In Union Ordnance manuals it was referred to as the "light 12-pounder gun" to distinguish it from the heavier and longer 12 pounder gun (which was virtually unused in field service.) It was the last cast bronze gun used by an American army. The Federal version of the Napoleon could be recognized by the flared front end of the barrel, called the muzzle-swell. It was, however, relatively heavy compared to other artillery pieces and difficult to move across rough terrain.
Confederate Napoleons were produced in at least six variations, most of which had straight muzzles, but at least eight catalogued survivors of 133 identified have muzzle swells. Additionally, four iron Confederate Napoleons produced by Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond have been identified, of an estimated 125 cast. In early 1863 Robert E. Lee sent nearly all of the Army of Northern Virginia's bronze 6-pounder guns to Tredegar to be melted down and recast as Napoleons. Copper for casting bronze pieces became increasingly scarce to the Confederacy throughout the war and became acute in November 1863 when the Ducktown copper mines near Chattanooga were lost to Union forces. Casting of bronze Napoleons by the Confederacy ceased and in January 1864 Tredegar began producing iron Napoleons.

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

Rifling adds spiral grooves along the inside of the gun barrel for the purpose of spinning the shell or shot and enacting gyroscopic force that increases the accuracy of the gun by preventing the shell from rotating along axes other than the axis parallel to the gun barrel. Adding rifling to a gun tube made it more difficult and expensive to manufacture and increased the length of the tube, but it increased the range and accuracy of the piece. While most of the rifled guns in the Civil War were muzzle-loaded, a small number of breech-loaded guns were used.
(Right) 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.

Rifling grooves
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Rifled barrel

To manufacture the Ordnance rifle, strips of wrought iron were hammer-welded in criss-crossing spiral layers around a mandrel; this was then bored out and the finished product lathe turned into shape. Though time consuming and expensive to produce, the result was a singularly tough and accurate weapon. Less precise machining and lower-grade iron gave their Confederate counterparts more trouble.
The North produced more than 1,000 3-inch Ordnance rifles during the war, and they were considered prized captures by the South. There are few cases on record of the tube fracturing or bursting, a problem that plagued other rifles made of brittle cast iron. The rifle had exceptional accuracy. During the Battle of Atlanta, a Confederate gunner was quoted: "The Yankee three-inch rifle was a dead shot at any distance under a mile. They could hit the end of a flour barrel more often than miss, unless the gunner got rattled." The 1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery converted into the 3-inch rifle on March 5, 1864, though they were considered "3-inch Rodman's guns" in a Nov. 11, 1864 letter from 1st Lieutenant Henry S. Hurter to the Minnesota Adjutant General. The 1st Minnesota Light Artillery took part in the Atlanta Campaign.
Union Artillery
The Union Army entered the war with a strong advantage in artillery. It had ample manufacturing capacity in Northern factories, and it had a well-trained and professional officer corps manning that branch of the service. Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt, who was the chief of artillery for the Army of the Potomac for part of the war, was well recognized as a most efficient organizer of artillery forces, and he had few peers in the practice of the sciences of gunnery and logistics. Another example was John Gibbon, the author of the influential Artillerist's Manual published in 1863 (although Gibbon would achieve considerably more fame as an infantry general during the war). Shortly after the outbreak of war, Brig. Gen. James Wolfe Ripley, Chief of Ordnance, ordered the conversion of old smoothbores into rifled cannon and the manufacture of Parrott guns.

Civil War artillery
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One of the Union siege guns mounted in defense of Washington in 1864

The basic unit of Union artillery was the battery, which usually consisted of six guns. Attempts were made to ensure that all six guns in a battery were of the same caliber, simplifying training and logistics. Each gun, or "piece", was operated by a gun crew of eight, plus four additional men to handle the horses and equipment. Two guns operating under the control of a lieutenant were known as a "section". The battery of six guns was commanded by a captain. Artillery brigades consisted of five batteries were commanded by colonels and supported the infantry organizations as follows: each infantry corps was supported directly by one artillery brigade and, in the case of the Army of the Potomac, five brigades formed the Artillery Reserve. This arrangement, championed by Hunt, allowed artillery to be massed in support of the entire army's objective, rather than being dispersed all across the battlefield. An example of the tension between infantry commanders and artillery commanders was during the massive Confederate bombardment of Cemetery Ridge on 3 July 1863, the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Hunt had difficulty persuading the infantry commanders, such as Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, against using all of their artillery ammunition in response to the Confederate bombardment, understanding the value to the defenders of saving the ammunition for the infantry assault to come, Pickett's Charge.
When the Civil War commenced, the U.S. Army had amassed 2,283 guns on hand, but roughly 10% of these were field artillery pieces. By the end of the war, the army had 3,325 guns, of which 53% were field pieces. The army reported as "supplied to the army during the war" the following quantities: 7,892 guns, 6,335,295 artillery projectiles, 2,862,177 rounds of fixed artillery ammunition, 45,258 tons of lead metal, and 13,320 tons of gunpowder. See also Organization of Union and Confederate Armies: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery.

Confederate Artillery
The South was at a relative disadvantage to the North for deployment of artillery. The industrial North had far greater capacity for manufacturing weapons, and the Union blockade of Southern ports prevented many foreign arms from reaching the Southern armies. The Confederacy had to rely significantly on captured Union artillery pieces (either on the battlefield or by capturing armories, such as Harpers Ferry); it was estimated that two-thirds of all Confederate field artillery was captured from the Union. The Confederate cannons built in the South often suffered from the shortage of quality metals and shoddy workmanship. Another disadvantage was the quality of ammunition. The fuzes (aka fuses) needed for detonating shells and cases were frequently inaccurate, causing premature or delayed explosions. All that, coupled with the Union gunners' initial competence and experience gained as the war progressed, led Southern forces to dread assaults on Northern positions backed up by artillery. A Southern officer observed, "The combination of Yankee artillery with Rebel infantry would make an army that could be beaten by no one."
Confederate batteries usually consisted of four guns, in contrast to the Union's six. This was a matter of necessity, because guns were always in short supply. And, unlike the Union, batteries frequently consisted of mixed caliber weapons. Confederate batteries were generally organized into battalions (versus the Union brigades) of four batteries each, and the battalions were assigned to the direct support of infantry divisions. Each infantry corps was assigned two battalions as an Artillery Reserve, but there was no such Reserve at the army level. The chief of artillery for Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton, had considerable difficulty massing artillery for best effect because of this organization.

Civil War Artillery Organization
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Civil War Artillery Battery in Line

Artillery Organization
The most pervasive but necessary piece of artillery equipment was the horse. A limber was a two-wheeled cart designed to support the trail of an artillery piece, or the stock of a field carriage such as a caisson or traveling forge, allowing it to be towed. A caisson was a two-wheeled cart designed to carry artillery ammunition.
Horses were required to pull the enormous weight of the cannon and ammunition; on average, each horse pulled roughly 700 pounds (317.5 kg). Each gun in a battery used two six-horse teams: one team pulled a limber that towed the gun, the other pulled a limber that towed a caisson. The large number of horses posed a logistical challenge for the artillery, because they had to be fed, maintained, and replaced when worn out or injured. Artillery horses were generally selected second from the pool of high quality animals; cavalry mounts were the best horses. The life expectancy of an artillery horse was under eight months. They suffered from disease, exhaustion from long marches—typically 16 miles (25.8 km) in 10 hours—and battle injuries. See also Civil War Horses.

