The American Civil War Erupts: The Attack on Fort Sumter
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Artillery: American Civil War

Title: Battle of Chancellorsville
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Land-based artillery was typed variously by its design, projectile, trajectory, deployment, and bore. The two most general classifications were heavy, massive large caliber cannons used in garrison, siege, and seacoast roles, and light, mobile horse-drawn weapons used most often with infantry in the field. A cannon's trajectory-the arc of its projectile's flight-and basic design provided more specific classifications. Guns were long-barreled weapons capable of firing heavy projectiles in relatively flat trajectories. Howitzers had shorter barrels, a powder chamber smaller in diameter than the bore of the piece, and achieved a higher trajectory than guns. Mortars had very short, thick-walled barrels and lobbed large caliber projectiles at an extremely high trajectory. Columbiads were the heaviest weapons, usually deployed in garrison, siege, and seacoast roles, and were capable of firing tremendous projectiles great distances.

Field Artillery
Field artillery usually consisted of 12-pounder smoothbores and 10- and sometimes 20-pounder rifled guns. Their two-wheeled "stock trail" field carriages were most typically constructed of wood with iron fittings. The Model 1841 bronze 6-pounder guns and 12-pounder howitzers were already obsolete in 1861, and as the war progressed were eventually removed from Federal service.

By far the most popular field cannon among gunners of both sides was the bronze 12-pounder smoothbore Model 1857 Napoleon. Namesake of Emperor Napoleon III, under whose auspices it was originally designed for the French army, the Model 1857 was a hybrid gun-howitzer, being somewhat smaller and lighter than the earlier model 12-pounder, yet taking the same powder charge. In Federal service it replaced both the 6-pounder and the 12-pounder howitzer. The South relied heavily on captured Napoleons and also manufactured simplified Napoleons cast without the muzzle swell found on Federal models.

The two most commonly used rifled field artillery pieces were the 3-inch, 10-pounder Parrotts and Ordnance Rifles. Patented in 1861 by Robert Parrott, superintendent of the West Point Foundry of Cold Spring, New York, the Parrott was originally produced in 2.9-inch caliber, but later models were standardized as 3-inch weapons. Parrotts are easily distinguished by the wrought-iron reinforcing band around the breech of their inherently brittle cast-iron tubes. The reinforcing band did much to improve the Parrott's reliability, but throughout the war Parrotts managed to explode with annoying and often dangerous regularity. Still, the Parrott was accurate and relatively inexpensive to produce. Two models of Parrott rifles were produced during the war-the Model 1861, easily identified by its muzzle swell, and the simpler Model 1863, cast without a muzzle swell. The Parrott design sufficiently impressed Confederate ordnance officers to prompt them to produce their own copies at Richmond's Tredegar Iron Works.

Adopted by the Federal Ordnance Department in 1861, the wrought-iron 3-inch Ordnance Rifle, often mistakenly referred to as the Rodman, was originally patented by John Griffen in 1855. The majority of the Ordnance Rifles were manufactured at the Phoenix Iron Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. The foundry's president, Samuel J. Reeves, received his own patent in 1862 for additional improvements in the weapon's production. The Ordnance Rifle, with its strikingly modern, streamlined appearance, accuracy, and reliability, was considered the best muzzle-loading rifled field gun of the day. Ordnance Rifles made up 41 percent of the Federal guns at Gettysburg. The Ordnance Rifle most often fired projectiles of the Hotchkiss and Schenkl patents, but would also accept 3-inch Parrott ammunition. Confederate inventors also produced a number of unique designs, such as the Archer, Mullane, Reed, and Reed-Braun patents, for use in captured Ordnance Rifles.

The James Rifles saw rather less use during the war. Designed by General Charles T. James of the Rhode Island militia to accept his own unique patented projectile, the 14-pounder (3.8-inch) James Rifles were cast by the Ames Manufacturing Company of Chicopee, Massachusetts. The James, however, exhibited a number of drawbacks, and after 1862 became an increasing rarity in the field. The James patent projectile with its soft lead sabot proved the first culprit in the gun's demise. Early in the war gunners delivering covering fire over the heads of their own infantry found that their ammunition tended to fling off its lead sabot upon leaving the muzzles of their guns. The resulting casualties among their own troops caused by this rain of deadly shrapnel from the rear understandably cost the James much in the way of reputation. Although the ammunition problem was remedied by the substitution of Hotchkiss pattern projectiles, the material of its manufacture eventually doomed the James. Despite sharing a similar appearance to the Ordnance Rifle, the James was of the softer cast bronze, rather than wrought iron. Its rifling, therefore, tended to erode quickly after heavy use with a consequent loss in accuracy.

Two breech-loading rifles were introduced during the war. Both the Armstrong and Whitworth rifles were designed and manufactured in England and were imported in limited numbers. The majority saw use in Confederate service. Despite their advanced designs, neither the Armstrong nor Whitworth's breech-loading mechanisms afforded any significant advantage in their speed of loading. Crews often found them overly complicated, difficult to operate, and prone to fouling and breakage. Both weapons, however, won reputations for unsurpassed range and accuracy.

