– John Hughes
President – Jon Liebrandt
– Kris Lindquist
– Erik Lindquist
At Large – Fred Chapman
Image - Captain John Hughes
Officer -- John Hughes
Sergeant – Jon Liebrandt
Sergeant – Fred Chapman Corporal - Scott Johnson Corporal - Open for brevetting
A Primer on Civil War Artillery Reenactment
Originally Written for the Instruction and Edification of the Civil War Infantry Reenactor being Composed of a Series of Responses to Questions posed by a Virginia Lady desirous of Mending the Breech caused by The Late Unpleasantness
by Chuck TenBrink
As you may be able to tell from the extended tongue-in-cheek
title, this primer was first prepared for Kathie Rankin of the 42nd Virginia. The
idea is to provide infantry reenactors with some basic information about
artillery at reenactments. It is reprinted here because these are fairly
common questions asked at reenactments and it's just plain interesting.
1. What are the most commonly used reenactment guns? Does present-day
reenactment usage bear any resemblance to what was actually used during the
Civil War reenactors, like most people, are attracted to the unusual,
and this is reflected in the wide variety of guns seen at reenactments.
This makes broad generalizations difficult, but it is safe to say that
most of the guns will be of a few basic types:
6-pounders - originally in bronze, with a few made of cast iron,
the typical view on a reenactment battlefield will reverse this
Light 12-pounders (the "Napoleon") - the same observation applies
12-pounder mountain howitzers - this is a very popular small
weapon among reenactors because it is so much less expensive than the
10-pounder Parrotts - one of the most popular
designs of the War years, these guns are easily recognized by the
distinctive reinforcing band covering the rear of the piece.
3-inch ordnance rifles - this favorite of the period artillerists is noted for its sleek, "modern" design.
Of course, we also see a sprinking of Nobles, Wiards, Williams guns, and even Gatling guns.
There are many deviations from historical accuracy in the mix of guns
usually seen in modern reenactmens. On the Federal side, there tends
to be a very great preponderance of rifles over smoothbores,
whereas the Federal armies of the Civil War typically had a ratio of about
three rifles to two smoothbores by the mid to late War.
The tendency to render the smoothbores in iron rather than
bronze has also been noted. However, the chief deviation from reality
is the overuse of the 12-pounder mountain howitzer. This piece was all
but unknown to Federal service during the War. Although it was included
in the system of ordnance described in the Confederate Ordnance Manual
of 1863, the recorded cases of its use are extremely rare. Although it
is an important point of entry into reenacting this branch of service,
its use is tolerated rather than encouraged.
To take a late-War data point, of the 253 pieces of field artillery
with the Federal armies on
the Atlanta Campaign, there were 86 Napoleons, 89 3-inch ordnance rifles,
and 44 10-pounder Parrotts, with fewer than a dozen each of 12-pounder field
howitzers, James rifles, and 20-pounder Parrotts. The Confederate armies had
176 field pieces, including 94 Napoleons, 34 3-inch ordnance rifles, and 46
12-pounder field howitzers. There were no mountain howitzers in either army.
It's worth noting that
most reenactments have discouraged or even banned the use of guns of
less than full scale. The use of Gatling guns is also discouraged;
although they had been invented in 1862, they were present on only one field.
Unless you are recreating Butler's Bermuda Hundred campaign, best to leave them home.
2. How does a battery decide what sort of gun it wants? Is it based on what
its historical counterpart had, what it can afford, what's easiest to work
with, or some combination of the preceding?
The first consideration is the expense. Even a mountain howitzer is
several times more expensive than equipping an infantryman for the
field, and economics often rule over realism. The ideal for most
reeanctment groups is to recreate the appearance of the battery on
which they base their impression, and this usually extends to the type
of gun being used. For field pieces, the same drill applies to nearly
all types of guns, and the weights are not so dissimilar as to make
them difficult to maneuver, so the ease of use is not really a factor.