Unlike men when subjected to counter-battery fire, horses and their movements were restricted because they were harnessed together into teams. Robert Stiles wrote about Union fire striking a Confederate battery on Benner's Hill at the Battle of Gettysburg:

Such a scene as it presented—guns dismounted and disabled, carriages splintered and crushed, ammunition chests exploded, limbers upset, wounded horses plunging and kicking, dashing out the brains of men tangled in the harness; while cannoneers with pistols were crawling around through the wreck shooting the struggling horses to save the lives of wounded men.

The term "horse artillery" refers to the faster moving artillery batteries that typically supported cavalry regiments. The term "flying artillery" was sometimes used as well. In such batteries, the artillerymen were all mounted, in contrast to batteries in which the artillerymen walked alongside their guns. A prominent organization of such artillery in the Union Army was the U.S. Horse Artillery Brigade.

The limber was a two-wheeled carriage that carried an ammunition chest. It was connected directly behind the team of six horses and towed either a gun or a caisson. In either case, the combination provided the equivalent of a four-wheeled vehicle, which distributed the load over two axles but was easier to maneuver on rough terrain than a four-wheeled wagon. The combination of a Napoleon gun and a packed limber weighed 3,865 pounds (1,753.1 kg).

The caisson was also a two-wheeled carriage. It carried two ammunition chests and a spare wheel. A fully loaded limber and caisson combination weighed 3,811 pounds (1728.6 kg).

The limbers, caissons, and gun carriages were all constructed of oak. Each ammunition chest typically carried approximately 500 pounds (226.8 kg) of ammunition or supplies. In addition to these vehicles, there were also battery supply wagons and portable forges that were used to service the guns.

Civil War artillery in battle formation
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Civil War artillery in line of battle and ready to commence firing

Civil War field artillery was generally organized into batteries of four to six guns. Regulations prescribed a captain as battery commander, while lieutenants commanded two-gun “sections.” Each gun formed 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 type 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 its 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, including all officers, noncommissioned officers, buglers, horse holders, and other specialized functions, might exceed 100 officers and men. With spare horses included, a typical six-gun battery would have from 100 to 150 horses.

A battery could unlimber and fire an initial volley in roughly one minute, and each gun could continue firing two aimed shots a minute. A battery could “limber up” in about three minutes. Firing was by “direct fire,” aka "line-of-sight fire," in which the target was in view of the gun. The prescribed distance between guns was 14 yards from hub to hub. Therefore, a six-gun battery would represent a front of slightly more than 100 yards. Depth of the battery position, from the gun muzzle, passing the limber, to the rear of the caisson, was prescribed as 47 yards. In practice these measurements might be altered by terrain.

During firing, cannoneers took their positions as in the diagram below. At the command “commence firing,” the gunner ordered “load.”

Civil War Artillery and positions
Civil War Artillery positions.jpg
Civil War Artillery crew positions

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 in the vent and punctured the cartridge bag. Number 4 attached a lanyard to a friction primer and inserted the primer in the vent. At the command “fire,” Number 4 yanked the lanyard. Number 6 cut fuzes for exploding shells (if needed). The process was repeated until the command was given to cease firing.

Principal Civil War Artillery and Characteristics

Most widely used field artillery, including respective ranges, during the Civil War (1861-1865)

Civil War Field Artillery
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Horse Artillery. Battery M, 2nd U.S. Artillery in the field, 1862

Tube Composition
Tube Length (in inches)
Effective Range at 5 Elevation (in yards)
smoothbore field gun
3.67 in. dia. bore
smoothbore field howitzer
4.62 in. dia. bore
Parrot rifle
2.9 in. dia. bore
ordnance rifle
3.0 in. dia. bore
Napoleon smoothbore
4.62 in. dia. bore
Parrot rifle
3.67 in. dia. bore

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

Ranges of United States smoothbore garrison guns of 1861

Caliber Elevation Range in yards
18-pounder siege and garrison 5 0" 1,592
24-pounder siege and garrison 5 0" 1,901
32-pounder seacoast 5 0" 1,922
42-pounder seacoast 5 0" 1,955
8-inch Columbiad 27 30" 4,812
10-inch Columbiad 39 15" 5,654
12-inch Columbiad 39 0" 5,506

Ranges of United States naval smoothbores of 1866

Caliber Point-blank range in yards Elevation Range in yards
32-pounder of 42 cwt 313" 5 1,756
8-inch of 63 cwt 330" 5 1,770
IX-inch shell gun 350" 15 3,450
X-inch shell gun 340" 11 3,000
XI-inch shell gun 295" 15 2,650
XV-inch shell gun 300" 7 2,100

cannon firing.gif

Ranges of U.S. Howitzers in the 1860s

Caliber Elevation Range in yards
10-inch seacoast 5 1,650
8-inch siege 1230' 2,280
24-pounder naval 5 1,270
12-pounder heavy naval 5 1,085
20-pounder Dahlgren rifled 5 1,960
12-pounder Dahlgren rifled 5 1,770

Ranges of U.S. Mortars in 1861

Caliber Projectile weight (pounds) Range (yards)
8-inch siege 45 1,837
10-inch siege 90 2,100
12-inch seacoast 200 4,625
13-inch seacoast 200 4,325

Ranges of United States naval rifles in 1866

Caliber Elevation Range in yards
20-pounder Parrott 15 4,400
30-pounder Parrott 25 6,700
100-pounder Parrott 25 7,180

Artillery Projectiles

Four basic types of projectiles were employed by Civil War field artillery: solid shot, shells, case shot, and canister. Ammunition consisted of a wide variety, because it was designed to attack specific targets. A typical Union artillery battery (armed with six 12-pounder Napoleons) carried the following ammunition into battle: 288 shot, 96 shells, 288 spherical cases, and 96 canisters.

Solid Projectiles (aka Shot or Bolt)
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.
Shot was a solid projectile that included no explosive charge. For a smoothbore, the projectile was a round "cannonball". For a rifled gun, the projectile was referred to as a bolt and had a cylindrical or spherical shape. In both cases, the projectile was used to impart kinetic energy for a battering effect, particularly effective for the destruction of enemy guns, limbers and caissons, and wagons. It was also effective for mowing down columns of infantry and cavalry and had psychological effects against its targets. Despite its effectiveness, many artillerymen were reluctant to use solid shot, preferring the explosive types of ordnance. With solid projectiles, accuracy was the paramount consideration, and they also caused more tube wear than their explosive counterparts. While rifled cannon had much greater accuracy on average than smoothbores, the smoothbores had an advantage firing round shot relative to the bolts fired from rifled pieces. Round shot could be employed in ricochet or rolling fire extending the depth and range of its effect on land or water while bolts tended to dig in rather than ricochet.

Canister Shot
Civil War Canister Shot.jpg
Minnesota Historical Society

(Right) Canister-shot for a 12-pounder cannon. The canister has a wood sabot, iron dividing plate, and thirty-seven cast-iron grape shot. The grapeshot all have mold-seam lines, and some have sprue projections. The cylindrical canister has a soldered seam up one side and was nailed to the sabot, which was cut with two encircling grooves. A second plate inside the canister was loose. An iron disc divider was also present. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.
The shell, whether spherical or conical, was a hollow iron projectile filled with a black powder bursting charge. It was designed to break into several ragged 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 timed fuzes or by a percussion fuze detonating the shell upon impact.
Shells included an explosive charge and were designed to burst into fragments in the midst of enemy infantry or artillery. For smoothbores, the projectile was referred to as "spherical shell". Shells were more effective against troops behind obstacles or earthworks, and they were good for destroying wooden buildings by setting them on fire. They were ineffective against good quality masonry. A primary weakness of shell was that it typically produced only a few large fragments, the count increasing with caliber of the shell. A Confederate mid-war innovation perhaps influenced by British ordnance/munition imports was the "polygonal cavity" or "segmented" shell which used a polyhedral cavity core to create lines of weakness in the shell wall that would yield more regular fragmentation patterns—typically 12 similarly sized fragments. While segmented designs were most common in spherical shell, it was applied to specific rifled projectiles as well. Spherical shell used time fuzes, while rifled shell could use timed fuze or be detonated on impact by percussion fuze. Fuze reliability was a concern; any shell that buried itself into the earth before detonating had little anti-personnel effectiveness. However, large caliber shells, such as the 32-pounder spherical were effective at breaching entrenchments.

