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The Civil War Artillery Page

Battery of Light Artillery, En Route
William B.T. Trego, 1859-1909










Learn about the men and materiel that were so often the pivotal difference in the battles that punctuated the most bloody period in our Nation's history. The Civil War Artillery page covers everything from the flags and uniforms that helped to build the superb esprit de corps of the artillerymen, to the cannon and ammunition that made them the kings of battle.

Hurrah for the Light Artillery!




THE LIGHT ARTILLERY  Author Unknown

On the unstained sward of the gentle slope,
Full of valor and nerved by hope,
The infantry sways like a coming sea;
Why lingers the light artillery?
"Action front!"

Whirling the Parrotts like children's toys,
The horses strain to the rushing noise;
To right and to left, so fast and free,
They carry the light artillery.
"Drive on!"

The gunner cries with a tug and a jerk,
The limbers fly, and we bend to our work;
The handspike in, and the implements out--
We wait for the word, and it comes with a shout--
"Load!"

The foes pour on their billowy line;
Can nothing check their bold design?
With yells and oaths of fiendish glee,
They rush for the light artillery.
"Commence firing!"

Hurrah! Hurrah! our bulldogs bark,
And the enemy's line is a glorious mark;
Hundreds fall like grain on the lea,
Mowed down by the light artillery.

"Fire!" and "Load!" are the only cries,
Thundered and rolled to the vaulted skies;
Aha! they falter, they halt, they flee
From the hail of the light artillery.
"Cease firing!"

The battle is over, the victory won,
Ere the dew is dried by the rising sun;
While the shout bursts out, like a full-voiced sea,
"Hurrah for the light artillery!"
"Hurrah for the light artillery!



Only about six percent of the soldiers in the American Civil War were enrolled in the artillery branch of the service, yet the artillery played a pivotal role in almost every major engagement of the War. From the massed Union batteries at Stones River and Malvern Hill to the intrepid field work of Pelham's horse artillery at Fredericksburg, the big guns were always a factor, and often the decisive one.


Table of Contents


Organization and Drill
    Branches of Service
    The Battery
    Positions and Duties
    Insignia
    Flags
    Drill

The Weapons
    Basic Terminology
    Nomenclature
    Common Weapons
    Cannon Markings
    Evolution of Ordnance

Famous Artillerists
    Union Artillerists
    Confederate Artillerists

The Ammunition

The Equipment

Famous Weapons



Organization and Drill

Branches of Service

John Gibbon's Artillerist's Manual, 1863 edition, describes the organization of the branches of service. Readers should be aware that these terms were not always accurately employed by the volunteer soldiers of the Civil War.

Heavy Artillery
Heavy artillery was the commonly used term for what is properly referred to as foot artillery. The more descriptive names of seige and garrison artillery were frequently employed.

Field Artillery
Field artillery was commonly referred to as light artillery, and was of two different types: mounted artillery, in which only the drivers and officers were mounted, and horse artillery, in which all of the men were horsed. As a general rule, mounted artillery accompanied infantry and horse artillery accompanied cavalry. "Flying battery" was often used to denote a battery of horse artillery, but this colorful description was not a term of military art. It should be noted that "light artillery" was, strictly speaking, synonomous with horse artillery, but this nicety of terminology was virtually never observed.

The Battery

The unit of organization for the field artillery was the battery. A battery usually had either six or four guns, although some batteries might have eight. Early in the War, two or three batteries were assigned to each brigade of infantry. In keeping with Sherman's dictum that a battery of light artillery was worth a thousand rifles, the captain of a battery had more nearly the duties and responsibilities of the colonel of an infantry regiment, and would often report directly to a brigadier general, particularly at this stage of the War.

There was a great deal of experimentation with the organization of the artillery, but the tendency in the course of the War was to concentrate the firepower at the divisional level, with several batteries (usually called a battalion in the Confederate army and a brigade by the Federals) under the command of a field officer. There might also be a separate artillery reserve, commanded by a general officer who had at least theoretical supervision over the artillery forces of the entire army. Those who recall the conflict between Generals Hunt and Hancock over the use of the Second Corps artillery at Gettysburg will note that the resulting chain of command was not always perfectly clear.

It is often stated that the typical Federal battery had six guns, and the typical Confederate battery had four, but the exceptions to this rule are so numerous as to render it suspect. The Atlanta Campaign furnishes a late-War illustration of artillery organization. The Union had 29 four-gun batteries, 22 six-gun batteries, and one very anomalous five-gun battery. The Confederate artillery, nominally made up of 44 four-gun batteries, was actually organized into battalions of three batteries each, with the battalion operating in effect as a single twelve-gun unit.

The battery was commanded by a captain; each section (a pair of guns) was commanded by a lieutenant. A section often operated as an independent unit for small-scale operations. Each gun was under the command of a sergeant, with two corporals, one the gunner and the other in charge of the caisson. Though only seven or eight cannoneers were necessary to serve a piece, it took 25 to 30 men to keep a single gun in the field and in operating condition.

Positions and Duties written by R. B. Hansen

CAPTAIN (Battery Commander)

Had overall command, control, and responsibility for the training, serviceability, and combat operation of the battery's personnel and equipment. He was not only the chief recruiter of the company, but also used his influence to acquire horses and other material, through means outside normal requisitions, to keep his battery in the best possible condition. Depending on the organization of the army at a particular time, the captain received his orders from either an artillery battalion commander, a division "Chief of Artillery", or an infantry brigade commander; ranking from major to brigadier general respectively. The captain had command over as many as 170 men and 98 horses in a six gun battery with six horse teams. In a four gun battery with four horse teams he had to have a minimum of 71 men and 45 horses to function efficiently. Most artillery officers were very slow to receive promotion due to the relatively light casualties and "turnover" in the long arm as compared to the infantry.

