Field Artillery in the American Civil War
Field artillery in the American Civil War refers to the important artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 weapons, equipment, and practices used by the Artillery branch to support the infantry
Infantry in the American Civil War
The Infantry in the American Civil War comprised foot-soldiers who fought primarily with small arms, and they carried the brunt of the fighting on battlefields across the United States. As the Civil War progressed, battlefield tactics soon changed in response to the new form of warfare being waged...

 and cavalry
Cavalry in the American Civil War
Cavalry in the American Civil War was a branch of army service in a process of transition. It suffered from emerging technology threats, difficult logistics, and sometimes misguided or inept commanders...

 forces in the field. It does not include siege artillery
Siege artillery in the American Civil War
Siege artillery is heavy artillery primarily used in military attacks on fortified places. At the time of the American Civil War, the U.S. Army classified its artillery into three types, depending on the gun's weight and intended use. Field artillery were light pieces that often traveled with the...

, use of artillery in fixed fortifications, or coastal or naval artillery. Nor does it include smaller, specialized artillery termed as infantry guns.


The principal guns widely used in the field are listed in the following table.
Field artillery weapons characteristics
Name Tube Projectile
(yd at 5°)
Material Bore (in) Len (in) Wt (lb)
6-pounder Gun bronze 3.67 60 884 6.1 1.25 1,439 1,523
M1857 12-pounder "Napoleon" bronze 4.62 66 1,227 12.3 2.50 1,440 1,619
12-pounder Howitzer bronze 4.62 53 788 8.9 1.00 1,054 1,072
12-pounder Mountain Howitzer bronze 4.62 33 220 8.9 0.5 --- 1,005
24-pounder Howitzer bronze 5.82 64 1,318 18.4 2.00 1,060 1,322
10-pounder Parrott rifle iron 2.9
or 3.0
74 890 9.5 1.00 1,230 1,850
3-inch Ordnance Rifle wrought
3.0 69 820 9.5 1.00 1,215 1,830
14-pounder James Rifle bronze 3.80 60 875 14.0 1.25 ---- 1530
20-pounder Parrott rifle iron 3.67 84 1750 20.0 2.00 1,250 1,900
12-pounder Whitworth breechloading rifle iron 2.75 104 1092 12.0 1.75 1,500 2,800
Italics denotes data for shell, not shot.

There were two general types of artillery weapons used during the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

: smoothbore
A smoothbore weapon is one which has a barrel without rifling. Smoothbores range from handheld firearms to powerful tank guns and large artillery mortars.-History of firearms and rifling:...

s and rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

s. Smoothbores included howitzer
A howitzer is a type of artillery piece characterized by a relatively short barrel and the use of comparatively small propellant charges to propel projectiles at relatively high trajectories, with a steep angle of descent...

s and gun
A gun is a muzzle or breech-loaded projectile-firing weapon. There are various definitions depending on the nation and branch of service. A "gun" may be distinguished from other firearms in being a crew-served weapon such as a howitzer or mortar, as opposed to a small arm like a rifle or pistol,...



Smoothbore artillery refers to weapons that are not rifled. At the time of the Civil War, metallurgy and other supporting technologies had just recently evolved to a point allowing the large scale production of rifled field artillery. As such, many smoothbore weapons were still in use and production even at the end of the war. Smoothbore field artillery of the day fit into two role-based categories: guns and howitzers. Further classifications of the weapons were made based on the type of metal used, typically bronze or iron (cast or wrought), although some examples of steel were produced. Additionally, the artillery was often identified by the year of design in the Ordnance department references.

The smoothbore artillery was also categorized by the bore dimensions, based on the rough weight of the solid shot projectile fired from the weapon. For instance a 12-pounder field gun fired a 12 pound solid shot projectile from its 4.62 inches (117.3 mm) diameter bore. It was practice, dating back to the 18th century, to mix gun and howitzers into batteries. Pre-war allocations called for 6-pounder field guns matched with 12-pounder howitzers, 9 and 12-pounder field guns matched with 24-pounder howitzers. But the rapid expansions of both combatant armies, mass introduction of rifled artillery, and the versatility of the 12-pounder "Napoleon" class of weapons all contributed to a change in the mixed battery practices.