Artillery and Cannon Ammunition
Artillery Ammunition.jpg
Types of artillery ammunition. The target determined which type of ammunition to employ.


A) Solid shot attached to wooden sabot with straps.
B) Shell-complete fixed round. Cartridge bag tied to sabot. Paper bag in place.
C) Arrangement of straps for shot (1) and shell (2) (opening allowed for fuze).
D) Cartridge block for separate cartridge. Projectile and powder charge for rounds for guns larger than 12-pounders were usually loaded separately.
E) Shell and sabot.
F) Spherical case: 12-pounder. contained 4.5-ounce burster and 78 musket balls.
G) Canister: 12-pounder contained 27 cast-iron shots, average weight is 0.43 pounds in tin case, nailed to sabot.
H) Complete fixed round of canister. Paper bag was torn off before loading.
I) Tapered sabot for howitzers (powder chamber in howitzers was smaller than the bore).
Case Shot (aka Shrapnel)
Case shot had a thinner wall than a shell
and was filled with a number of small lead or iron balls (27 for a 12-pounder). A timed fuze ignited a small bursting charge inside the shell, which fragmented the casing and scattered the contents in the air. Case shot was intended to burst from 50 to 75 yards short of the target, the fragments being carried forward by the velocity of the shot.
Case (or "spherical case" for smoothbores) were anti-personnel projectiles carrying a smaller burst charge than shell, but designed to be more effective against exposed troops. While shell produced only a few large fragments, case was loaded with lead or iron balls and was designed to burst above and before the enemy line, showering down many more small but destructive projectiles on the enemy. The effect was analogous to a weaker version of canister. With case the lethality of the balls and fragments came from the velocity of the bursting projectile itself—the small burst charge only fragmented the case and dispersed the shrapnel. The spherical case used in a 12-pounder Napoleon contained 78 balls. The name shrapnel derives from its inventor, Henry Shrapnel. The primary limitations to case effectiveness came in judging the range, setting the fuze accordingly, and the reliability and variability of the fuze itself.

Canister consisted of a tin cylinder in which was packed a number of iron or lead balls. Upon discharge the cylinder split open and the smaller projectiles fanned out. Canister was an extremely effective antipersonnel weapon, with an effective range of 400 yards. In emergencies double loads of canister could be used at ranges less than 200 yards, using a single propelling charge.
Canister shot was the deadliest type of ammunition, consisting of a thin metal container loaded with layers of lead or iron balls packed in sawdust. Upon exiting the muzzle, the container disintegrated, and the balls fanned out as the equivalent of a shotgun blast. The effective range of canister was only 400 yards (370 m), but within that range dozens of enemy infantrymen could be mowed down. Even more devastating was "double canister", generally used only in dire circumstances at extremely close range, where two containers of balls were fired simultaneously. Grapeshot was the predecessor of, and a variation on, canister, in which a smaller number of larger metal balls were arranged on stacked iron plates with a threaded bolt running down the center to hold them as a unit inside the barrel. It was used at a time when some cannons burst when loaded with too much gunpowder, but as cannons got stronger, grapeshot was replaced by canister. A grapeshot round (or "stand") used in a 12-pounder Napoleon contained 9 balls, contrasted against the 27 smaller balls in a canister round. By the time of the Civil War, grapeshot was obsolete and largely replaced by canister. The period Ordnance and Gunnery work states that grape was excluded from "field and mountain services." Few, if any, rounds were issued to field artillery batteries.

Field Artillery

Civil War Artillery and the Parrott Rifle
Parrott Rifle.jpg
Parrott Rifle was one of the first rifled field guns used by U.S. Army

Civil War Field Artillery
3-inch Ordnance rifle.gif
3-inch Ordnance rifle with Union cannoneers

(Left) Known for its reliability and accuracy, the 3-inch Ordnance rifle was fielded by the artillery branches of both armies. Crafted from hammer-welded, machined iron the ordnance rifle typically fired 8- or 9-pound shells, as well as solid shot, case, and canister. Due to the manufacturing process involved, Union-made rifles tended to perform better than Confederate models. (Right) 20-Pounder Parrott Rifle with Union cannoneers. 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. Designed by Robert Parrott of the West Point Foundry (NY), the Parrott Rifle was deployed by both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. Parrott rifles were produced in 10- and 20-pounder models for use on the battlefield and as large as 200-pounders for use in fortifications. The "Parrott class rifles" are easily identified by the reinforcing band around the breech of the gun.
The basic organizational unit for field artillery was called a battery, made up of four to six guns with approximately 70-100 men commanded by a Captain. There were many models and sizes of Civil War cannon, but there were two basic types--smoothbore and rifled. The most widely used "smoothbore field cannon" during the Civil War was the 12-pounder Model 1857, Light, commonly called "Napoleon," while the most widely employed "rifled field piece" was the 3-inch Ordnance rifle, commonly known as 3-inch Wrought Iron rifle. Both the M1857 Napoleon and 3-in. Ordnance rifle were coveted by both armies.
Robert Parker Parrott (1804–1877), an 1824 graduate of the United States Military Academy, developed a new form of rifled artillery using a cast iron barrel with a reinforcing wrought iron band around the breech. He first produced 2.9-inch (10-pounder) and 3.67-inch (20-pounder) rifles for the field artillery. He later produced four larger rifled guns that were used as siege artillery. These heavy Parrott rifles became the mainstays of the Federal siege train.

Civil War artillery
12-pounder Napoleon smoothbore.jpg
Model 1857 12-pounder Napoleon

Field guns were grouped into batteries. Although six guns to a battery was considered ideal, it wasn't uncommon for a battery to have only four guns. The organization of field artillery often differed within the two armies. The battery was usually commanded by a captain, while two guns formed a section commanded by a lieutenant. When on the move, each gun or "piece" was hooked up behind a limber, which carried the ammunition chest, and was drawn by six horses. Each gun had its caisson, carrying three ammunition chests, and also drawn by six horses. These two units made up a platoon, which was commanded by a sergeant (Chief of Piece) and two corporals. A battery was also accompanied by a forge, a wagon carrying the tents and supplies, and generally six additional caissons with reserve ammunition.

There were three drivers for each six-horse team, who rode the horses on the left side. A typical gun crew consisted of nine men. Where the artillery was designated as light artillery, the cannoneers either rode on the ammunition chests or walked beside their piece. With horse artillery (sometimes called flying artillery), the cannoneers each rode a horse, with two additional men acting as horse-holders in action.

In addition to the lieutenants commanding each section, another lieutenant usually commanded the line of caissons. There was also an orderly and quartermaster sergeant, five artificers, two buglers, and a guidon-bearer.

Four batteries were usually assigned to a division. When several divisions were organized into a corps, half of the divisional artillery was generally grouped as corps reserve. There was an army reserve of some one-hundred guns. When the horse artillery wasn't attached to the cavalry corps it was held in the army reserve.

Up until 1863, the Confederate armies and the western army of the Union assigned a battery to each infantry brigade. This was found to be a bad system since it eliminated the concentration of fire that was needed to beat back an attack. A good example of the effectiveness of the Federal divisional and reserve system was Malvern Hill, where 60 pieces of Federal artillery were amassed to smash one Southern battery after another as it was thrown piecemeal into action.