FIRST & SECOND LIEUTENANT (Section Chiefs)

Had command of, and responsibility for, their respective sections consisting of two platoons (40 men top average), and their equipment (two cannon, two caissons, four limbers, and 20 to 30 horses). The section chiefs received their orders from the captain and performed various additional duties such as: brigade/division artillery inspector; requisitioning ammunition, clothing, harness, tools, and tentage; battalion officer of the day. Occasionally a section from a battery was ordered out on picket duty or a special detail with a small infantry force. This gave the lieutenant good training and experience in independent command - a chance to catch a commander's eye. Lieutenants were often assigned to supervising the construction of small bridges or earthworks. On the march they rode abreast of their sections to keep the proper intervals and to check straggling. During battle a section chief sometimes dismounted to direct his section's fire on order of the captain, otherwise he directed the section from horseback. All officers as well as sergeants were mounted in a field battery, many times on their personal mounts. In the event the captain was absent, the senior lieutenant took command of the battery. In many instances, especially in four gun batteries, when a senior lieutenant took the command permanently he was not promoted, but finished the war as senior First Lieutenant, Commanding.

SECOND LIEUTENANT (Chief of the line of Caissons)

The junior officer of a battery had command of, and responsibility for all the caissons and ordnance (cartridges and projectiles). The personnel under his direction included the chiefs of caisson (junior corporals), the drivers, and any extra men assigned him. This officer was also frequently assigned the additional duty of adjutant. During battle his duties were to insure maximum protection of the caissons, their teams, and his men from hostile fire - yet keep them in close enough proximity to the battery and battle lines that the demand for ammunition could be satisfied quickly.


FIRST SERGEANT (Orderly Sergeant)

The ranking staff NCO worked for, and answered to, the captain only. He carried out all details desired by the captain that pertained to the company, not an individual segment of it. He assisted the captain in the supervision of the company's operations and was responsible for the administration work of the battery. He prepared reports, called roll, maintained the fatigue and duty rosters, and made recommendations on personnel actions. He also assigned, assisted, supervised, and checked the various details such as: posting guards, equipment repair, stable call, and horse grooming. He was the overseer of training and discipline, and instructed the sergeants on their NCO duties. During battle he had no combat station, but stayed near the captain and carried out any orders issued him. If the battery happened to be short an officer due to leave, sickness, or death, the first sergeant took up the duties of the chief of the line of caissons by direction of the captain. He remained assigned until a replacement was transferred in, or more often, he was elected and/or permanently promoted the junior lieutenant. Only in extreme necessity would the first sergeant have command of a section.

QUARTERMASTER SERGEANT

This staff NCO received his direction from the first sergeant or the captain. As the QM sergeant he was responsible for drawing and issuing clothing, personal gear, rations, and sometimes small arms ammunition to the enlisted men of the company, and kept the appropriate records. In some instances in a four gun battery with limited manpower, the Second Sergeant took up the duties of a QM commissary sergeant, in addition to his command of a platoon. The QM sergeant had charge of all details concerning the teamsters and their wagons. When drawing QM supplies the details traveled to a depot or storage site, loaded the wagons, and returned to camp, a trip that sometimes took several days. In battle the QM sergeant, like the first sergeant, had no combat assignment. He was to keep with the commander and carry out any orders issued him. However, most often he was detailed to remain with the baggage or supply wagons assigned the battery or the parent artillery battalion and see to their safe keeping. Some batteries, especially Union six gun companies, had a separate Commissary sergeant to handle rations.

SERGEANTS (Chiefs of the Piece)

Had command of, and responsibility for the men and equipment of a platoon, The personnel consisted of the gunner and his cannoneers, and the chief of caisson and his drivers. The equipment under their control was one cannon, 9 to 13 horses, and all their harness and saddles. The sergeant assigned all duty positions in his platoon, except for the corporals, and he insured that the cannoneers and drivers were not only properly trained, by that they could switch roles on an individual basis if necessary. During battle he dismounted, leaving his horse with the drivers, and took his post in rear of his piece. In action he was to: follow, repeat, and carry out the section chief's orders promptly; insure that the gunner selected the correct target and used the proper range and projectile; check that the chief of caisson was prepared to bring forward ammunition as necessary; and see that downed horses were unharnessed and replaced as the situation dictated. On the march he rode beside the left lead horse and performed duty as guide for his platoon. The sergeants were ranked in order of seniority, i.e., Second Sergeant, Third Sergeant, Fourth Sergeant, etc.

CORPORALS (Gunners)

Had command of, and responsibility for the men and equipment of a gun detachment. The detachment personnel consisted of the cannoneers (a minimum of six, maximum of ten) and the equipment included one cannon and its limber. On the road they marched near their pieces with their cannoneers. Here they were able to check straggling and work to keep their respective pieces well up in traveling order. During battle each carried out the orders of his chief of the piece. He aimed and sighted the piece and gave the orders for its combat firing . According to the section chief he controlled the rate of fire, much of which depended on the quick sighting of the piece, as this usually took longer than the loading operation due to the recoil. The corporals, like the sergeants, were in order of seniority. The senior half of the corporals were the gunners, the junior half the chiefs of caisson.