Smoothbore guns were designed to fire solid shot projectiles at high velocity, over low trajectories at targets in the open, although shot and canister were acceptable for use. The barrels of the guns were longer than corresponding howitzers, and called for higher powder charges to achieve the desired performance. Field guns were produced in 6-pounder (3.67 inch bore), 9-pounder (4.2 inch bore), and 12-pounder (4.62 inch bore) versions. Although some older iron weapons were pressed into service, and the Confederacy produced some new iron field guns, most of those used on the battlefields were of bronze construction.

The 6-pounder field gun was well represented by bronze Models of 1835, 1838, 1839, and 1841 early in the war. Even a few older iron Model of 1819 weapons were pressed into service. Several hundred were used by the armies of both sides in 1861. But in practice the limited payload of the projectile was seen as a shortcoming of this weapon. From mid-war on, few 6-pounders saw action in the main field armies.

The larger 9- and 12-pounders were less well represented. While the 9-pounder was still listed on Ordnance and Artillery manuals in 1861, very few were ever produced after the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

 and only scant references exist to Civil War use of the weapons. The 12-pounder field gun appeared in a series of models mirroring the 6-pounder, but in far less numbers. At least one Federal battery, the 13th Indiana, took the 12-pounder field gun into service early in the war. The major shortcoming of these heavy field guns was mobility, as they required eight-horse teams as opposed to the six-horse teams of the lighter guns. A small quantity of 12-pounder field guns were rifled early in the war, but these were more experimental weapons, and no field service is recorded.

By far the most popular of the smoothbore cannon was the 12-pounder Model of 1857, Light, commonly called "Napoleon". The Model 1857 was of lighter weight than the previous 12-pounder guns, and could be pulled by a six-horse draft, yet offered the heavier projectile payload of the larger bore. It is sometimes called, confusingly, a "gun-howitzer" (because it possessed characteristics of both gun and howitzer) and is discussed in more detail separately below.


Howitzers were short-barreled guns that were optimized for firing explosive shells in a high trajectory, but also for spherical case shot and canister, over a shorter range than the guns. While field use alluded to firing at targets consisting of enemy forces arrayed in the open, Howitzers were considered the weapon of choice if the opposing forces were concealed behind terrain features or fortifications. Howitzers used lower powder charges than guns of corresponding caliber. Field Howitzer calibers used in the Civil War were 12-pounder (4.62 inch bore), 24-pounder (5.82 inch bore), and 32-pounder (6.41 inch bore). Most of the howitzers used in the war were bronze, with notable exceptions of some of Confederate manufacture.

Coupled to the 6-pounder field gun in allocations of the pre-war Army, the 12-pounder field Howitzer was represented by Models of 1838 and 1841. With a light weight and respectable projectile payload, the 12-pounder was only cycled out of the main field army inventories as production and availability of the 12-pounder "Napoleon" rose, and would see action in the Confederate armies up to the very end.

As with the corresponding heavy field guns, the heavier Howitzers were available in limited quantities early in the war. Both Federal and Confederate contracts list examples of 24-pounders delivered during the war, and surviving examples exist of imported Austrian types of this caliber used by the Confederates. These 24-pounder Howitzers found use in the "reserve" batteries of the respective armies, but were gradually replaced over time with heavy rifled guns. Both the 24- and 32-pounders were more widely used in fixed fortifications, but at least one of the later large weapons was with the 1st Connecticut Artillery as late as 1864.