The composition of the individual batteries themselves varied in both armies and there was no set standard for either. Initially, a six-gun battery would have two howitzers; a 12-pounder battery thus had four 12-pound guns and two 24-pounder howitzers. A 6-pounder battery would have four 6-pounder guns and two 12-pounder howitzers. The 6-pounder was used mainly by the South, and was later replaced by 3-inch rifles and 12-pounder smoothbores. There wasn’t much extra metal needed to make a 12-pounder, and over the winter of 1862-63 the Tredegar Works in Richmond (among others) was busy melting and re-casting guns.

Since Confederate batteries were often comprised up of captured pieces, and a mixture of types of weapons, the work of the ordnance department to supply ammunition became a complex one.

The Northern armies, more uniformly equipped, were usually armed with the 3-inch rifle, the 10-pounder parrot, the 20-pounder parrot, or the 12-pounder Napoleon. However, artillery batteries on both sides often had a few non-standard rifles, and all guns required several types of ammunition.

Mixed battery includes two 100-pounder Parrotts
100-pounder Parrott.jpg
100-pounder Parrott rifles (flanks); 30-pounder Parrotts (inside)

Ranges of Parrott field rifles (1863)

Caliber Weight of gun (pounds) Type of projectile Projectile weight (pounds) Elevation Range Smoothbore of same caliber
10-pounder 890 Shell 9.75 5 2,000 3-pounder.
    do 9.75 20 5,000  
20-pounder 1,750 do 18.75 5 2,100 6-pounder.
    do 18.75 15 4,400  
30-pounder 4,200 do 29.00 15 4,800 9-pounder.
    do 29.00 25 6,700  
    Long shell 101.00 15 4,790  
    do 101.00 25 6,820  
    Hollow shot 80.00 25 7,180  
    do 80.00 35 8,453  

(Right) Two 6.4-inch (100-pounder) and two 4.2-inch (30-pounder) Parrott rifles inside Fort Brady during the siege of Petersburg. The 6.4-inch rifles are on iron, front pintle, barbette carriages and the 4.2-inch rifles are on siege carriages.
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. It was the last cast bronze gun used by the United States army. The Union version of the Napoleon could be recognized by the flared front end of the barrel, called the muzzle swell. Confederate Napoleons were produced in at least six variations, most of which had straight muzzles. Designed and named for the French Emperor Napoleon III, the Napoleon was the workhorse gun of the Civil War artillery. Cast of bronze, the smoothbore Napoleon was capable of firing a 12-pound solid ball, shell, case shot, or canister. Both sides deployed this versatile gun in large numbers.

Total Civil War artillery deaths
Total Civil War artillery deaths.jpg
Field artillery batteries with most killed during Civil War

(Right) Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889). Fox stated the Union field artillery batteries that sustained the most in killed and mortally wounded during the Civil War. While the numbers may appear to be minor when compared to the losses suffered by most heavy artillery regiments, the field battery consisted of approximately 100 men, while the heavy artillery regiment contained 1,800 men, divided into 12 batteries. (Some H.A. regiments had as many as 5,000 names on the rolls by war's end.) Hence, on a percentage basis, some of the field batteries suffered high casualties.

The U.S. Army adopted the 1853 French made 12-pounder and referred to it as Model 1857 12-pounder Napoleon or simply as M1857 light. When the Civil War  commenced, the gun's simplicity enabled the Confederates to replicate it, making the Napoleon virtually a universal artillery piece, with captured cannon easily pressed into service by either side. Various wartime foundries produced some 1,100 Napoleons in the North and 600 in the South. Such was the gun's effectiveness that in 1863 General Robert E. Lee had all six-pounders in the Army of Northern Virginia sent to the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, VA., to be melted down and recast as 12-pounders. The November 1863 Union seizure of the Ducktown copper mines near Chattanooga, Tenn., cut Confederate production of bronze, so Tredegar cast later models of the Napoleon in iron.

Among artillerists, there was a difference of opinion as to which weapon was more effective, rifled guns or smoothbores. While the rifled gun had longer range and far greater accuracy, the smoothbore was thought to be more effective in wooded and broken country, its larger bore inflicting more damage at close range. The large windage and loss of velocity of the smoothbore’s roundshot made long-range accuracy impossible. Some artillerists reported that a disadvantage with the rifled gun was the fact its projectile would burrow itself into the ground if it had the slightest angle on it, yet it had a slightly higher rate of fire than the smoothbore.

The ammunition used for a smoothbore varied from solid shot to canister. Solid shot was used for battering and against massed troops, while shell was used against earthworks and troops under cover. Spherical case, or shrapnel, was used against bodies of troops at a distance, usually from 500 to 1500 yards, while canister was used at close range, usually 350 yards or less. In some instances, double-canister with a single charge was used.

The most commonly used ammunition for the rifled gun was the 3-inch Parrot Shell, 3-inch Reed Shell, 3-inch Confederate Shell, 3-inch Absterdam Shot, the 12-pounder Blakely, Whitworth 12-pounder shot (also referred to as "bolts"), 4-inch Hotchkiss Shell, the James Shell, the 2.4 inch Pattison Shot, 3-inch Schenkl Shell, 2.25-inch Confederate Shell, 3.75-inch Sawyer Shell, 24-pound Dyer Shell and the Confederate 3.5-inch Winged Shot. Also used was the Confederate 4.2-inch Flanged Percussion Shell.

Fuzes were used to explode shell and spherical case shot. These fuzes were either ignited by the flash of the discharge, timed to set off the bursting on or near the target, or fired by the impact of the projectile striking the target (percussion). The majority of the smoothbores used the first type of fuze, as the percussion fuze only worked if the projectile struck the target nose-first. The rifled guns used either the timed or percussion fuze, and sometimes both. Neither kind of fuze was very reliable since black powder doesn’t burn at an entirely reliable rate, but they improved during the war.

During the Civil War, few breechloaders were used, as their breech mechanisms were thought to be clumsy and complicated. However, two of the breechloaders that did see usage were the Armstrong and the Whitworth. Both of these guns proved to have a far better accuracy than any of the muzzle-loading smoothbores.

Civil War Seacoast Artillery
Civil War Sea Coast Artillery.jpg
Federal battery, 13-inch seacoast mortars, Model 1861, Siege of Yorktown, Virginia (1862)

(Above) Yorktown, Virginia. Union Battery No. 4, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery (Seacoast), mounting 13-inch mortars. South end during Siege of Yorktown, 1862.

Siege and Garrison, and Seacoast Artillery

A heavy artillery regiment contained 1,800 men, divided into 12 companies of 150 artillerists. Attached to each company (battery) were 5 line officers--1 captain and 4 lieutenants. The regiment was divided into 3 battalions of 4 companies, with each battalion under the command of a major. There was but 1 colonel and 1 lieutenant colonel as in infantry. These troops performed garrison duty, serving mostly within fortifications around Washington, or in coast defenses where heavy ordinance was used. In the spring of 1864, most of the heavy artillery regiments within the defenses of Washington were ordered to the front, where they served as infantry, and took an active part in the campaign. Battery was the unofficial but commonly accepted term for an "artillery company."

Prior to the Civil War, the U.S. Army had a variety of iron smoothbore siege guns (12-, 18-, and 24-pounders) and howitzers (24-pounder and 8-inch). None of these pieces, however, were used during the war as siege artillery, because the advent of rifled artillery made them obsolete. The Civil War was the first major war to utilize rifled siege artillery and ascertain its greater velocity, range, accuracy and penetrating power.