CORPORALS (Chiefs of Caisson)

Primary job was the care of the limbers and caissons, especially in seeing that the ammunition in them was properly packed and in good condition. These corporals had limited authority over the drivers of their respective platoons, but the drivers were first subject to the wishes of the chief of line of caissons and the chief of the piece. As far as the drivers were concerned, his main duty was to insure they kept proper care of their animals and the harness in their charge. On the road he marched near the caisson; only infrequently was he mounted. In battle he helped direct the caisson of his platoon into a secured position as directed by the chief of line of caissons. Once reaching the position he, with any extra men assigned, readied ammunition for transfer to the forward limber. Many times he is referred to as the "Caisson Corporal".

PRIVATES (Cannoneers)

Had active participation in the loading and firing of the piece they were assigned, and were trained according to numbers that described the duties of each particular gun position. Though each was trained in a priority position, they were generally trained on all positions and also that of driver. The cannoneers received their battle commands from the gunner with the chief of the piece supervising the overall action of the detachment. On campaigns they marched aside their respective piece and were continually lending muscle to the pieces in mud, snow, swamps, and steep grades. In emergencies and on order of the captain, they mounted the limbers and caissons for quick transportation or disposition on the battlefield. This mode was not used, however, on ordinary marches or while under artillery fire. Horses quickly fatigued with the added weight and by 1862 both armies issued general orders for the cannoneers to march with their pieces.

PRIVATES (Drivers)

Are the horsemen or riders that played an active part in moving the ordnance equipment. Each driver had two horses and their harness under his care. Each rode the left horse of his team and was held responsible for the feeding, watering, and grooming of the team. They were usually picked for this duty because of their knowledge or skill with the animals. during battle they brought the ordnance into position under the direction of the Sergeant, who was the platoon guide. The caisson drivers were directed into position by the chief of line of caissons, frequently taking position under hostile fire. Keeping the horses calm during battle and removing harness from downed horses was a skill of the drivers often used. The drivers had to be alert at all times in case the ordnance had to be removed from its position in haste. However, once the artillery line was established the drivers would often dismount and lay on the ground with their reins in their hands, depending on the amount of hostile fire being received. Though they were not 'up front', artillery generally had the tendency to shoot high, causing consternation among the drivers trying to control horses just in rear of the main battle line. The only drivers that were not usually with the battery in battle were those that drove the traveling forge and battery wagon. This equipment was usually in the rear of the army on the march.

PRIVATES (Teamsters or Wagoneers)

Were under the direction of the QM sergeant and were assigned to drive and care for the baggage wagons (normally two), forage wagons, and sometimes an ambulance. Most of these men were paid an extra rate equal to that of a corporal's pay. These men were considered important not just because they looked after the baggage, but they guarded it with zeal from other troops and commands. Forage and corn for the horses were a much sought after commodity - sometimes by starving infantrymen. Under their care were the wagon teams of either two or four animals, usually mules, and their harness. On the march they were in rear of the battery and sometimes in rear of the army in the baggage train. Also, these men and the extras handled and cared for the extra horses belonging to the battery. Normally a battery would have from four to eight men detailed to this duty; sometimes it was rotated, but often not. Often the teamsters were detailed to the battalion or brigade quartermaster, especially in the later part of the conflict. Many times these men were railed as shirkers from the fighting part of the army. In part this was true, but they performed a valuable service and most did their duty to the end, and even though they did not relish front line positions, they contributed.

PRIVATES (Artificer & Farrier)

These men were specialists who were paid an additional rate like teamsters. In winter camps and during lulls in active campaigning they broke out their tools from the battery wagon and forge and went to work. The artificer was primarily a blacksmith - he repaired the wood and iron parts of the battery carriages. The farriers specific task was to keep all the horses and mules shod - a large task considering the number of animals in a battery. There is some evidence that a few batteries had an artificer assigned to each platoon. However, most records indicate that only two men, or a maximum of three, were assigned this duty in a single battery. They received their instructions from the first sergeant and traveled in the rear of the battery near their tools.


PRIVATES (Extra men)

Almost all batteries retained a number of extra men above the minimum required for the battery to function properly. These men were assigned to the detachments for training and for quick replacement of battle casualties, hospitalized sick, and furloughed men. Usually the complement was placed under charge of the chief of line of caissons and remained with the caissons during active campaigning. Occasionally some of these men were detailed to the QM sergeant. The first sergeant also used them as a ready pool of manpower when the battery was in drill status so miscellaneous work could be accomplished. This position was not an official assignment nor were men placed here in a permanent status. Cannoneers and drivers were constantly absent for various reasons and these men were quickly rotated into an open slot. All privates were supposedly trained in the duties of cannoneer and driver alike.

PRIVATES (Musicians)

Though batteries were authorized as many as three musicians, the complement was usually no more than one or two buglers. The primary bugler was assigned to the captain's staff, was authorized to be mounted, and kept close to the captain's HQ at all times. Soldiers of a battery were quick to learn the calls of the bugle, and on a routine day at least four and as many as ten were made. Over the noise of battle the bugle was also heard to sound 'In Battery', 'Commence Firing', and 'Cease Firing' on the captain's command. In the morning many batteries preferred 'Boots and Saddles' over the more common 'Reveille'. Being on the commander's staff the bugler was given other tasks and duties. Many were assigned as orderlies or clerks.