Finally, the lesser known but highly-mobile 12-pounder mountain Howitzer saw service with infantry and cavalry forces in the rugged western theaters and prairies, and continued in service during the Indian Wars. This versatile piece could utilize one of two carriages: a small carriage that could be drawn by a single animal or could be rapidly broken down to carry on the backs of pack animals, or a slightly larger prairie carriage to be drawn by two animals. A veteran of the Mexican-American War, several hundred more of these diminutive tubes were produced by Union foundries during the Civil War, and the Confederate Tredegar foundry turned out as many as 21 more. A Federal battery of four proved "highly effective" at the decisive battle of Glorieta, New Mexico, and Nathan Bedford Forrest
Nathan Bedford Forrest
Nathan Bedford Forrest was a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He is remembered both as a self-educated, innovative cavalry leader during the war and as a leading southern advocate in the postwar years...

 frequently employed mountain howitzers for the rapid close-in combat that he favored.

12-pounder Napoleon

The twelve-pound cannon
Twelve-pound cannon
The twelve-pound cannon is a cannon that fires twelve-pound projectiles from its barrel, as well as grapeshot, chainshot, shrapnel, and later shells and canister shot. It was first used during the Tudor period and reached its production top in the Napoleonic wars...

 "Napoleon" was the most popular smoothbore cannon used during the war. It was named after Napoleon III of France
Napoleon III of France
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was the President of the French Second Republic and as Napoleon III, the ruler of the Second French Empire. He was the nephew and heir of Napoleon I, christened as Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte...

 and was widely admired because of its safety, reliability, and killing power, especially at close range. In Union Ordnance manuals it was referred to as the "light 12-pounder gun" to distinguish it from the heavier and longer 12 pounder gun (which was virtually unused in field service.) It did not reach America until 1857. It was the last cast bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...

 gun used by an American army. The Federal
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 version of the Napoleon can be recognized by the flared front end of the barrel, called the muzzle-swell.

Confederate Napoleons were produced in at least six variations, most of which had straight muzzles, but at least eight catalogued survivors of 133 identified have muzzle swells. Additionally, four iron Confederate Napoleons produced by Tredegar Iron Works
Tredegar Iron Works
The Tredegar Iron Works was a historic iron foundry in Richmond, Virginia, United States of America, opened in 1837. During the American Civil War, the works served as the primary iron and artillery production facility of the Confederate States of America...

 in Richmond have been identified, of an estimated 125 cast. In early 1863 Robert E. Lee sent nearly all of the Army of Northern Virginia's bronze 6-pounder guns to Tredegar to be melted down and recast as Napoleons. Copper for casting bronze pieces became increasingly scarce to the Confederacy throughout the war and became acute in November 1863 when the Ducktown copper mines near Chattanooga were lost to Union forces. Casting of bronze Napoleons by the Confederacy ceased and in January of 1864 Tredegar began producing iron Napoleons.

Rifled guns

A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

 adds spiral grooves along the inside of the gun barrel for the purpose of spinning the shell or shot and enacting gyroscopic force that increases the accuracy of the gun by preventing the shell from rotating along axes other than the axis parallel to the gun barrel. Adding rifling to a gun tube made it more difficult and expensive to manufacture and increased the length of the tube, but it increased the range and accuracy of the piece. While most of the rifled guns in the Civil War were muzzle-loaded, a small number of breech-loaded guns were used.

3-inch ordnance rifle

The 3 inches (76.2 mm) ordnance rifle was the most widely used rifled gun during the war. Invented by John Griffen, it was extremely durable, with the barrel made of wrought iron
Wrought iron
thumb|The [[Eiffel tower]] is constructed from [[puddle iron]], a form of wrought ironWrought iron is an iron alloy with a very low carbon...

, primarily produced by the Phoenix Iron Company
Phoenix Iron Works
The Phoenix Iron Works , located in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, was a significant manufacturer of iron and related products during the 19th century and early 20th century. Phoenix Iron Company was a major producer of cannons for the Union Army during the American Civil War...

 of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
Phoenixville is a borough in Chester County, Pennsylvania, United States, northwest of Philadelphia, at the junction of French Creek with the Schuylkill River. The population is 16,440 as of the 2010 Census.- History :...

