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Artillery Civil War Facts


  1. Foot Artillery
    Official but seldom used term for what commonly was called "Heavy" artillery. Foot batteries generally manned coastal or river fortifications mounting large, immobile guns like Rodmans or the larger Parrotts. During the war, many Union "heavies" served in the defenses of Washington .
    Some foot batteries were equipped with medium-sized pieces known as "siege" guns; 30-pdr Parrotts, for example. These were mounted on heavy, but relatively mobile, siege carriages which allowed them to follow in the wake of the army and be emplaced in temporary positions whenever the troops were likely to remain in one place for a while.
    The expression, "foot artillery", also has been used colloquially to mean artillerymen armed and serving as infantry.


Official term for those batteries assigned to operate in the field with either infantry or cavalry; commonly, but incorrectly, called "Light" artillery. Standard field pieces included the Model 1841 6 and 12-pdrs, 10-pdr Parrot Rifles, 3-in Ordnance Rifles, and the "Model 1857 light 12-pdr gun-howitzer" or "Napoleon".
Early on, the Union artillery eased its logistics burden by eliminating the older pieces almost entirely and relying on the rifled guns and Napoleons. By war's end, the Parrotts were themselves being phased out in favor of the lighter, safer, and more accurate Ordnance Rifles. The Confederates, of course, were forced to use whatever they could get, so that even the obsolete little 6-pdrs remained in the Southern inventory.
The Field Artillery was itself subdivided into two functional groups called MOUNTED and HORSE artillery. Again, a given unit could be assigned to either.

  1. Mounted Artillery
    Official and extremely confusing term for those field batteries assigned to operate with infantry. It was and is confusing because "Mounted" artillery was not mounted. The drivers, of course, rode and the rest of the men occasionally would "mount" the limbers whenever speed was required. But generally, like the infantrymen with whom they worked, the "mounted" artillerymen walked. This sometimes results in the added confusion of having them referred to as "foot" artillery.
    This somewhat strange usage originated with the structure of the artillery as of 1838. Before that date, the men of an artillery company were divided into distinct groups of drivers and cannoneers. These men wore different uniforms, received different rates of pay, and were not cross-trained in each other's duties. Drivers, moreover, doubled as cavalry and were considered "mounted" troops, while cannoneers doubled as infantry and were considered "foot" soldiers.
    In 1838, however, these distinctions were eliminated. No longer was there a separate class of drivers who rode while the cannoneers walked. Henceforth, the men were cross trained and each would ride whenever assigned to be a driver. Thus, all of the men occasionally were "mounted." This branch of the artillery kept the "Mounted" designation simply to distinguish itself from the "Foot" artillery. Less frequently, but more accurately, the term 'Harnessed" artillery also was used to identify the "Mounted" artillerymen.
  2. Horse Artillery
    Official term for those field batteries assigned to work with cavalry. In order to keep up with the troopers, each horse artilleryman rode his own horse, a practice devised by Frederick the Great in the mid-18th century and formally adopted by the U.S. Army shortly before the Mexican War. Thus, the "horse" artillery was mounted and the "mounted" artillery was not, leading to frequent but understandable confusion of the terms. Today, when someone refers to "mounted" artillery, it is a safe bet that he means "horse" artillery.
    In the Army of the Potomac, for example, the number of horse artillery batteries (often called simply "horse batteries") varied during the war but never exceeded twelve. These were organized into formal "Horse Artillery Brigades", similar in some ways to the Confederate "battalions," and assigned to the cavalry as needed. Except for short periods of service by the 6th New York Independent Battery and the 9th Michigan Battery, the Horse Artillery Brigades consisted exclusively of regulars. All other field batteries were "mounted" artillery.
    A further distinction between horse batteries and their mounted counterparts was in the use of sidearms. As a general rule, mounted artillerymen carried neither pistol nor saber, while horse artillerymen almost always carried revolvers and frequently, sabers as well. Moreover, horse artillerymen often were cross-trained as cavalry (many of them, in fact, being transfers from the cavalry) and those men not actually serving the guns might be out on the flanks as battery supports to free up the troopers for other duties.
    The reader should take care not to confuse "horse" artillery with "horse-drawn" artillery. Naturally, all artillery was horse-drawn (or, in a few cases, mule or ox-drawn) there being no other way to move the pieces around when necessary. Only those batteries so designated, however were "Horse Artillery."
    Occasionally used during the Civil War, this unofficial term of "FLYING ARTILLERY" meant "light" or "horse" artillery. It is a reference to the comparatively high maneuvering speeds of these batteries and was used admiringly". Like the term "light," however, it sometimes is misapplied to field artillery in general.