3. How do the uninitiated tell one gun type from another?
Some description of the typical guns has already been given. The
reinforcing band on the Parrott, and the aerodynamic profile of the
ordnance rifle, are easily recognized. The mountain howitzer is
distinctive for its small size. The 6-pounder is chiefly distinguished
from its big brother, the Napoleon, by its moldings. There is a flat
molding around the breech (the rear of the gun) and moldings on the
muzzle face and around the throat, just before the muzzle swell. The
Napoleon is about six inches longer and lacks these moldings.
Bore size and design often fail to identify the model of a reenacting
piece. Replica guns may be constructed with a smaller bore than their
historical counterparts, to save on powder, or rifles may be cast as
smoothbores to save the expense of rifling.
4. We know what it costs to equip a infantryman. What sort of extra
expenses does a battery incur in purchasing and maintaining its gun and
related equipment? How about storage, transportation to and from an event, and maintenance
in between events and during the off-season?
A gun and its carriage can vary enormously in price, depending on the
compromises made in manufacture. In particular, the cost of bronze is
all but prohibitive; see the Cannon LTD. and Steen Cannon web sites, or consult the
South Bend Replicas catalog, for price lists. To give a specific example, one can buy a
10-pounder Parrott tube alone (no carriage) for about $9000. (Compare
this to the wartime cost to the Federal government of about $180.) A
gun with its carriage, limber and ammunition chest, all implements and
accoutrements, and a trailer on which to tow this equipment can easily
cost in the neighborhood of $36,000.
Maintenance is less expensive, but hard work. Ideally, even if the gun
is stored under cover, it should be painted annually, the wheels
greased, sponge covers replaced, and so forth. Minor repairs to the
woodwork must be done regularly to defer the major expense of
replacement. The cost of transportation is usually shared by the group,
as it requires a sturdy tow vehicle which usually gets low mileage.
Storage is not much of an issue, as the cannon can handle typical
outdoor weather; for the long-term, we usually cover them with a tarp
or store them in a barn or an enclosed towing trailer.
5. How do you recognize an artilleryman at a reenactment? What is
distinctive about their uniforms, and how do they compare with the
uniforms actually worn during the War?
We avoid the temptation to respond that one recognizes an artilleryman by
asking him a question and waiting to see if he cups his ear and says "eh?!?"
Red is the color of the artillery, as light blue is for infantry and yellow
for cavalry. An officer with red shoulder boards, or an enlisted man with
red trim on his shell jacket, is likely to
be an artilleryman. Confederates may wear a kepi trimmed in red.
Zouave uniforms also
use red, but are sufficiently distinctive that there is little likelihood
Artillery Uniform Coat
Reenactment practice does a fair job of tracking historical reality, with
the usual oddities. A Federal crew was spotted at Gettysburg wearing
identical red fireman shirts and no uniform jackets. The use of red kepis
by enlisted Confederates is also common, without substantial historical
Many batteries will have at least some men
dressed in common infantry uniforms, like sack
coats or plain shell jackets. This mirrors the reality of the period, in
which infantrymen were frequently detailed to serve the guns when battles
or illness sapped their crews. It was critical to keep the guns in action,
and while a company of infantry can continue to function with almost any
number of men, batteries must be maintained at something near their normal
6. How do you prepare a horse or mule to be part of a battery,
which one is a better choice, and are they a help or a
hindrance at a reenactment?
Like cavalry horses, artillery horses need to be acclimated to the sound of
gunfire, but it requires somewhat less training because guns are not generally
being fired by their riders. As a very general rule, cavalry horses with
prior battle experience are preferred, and it is always better to start
with a mild-mannered and equable beast in the first place.
Mules were seldom employed to carry
the guns during the War, but since any critter pulling the gun is more
realistic than having the men haul it all around the field, this is one of
the better compromises made in reenacting. Our experience with mules has been
excellent; they required virtually no training, and quickly learned the
right point to brace themselves during firing.
The presence of horse-drawn artillery on a reenacting field requires
a high degree of vigilance. However, it is an overwhelming advantage for
the cannoneers to have the work of hauling the guns done by the animals for
which it was designed.
7. What's actually rammed into a gun and fired? How dangerous is it to work
with whatever it is? How expensive is it?