. There are few cases on record of the tube fracturing or bursting, a problem that plagued other rifles made of brittle cast iron
Cast iron
Cast iron is derived from pig iron, and while it usually refers to gray iron, it also identifies a large group of ferrous alloys which solidify with a eutectic. The color of a fractured surface can be used to identify an alloy. White cast iron is named after its white surface when fractured, due...

. The rifle had exceptional accuracy. During the Battle of Atlanta
Battle of Atlanta
The Battle of Atlanta was a battle of the Atlanta Campaign fought during the American Civil War on July 22, 1864, just southeast of Atlanta, Georgia. Continuing their summer campaign to seize the important rail and supply center of Atlanta, Union forces commanded by William T. Sherman overwhelmed...

, a Confederate gunner was quoted: "The Yankee three-inch rifle was a dead shot at any distance under a mile. They could hit the end of a flour barrel more often than miss, unless the gunner got rattled." The 1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery
1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery
The 1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery was an artillery battery that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The battery was mustered in at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. on November 21, 1861....

 converted into the 3-inch Ordnance Rifle on March 5, 1864, though they were considered "3-inch Rodman's guns" in a Nov. 11, 1864 letter from 1st Lieutenant Henry S. Hurter to the Minnesota Adjutant General. The 1st Minnesota Light Artillery took part in the Atlanta Campaign
Atlanta Campaign
The Atlanta Campaign was a series of battles fought in the Western Theater of the American Civil War throughout northwest Georgia and the area around Atlanta during the summer of 1864. Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman invaded Georgia from the vicinity of Chattanooga, Tennessee, beginning in May...


Parrott rifles

The Parrott rifle
Parrott rifle
The Parrott rifle was a type of muzzle loading rifled artillery weapon used extensively in the American Civil War.-Parrott Rifle:The gun was invented by Robert Parker Parrott, a West Point graduate. He resigned from the service in 1836 and became the superintendent of the West Point Foundry in Cold...

, invented by Robert Parker Parrott
Robert Parker Parrott
Robert Parker Parrott was an American soldier and inventor of military ordnance.-Biography:Born in Lee, New Hampshire, he was the son of John Fabyan Parrott. He graduated with honors from the United States Military Academy, third in the Class of 1824. Parrott was assigned to the Third Regiment of...

, was manufactured in different sizes, from 10-pounders up to the rare 300-pounder. The 10- and 20-pounder versions were used by both armies in the field. The smaller size was much more prevalent; it came in two bore sizes: 2.9 inches (73.7 mm) and 3 inches (76.2 mm). Confederate forces used both bore sizes during the war, which added to the complication of supplying the appropriate ammunition to its batteries. Until 1864, Union batteries used only the 2.9 inch Parrott, but they also employed 3" Ordnance rifles. During the 1st day of Gettysburg
Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg , was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War, it is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac...

, three Parrott rifles were temporarily disabled when 3" ammunition was issued to the battery by mistake. Following this plans were made to re-rifle all of the 2.9" Parrotts to 3" and no further 2.9" Parrotts were to be produced. The M1863, with a 3 inches (76.2 mm) bore, had firing characteristics similar to the earlier model; it can be recognized by its straight barrel, without muzzle-swell.

Parrotts were manufactured with a combination of cast iron and wrought iron. The cast iron improved the accuracy of the gun but was brittle enough to suffer fractures. On the Parrott, a large wrought iron reinforcing band was overlaid on the breech. Although accurate, the Parrott had a poor reputation for safety, and they were shunned by many artillerymen. (At the end of 1862, Henry J. Hunt attempted to get the Parrott eliminated from the Army of the Potomac
Army of the Potomac
The Army of the Potomac was the major Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-History:The Army of the Potomac was created in 1861, but was then only the size of a corps . Its nucleus was called the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under Brig. Gen...

's inventory.) The 20-pounder was the largest field gun used during the war, with the barrel alone weighing over 1,800 pounds (800 kg).