Numerous Union and Confederate batteries had the word "Light" in their names. But unless they were formally assigned to and regularly operated with cavalry, each cannoneer being individually mounted, they were not light batteries regardless of that they called themselves.
"Light", in this context, has nothing to do with the size or weight of the guns used, but refers only to speed. With the cannoneers individually mounted, a battery could travel much faster - was, so to speak, lighter on its feet - than when the men had to walk or hang precariously from a limber. In short, "light" artillery is "horse" artillery.
In the Federal service, light batteries, it is true, were usually equipped with the relatively lightweight (800 lbs) Ordnance Rifles to make it easier for them to keep up with the cavalry (for the same reason their limber chests did not carry as many rounds as the chests of a mounted Ordnance Rifle battery). Several light batteries, however, were armed with the much heavier (1,200 lbs) Napoleons. For these units, speed and mobility were achieved through the use of 8-horse, rather than the normal 6-horse, teams. Mounted Napoleon batteries naturally used the standard-sized team.


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 Union battery had 6 guns, and the typical Confederate battery had 4, 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 anomolous 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 2 corporals, one the gunner and the other in charge of the caisson. Though only 7 or 8 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.

From time to time, because of the loss of men or guns, 2 batteries would be merged. This happened with some frequency but usually was a temporary arrangement. Historians sometimes will mistake a consolidated battery for 2 separate units, thereby overestimating the number of guns and the firepower of a given force.

Organization: Usually organized by regiments as well, except that each company was called a battery. Union batteries consisted of over 100 soldiers, armed with 6 cannon per battery. Confederate batteries were smaller, some having only 4 cannon. Confederate artillery units were not only armed with southern-made cannon, but a number of captured Union guns filled Confederate artillery organizations.

  1. Artillery Reserve: Used by both armies, the reserve was an organization of extra batteries to be placed where needed. The Union army had 1 large artillery reserve force. The Confederate army had 1 reserve group per corps, but the number of guns was still smaller than the number of Union cannon.
  2. Battery: An intricate organization of men, horses, and ordnance. Assigned independently from their regiments to specific artillery brigades (Union) or battalions (Confederate) or to the artillery reserve of an army.
    There were multiple duties for each man to perform when not in battle including care of the horses, gun and carriage maintenance, and routine stock duties. In battle, each man had a specific assignment to serve the gun, though many were cross-trained and could perform other duties when required.
    The cannon were mounted on carriages made of oak with iron fittings. There were several different sizes of carriages to accommodate each type of cannon.

CONFEDERATE: Battery was smaller than a Union battery, composed of only 4 guns and often of different types and calibers.
Due to a scarcity of horse reserves in the south, the batteries were forced to limit their horse teams to only 4 animals. Mules were used when horses were unavailable, but they were not considered a satisfactory substitute as they were more difficult to control. Confederate batteries were, for the most part, labeled by the nicknames of where they were raised or by the name of the battery commander.

UNION: Battery consisted of 6 cannon, all of similar type and caliber and each with its own limber and caisson. Teams of 6 horses were used to pull the limbers and caissons that held ammunition chests containing the different types of shells used in each gun. The gunners walked during the march or trotted alongside the limbers when moving into a position. Only when the situation called for fast movement did they ride on the limbers and caissons when going into battle. Once in position, the gunners would unlimber the cannon and the limber would move to a position directly behind the gun. The caisson team would move to a location behind the limber to await further orders.
Some Union states raised "independent" batteries, which were not attached to an artillery regiment.

