The American Civil War: Weaponry--Artillery

Figure 1.--This Federal drummer boy was Gilbert A. Marbury. He was in the 22nd New York State Militia. The photograph was taken at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) during 1862. We are not yet sure how to describe the artillery piece, but it looks to us like a short barreled gun. This would mean that it was brass smooth bore, probably a 4.62-inch caliber, firing a 12-pound round shot and capable cannister fire. Because the boy was in an infantry unit, we are not sure if he was just posing by the cannon or if his infantry unit had a few canons? Whle many infantry units had canons early in the War, gradually the artillery was primarily deployed in specialized artillery units. Photo source: National Archives. 111-B-5497.

Major advances in artillery occurred during the Cvil War. We see the same introduction of rifeled artllery barrels as we see with mukets. Most Civil War artillery pieces were smoothbore muzzle-loaders, but as with infantry weapons, we begin to see rifled artillery. And this increased lethality (accuracy, range, and penetrating power). Rifeled artillery was highly effective in counter-battery fire because a rifeled battery could attack a smooth bore battery while remaining out of range. Range was particularly important, because it increased the time for which advancing infantry could be engaged and subjected to devestating fire. Highly effective anti-infantry ordinance was developed. The new 3-inch iron rifleled artillery pieces firing a 10-pound conical shot, had a flat trajectory with immense Penetrating power. The old smoothbores had brass barrels with a 4.62-inch caliber, firing a 12-pound round shot continud to used throughout the War. This is because the primary purpose of artillery was to breakup and destroy enemy infantry charges. The eastern United States is dominated by forested hills. And even the Western Theater was mostly fought east of the Mississipi. In ths environment, a range of 1.5 km is all that the artillery needed to desimate an attacking infantry force. And for this the smoothbre was often more effective than rifeled artillery. the artillerist had canisters, meaning a tin can full of iron balls. A propellant at one end and a wooden disk at the other. Te canor caister container disintegrated when the round was fired. This unleased iron balls on the attavking eneny infantry line. The smmoth bore firing canister rounds was essentially a huge sawed-off shotgun. At a ranges of 250 meters or less it was murderous against massed infantry formations. Not only did infantry tactics change, but so did artillery tactics. At first artillery was interspersed among infantry units, effectively dissipating the impact of artillery. Fairly early in the War, independent artillery commands were created. This enabled the mass artillery fire that proved so deadly in Civil War battles. [Tidball] The introduction of rifeled muskets was bad news for the artillery men. It brought them within range of enemy infantry.


Tidball, Hohn C. Lawrence M. Kaplan, ed. The Artillery Service in tge War of the Rebellion, 1861-65 (2011), 432p. This is a modern reprint of a series of articles that Tidball published in a U.S. Army professional journal during the 1890s. The book focuses on the Army of the Potomac, the most important Federal formation of the War.


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Created: 7:11 AM 7/2/2014
Last upodated: 5:52 PM 7/2/2014