PRIVATES (Guidon)

The color bearer, more appropriately the guidon bearer, held a position on the captain's staff akin to the bugler. The importance of the guidon is realized when considering that armies of the day maneuvered on small parcels of land with thousands of troops. Coupled with road dust, confusion, and battle smoke, the battery's platoons needed a marker the guides (sergeants) could see so they could direct their platoons on the march and onto the battlefield. The guidon fulfilled this need by indicating the direction of march the captain wanted taken. When arriving at a position to form a battle line, the guidon first halted to establish the right or center of the proposed line. The guidon's official position in battle was supposed to be on the right, left, or center of the line of caissons, or 35 yards in rear of the cannon muzzle line. As the war progressed this position was modified to the center of the limbers, 20 yards in rear of the guns. The color bearer himself was selected on special trust and confidence by the officers. His duties required that he be mounted, and in camp he was given duties as an orderly or clerk. In camp the colors were furled and cased to protect them from the elements and usually kept in the officer's quarters. The importance of the banner as a device of esprit de corps need not be discussed here.

Notes on Guard Duty: In addition to a higher headquarters' requirements for pickets (yes, artillery did provide pickets for their own front many times) all batteries had a minimum of two guards on duty at all times. One guard was posted at the battery ordnance park to protect the guns and caissons from theft of miscellaneous hardware and harness and to keep curious infantrymen from damaging the guns unknowingly. Another guard was placed over the horses, whether they were in stables or picketed, to protect them and their forage from theft. The most trying part of the horse duty was keeping the horses from becoming entangled with each other and/or getting 'spooked'.

Artillery Insignia

Civil War uniforms were anything but "uniform", and there are exceptions to any general rule describing them. Even so, the artillery branch of the service, both Union and Confederate, usually bore some mark distinguishing itself from the other branches. Red was the color for the artillery, corresponding to the use of light blue for the infantry and yellow for the cavalry.

Although enlisted artillerymen sometimes wore the ubiquitous sack coat, they were frequently issued the waist-length shell jacket, trimmed with red worsted tape. Slouch hats might be furnished with red hat cords. Kepis and forage caps, at least in the Confederate artillery service, often had a red band around the base, or were entirely of red cloth. Non-commissioned officers' chevrons and trouser stripes were red, as was the background of the officers' shoulder straps.

Shoulder straps for the officers, and sleeve chevrons for the non-commissioned officers, may be seen below:

     CAPTAIN

     1st LIEUTENANT

     2nd LIEUTENANT

        1st SERGEANT

        QUARTERMASTER SERGEANT

        SERGEANT

        CORPORAL


Crossed cannons were the badge of the artillery service, worn by men on both sides of the conflict. Enlisted men were issued crossed cannons in stamped brass to wear on their hats, to which were typically added a brass number designating the artillery regiment and a letter designating the battery. Officers wore an embroidered version of the design. Crossed cannons were also featured on some privately designed insignia; artillerymen in the Washington Light Artillery (Confederate) had medals with crossed cannons encircled by their name and motto, "Try us".

Flags

Much has been written of the emotional attachment of the infantryman for his regimental colors as the physical symbol of his unit. For the artilleryman, the flags were important, but the guns were more often considered the embodiment of the battery, even being given names in some cases. In battle, the artillery flag marked the position of the battery's commander.

For Union batteries, this flag usually took the form of a guidon (left), a small version of the stars and stripes with a forked tail. Confederate batteries were issued a smaller version of the familiar battle flag. Regular artillery units in the Federal service had large rectangular yellow flags with crossed cannons.

Drill


In Hardtack and Coffee, John Billings of the 10th Massachusetts Battery describes even the most jaded infantrymen turning out to watch the drill of a battery of field artillery. With a dozen six-horse teams operating at close quarters and breakneck speed, and fifty cannoneers pelting after them to unlimber the guns and take their posts, a battery's evolutions were a spectacle that could not be rivaled even by the gaudiest of cavalry reviews. The horse drill is described in detail in Artillery for the United States Land Service. After the guns were unlimbered and the cannoneers at their posts, firing drill commenced.

This diagram shows the positions of the gunner and cannoneers with the piece unlimbered. The process begins with the gunner's command for the type of ammunition and the range; Number 6 assisted by Numbers 7 and 8, at the limber chest, calls out the elevation and cuts the fuzes. At the command "Load", Number 1 steps to the muzzle with the rammer held parallel to the bore. Number 5 is given a round of ammunition by Number 6 or 7, and delivers the round to Number 2, who inserts it in the bore, where Number 1 rams it home. While this is taking place, Number 3 covers the vent with his thumb, wearing a protective leather thumbstall.

The Gunner then sights the piece, operating the elevating screw to set the range, and directing Number 3, now on the handspike, in setting the aim. After sighting and loading, at the command "Ready", Number 3 pricks the charge with a vent pick, and Number 4 hooks the lanyard to a friction primer and inserts the primer in the vent. At the command "Fire", Number 4 pulls the lanyard and the piece is discharged. The cannon is then run back into position; Number 1 sponges the piece and the process can begin again. A battery of well-trained cannoneers could fire two or even three rounds a minute, especially under combat conditions when they skipped sponging.

Especially under combat conditions, a gun crew might need to operate apiece with fewer than a full complement of cannoneers, and in theory acannon could continue in service with only two men. The followingtable, taken from the 1864 Instruction for Field Artillery,shows which cannoneers would perform which duties under thesecircumstances.