Heavy artillery was divided into two classes -- siege and garrison, and seacoast. The siege and garrison pieces could be moved on carriages by road, while the seacoast artillery was much heavier and had to be moved on special carriages. There were times where siege guns were brought into action and used on the battlefield, such as Shiloh and Malvern Hill.

The most widely used siege gun was the 4.2-inch (30-pounder) Parrott rifle because of its overall superiority and dependability. The 4.2-inch (30-pounder) Parrott siege rifle was mounted on a conventional siege carriage. The early pattern guns had the elevating screw under the breech, while newer pattern guns had a long screw running through the cascabel. The long elevating screws of the newer models, however, were subject to breaking. The 4.2-inch Parrott rifles were preferred over the 4.5-inch siege rifles because of the superiority of Parrott shells versus the various shells available for the 4.5-inch siege rifle. The 4.2-inch Parrott enjoyed a longer effective range and it didn't have the problems associated with the muzzle bursting that plagued the larger Parrott rifles. During the siege of Petersburg, 44 4.2-inch Parrott rifles fired 12,209 rounds, and only one gun burst when a shell detonated before clearing the muzzle. And one 4.2-inch Parrott rifle burst during the campaign against Charleston harbor, but only after it had fired 4,606 rounds, making it a dependable siege rifle.

Confederate siege gun
Confederate siege artillery.jpg
Confederate Battery Brooke on James River above Dutch Gap Canal, Virginia

The weight and size of siege artillery prevented it from regularly traveling with the armies. When needed, siege artillery and other material needed for siege operations were assembled into what was called a siege train and transported to the army. In the American Civil War, the siege train was always transported to the area of the siege by water. The siege trains of the Civil War consisted almost exclusively of guns and mortars. Guns fired projectiles on horizontal trajectory and could batter heavy construction with solid shot or shell at long or short range, destroy fort parapets, and dismount cannon. Mortars fired shells in a high arcing trajectory to reach targets behind obstructions, destroying construction and personnel.

While heavy Parrott rifles, designed by Robert Parker Parrott, were the mainstays of the Federal siege train, the Confederate Army had no siege train per se, as they did not engage in regular sieges. In defending the works that were the objects of Federal siege operations, the Confederates used a hodge-podge of weapons seized from Federal arsenals and fortifications, naval guns, Confederate-made versions of pre-war designs, and imported rifled guns.

The Confederate equivalents to the heavy Parrott rifles were the Brooke rifles. They were cast iron guns with wrought iron breech bands like the Parrott rifles. They generally had a bore of 6.4 or 7 inches, and had single, double, and even triple bands. During the Siege of Petersburg the Confederate Army developed iron 12-pounder and 24-pounder Coehorn mortars, and the rough iron pieces served very well.

(Right) An 8-inch (203 mm) double-banded Brooke rifle. The Brooke rifle was a type of rifled, muzzle-loading naval and coast defense gun designed by John Mercer Brooke, an officer in the Confederate Navy. The Brookes were manufactured in Richmond, Virginia, and Selma, Alabama, between 1861 and 1865. They served afloat on Confederate ships and ashore in coast defense batteries manned by the Confederate Army. Brooke's rifles fired both armor-piercing and explosive shells of his own design. The former were solid cylindrical projectiles with a blunt or flat nose to reduce the chance of a ricochet, and were often referred in contemporary accounts as "bolts". The latter were hollow cylinders with rounded or pointed noses. They were filled with black powder with a fuze set to detonate a variable amount of time after being fired. His smoothbores used spherical solid shot for armored targets and hollow spherical explosive shells against unarmored targets.

As a siege gun, the smoothbores were eventually replaced or rifled, due to the greater accuracy of the rifled gun. Their destructive firepower also made the old brick and stone forts of a thing of the past. Although attempts were made to convert some of these smoothbores to rifled guns by reinforcing them with wrought-iron rings, the cast iron of the gun was not strong enough to withstand the increased pressures. Many of these converted guns burst, proving deadlier to the crew than their enemies.

As in heavy artillery, mortars were classed as "siege" or "seacoast" guns. The 8-inch and light model 10-inch mortar siege guns, while cumbersome, could be transported on mortar wagons. The longer and heavier models of the 10-inch and the giant 13-inch mortars were classified as "seacoast," as they could only be moved with great difficulty by rail or ship. Mortars typically used spherical shells, and both timed and percussion fuzes. Although experiments were made using canister shot as shells, the gun crews were unable to remain at their guns under the shower of metal.

The primary types of mortars used during the war were siege and garrison (light), and seacoast (heavy). (Coehorns are also classified as siege and garrison.) Mortars, however, were generally referred to as either heavy or light. While guns were intended to batter down the walls of a fortification during a siege, mortars were designed to fire explosive shells over the walls of the fortification, killing the garrison, forcing the garrison to remain in bombproof shelters, preventing the garrison from serving their guns and repairing damage caused by the bombardment. Mortars could also destroy structures inside the fortification such as barracks and kitchens. Heavier mortar shells could penetrate magazines and many bombproof shelters.

Morris Island, South Carolina
300-pounder Parrott Rifle.jpg
300-pounder Parrott Rifle, Summer of 1863

In defense of fortifications, siege and garrison mortars could harass work parties constructing siege batteries and trenches. They could also be used for fire suppression against siege batteries. Seacoast mortars could penetrate the decks of wooden ships and even threaten the deck plating of ironclad vessels.

With the replacement of masonry fortifications with earthen works, mortars became more important. Works that could resist the horizontal fire of guns were still vulnerable to the vertical fire of mortars.

(Right) The 300-pound solution. A 10-inch (300-Pounder) Parrott rifle located on Morris Island, S.C. The 10-inch Parrott rifle weighed 26,900 pounds (12,200 kg) and was one of the largest rifled artillery pieces in use during the Civil War and it could fire an explosive projectile that weighed 250 pounds at a distance of 9,000 yards (greater than 5 miles). This 10-inch Parrott (standard length of 13 feet) lost eighteen inches off its muzzle when it fired its 27th round that prematurely exploded inside the tube. Innovative Union troops managed to file the ragged edges down and kept this battery in action with little ill effect. The gun fired another 371 rounds, without any appreciable difference in range or accuracy, before the "weapon cracked and was declared useless."
Characteristics: Model 10-inch (300-lb) Parrott rifle; origin United States; class heavy / siege; type rifled; inventor Robert Parker Parrott; manufacturer West Point Foundry, Cold Springs, New York; total production 3; length 13 feet (3.9264 meters); weight 26,900 pounds (13.45 tons; 12,201.6 kg); projectile 300-lb (136 kg); charge 26-lb (11.793 kg); maximum range and elevation 9,000 yards (greater than 5 miles; 8.2296 kilometers) at 30 degrees; flight time 202.5 seconds estimated.
Only three 10-inch (300-pounder) Parrotts saw service during the war, and all three were located on Morris Island during the campaign against Charleston harbor. The Parrott was mounted on a center pintle, barbette carriage and was essentially an enlarged 8-inch Parrott rifle, although it was believed to be somewhat more accurate than the 8-inch rifle.
Many ask, "Which artillery piece was the biggest? Or what was the largest Civil War cannon?" The largest and biggest was not always the best or most effective, and that was the outcome of the 115,200 pound 1864 20-inch Rodman cannon, more commonly known as the 20-inch Rodman gun, because it was the largest Civil War cannon produced, but it never fired a shot. The 20-inch Rodmans, however, managed to fire eight practice rounds.
Characteristics: Model 1864 20-inch Rodman gun; origin United States; class heavy / siege and garrison; type smoothbore; inventor Thomas Jackson Rodman; manufacturer Fort Pitt Foundry, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; total production 2; length 243.5 inches (20.29 feet; 6.1849 meters; 6.763 yards); weight 115,200 pounds (57.6 tons; 52,254 kg); projectile 1,080-lb shot or 750-lb shell; charge 200-lb (90.718 kg); 1,080-lb shot maximum range and elevation 8,001 yards (7,316 meters; greater than 4.5 miles) at 25 degrees.
Rodman guns were designed to fire both shot and shell. These heavy guns were intended to be mounted in seacoast fortifications. They were built in 8-inch, 10-inch, 13-inch, 15-inch, and 20-inch bore. Other than size, the guns were all nearly identical in design, with a curving soda bottle shape, large flat cascabels with ratchets or sockets for the elevating mechanism. Rodman guns were true guns that did not have a howitzer-like powder chamber, as did many earlier columbiads. Rodman guns differed from all previous artillery because they were hollow cast, a new technology that Rodman developed that resulted in cast iron guns that were much stronger than their predecessors.