The Armstrong employed a projectile either fitted with three rows of small brass studs intended to mate with its bore's rifling or lead driving bands. Armstrongs were manufactured in a number of calibers, the most common being 3-inch 10-pounder weapons. The weapons developed by the prolific English weapons designer Sir Joseph Whitworth were also produced in a number of calibers, the most common probably the 12-pounder (2.75-inch) models with a few large caliber Whitworths also seeing some action. Although some Whitworths were manufactured as muzzle-loading weapons, all shared their inventor's unique twisting hexagonal bore and corresponding ammunition. The efficiency of the Whitworth system allowed gunners to achieve ranges of almost six miles-an advantage often lost in practical use owing to the era's primitive aiming. The Whitworth's streamlined, hexagonal projectiles also shared the disadvantage of most rifled field gun projectiles in that they were not large enough to accommodate a significant blasting charge. They were most effective firing bolts that could be delivered accurately at high velocity in much flatter trajectories than conventional artillery. Troops noted that the Whitworth projectiles' hexagonal shape, coupled with its high rate of speed, lent it an unnerving high-pitched whine that added much to its fearsome reputation.

Siege and Garrison Artillery
Classified as heavy artillery, siege and garrison cannons were of heavier caliber and less mobile than field artillery. Siege artillery, however, was usually mounted on relatively mobile wooden carriages similar in design to the field artillery's. The great weight of the more permanently fixed garrison and seacoast weapons necessitated that their carriages be constructed of heavy timber or iron. The two most common types of mounts were the casement and the barbette carriages. The tracked casement carriage was similar to naval carriages, as it was used primarily in older, permanent masonry forts with gun ports. Its design facilitated the limited movement necessary to retract the cannon into the fort for loading. The more common barbette carriages were most often employed in open earthen or masonry fortifications. Their design employed small wheels on tracks and either a front or center pivot or pintle. This arrangement allowed gunners to traverse their weapons for a wide angle of fire.

Some of the most common seacoast smoothbores were the iron Model 1829 32-pounder and the Model 1831 42-pounder guns. Both weapons were typically mounted on wooden, front pintle, barbette carriages for garrison use. Experiences early in the war quickly led artillerists to the conclusion that rifled weapons, with their higher velocities, were far superior to the older smoothbore cannons against masonry targets. As a result, some smoothbore guns were rifled to accept James projectiles.

The West Point Foundry also produced its famous Parrott rifles in massive 6.4-inch (100-pound), 8-inch (200-pound), and 10-inch (250-300-pound) versions. Mounted on wrought iron, front pintle, barbette carriages, these huge weapons shared not only the accuracy of the smaller Parrotts, but, unfortunately, their propensity to burst during firing. The bursting of such larger guns was an ongoing concern for weapons designers of the era, owing to the comparatively primitive metallurgy of the day and the volatility of black powder propellant charges. One solution was the "built-up" gun-a cannon manufactured of separate components fused together to provide added strength. The Parrott was an example of the built-up gun, but other designs proved more successful, including the British-designed Blakely and Armstrong rifles and the Confederate-designed Brooke rifles.

First developed by American Colonel George Bomford and introduced in 1811, the cast-iron smoothbore Columbiads were some of the largest cannons to see service in the war. Primarily a seacoast weapon, the Columbiad combined various aspects of the gun and howitzer. Early Columbiads shared a similar powder chamber to the howitzer and all were capable of firing in both high howitzer and low gun trajectories. The Columbiad's design underwent a number of modifications both before and during the war, resulting in a wide variety of types and calibers. The Models of 1844 and 1858 were cast in 8-inch (65-pound) and 10-inch (128-pound) calibers, as was the Model 1861 Rodman, which was also cast in a 15-inch (428-pound) version. At least one 20-inch Rodman was produced in 1864. Named for their inventor, Thomas Jefferson Rodman, these innovative weapons introduced a number of improvements in casting and overall design and both Union and Confederate foundries produced them in significant numbers. Most Columbiads were mounted on massive wrought-iron, center pintle, barbette carriages.

Mortars were classified as siege, garrison, and seacoast artillery and were cast in a number of sizes. They fired heavy spherical time-fused shell and case ammunition. The Coehorn, named for its inventor, the seventeenth-century Dutch artillerist Baron van Menno Coehoorn, was the smallest weapon of this class and saw wide use. The standard 24-pounder Coehorn consisted of a short 16.32-inch bronze tube mounted on a simple wooden bed with four handles. Weighing a mere 296 pounds, the Coehorn could be carried by as few as two men. It was particularly well suited for trench warfare, owing to its mobility and ability to throw projectiles in a high arc into opposing earthworks. The Confederates produced somewhat simplified iron Coehorns in both 24- and 12-pound models. The iron Model 1841 8- and 10-inch siege models were much heavier mortars than the Coehorns, and in 1861 were augmented by still more massive weapons, the 10- and 13-inch seacoast mortars. The tube of the largest of these, the 13-inch seacoast mortar, weighed 17,120 pounds and could hurl a 220-pound projectile 4,325 yards at a 45 degree elevation. Owing partially to transportation difficulties, few of these mortars were actually installed in seacoast fortifications by war's end. They did, however, see use on special mortar boats operating along the Mississippi River, and the most famous mortar of all, the "Dictator," was mounted on a special railroad flatcar for use during the siege of Petersburg.

Jeff Kinard
From ABC-CLIO's Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, editors


Further Reading
Coggins, Jack. Arms and Equipment of the Civil War. New York: Doubleday, 1962; Peterson, Harold L. Round Shot and Rammers: An Introduction to Muzzle-loading Land Artillery in the United States. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1969; Thomas, Dean S. Cannons: An Introduction to Civil War Artillery. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1985.
 

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