4 types of Artillery/Cannon ammunition:
1. Solid Shot- used for large infantry formations and enemy artillery
2. Shell
3. Case
4. Cannister- used for infantry / cavalry formations at close range

2 types of fuses for artillery
1. Time Fuses- burn slowly enough to ignite the main charge of the projectile after a number of seconds
2. Percussion Fuses- explode on impact


  1. Carriages- The carriage performs a number of functions in the operation of an artillery piece, some of them obvious, some not. First and foremost, the carriage holds the cannon in place while being fired, and allows the piece to be aimed. In the case of field artillery, whose mobility is critical, the carriage also allows the piece to be easily moved where it is needed. But transport and firing only begin to describe the functions of the carriage; this seemingly simple mechanical contrivance, through years of trial and error on the march and on the field of battle, acquired a set of refinements that rivalled those lavished on the Parthenon.
    The carriage for field artillery consists of two cheeks, bolted together and with the stock. The cheeks support the piece by its trunnions, and in turn rest upon the axle-tree supported by two wheels. The back of the stock or trail rests on the ground. The field carriage dissipates the force of recoil by rolling along the ground, and on firm ground can rear back several feet on firing. On softer ground, the trail tends to dig in, which can cause problems in aiming. The trail terminates in an iron ring called a lunette, which is the means by which it is fastened to the limber. Two pointing rings ahead of the lunette hold a handspike, which provides leverage for aiming the piece. Ahead of the pointing rings are two hooks, around which is wound the prolonge, a length of heavy rope with a ring at one end and a toggle at the other. The prolonge is used to loosely attach the gun to the limber, as when firing while slowly retreating, or for other towing jobs.
  2. Limbers- The limber for field service is basically a 2-wheeled cart, simply an axle, with its wheels, surmounted by a framework for holding an ammunition chest and receiving the tongue. At the back of the axle is the pintle hook, on which the lunette on the trail of the gun carriage can be keyed into place. The result is a 4-wheeled cart that pivots on the pintle hook.
  3. Caisson- intended to transport ammunition, and carries 2 chests like that on the limber. It has a stock like that on the gun carriage, terminating in a lunette, so that it can be hooked to a limber for transportation. A caisson with its limber thus held 3 ammunition chests, which with the chest on the limber hauling the gun carriage would make 4 in all.
  4. Horses- The field artillery was almost as a dependent upon horses as the cavalry. A battery of 6 light guns needed 110 horses to take the field, and an even larger number would be required for a battery of mounted artillery. As the principle motive power for the guns, they were a prime target for the opposing force; disabling the horses meant that the guns were at risk of capture. Horses, like the soldiers who depended upon them, were also subject to the rigors of disease, poor rations, and the too-often squalid living conditions of an army camp. The death toll has never been calculated, but the cost of the War in horse flesh was surely enormous.
    The bugler would sound stable call after reveille and roll, and water call after breakfast. The same routine for the horses would be repeated late in the afternoon. Morning and afternoon drill also meant a workout for the horses, after which they needed to be walked to cool down, curried, and probably watered again. There were always sick horses requiring care, and those who died requiring burial.
    One driver was assigned to each pair of horses, riding on the left horse and holding reins for it and the other horse. Skilled riders were required for this service, which combined the daring of the cavalry troopers with the precision teamwork expected of the artilleryman. Drivers were issued a leg-guard, an iron plate encased in leather and strapped to the right leg to prevent the limber pole from injuring them.


