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Table of Contents
   Recommended Reading


Base line    A line behind the vent, distinguishing the cascabel, to its rear, from the remainder of the breech. Traditionally marked by a base ring, as on the six-pounder gun or 12-pounder field howitzer, the base line is for later models an imaginary line at about the point of sharpest curvature.

    The basic unit of organization in the artillery, typically consisting of four or six guns and the accompanying personnel and materiel.

    Solid shot for rifled cannon, typically a cylinder with a pointed nose.

    The cylindrical hole, opening at the muzzle, into which the charge and projectile are inserted.

    The portion of the cannon to the rear of the base of the bore, including the cascabel.
   A two-wheeled cart, bearing two ammunition chests, drawn by a limber and its team.

    Anti-personnel ammunition, consisting of a tinned-iron can full of iron or lead balls packed in sawdust.

    The structure that holds a piece of ordnance in place and allows it to be aimed. For field ordnance, typically a two-wheeled device drawn by a limber; carriages for fortifications and naval use were more complex.

Cascabel also cascable    The portion of the breech to the rear of the base line, including the cascabel knob and neck. The term is often loosely (and erroneously) used to refer to the knob alone.

Case Shot
    Also called shrapnel or shrapnel shell; a shell whose cavity has been partly filled with small lead or iron balls.

    A narrower portion of the bore, at its base. Most typically found in howitzers, it allows a projectile to be fired using less powder than a gun of the same caliber.

    The tapering portion of the barrel forward of the reinforce; traditionally terminates at the chase ring, a decorative molding found chiefly on the six-pounder during the Civil War period.

Elevating screw
   A heavy screw in the upper face of a carriage, under the breech, used in aiming to adjust the range by raising and lowering the piece.

Grape shot
    Similar in concept to canister, but with fewer and larger balls, held together with iron rings or trussed up with fabric and twine.

Gun    A relatively long-barreled cannon designed to fire projectiles with a nearly flat trajectory.

    A heavy wooden bar, variously shaped for different pieces of ordnance, used as a crowbar or lever, whether for aiming or otherwise manhandling the piece; see pointing rings.

    A relatively shorter-barreled cannon with a chamber at the base of the bore, designed to take a smaller charge. Its range is shorter than that of a gun, and the trajectory of the projectile shows more arc.

Lanyard    A length of cord secured to a wooden handle, with a hook at the free end, used to pull the primer and fire the piece.

    A two-wheeled cart, bearing an ammunition chest, used for drawing a gun carriage, caisson, wagon, or forge.

    A ring at the end of the trail of a field piece, which fits over the pintle and is keyed into place to hold the limber and carriage together during transportation.

Muzzle, muzzle swell    The muzzle is the front face of the cannon; the muzzle swell, where present, is the flaring portion of the barrel just behind the muzzle.

    The knob (basically a trailer hitch) at the rear of the limber, by which the carriage or other piece to be towed is attached.

Pointing rings    A pair of iron rings on the upper face of the trail, just ahead of the lunette, into which a handspike is inserted to turn the piece to left and right in aiming.

    The weight needed to balance a piece when suspended freely from its trunnions. Preponderance is typically at the breech, to seat the gun against the elevating screw.

or friction primer    A small brass tube filled with powder, inserted in the vent and used to ignite the main charge.

Priming wire
    Also called the vent pick, a length of heavy copper or brass wire, looped for a handle at one end, pointed on the other, used for punching the powder bag by inserting it through the vent.

    A heavy rope, 26'7" long, with an iron ring at one end and a toggle at the other, used for towing. When not in use, it was wound around two prolonge hooks on the top of the trail.

    The thicker portion of the barrel of a gun, forward of the breech, and leading to the chase. There may be first and second reinforce, the first being that starting at the breech. Earlier models often had a molding, or at least a sharp discontinuity, between the reinforce and chase, as with the M1841 six-pounder gun, but this was usually smoother, almost invisible, in the more common guns of the Civil War period.

Rifling, lands and grooves
    Spiral grooves cut into the bore of a cannon, for the purpose if imparting spin to the projectile. The portions of the bore surface not cut away are referred to as the lands.

    The shoulders of the trunnions, which center the cannon and strengthen the joint between the trunnions and the body of the piece.

    For smoothbores, the (typically wooden) short cylinder to which the shot or shell is strapped, for attaching the powder bag and keeping the fuse pointed toward the muzzle. For rifles, the mechanism (typically a cup or ring) which engages the rifling.

    A hollow projectile, filled with powder and equipped with a fuse, intended to explode at some distance from the piece.

    A solid non-explosive projectile.