Civil War Artillery Killed or Mortally Wounded
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Civil War artillery units with most killed in single battle

(Right) Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889). Fox lists the Union heavy artillery regiments that sustained the most killed and mortally wounded in a single battle. The asterisk indicates that the regiment appears in the list twice: 1st Maine; 7th New York; 9th New York. With the exception of Cedar Creek and Monocacy, during 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, all regimental losses were suffered during the 1864 Overland Campaign and 1864-65 Siege of Petersburg. The single cause of the high regimental losses in every regiment on the list was the result of Union gen. U.S. Grant redesignating and reassigning most of the Union's heavy artillery regiments as provisional infantry regiments in 1864, thus subjecting them to close range combat against veteran Confederate infantry in Virginia until the war concluded.
By summer of 1863, Union forces became frustrated by the heavily fortified Confederate position at Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor, S.C., and brought to bear the 10-inch (250 mm) Parrott, along with several smaller cannons, on adjacent Morris Island. In total, two 80-pounder Whitworths, nine 100-pounder Parrotts, six 200-pounder Parrotts, and a 300-pounder Parrott were deployed. Although it was widely believed in the North that the massive 10-inch Parrott would finally break the previously impenetrable walls of the fort, which had become the symbol of stalwart steadfastness for the Confederacy, it failed to do so. While Sumter was pounded throughout the war, the fort's five feet thick brick walls crumbled, inch by inch, layer by layer and year by year, and then thickened into a solid mass of stone that resembled an oddly shaped but formidable parapet at sea. See also Civil War Artillery and Cannon: Field, Garrison and Siege, and Seacoast.
Charleston Harbor, host to Fort Sumter, was completely in Confederate hands for almost the entire four-year duration of the war, leaving a hole in the Union naval blockade. Union forces conducted major operations in 1862 and 1863 to capture Charleston, first overland on James Island (the Battle of Secessionville, June 1862), then by naval assault against Fort Sumter (the First Battle of Charleston Harbor, April 1863), then by seizing the Confederate artillery positions on Morris Island (beginning with the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, July 1863, and followed by a siege until September). After pounding Sumter to rubble with artillery fire, a final amphibious operation attempted to occupy it (the Second Battle of Fort Sumter, September 1863), but was repulsed and no further attempts were made. The Confederates finally evacuated Fort Sumter and Charleston in February 1865 as Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman outflanked the city in the Carolinas Campaign. Presently, Fort Sumter National Monument has one of the best collections of 19th century seacoast artillery anywhere in the United States.
To meet the Union shortfall in the infantry ranks caused by attrition from three years of bloody Civil War, many Union heavy artillery regiments were redesignated as provisional infantry regiments and rushed to the front lines during the Overland Campaign of 1864. While most heavy artillerists had never fired a shot in battle, they were now confronted by determined veteran Confederate infantry in lines of battle from the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor to the nearly 10 month Siege of Petersburg, causing the heavy artillery units to sustain the majority of their casualties during the last year of the war.
Although there was great technological advances made during the Civil War, such as the improved casting method by Major Rodman, real progress would come along later with the introduction of nitroglycerin-based propellants. Still, the artillery proved pivotal and deadly in almost every major engagement during the war. From the massed Union batteries at Stones River and Malvern Hill, to the work of a few guns during Hood's 1864 Campaign, the cannoneers bravely and laboriously performed their work.

Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1865
Fort Sumter Bombardment.jpg
Fort Sumter reduced to rubble by heavy artillery during Civil War. Fort Sumter from sandbar, 1865

Civil War artillery bombardment
Civil War artillery bombardment.jpg
Artillery bombardment of Fort Sumter

Integration of Artillery at Gettysburg

A variety of weapons was carried at Gettysburg. Revolvers, swords, and bayonets were abundant, but the basic infantry weapon of both armies was a muzzle-loading rifle musket about 4.7 feet long, weighing approximately 9 pounds. They came in many models, but the most common and popular were the Springfield and the English-made Enfield. They were hard hitting, deadly weapons, very accurate at a range of 200 yards and effective at 1,000 yards. With black powder, ignited by percussion caps, they fired "Minie Balls"—hollow-based lead slugs half an inch in diameter and an inch long. A good soldier could load and fire his rifle three times a minute, but in the confusion of battle the rate of fire was probably slower.

There were also some breech-loading small arms at Gettysburg. Union cavalrymen carried Sharps and Burnside single-shot carbines and a few infantry units carried Sharps rifles. Spencer repeating rifles were used in limited quantity by Union cavalry on July 3 and by a few Union infantry. In the total picture of the battle, the use of these efficient weapons was actually quite small.

(Right) Fort Sumter damage progression caused by Union artillery bombardment during the first few years of the American Civil War. By war's end, the fort was completely in ruins. Today, however, Fort Sumter has been restored, hosts a nice variety of artillery pieces, and is open to the public.

Those who fought at Gettysburg with rifles and carbines were supported by nearly 630 cannon—360 Union and 270 Confederate. Nearly half of these were rifled iron pieces, all but four of the others were smoothbore bronze guns. The same types of cannon were used by both armies.

Almost all of the bronze pieces were 12 pounders, either howitzers or "Napoleons." They could hurl a 12-pound iron ball nearly a mile and were deadly at short ranges, particularly when firing canister. Other bronze cannon included 24 pounder howitzers and 6 pounder guns. All types are represented in the park today, coated with patina instead of being polished as they were when in use.

Most of the iron rifled pieces at Gettysburg had a 3-inch bore and fired a projectile which weighed approximately 10 pounds. There were two types of these—3-inch ordnance rifles and 10 pounder Parrotts. It is easy to tell them apart for the Parrott has a reinforcing jacket around its breech, The effective range of these guns was somewhat in excess of a mile, limited in part because direct fire was used and the visibility of gunners was restricted.

Two other types of rifled guns were used at Gettysburg—four bronze James guns and two Whitworth rifles. The Whitworths were unique because they were breech loading and were reported to have had exceptional range and accuracy. However, their effect at Gettysburg must have been small for one was out of action much of the time.

These artillery pieces used three types of ammunition. All cannon could fire solid projectiles or shot. They also hurled fused, hollow shells which contained black powder and sometimes held lead balls or shrapnel. Canister consisted of cans filled with iron or lead balls. These cans burst apart on firing, converting the cannon into an oversized shotgun.

Civil War Artillery at Gettysburg
Artillery firing canister Pickett's Division.jpg
Artillery firing canister at Pickett's Division

Weapons influenced tactics. At Gettysburg a regiment formed for battle, fought, and moved in a two rank line, its men shoulder to shoulder, the file closets in the rear. Since the average strength of regiments here was only 350 officers and men, the length of a regiment's line was a little over 100 yards. Such a formation brought the regiment's slow-firing rifles together under the control of the regimental commander, enabling him to deliver a maximum of fire power at a given target. The formation's shallowness had a two-fold purpose, it permitted all ranks to fire, and it presented a target of minimum depth to the enemy's fire.