James rifles

James rifles were an early solution to the need for rifled artillery at the start of the war. 6-pounder bronze guns could be rifled to fire the projectiles invented by Charles T. James
Charles Tillinghast James
Charles Tillinghast James famous consulting mechanical engineer, early proponent of the steam mill, and a United States Democratic Senator from the state of Rhode Island from 1851 to 1857.-Education and Early Experience:...

. Some were simply rifled from their initial 3.67" bore, others were reamed to 3.80" then rifled. Reaming to 3.80" was preferred to eliminate wear deformities from service. Nomenclature for the two sizes could be muddled and varied, but the effective descriptions for the 3.67" are "rifled 6-pounder" or "12-pounder James rifle", while the 3.80" variant was known as the 14-pounder James rifle. To add to the confusion new bronze (and a few iron) variants of the 3.80" bore rifle (14-pounder James rifle) were also produced with a longer, heavier tube utilizing the Ordnance profile.

Although the James rifles were reported to be extremely accurate, bronze rifling wears rapidly and the James rifles and projectiles soon fell out of favor. No new James rifles were known to have been produced after 1862. The total numbers of James rifles are uncertain, but the 1862 Ohio Quartermaster General annual report recorded 82 rifled bronze pieces (44 of those specified as "3.80 bore [James rifles]") out of a total of 162 of all field artillery types. Unusual or out of favor types migrated to the Western theaters.


The Whitworth, designed by Joseph Whitworth
Joseph Whitworth
Sir Joseph Whitworth, 1st Baronet was an English engineer, entrepreneur, inventor and philanthropist. In 1841, he devised the British Standard Whitworth system, which created an accepted standard for screw threads...

 and manufactured in England, was a rare gun during the war, but was an interesting precursor to modern artillery in that it was loaded from the breech and had exceptional accuracy over great distance. An engineering magazine wrote in 1864 that, "At 1600 yards [1500 m] the Whitworth gun fired 10 shots with a lateral deviation of only 5 inches." This degree of accuracy made it effective in counter-battery fire, used almost as the equivalent of a sharpshooter's rifle, and also for firing over bodies of water. It was not popular as an anti-infantry weapon. It had a caliber of 2.75 inches (69.9 mm). The bore was hexagonal in cross-section, and the projectile was a long bolt that twisted to conform to the rifling. It is said that the bolts made a very distinctive eerie sound when fired, which could be distinguished from other projectiles.


Ammunition came in wide varieties, designed to attack specific targets. A typical Union artillery battery (armed with six 12-pounder Napoleons) carried the following ammunition going into battle: 288 shot, 96 shells, 288 spherical cases, and 96 canisters.

Shot (or bolt)

Shot was a solid projectile that included no explosive charge. For a smoothbore, the projectile was a round "cannonball". For a rifled gun, the projectile was referred to as a bolt and had a cylindrical or spherical shape. In both cases, the projectile was used to impart kinetic energy
Kinetic energy
The kinetic energy of an object is the energy which it possesses due to its motion.It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes...

 for a battering effect, particularly effective for the destruction of enemy guns, limbers and caissons, and wagons. It was also effective for mowing down columns of infantry and cavalry and had psychological effects against its targets. Despite its effectiveness, many artillerymen were reluctant to use solid shot, preferring the explosive types of ordnance. With solid projectiles, accuracy was the paramount consideration, and they also caused more tube wear than their explosive counterparts.

While rifled cannon had much greater accuracy on average than smoothbores, the smoothbores had an advantage firing round shot relative to the bolts fired from rifled pieces. Round shot could be employed in ricochet or rolling fire extending the depth and range of its effect on land or water while bolts tended to dig in rather than ricochet.


