Field Artillery in the Civil War (Part 2)

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Artillery
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This post will cover the various sizes and ammunition types for Field Artillery in the Civil War.

Field Artillery smoothbores during the Civil War was named in some cases for the approximate weight of the projectile that it could fire. AlthoughField Artillery at Fort Stedman, Petersburg-Napoleon cannons in the howitzer class this was not the case at all. Here a chart of the most widely used smoothbore artillery pieces with the weight of the projectile in pounds and the range in yards:

  • 6-pounder……………….6.10….range: 1,523 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 12-pounder gun……….12.30…range: 1,663 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 12-pounder howitzer….8.90…range: 1,072 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 24-pounder howitzer…18.40…range: 1,322 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 32-pounder howitzer…25.60…range: 1,504 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 12-pounder Napoleon..12.30…range: 1,619 at 5 degrees of elevation

Here is the list of rifled artillery pieces that were used during the Civil War. They were named for the weight of the projectile to it could throw or the diameter of the bore.

  • 10-pounder Parrott…9.5…range: 1,900 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 3″ Rodman gun……….9.5…range: 1830 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 20-pounder Parrott…20.00…range: 1,900 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 12-pounder James…12.00…range: 1,700 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 24-pounder James…24.00…range: 1,800 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 6-pounder Wiard…6.00……. range: 1,800 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 10-pounder Wiard…10.00….range: 1,850 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 6-pounder Whitworth…6.00..range: 2,750 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • 12-pounder Whitworth…12.00…range: 2,800 at 5 degrees of elevation…this was the breech-loading modelField Artillery-Whitworth Breech Loader
  • 12-pounder Whitworth…12.00…range: 3,000 at 5 degrees of elevation…this was the muzzle-loading model
  • 12-pounder Blakely…10.00s…range: 1,850 at 5 degrees of elevation
  • Armstrong…12.00…range: 2,100  at 5 degrees of elevation…this was the breech-loading model
  • Armstrong…12.00…range: 2,200 at 5 degrees of elevation…this was the muzzle-loading model
  • Confederate Mtn. rifle…3.00…range: 1,100 yards at 5 degrees of elevation

Many of the artillery pieces that both sides used were foreign made, primarily from Britain. Most notably British were the Whitworth, Blakely and the Armstrong rifles.

The makeup of individual batteries differed greatly during the Civil War. There wasn’t a fixed standard for either army. At the beginning of the war a 6-gun battery might include two howitzers. As an example a 12-pounder battery would have four 12-pounders and two 24-pounder howitzers. A 6-pounder battery would have four 6-pounders and two 12-pounder howitzers. The 6-pounder was a gun that was used mostly in the Confederate artillery. It was replaced later by 3-inch rifles and 12-pounder smoothbores.

Field artillery ordnance was decidedly different from smoothbores to rifled guns. Smoothbore ammunition came in five different types for different uses:

  • Solid shot was used for battering structures and fortifications. It was also used at longer ranges against masses of troops. It was more accurate than shell or spherical case with a longer range. For smoothbore artillery it was the traditional “cannon” ball.
  • Shell was used against structures, fortifications and troops that were under cover. Time fuses were used and were ignited when the gun was fired. Typically, shell ammunition burst into several large fragments. In the middle of the war the Confederates adopted a British innovation that burst the shell into uniform fragments or segments.
  • Spherical case or shrapnel was more effective against troop concentrations. It was loaded with small iron balls and was designed to burst above the target, showering its deadly charge into the ranks of exposed troops. It was used at ranges of 500 to 1,500 yards.
  • Canister ammunition was the deadliest type of charge that was used during the Civil War. It was usually a tin can that was filled with iron ballsField Artillery-James Shell or any kind of metal projectiles. The Confederates often used heavy cloth bags filled with scrap metal. It was used at ranges of 350 yards or less and turned a artillery piece into a giant shotgun that could kill or wound a dozen men at a time.
  • Grapeshot was an earlier version of canister. By the time of the Civil War grapeshot was considered obsolete.

Rifled artillery because of the unique barrel rifling used ammunition that was unique to each model. Most of the ammunition was projectile-shaped shells. Some had ridges that corresponded with the rifling of the gun. Most of the rifle ammunition was fused to explode either on impact or burst after a pre-arranged interval.

In a future post we’ll examine the use of heavy artillery, including siege guns and siege mortars. We’ll also examine fortress artillery and sea coast mortars and the huge Rodman guns, the largest of which weighed 117,000 pounds and fired a 1,080 projectile 8,000 yards. These types of artillery pieces were used in the static warfare during the siege of Petersburg.

 

 

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