  1. Model 1857 12-pounder bronze gun. Commonly referred to as the "Napoleon", this bronze smoothbore cannon fired a twelve-pound ball and was considered a light gun though each weighed an average of 1,200 pounds. This powerful cannon could fire explosive shell and solid shot up to a mile and charges of canister up to 300 yards with accuracy. The Napoleon was a favorite amongst some Northern artillerists because of its firepower and reliability. Two Union batteries armed with Napoleons at Gettysburg were very effective in holding back Confederate infantry attacks and knocking down opposing southern batteries. Battery G, 4th US repeatedly slowed Confederate infantry attacks against the Eleventh Corps line on July 1 while Captain Hubert Dilger's Battery G, 1st Ohio Light Artillery almost annihilated two Confederate batteries with accurate and punishing counter-battery fire at long distance. Most Union Napoleons were manufactured in Massachusetts by the Ames Company and the Revere Copper Company. Confederate industry replicated the Napoleon design at several foundries in Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina. The Confederate design differed slightly from Union-made guns but fired the same twelve pound shot, shell and canister rounds used in Union manufactured guns.
  2. 2.9-inch (10-pounder) Parrott Rifle. This iron cannon was rifled and fired an elongated shell made specifically for the gun. Designed before the war by Capt. Robert Parker Parrott, this gun was longer than a Napoleon, sleeker in design, and distinguishable by a thick band of iron wrapped around the breech. The Parrott design went through several improvements during the war and was changed in 1863 to a larger 3-inch bore and matching Parrott shell. The 3-inch Parrott was standardized the following year and most 2.9-inch guns were withdrawn from service. Parrott Rifles were manufactured by the West Point Arsenal in Cold Spring, New York and also made in 20 and 32-pounder sizes. The 10-pounder Parrotts used during the Gettysburg Campaign had an effective range of over 2,000 yards. The 5th New York Battery was composed of six 20-pounder Parrotts.
    Confederate copies of the Parrott Rifle were produced by the Noble Brothers Foundry and the Macon Arsenal in Georgia. Parrott Rifles in 10 and 20-pounder sizes were sprinkled throughout some southern batteries.
  3. 3-inch Wrought Iron Gun. This sleek weapon was also called the 3-inch Ordnance Rifle and was designed by John Griffen, superintendent of the Safe Harbor Iron Works in Pennsylvania. The initial design was built by the Phoenix Iron Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania which manufactured most of the 3-inch Rifles used in the Union Armies. This iron gun was similar in length to the Parrott Rifle, fired an elongated shell, and was deadly accurate up to a mile. Much lighter than the Napoleon, the gun weighed an average of 800 pounds and could be easily transported and manhandled by its crew. Only a limited number of copies of the Ordnance Rifle were produced at Confederate arsenals.
  4. Model 1841 12-pounder Howitzers. A pre-war bronze gun dating back to the 1840's, a number of howitzers were still in use by the Army of Northern Virginia during the Gettysburg Campaign. The barrels of these guns are several inches shorter than other artillery pieces giving them a stubby appearance. These powerful guns packed a whallop at close range but were not desirable for long range work. Larger 24-pounder field howitzers were also produced and though some appeared at Gettysburg, their use was mostly limited to forts and stationary defenses by this time of the war.
  5. 2.75-inch Whitworth Rifle. Imported from England by both North and South, only the Confederacy actively used these unique guns in the field. Designed by Sir Joseph Whitworth before the Civil War, it fired an elongated 12-pound iron shell which fit snuggly into the fine rifling of the tube. It was also unusual in that it was a breechloader. A locking ring around the breech allowed the end of the gun to be opened so that the shell and powder charge could be loaded through the breech. The gun's unusual shape and distinctive shells were a curiosity when compared to other ordnance, though they were extremely accurate and could fire a solid shot beyond 2,800 yards.

An artillery shell was affixed to a wooden base and a cloth bag filled with 1 to 2 pounds of black powder. The shell was placed into the muzzle of the cannon and rammed into the breech. The bag was pierced with a sharp wire through the vent at the breech and ignited by a friction primer- a copper tube filled with ignition powder & fulminate of mercury.
The primer was attached to a lanyard that when pulled, drew a serrated wire through the primer igniting the charge. An efficient gun crew could load and fire up to 3 rounds per minute.
A variety of ammunition was used against the Confederate infantry formations.

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