Shell (projectile)
A shell is a payload-carrying projectile, which, as opposed to shot, contains an explosive or other filling, though modern usage sometimes includes large solid projectiles properly termed shot . Solid shot may contain a pyrotechnic compound if a tracer or spotting charge is used...

 included an explosive charge and were designed to burst into fragments in the midst of enemy infantry or artillery. For smoothbores, the projectile was referred to as "spherical shell". Shells were more effective against troops behind obstacles or earthworks, and they were good for destroying wooden buildings by setting them on fire. They were ineffective against good quality masonry. A primary weakness of shell was that it typically produced only a few large fragments, the count increasing with caliber of the shell. A Confederate mid-war innovation perhaps influenced by British ordnance/munition imports was the "polygonal cavity" or "segmented" shell which used a polyhedral cavity core to create lines of weakness in the shell wall that would yield more regular fragmentation patterns--typically 12 similarly sized fragments. While segmented designs were most common in spherical shell, it was applied to specific rifled projectiles as well.

Spherical shell used time fuses
Fuse (explosives)
In an explosive, pyrotechnic device or military munition, a fuse is the part of the device that initiates function. In common usage, the word fuse is used indiscriminately...

, while rifled shell could use timed fuse or be detonated on impact by percussion fuse. Fuse reliability was a concern; any shell that buried itself into the earth before detonating had little anti-personnel effectiveness. However, large caliber shells, such as the 32-pounder spherical were effective at breaching entrenchments.

Case (or shrapnel)

Case (or "spherical case" for smoothbores) were anti-personnel projectiles carrying a smaller burst charge than shell, but designed to be more effective against exposed troops. While shell produced only a few large fragments, case was loaded with lead or iron balls and was designed to burst above and before the enemy line, showering down many more small but destructive projectiles on the enemy. The effect was analogous to a weaker version of canister. With case the lethality of the balls and fragments came from the velocity of the bursting projectile itself—the small burst charge only fragmented the case and dispersed the shrapnel. The spherical case used in a 12-pounder Napoleon contained 78 balls. The name shrapnel derives from its inventor, Henry Shrapnel
Henry Shrapnel
Henry Shrapnel was a British Army officer and inventor, most famously, of the "shrapnel shell".Henry Shrapnel was born in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, England....


The primary limitations to case effectiveness came in judging the range, setting the fuse accordingly, and the reliability and variability of the fuse itself.


Canister shot
Canister shot
Canister shot is a kind of anti-personnel ammunition used in cannons. It was similar to the naval grapeshot, but fired smaller and more numerous balls, which did not have to punch through the wooden hull of a ship...

 was the deadliest type of ammunition, consisting of a thin metal container loaded with layers of lead or iron balls packed in sawdust. Upon exiting the muzzle, the container disintegrated, and the balls fanned out as the equivalent of a shotgun blast. The effective range of canister was only 400 yards (365.8 m), but within that range dozens of enemy infantrymen could be mowed down. Even more devastating was "double canister", generally used only in dire circumstances at extremely close range, where two containers of balls were fired simultaneously.


Grapeshot was the predecessor of, and a variation on, canister, in which a smaller number of larger metal balls were arranged on stacked iron plates with a threaded bolt running down the center to hold them as a unit inside the barrel. It was used at a time when some cannons burst when loaded with too much gunpowder, but as cannons got stronger, grapeshot was replaced by canister. A grapeshot round (or "stand") used in a 12-pounder Napoleon contained 9 balls, contrasted against the 27 smaller balls in a canister round. By the time of the Civil War, grapeshot was obsolete and largely replaced by canister. The period Ordnance and Gunnery work states that grape was excluded from "field and mountain services." Few, if any, rounds were issued to field artillery batteries.


Horses were required to pull the enormous weight of the cannon and ammunition; on average, each horse pulled about 700 pounds (317.5 kg). Each gun in a battery used two six-horse teams: one team pulled a limber that towed the gun, the other pulled a limber that towed a caisson. The large number of horses posed a logistical challenge for the artillery, because they had to be fed, maintained, and replaced when worn out or injured. Artillery horses were generally selected second from the pool of high quality animals; cavalry mounts were the best horses. The life expectancy of an artillery horse was under eight months. They suffered from disease, exhaustion from long marches—typically 16 miles (25.8 km) in 10 hours—and battle injuries.