                                                                   Positions Filled

Numbers RetainedGunner        1           2     
     3      

     4       
    5          6           7     
Gunner, 1G, 3, 41, 2, 5
Gunner, 1, 2G, 3, 412, 5
Gunner, 1, 2, 3G12, 53, 4
Gunner, 1, 2, 3, 4G123, 45
Gunner, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5G123, 465
Gunner, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6G123456
Gunner, 1 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7G1234567

The Weapons

Basic Terminology

This is a schematic of a Napoleon, with the addition of a chamber purely for illustrative purposes. (From Dean S. Thomas, Cannons: An Introduction to Civil War Artillery)


a - knob                 b - neck                c - vent                  d - trunnion
e - muzzle swell     f - muzzle face       g - muzzle             h - rimbase
i - cascable            j - breech              k - chamber            l - bore

Nomenclature

By the early nineteenth century artillerists in most western countries had settled on a standard method of naming cannon, based on the weight of the solid shot used with the piece. Since all shot was spherical, and typically made of iron, this weight corresponded with the bore size of the piece. Any cannon with a 3.67-inch bore would use a shot weighing six pounds, and would be known as a six-pounder; a cannon with a 4.62-inch bore would be a 12-pounder.

(You mathematics aficionados will note that the ratio of the bores is a good approximation to the cube root of two, since the volume of the spherical ball, and therefore its weight, increases in proportion with the cube of its measurement.) The United States system of ordnance using these names is described in the next section. The advent of rifled cannon threw this system into the proverbial cocked hat, as many existing pieces seemed as outmoded as that article of clothing. Typical rifled ammunition is not a sphere but a cylinder with a pointed nose.

Because the rifle bolt can vary in length, there was no longer any direct correspondence between the gun's bore size and the weight of its solid shot. It was logical to refer to these new guns by their bore diameter, but the life of the military has not been logic, and the creators of these designs tried to give them names that would seem familiar to their users.

The system of rifled ordnance designed by Robert Parker Parrott is the best example of the confusion resulting from the attempt to pour new wine into old bottles. His rifled gun with a 2.9-inch bore was designated a 10-pounder Parrott, his 3.67-inch rifle a 20-pounder Parrott, and so forth. However, depending upon the type of ammunition used, these pounder designations were more theoretical than real. Parrot's largest rifles, the 8-inch and 10-inch, were known as 200- and 300-pounders in the Army, but as 150- and 250-pounders in the Navy. Another example of confusion stems from the attempts to rifle existing weapons, particularly the superseded six-pounders. Their 3.67-inch bores meant that the weight of their rifled ammunition could be somewhere between two and three times their original nominal weight.

Modern authors tend to reserve the traditional "pounder" names for the smoothbores to which they more logically apply, and refer to all rifles by their bore diameter, with a parenthetical reference to their popular names. Readers of contemporary accounts should be aware that references can be ambiguous, and that authors used names inconsistently. Given the context, the "3-inch rifle" might be a reference to the wrought iron ordnance rifle, or to any rifle with a bore of three inches, including both that design and the M1863 10-pounder Parrott.

Common Weapons

The system of ordnance adopted by the U.S. Army in the 1840's was the picture of simplicity: six- and 12-pounder field guns, 12-, 24-, and 32-pounder field howitzers, 18- and 24-pounder siege and garrison guns, and 32- and 42-pounder sea-coast guns. To this were added columbiads and mortars. The principal modification to this system prior to the War was the substitution of the light 12-pounder as the field weapon of choice. However, this system was soon made obsolete by necessity and technology.

The Civil War required a sudden and massive mobilization of military resources. The immediate need for field artillery resulted in the use of a bewildering variety of pieces, ranging from superseded ordnance to modern experimental models imported from Great Britain. Amongst the array of Armstrongs, Blakelys, Wiards, and Whitworths, it is still possible to identify a relatively small number of makes and models of muzzle-loading cannon that served as the workhorses of the Civil War battlefield.



GUNS & HOWITZERS
As a term of art, "guns" are relatively long-barreled cannon designed to fire projectiles with a nearly flat trajectory. Howitzers are shorter-barreled cannon with a chamber at the base of the bore, designed to take a smaller charge. Their range is shorter and the trajectory of the projectile shows more arc.

Name of CannonTube
Length
Tube
Weight   
Bore
Diameter
Range [1]Material    

GUNS
6-pounder,
   M1841
60 inches  
 
884 pounds  
 
3.67 inches  
 
1520 yards  
 
Bronze
 
Light 12-pounder,
   M1857 [2]
66 inches
 
1227 pounds
 
4.62 inches
 
1620 yards
 
Bronze
 
10-pounder Parrott,
   M1861
78 inches
 
890 pounds
 
209 inches
 
2000 yards
 
Cast iron
 
20-pounder
   Parrott
89 inches
 
1750 pounds
 
3.67 inches
 
2100 yards
 
Cast iron
 
3-inch ordnance
   rifle
73 inches
 
816 pounds
 
3.0 inches
 
1850 yards
 
Wrought iron
 

HOWITZERS
12-pounder
 
53 inches
 
778 pounds
 
4.62 inches
 
1100 yards
 
Bronze
 
24-pounder
 
65 inches
 
1318 pounds
 
5.82 inches
 
1325 yards
 
Bronze
 
Mountain
   howitzer
37 inches
 
220 pounds
 
4.62 inches
 
900 yards
 
Bronze
 

[1]   At five degrees of elevation
[2]   Familiarly known as the "Napoleon". It was also referred to as a "gun-howitzer", because it was capable of firing at a relatively high angle, like a howitzer, but this term is not strictly apt because it has no chamber.

