Civil War Artillery Essay, Research Paper
The artillery crews of both armies of the Civil War worked with the first guns that would eventually come to be the long-range killing machines that are used by the modern armies of today. The Civil War saw the beginnings of rifled barrels and breech loading artillery, with limited service however these new concepts were not fully developed and perfected until the years after the war. On the battlefields of the Civil War the smoothbore guns reigned supreme.
There were three types of field ordinance that saw use during the Civil War. Guns, the heaviest of the field artillery, which fired shells at a long range over flat trajectories. Howitzers, a lighter version of the guns, that fired lighter shells on a high arching trajectory. Finally, mortars were employed to use their extremely steep firing trajectories to lob their projectiles over relatively close enemy fortifications. The most common piece used by both Union and Confederate armies was a hybrid gun-howitzer, the Model 1857. It was given the name Napoleon by its crews and effectively fired a twelve pound shell 1,600 yards with devastating results. As it was a smoothbore cannon the Model 1857 fired round projectiles and due to its bronze barrel was much lighter than other wrought iron barrel guns, weighing in at around 2,500 pounds.
All the guns of the Civil War, whether smoothbore or rifled, fired four basic types of ammunition: solid shot, shell, spherical case, and canister. The first, solid shot, is as simple to define as it was to make, solid shot was an iron ball which used its kinetic energy to damage fortifications, troops, or anything else that got in its way. An added bonus to this type of ammunition was that it stilled proved deadly even if it missed its mark. This added killing factored can be contributed to the round shape of the shot, which allowed it to bounce along the ground wreaking havoc as soldiers tried to jump out of its way. The second type of ammunition used by the cannons of the Civil War was the shell. Externally the shell ammunition piece resembled the solid shot, but internally where the solid shot was solid the shell was hollow. Several ounces of powder were loaded into the shell s hollow cavity and would detonate by way of a timed fuse spraying fragments of iron everywhere above the battlefield, it was the world s first high explosive round. The spherical case differed from the shell in only what was contained within its hollow cavity. In addition to the several ounces of powder the spherical case contained musket balls, which, upon detonation, continued traveling forward along the original trajectory along with the fragments of the spherical case as well. The canister was the smoothbore cannon s deadliest load; a hollow cylinder housing some fifty iron balls it transformed the cannon into the equivalent of a sawed-off shotgun. The round was lethal at ranges up to 400 yards but when enemy troops closed within 150 yards gun commanders orders double or even triple canister loads, increasing the butchery. Of all the ammunition types the canister was responsible for the most deaths in the war.
Without doubt the artillery arm of both the armies of the Civil War was the deadliest. At Gettysburg the army of the Potomac s 366 guns contributed to the death toll of the bloodiest battle of the war. Little more than a year earlier sixty Union cannons covered McClellan s withdrawal from Pennsylvania, killing an estimated 2,500 of the 5,000 Confederates. Confederate forces proved to be just as deadly behind the gun sights. While on watch over the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in 1862 an Alabama battery spotted a Union patrol. The battery fired a single solid shot from a rifled Whitworth cannon, fifteen seconds and three miles latter the shell tore through a horse and Union soldier. Artillery had come of age.