Sponge, sponge-rammer, rammer
    The sponge is a staff with a wool-covered cylinder at one end, which can be moistened and is used to clean the bore and extinguish sparks. A similar staff with a wooden cylinder used for seating the charge is called a rammer. These functions were often placed at either end of a single staff - the sponge-rammer

    A padded deerskin cover for the left thumb of the cannoneer covering the vent.

also stock    The rear portion of a field carriage, which rests on the ground when firing. Trunnions The metal cylinders on either side of a piece, typically just ahead of the center of gravity (see preponderance) by which the piece is seated on its carriage.

Vent    The small hole leading from the top of the barrel to the base of the bore, by which a spark is communicated to the charge.

    The difference between the principal diameter of the bore and the largest diameter of the projectile.

    A double spiral hook, mounted on a staff, used to remove debris from the bore.

Young soldier, Ben Rusk

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Rusk


Artificer - A skilled worker; a craftsperson

Farrier - One who shoes horses

Puddler - One who works with molten ores

Saddler - One who makes, deals in, or repairs saddles and other leather equipment for horses

Teamster - One who drives a team of horses, mules or other beasts of burden

Recommended Reading

Alexander, E. Porter, Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, 1989

Alexander, E. Porter, The Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative, 1907

Billings, John Davis, Hardtack and Coffee, 1888

Daniel, Larry Cannoneers in Gray: The Field Artillery of the Army of Tennessee, 1861-1865, 1990

Daniel, Larry J., Riley W. Gunter, Confederate Cannon Foundries, 1977

Dickey, Thomas S. and Peter C. George, Field Artillery Projectiles of the American Civil War: Including a Selection of Navy Projectiles, Fuzes, Hand Grenades Rockets, and Land Mines, rev. ed., 1993

Dornbusch, C. E., Regimental Publications & Personal Narratives of the Civil War; a Checklist, 1961

Dyer, Frederick, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, 1908

Gibbon, John, The Artillerist's Manual, 2nd ed., 1863 Gibbon, John, Personal Recollections of the Civil War, 1928

Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmsted, M. Hume Parks, Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, 2nd ed., 1988

Lavery, Dennis S. and Mark H. Jordan, Iron Brigade General: John Gibbon, a Rebel in Blue, 1993

Lewis, Emanuel Raymond, Seacoast Fortifications of the United States, 1979

Longacre, Edward G., The Man Behind the Guns: A Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Commander of Artillery, Army of the Potomac, 1977

Lutz, D. E., Artillery for the Land Service of the United States, 1849-1865, 1988 (One of a series of reprints based on the Mordecai drawings.)

Melton, Jack W. and Lawrence E. Pawl, A Guide to Civil War Artillery Projectiles, 1996

Melton, Jack W., and Lawrence E. Pawl, Introduction to Field Artillery Ordnance, 1861-1865, 1994

Morgan, James, "Mounted But Not Mounted: The Confusing Terminology of Artillery", Camp Chase Gazette, March 1996

Naisawald, L. VanLoan, Grape and Canister; The Story of the Field Artillery of the Army of the Potomac, 1861-1865, 1960

Olmstead, Edwin, Wayne E. Stark, Spencer C. Tucker, The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast and Naval Cannon, 1997

Peterson, Harold L., Round Shot and Rammers: An Introduction to Muzzle-Loading Land Artillery in the United States, 1969

Ripley, Warren, Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, 4th rev. ed., 1984

Sifakis, Stewart, Compendium of the Confederate Armies, 1995 Switlik, M. C., The More Complete Cannoneer, 3rd ed., 1990

Thomas, Dean S., Cannons: An Introduction to Civil War Artillery, 1985 Time-Life Echoes of Glory series (1991):
Arms and Equipment of the Union
Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy

U.S. Army Ordnance Department (Alfred Mordecai), Artillery for the United States Land Service, 1849

U.S. War Department, Instruction for Field Artillery, prepared by a Board of Artillery Officers [ William H. French, William F. Barry, and Henry J. Hunt], 1864

Wise, Jennings Cropper, The Long Arm of Lee, or, the History of the Artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia, 1915


Many sources exist from which images of original documents of the Civil War era can be obtained.  We have used, and highly recommend, the following in our research about Battery members.  Our thanks to all of the dedicated archivists who work not only to preserve these irreplaceable materials but to make them available to others so that a better understanding of history can be maintained.

HAL Digital Collection
Michigan Historical Museum
Department of Military and Veteran Affairs
Detroit Public Library
National Archives
Veterans Administration
VA National Cemetery Administration
United States Army Heritage & Education Center
Stuhr Museum