Four or five regiments were grouped into a brigade, two to five brigades formed a division. When formed for the attack, a brigade moved forward in a single or double line of regiments until it came within effective range of the enemy line. Then both parties blazed away, attempting to gain the enemy's flank if feasible, until one side or the other was forced to retire. Confederate attacking forces were generally formed with an attacking line in front and a supporting line behind. Federal brigades in the defense also were formed with supporting troops in a rear line when possible. Breastworks were erected if time permitted, but troops were handicapped in this work because entrenching tools were in short supply.

Like their infantry comrades, cavalrymen also fought on foot, using their horses as means of transportation. However, mounted charges were also made in the classic fashion, particularly in the great cavalry battle on July 3.

Cavalry and infantry were closely supported by artillery. Batteries of from four to six guns occupied the crests of ridges and hills from which a field of fire could be obtained. They were usually placed in the forward lines, protected by supporting infantry regiments posted on their flanks or in their rear. Limbers containing their ammunition were nearby. Because gunners had to see their targets, artillery positions sheltered from the enemy's view were still in the future.

Artillery played a crucial role in determining the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg. While artillery units fought desperately side by side with their infantry counterparts during all three days of the battle, the Union guns thwarted the Confederate advance, known as Pickett's Charge, during the finale on July 3rd. Today, there are hundreds of cannon that line park avenues at locations where Union and Confederate batteries were established during the battle. Each position is marked by a tablet or monument with a compliment of cannon of the type used by that organization during the battle. Visitors are quick to note that the guns on both sides are very similar in design and made of bronze or iron. In fact, Confederate artillery units were not only armed with southern-made cannon, but a number of captured Union guns filled southern artillery organizations. One popular story relates that a captured Confederate soldier was observed closely inspecting the guns of a nearby Union battery. The man would look at the "US" stamped on the top of each gun barrel then simply nod his head in acknowledgement. When a Union soldier asked the southerner what he was looking at, the man replied, "Ya'll have as many of them thar US guns as we have!"

Civil War Artillery Battles
Civil War Artillery Battles.jpg
Civil War artillery was a prominent factor in the outcome of many battles

(Above) Artillery was a major factor in determining the outcome of each of the Top Ten Civil War Battles with the Most Casualties. Both Union and Confederate artillery, with respective infantry and cavalry, were assigned to the army organization, and the three components were the principal branches of the Civil War army. It is also fair to say, that if, for example, the Confederate military lacked artillery altogether, each of the ten battles with the most casualties would indicate the color red. And vice-versa when the principle is applied to the Union, the color would be blue.


Civil War Artillery Weapons
Soldier hit by Artillery shell.jpg
Soldier disembowelled by a shell at Gettysburg

The Civil War caused 620,000 killed, and it forced the United States military to reexamine its stiff, outdated tactics and strategies that had led to the carnage. The U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, and other military schools would adapt, improvise, and overcome to meet the present and future challenges of war. After all, numerous inventions and innovations were a result of the Civil War. The arts of tactics and strategy were revolutionized by the many developments introduced during the 1860s. Thus the Civil War ushered in a new era in warfare with the: FIRST practical machine gun, FIRST repeating rifle used in combat, FIRST use of the railroads as a major means of transporting troops and supplies, FIRST mobile siege artillery mounted on rail cars, FIRST extensive use of trenches and field fortifications, FIRST large-scale use of land mines, known as "subterranean shells", FIRST naval mines or "torpedoes", FIRST ironclad ships engaged in combat, FIRST multi-manned submarine, FIRST organized and systematic care of the wounded on the battlefield, FIRST widespread use of rails for hospital trains, FIRST organized military signal service, FIRST visual signaling by flag and torch during combat, FIRST use of portable telegraph units on the battlefield; FIRST military reconnaissance from a manned balloon, FIRST draft in the United States, FIRST organized use of Negro troops in combat, FIRST voting in the field for a national election by servicemen, FIRST income tax—levied to finance the war, FIRST photograph taken in combat, FIRST Medal of Honor awarded an American soldier. See also Civil War Comparison of the North and South.
Because European powers, including the French and British, began their adoption of rifled muzzleloaders in the 1850s, they exhibited clear advantages over the Russians with their smoothbores during the Crimean War. The American Civil War was fought with a mixture of smoothbores and rifled muzzleloaders. Rifled Parrot guns were used in the defenses of Washington, and by 1863 approximately half the Union's artillery was rifled, but the mainstay of the Confederate artillery remained the smoothbore Napoleon. However, scarcely had rifled muzzleloaders become commonplace when a new generation of guns appeared. The second component of this revolution was the reintroduction of breechloading, made possible by improved technology and especially obturation—the sealing of the breech. Rifled guns loaded from the breech were utilized by the British in 1859 (although disappointing experiences caused them to return briefly to muzzleloaders), Prussia in 1861, Russia in 1867, and the United States in 1870.
Another disadvantage of smoothbore artillery was that it caused the entire gun and carriage to recoil approximately 13 feet (4 meters). The recoiling process was time consuming because after each shot the piece required readjustment and it had to be re-aimed. The recoiling process merely wasted precious seconds, which often meant the difference between life and death and victory and defeat, and it fatigued the gunners often causing hastily readjustment of the piece and the firing of a poorly aimed shot during the battle. Recoil systems, which enabled the barrel, sliding in a trough, to recoil independently of the carriage and then return to its original position using springs or hydraulics, were the next component of the artillery revolution. Between 1872 and 1875 the Russian inventor Vladimir Baranovskiy (1846-79) designed a remarkable 2.5 inch caliber gun incorporating all the features of a modern quick-firing field gun, which the Russians accepted in 1877. In 1879, Baranovskiy was killed while experimenting with ammunition designs.
Evolution of artillery pieces and projectiles allowed artillery to remain a viable and formidable component on the battlefield. Although explosive shells had existed for centuries, it was the mid-19th century scientifically designed explosive shells that increased the effectiveness of artillery. In a fast-moving battle, shrapnel shells, which delivered case-shot effectively to the enemy, were ideal. However, as the combatants discovered in the Great War, shrapnel had limited effect during trench warfare. The high-explosive shell was therefore required to inflict casualties in the trenches.
The last component of the artillery revolution was the metal cartridge case and ‘fixed ammunition’. Instead of loading the shell (projectile) and charge separately, quick-firing guns sometimes combined the two. However, even a relatively small caliber gun like the British 25-pounder required the shell to be loaded first and rammed home, so that the copper ‘driving band’ engaged the rifling, and the brass shell-case, which could be filled with varying charges, was inserted afterwards. Larger guns still used ‘bag charges’.
The first widely used field gun to incorporate all these features was the superb French 75 mm M-1897, which was still regarded as the best field gun in the world twenty years later. The Germans had the 77 mm, the Russians the excellent 76.2 mm (3 inch—the origin of what may appear to be slightly odd Russian calibers), and the British the 18-pounder. However, the onset of trench warfare altered the balance of artillery. By the end of the war the proportion of howitzers—firing their shells at up to a 70 degree angle—had increased to 40 and 50 percent. At the beginning of World War I the principal European combatants had 26,000 pieces of artillery: by the end (not counting Austria) 62,800. The total British artillery strength had increased from 1,352 to 11,000 guns, although only 6,000 were on the western front; the German from 9,400 to 19,800; and the French from 4,300 to 11,600. Artillery was consequently a major reason for the rapid development of air forces.