The following photographs are of replica ordnance produced by South Bend Replicas and are used here because they provide a clearer idea of the tube profiles than photographs of cannon mounted on field carriages. My thanks to J. P. Barnett, SBR President, for graciously permitting use of materials from their wonderful catalog. All rights reserved.

6-pounder smoothbore, M1841

This popular workhorse of the Mexican War era was regarded as superseded by the Union artillery, but was still heavily employed by a Confederate army that could not afford to pass up any opportunities. The gun shows the last vestiges of the highly decorated artillery profiles that had prevailed until the beginning of the century: breech band, cascable fillet, fillet and roundel at the throat, and an echinus on the muzzle face were also features of the M1841 12-pounder. All were dispensed with on the M1857 Napoleon that displaced both these weapons as the smoothbore of choice for both armies. Attempts to convert some of these guns to rifles, using the James system of rifling, had only marginal success. Some have also been converted to "false Napoleons" by the National Park Service, grinding off the moldings and the sharp discontinuity between the reinforce and the chase, and enlarging the last few inches of the bore. The result can be quite confusing for the battlefield tourist.

10-pounder Parrott

The family of Parrott rifles is easily recognizable by the reinforcing band of wrought iron, in the case of the 10-pounder about 13 inches wide, covering the breech and reinforce. The method of construction is described in more detail in the "Evolution of Ordnance" section, below, and in the biographical materials on its inventor, Captain Robert Parker Parrott.   Although there were several other types of cannon with similar reinforces (Wiards, Brookes, and British imports like the various models of Blakelys) the Parrott was by far the most common. The M1863 10-pounder Parrott was slightly modified; the bore was increased to 3.0 inches, to make its ammunition consistent with that of the new 3-inch ordnance rifle, and the muzzle swell was eliminated.

3-inch ordnance rifle

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. For example, note the "faired" rimbases, smoothly blended into the surface of the piece, and the lack of even a cascable fillet. It was also a major step forward in material, being made entirely of wrought iron. 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.

Civil War Cannon Markings

All U.S. cannon, and many of those cast in the Confederacy, were marked by the founders and inspectors with information that provides us with clues to their provenance. Note the muzzle markings on this Parrott.

These guidelines will aid novice mark readers to locate the majority of legible markings on most surviving American cannon. Many exceptions to the information provided here will be encountered, especially on early cannon and those produced by other than established gun foundries, both Union and Confederate.

U.S. Army and Navy Cannon Before 1820
Markings, when present at all, are often found on the upper breech, base ring, or first reinforce. They are usually not found on muzzle or trunnion faces. Early cannon lack some of the markings later required by regulations of both services: foundry designation, Registry number, weight, year of manufacture, inspector's initials, and foundry number.

U.S. Army Cannon, 1820-1860
The Army Registry number and initials of the individual inspecting are located on the muzzle face, their positions varying by foundry and Pattern year. The year of manufacture and foundry identification appear on the left and right trunnion faces, respectively. The weight, in pounds, is marked on the breech, either above or below the knob. "U.S." usually appears on the tube top between the trunnions. Circa 1850, foundry numbers were located on the rimbase above the right trunnion.

West Point Foundry's own internal foundry numbers are depicted by roman numerals crudely cut into one side of knobs on cannon cast as early as 1826. Arabic numbers on top of the knob replaced them by 1844. During the 1850s, foundry numbers are often found on both knob and right rimbase.

Tredegar Foundry's internal foundry numbers are often found on the upper muzzle face of Army cannon produced at least through 1846. By 1858, they are usually located on the right rimbase.

On some iron fieldpieces, evidently made for state militia during the 1820s and 1830s, markings are either absent or, when present, reflect no system at all.

U.S. Army Cannon, 1861-1885
Some carryover from earlier mark locations will be found on cannon produced for Army Ordnance early in 1861. These pre-1861 mark locations were also frequently retained on cannon produced in small quantities or for various states. Most often, foundry identification, Registry number, year of manufacture, inspector's initials, and weight are on the muzzle face. The foundry number is on the right rimbase, and "U.S." is on top of the tube between the trunnions. While specific to Parrott rifles, Table 8.2 on page 116 can be used as a guide to potential mark locations on any cannon.

U.S. Navy Cannon, 1820-1871
Most U.S. Navy cannon have the founder's identity, Registry number, and weight marked on the base ring or, on those lacking one, along the base line behind the vent. The initials of the officer inspecting are found on the left trunnion, usually beneath a "P" for "Proofed." The year of manufacture is found on the right trunnion, frequently below the cannon's bore size designation. Prior to 1855, the weight is usually marked using the British hundredweight system; after 1855 it is expressed in pounds. A plain anchor is found on the tube top between or behind the trunnions of most iron Navy cannon dated after 1840. A fouled anchor and other identifying markings are found on top of the tube behind the trunnions and on the upper breech of Dahlgren boat howitzers.