It's a large quantity of black powder, and it
is dangerous. Units will vary,
but reenacting charges are typically on the order
of a half-pound of powder, and
the friction primers cost about 95 cents a piece. This means that each shot
from a cannon costs about $6, which adds up over the course of a season. Live firing is even more expensive. Adding the solid ball, sabot and extra powder can make each shot cost as much as $15.
8. What are the safety precautions for the gun crew?
Because the use of any explosive is dangerous, there are detailed rules.
Reenactors typically rely on those set forth by the North-South Skirmish
Association, which has an impressive safety record. Without setting those
rules out in exhaustive detail here, these include such precautions as
always thumbing the vent whenever anything is being placed in the muzzle
of the gun; worming after each shot to remove any detritus from the bore;
double-sponging with a moist (not dripping wet) and a dry sponge after each
shot; following precise drill procedures (such as never stepping in front
of the muzzle, and never gripping sponge-rammer or worm staffs with a closed
hand); using properly constructed charges with no foreign substances;
observing rules about the time intervals between loadings; and so forth.
This is an example of firing at a reenactment - this is NOT live firing. The power and effects of black powder must be respected and safety of the cannoneers and bystanders is of paramont importance.
9. What does the average infantryman need to know to insure his personal
safety around an artillery piece?
First and foremost, stay clear of the front of the guns. Fifty feet is
the absolute minimum distance at which an infantryman should approach
the guns, unless a very
specifically scripted scenario has been planned out ahead of time and
approved by all the officers involved on both sides. Many people prefer
50 yards. It is best to imagine a 50-foot square box, with one side centered on the muzzle of the gun, and stay out of that box.
Second, have ear protection with you (all reenactors on the field
should keep this available) and use it. This is especially true if you
have been stationed near an artillery piece. Third, familiarize
yourself with the signals used by artillery crews. It is to be
regretted that these are not universal, but we work at making them so.
A rammer held vertically on one hub of the gun carriage indicates that
the piece has been loaded.
Ready for Firing
Rammers crossed over the gun indicate that a misfire has occurred; in
other words, that the gunners do not have complete control over the
piece, and it is possible that it will fire without warning.
rammer left in the bore of a piece indicates that it is safe.
Our Own Captain John Hughes With A Safe Cannon
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Rusk
Reprinted from the Artilleryman magazine
Service of the
In addition to strict adherence to the principles
outlined in School of the Piece, a number of additional safety precautions must
be recommended. Most important of all, haste must be avoided, without
exception. Nearly all students of artillery history have read of the
desperate artillery actions which took place during the Mexican War and the
Civil War, in which well drilled gun crews achieved extremely high rates of
fire, often firing four rounds per minute, or more. To attempt to duplicate such
a performance, for any reason , is simply suicidal.
Even during Civil War battle
conditions, such rapid fire was normally discouraged by Chief of Artillery,
Henry Hunt. At Times, Hunt was willing to court-martial battery commanders who
fired over one round per gun in two minutes. (There were many cases in which
battery commanders were anxious to expend their ammunition supply so as to have
an excuse to limber up and retire before opposing infantry could close in on
In artillery competition, speed can and must be carefully controlled. The
North-South Skirmish Association requires that 60 minutes be allowed in a
program in which 12 rounds are fired per gun. A round of fire in excess of one
round in three minutes is forbidden and results in disqualification.
In demonstrations and mock battles, the temptation to
speed up the artillery performance is a great danger. Accidents, including
deaths and dismemberments, have happened in these kinds of activities in recent
years, due to improper speed in reloading and other unsafe practices.
Tactical demonstrations have a valid purpose; they
serve to attract an audience to historical subjects. It is important that
simulations, including blank firing of artillery, be historically accurate and
devote tome and attention to "sighting" process which will help to control the
rate of fire.
We have heard of attempts to justify rapid fire based
on accounts of rapid fire in battle. Nonsense!
While historical accounts
illustrate extraordinary speed in reloading and firing, they also tell us of the
disastrous consequences of premature ignition from haste. No amount of
"historical authenticity" can justify ignoring time and other safety
precautions. The consequences of delay will not lose a battle now; the
consequences of speed will still produce debilitating and life threatening