Civil War artillery and trench warfare
Civil War artillery trenches of Petersburg.jpg
Union battery exchanging fire with Confederte artillery in Siege of Petersburg

(Above) During the onset of the Siege of Petersburg, Mathew B. Brady, embedded with a Union artillery battery, was under fire before Petersburg, VA., June 21, 1864. Brady, in the foreground, is wearing a suit and straw hat. Mathew B. Brady (ca. 1822 – January 15, 1896) was the most celebrated 19th century American photographer, best known for his portraits of celebrities and his documentation of the American Civil War. Because Brady was the first to employ photography on the battlefield, a Union politician, during the Civil War, stated that Brady had "stung the heart of every American with his images of war." And because of the graphic images, coupled with a war with no end in sight, many Northern politicians feared for their political careers and some even believed and stated publicly that Brady and his associates were "worse than spies." As a result of angry politicians and disgruntled Union generals who threatened the press for allegedly writing reports, accompanied with Brady's photos, that showed "sympathy for the enemy," in concert with a nation that desired to put the carnage of war behind them (including all reminders of the conflict), the majority of the photographs taken during the Civil War (that managed to survive), were not circulated until ca. 1905, or nearly 40 years after the conflict. Brady, however, is credited with being the father of photojournalism and his name is synonymous with Civil War photography. The majority of Civil War era photographs were either taken by Brady or someone in his employment. While researching the Civil War in pictures, e.g., Library of Congress, National Park Service, National Archives, Smithsonian Institution, the researcher is quick to view the name Mathew Brady associated with practically every photo.


Parts of the Civil War artillery
Parts of the Civil War cannon.jpg
Parts of the Civil War cannon

Most technical phrases are explained in the text, but for convenient reference, however, some important words are defined below:

Ballistics—the science dealing with the motion of projectiles.

Barbette carriage—as used here, a traverse carriage on which a gun is mounted to fire over a parapet.

Breechblock—a movable piece which closes the breech of a cannon.

Caliber—diameter of the bore; also used to express bore length. A 30-caliber gun has a bore length 30 times the diameter of the bore.

Cartridge—a bag or case holding a complete powder charge for the cannon, and in some instances also containing the projectile.

Casemate carriage—as used here, a traverse carriage in a fort gunroom (casemate). The gun fired through an embrasure or loophole in the wall of the room.

Chamber—the part of the bore which holds the propelling charge, especially when of different diameter than the rest of the bore; in chambered muzzle-loaders, the chamber diameter was smaller than that of the bore.

Elevation—the angle between the axis of a piece and the horizontal plane.

Fuze—a device to ignite the charge of a shell or other projectile.

Grommet—a rope ring used as a wad to hold a cannonball in place in the bore.

Gun—any firearm; in the limited sense, a long cannon with high muzzle velocity and flat trajectory.

Howitzer—a short cannon, intermediate between the gun and mortar.

Lay—to aim a gun.

Limber—a two-wheeled vehicle to which the gun trail is attached for transport.

Mandrel—a metal bar, used as a core around which metal may be forged or otherwise shaped.

Mortar—a very short cannon used for high or curved trajectory firing.

Point-blank—as (p. 088) used here, the point where the projectile, when fired from a level bore, first strikes the horizontal ground in front of the cannon.

Projectilescanister or case shot: a can filled with small missiles that scatter after firing from the gun. Grape shot: a cluster of small iron balls, which scatter upon firing. Shell: explosive missile; a hollow cast-iron ball, filled with gunpowder, with a fuze to produce detonation; a long, hollow projectile, filled with explosive and fitted with a fuze. Shot: a solid projectile, non-explosive.

Quoin—a wedge placed under the breech of a gun to fix its elevation.

Range—The horizontal distance from a gun to its target or to the point where the projectile first strikes the ground. Effective range is the distance at which effective results may be expected, and is usually not the same as maximum range, which means the extreme limit of range.

Rotating band—a band of soft metal, such as copper, which encircles the projectile near its base. By engaging the lands of the spiral rifling in the bore, the band causes rotation of the projectile. Rotating bands for muzzle-loading cannon were expansion rings, and the powder blast expanded the ring into the rifling grooves.

Train—to aim a gun.

Trajectory—curved path taken by a projectile in its flight through the air.

Transom—horizontal beam between the cheeks of a gun carriage.

Traverse carriage—as used here, a stationary gun mount, consisting of a gun carriage on a wheeled platform which can be moved about a pivot for aiming the gun to right or left.

Windage—as used here, the difference between the diameter of the shot and the diameter of the bore.

See also

Sources: National Park Service; Library of Congress; National Archives; Coggins, Jack, Arms and Equipment of the Civil War. Double Day & Company, New York, 1962; Boatner, Mark M III, The Civil War Dictionary. David McKay Company, Inc, New York 1959; 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, Pa.: J. B. Lippincott, 1863); Alberts, Don E. The Battle of Glorieta: Union Victory in the West. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2000; Benton, James G. Ordnance and Gunnery. Gettysburg, PA: Reprint, Thomas Publications (original 1862.); Cole, Philip M. Civil War Artillery at Gettysburg. New York: Da Capo Press, 2002. ISBN 0-306-81145-6; Daniel, Larry J. and Gunter, Riley W. Confederate Cannon Foundries. Union City, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1977; Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84944-5; Grizzell, Stephen, Bull Pup: The 1841 Mountain Howitzer.; Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the American Civil War, rev. ed., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983. ISBN 0-252-07210-3; Nosworthy, Brent. The Bloody Crucible of Courage, Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0-7867-1147-7; Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8078-2118-7; Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War. 4th ed. Charleston, SC: The Battery Press, 1984. OCLC 12668104; Thomas, Dean S. Cannons: An Introduction to Civil War Artillery. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1985. ISBN 0-939631-03-2; The Ohio State University; Abbot, Henry L. (1867). Siege artillery in the Campaigns Against Richmond, with Notes on the 15-inch Gun, Including an Algebraic Analysis of the Trajectory of a Shot in its Ricochets Upon Smooth Water. Professional Papers of the Corps of Engineers United States Army 14. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office; Alexander, Edward Porter (1883). "Confederate Artillery Service". Southern Historical Society Papers (Southern Historical Society) XI: 98–11; Gibbon, John (1863). The Artillerist's Manual (2nd ed.). New York: D. Van Nostrand; Gilmore, Q.A. (1882). "Report from Hilton Head, S.C., October 20, 1865.". The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office) VI; Gilmore, Q.A. (1890). "Report of Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gilmore, U.S. Army, Commanding Department of the South with Congratulatory Orders.". The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office). XXVIII (Part I); Hickenlooper, Andrew (1888). "The Vicksburg Mine.". Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (Thomas Yoseloff, 1956 Edition). (New York: Century Co.) III; Hunt, Henry J. (1894). "Report of Bvt. Maj. Gen. Henry J. Hunt, U.S. Army, June 1, 1865.". The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office) XLVI (Part I): 659–662; Mancucy, Albert (1955). Artillery Through the Ages: A Short Illustrated History of Cannon, Emphasizing Types Used in America. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office; Parrott, Robert P. (1863). Ranges of Parrott Guns and Notes for Practice. New York: D. Van Nostrand; Ripley, Warren (1984). Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War. Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press; Turner, John W. (1890). "Reports.". The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office). XXVIII (Part I): 212–225; Wise, Stephen R. (1994). Gate of Hell: Campaign for Charleston Harbor, 1863. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press; 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); Gettysburg National Military Park; National Park Service. Artillery Through The Ages: A Short Illustrated History of Cannon, Emphasizing Types Used in America, Interpretive Series History No. 3 (1955).


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