Unlike U.S. Army cannon, those for the Navy normally have no markings on muzzle faces. There are three exceptions: 1. "WATER CORE" on the muzzle faces of some large Parrott rifles indicates casting by Rodman's process; 2. Tredegar usually marked its foundry number on the upper muzzle face of Navy cannon it cast prior to the Civil War; 3. Most bronze Dahlgren boat howitzers cast at USNY Washington have one or two letters on the lower muzzle face representing their internal "foundry numbers."

Confederate Cannon
No known Confederate army or navy regulation specified the marking of cannon. Therefore, Confederate foundry marking practices were inconsistent. Registry numbers were not always assigned or required. Bronze Napoleons cast by Augusta, Columbus, and Macon Arsenals have nearly all markings on muzzle faces, including Registry numbers, much like the U.S. Army during and after the Civil War. Cannon made by Leeds, Reading, Tredegar, and some others generally reflect pre-Civil War Army marking practice. Other than the three arsenals mentioned, however, none consistently assigned Registry numbers differing from its own internal foundry numbers. With the exception of some Brooke rifles bearing their own series of Registry numbers, a fourdigit foundry number on the upper muzzle face served as the identification number of cannon cast by Tredegar. Many surviving cannon tubes, considered to be authentic and of Confederate origin, bear no markings.

The Confederate navy, mostly represented by Brooke rifles and smoothbores, had no specific marking system of its own although its cannon are adequately, if inconsistently, marked.

Post-Civil War U.S. Arsenal arabic inventory numbers are frequently found on or near the breech, base ring, base line, or knob of Confederate cannon. Roman numerals usually relate to references in capture reports.

The Evolution of Ordnance

The Civil War accelerated the technological development of ordnance. Before the War, the typical cannon was a bronze, muzzle-loading smoothbore. Though such cannon were still in heavy use at the end of the War, it was apparent that the next generation of guns would be steel, breechloading rifles.

Rifles vs. Smoothbores
The principles of rifling had long been understood; the spin imparted to the projectile by forcing it into spiral grooves in the bore of the gun made it fly straighter, farther, and with more power on impact. Rifling of bronze guns was not an effective solution, because the friction of the ammunition wore down the rifling in that relatively soft metal. (Many older weapons, particularly the nearly obsolete 6-pounders, were rebored with rifling at the start of the War, and proved to be of very limited use after a very short time.) Effective rifled cannon required harder metal, but cast iron, the logical choice, was too brittle. Early Breechloaders
As with rifling, the advantages of loading a cannon at the breech are fairly clear, as the men serving at the front of a gun could attest. Breechloading guns required a mechanism that was able to withstand the strain of firing and still operate smoothly and quickly to allow the next round to be fired. This required not only a superior material but expert machining. The famous Whitworth was an early but unreliable example, and its cannoneers not infrequently had to fasten the breech closed and load it from the muzzle.

A Comment on Materials
The disadvantages of bronze as an ordnance material have just been listed, and to them may be added its excessive weight. But bronze had for centuries the signal advantage of toughness; absent a serious defect in manufacture, bronze guns were reliable and safe. Superior smelting techniques developed during the early industrial revolution raised hopes that cast iron might be a suitable material for guns, and there were many experiments. However, the explosion of the Peacemaker aboard the Princeton halted the production of iron cannon in the United States for over a decade, and only the largest, and most over-engineered, guns were made of iron.
Reinforcement of cast iron forward of the breech was an obvious solution, but Robert Parker Parrott was the first to successfully turn out quantities of cast iron cannon.

The novelty in his method was not in the reinforce, but in the method of attachment; the wrought iron band was allowed to cool in place while the gun was rotated, which allowed the reinforce to clamp on uniformly around the circumference of the breech. The resulting guns still did burst occasionally, but could be produced quickly and cheaply at a time when they were desperately needed; the cost to the government was about $187, versus about $350 for its nearest rival, the wrought iron 3-inch ordnance rifle. The Parrott system became the workhorse rifle of the artillery for the first years of the War, and continued to be produced in quantity even after the introduction of the ordnance rifle, which was preferred by many artillerymen. Advances in materials superseded both models within a few years; the steel rifle soon took over the field. The Wiard, made of what the designer called "semi-steel" (puddled wrought iron) and the small Whitworths and Armstrongs of true steel, were precursors of the revolution in materials that would take place in the following decades.



Famous Artillerymen

The best generals are those who have served in the artillery.-- Napoleon

So many well-known generals got their start in the artillery that this could be a Who's Who of the Civil War. Instead, this is a brief list of men whose fame lay at least in part with their work in the artillery.




                            Union Artillerists


Henry Jackson Hunt

A third-generation soldier, Henry Hunt was born in Detroit in 1819 and admitted to West Point at the age of 16. Brevetted for gallantry while serving with the 2nd Artillery in the war with Mexico, Hunt's talent for artillery organization was recognized by his appointment to the commission for the revision of light artillery tactics in 1856. The history of his Civil War career is virtually the history of the artillery in the eastern armies. His handling of artillery at Malvern Hill was decisive in holding that ground, and he was made a brigadier as a reward. He performed equally well at Antietam and Fredericksburg. His authority was diminished by Hooker, and the poor showing of the artillery at Chancellorsville was the result. The wisdom of restoring his position was amply demonstrated by his work in the Peach Orchard and during Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Almost any work on Union artillery in the eastern theater will shed some light on this pivotal figure; his biography is by Edward G. Longacre, The Man Behind the Guns

John Gibbon

Principally known to students of the Civil War as an infantry commander, Gibbon is listed here for his authorship of the exhaustive reference book, The Artillerist's Manual. He commenced the war as captain of Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery; that battery was part of his first command as a general officer, the storied Iron Brigade. His Personal Recollections of the Civil War is a fine memoir, and he has also been the subject of a modern biography, Iron Brigade General: John Gibbon, a Rebel in Blue, by Dennis Lavery (1993).

Robert Parker Parrott

The story of his breakthrough in the development of useful cast iron artillery is told elsewhere on these pages, but some mention is due of the man. An 1824 West Point graduate, Parrott resigned his captaincy in 1836 to become superintendant of the West Point Foundry. His patent for reinforced cast iron cannon was granted in 1861; a true patriot, Parrott did not take advantage of the government during the crisis, but arranged that the Foundry would manufacture and sell the cannon on a cost recovery basis. Such was his rectitude that, in a period when the government was being imposed upon by purveyors of shoddy on all sides, he was entrusted with the inspection of his own cannon, and the wisdom of that trust was never questioned.

Thomas Jackson Rodman

A gifted inventor, Rodman graduated seventh in the West Point class of 1841 and was commissioned in the ordnance department, where the army made good use of his talents until his death 30 years later. Rodman was an avid student of the swiftly-paced developments both in materials science and practical foundry work that resulted from the industrial revolution. His revolutionary hollow-core method of casting large guns, and the perforated gunpowder used with them, are described in more detail in Rodman's Great Guns.  After his methods were finally approved and adopted by the U.S. government in 1859, Rodman was placed in command of the arsenal at Watertown, Massachusetts, where he spent the War producing cannon for the Union. Hard work broke down his health; although he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1867, after several war-time brevets, and was placed in command of the Rock Island Arsenal, he died at his post in 1871.


                      Confederate Artillerists


William Nelson Pendleton

Also a descendant of colonial Virginian ancestry, Pendleton's close resemblance to Robert E. Lee often confused their soldiers. An 1833 graduate of West Point, Pendleton resigned his commission after three years of service, and became an Episcopal priest. With the exception of his service during the War, he was pastor of Grace Church in Lexington, Virginia from 1853 until his death in 1883. His captaincy of the Rockbridge Artillery soon led to his being given overall command of the artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia, but his skills were often taxed to the limit in this capacity.

E. Porter Alexander

Alexander is known today for his fine pair of recollections: The Military Memoirs of a Confederate, which is actually a critical study of the operations of the Army of Northern Virginia, and later, the Army of Tennessee; and Fighting for the Confederacy, his personal recollections published only recently. Most of his work after his graduation from West Point in 1857 was as an engineer, where he gained some notoriety for his work on the army's signal service. After resigning from his post in California to join the Confederate service, he quickly rose to the post of chief of ordnance for the Army of Northern Virginia. Desiring a field command, he was made a colonel of artillery over a battalion in Longstreet's corps. His name is probably familiar to students of the Civil War for the famous disagreement over the order to commence Pickett's Charge.

John Pelham

Thanks in no small part to the writings of John Esten Cooke, "the boy major" passed from life into a symbol of Southern gallantry and bravery. Born in 1838, he was attending West Point during the secession crisis and resigned in April to enter the Confederate army. As captain of one of the batteries of Stuart's Horse Artillery, he displayed a real genius for the placement and maneuvering of artillery. The contrast between his aggressive tactical talents and his shy personal manner made him the perfect Galahad for Stuart's romanticized military family. His early death, at Kelly's Ford in March of 1863, assured that the name would not die before the man


The Artilleryman's Vision by Walt Whitman


While my wife at my side lies slumbering, and the wars are over long,
And my head on the pillow rests at home, and the vacant midnight passes,
And through the stillness, through the dark, I hear, just hear, the breath of my infant,
There in the room as I wake from sleep this vision presses upon me;
The engagement opens there and then in fantasy unreal,
The skirmishers begin, they crawl cautiously ahead, I hear the irregular snap! snap!
I hear the sound of the different missiles, the short t-h-t! t-h-t! of the rifle-balls,
I see the shells exploding leaving small white clouds, I hear the great shells shrieking as they pass,
The grape like the hum and whirr of wind through the trees (tumultuous now the contest rages),
All the scenes at the batteries rise in detail before me again,
The crashing and smoking, the pride of the men in their pieces,
The chief-gunner ranges and sights his piece and selects a fuse of the right time,
After firing I see him lean aside and look eagerly off to note the effect;
Elsewhere I hear the cry of a regiment charging (the young colonel leads himself this time with brandish'd sword),
I see the gaps cut by the enemy's volleys (quickly fill'd up, no delay),
I breathe the suffocating smoke, then the flat clouds hover low concealing all;
Now a strange lull for a few seconds, not a shot fired on either side,
Then resumed the chaos louder than ever, with eager calls and orders of officers,
While from some distant part of the field the wind wafts to my ears a shout of applause (some special success),
And ever the sound of the cannon far or near (rousing even in dreams a devilish exultation and all the old mad joy in the depths of my soul),
And ever the hastening of infantry shifting positions, batteries, cavalry, moving hither and thither,
(The falling, dying, I heed not, the wounded dripping and red I heed not, some to the rear are hobbling),
Grime, heat, rush, aide-de-camps galloping by or on a full run,
With the patter of small arms, the warning s-s-t of the rifles (these in my vision I hear or see),
And bombs bursting in air, and at night the vari-colour'd rockets.