Horses were larger targets than artillerymen when subjected to counter-battery fire, and their movements were made difficult because they were harnessed together into teams. Robert Stiles wrote about Union fire striking a Confederate battery on Benner's Hill at the Battle of Gettysburg
Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg , was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War, it is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac...

The term "horse artillery
Horse artillery
Horse artillery was a type of light, fast-moving and fast-firing artillery which provided highly mobile fire support to European and American armies from the 17th to the early 20th century...

" refers to the faster moving artillery batteries that typically supported cavalry regiments. The term "flying artillery" is sometimes used as well. In such batteries, the artillerymen were all mounted, in contrast to batteries in which the artillerymen walked alongside their guns. A prominent organization of such artillery in the Union Army was the U.S. Horse Artillery Brigade
U.S. Horse Artillery Brigade
The Horse Artillery Brigade of the Army of the Potomac was a brigade of various batteries of horse artillery during the American Civil War.Made up almost entirely of individual, company-strength batteries from the Regular Army’s five artillery regiments, the Horse Artillery operated under the...



The limber was a two-wheeled carriage that carried an ammunition chest. It was connected directly behind the team of six horses and towed either a gun or a caisson. In either case, the combination provided the equivalent of a four-wheeled vehicle, which distributed the load over two axles but was easier to maneuver on rough terrain than a four-wheeled wagon. The combination of a Napoleon gun and a packed limber weighed 3,865 pounds (1,753.1 kg).


The caisson was also a two-wheeled carriage. It carried two ammunition chests and a spare wheel. A fully loaded limber and caisson combination weighed 3,811 pounds (1728.6 kg).

The limbers, caissons, and gun carriages were all constructed of oak
An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus , of which about 600 species exist. "Oak" may also appear in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus...

. Each ammunition chest typically carried about 500 pounds (226.8 kg) of ammunition or supplies. In addition to these vehicles, there were also battery supply wagons and portable forges that were used to service the guns.

Union artillery

The Union Army entered the war with a strong advantage in artillery. It had ample manufacturing capacity in Northern factories, and it had a well-trained and professional officer corps manning that branch of the service. Brig. Gen.
Brigadier general (United States)
A brigadier general in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, is a one-star general officer, with the pay grade of O-7. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. Brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed...

 Henry J. Hunt, who was the chief of artillery for the Army of the Potomac
Army of the Potomac
The Army of the Potomac was the major Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.-History:The Army of the Potomac was created in 1861, but was then only the size of a corps . Its nucleus was called the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under Brig. Gen...

 for part of the war, was well recognized as a most efficient organizer of artillery forces, and he had few peers in the practice of the sciences of gunnery and logistics. Another example was John Gibbon
John Gibbon
John Gibbon was a career United States Army officer who fought in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

, the author of the influential Artillerist's Manual published in 1863 (although Gibbon would achieve considerably more fame as an infantry general during the war). Shortly after the outbreak of war, Brig. Gen. James Wolfe Ripley
James Wolfe Ripley
James Wolfe Ripley was an American soldier, serving as a brigadier general in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was instrumental in the early days of the war in modernizing the artillery's ordnance. However, Ripley also delayed the introduction of repeating rifles into U.S...

, Chief of Ordnance, ordered the conversion of old smoothbores into rifled cannon and the manufacture of Parrott guns.

The basic unit of Union artillery was the battery
Artillery battery
In military organizations, an artillery battery is a unit of guns, mortars, rockets or missiles so grouped in order to facilitate better battlefield communication and command and control, as well as to provide dispersion for its constituent gunnery crews and their systems...

, which usually consisted of six guns. Attempts were made to ensure that all six guns in a battery were of the same caliber, simplifying training and logistics. Each gun, or "piece", was operated by a gun crew of eight, plus four additional men to handle the horses and equipment. Two guns operating under the control of a lieutenant
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

 were known as a "section". The battery of six guns was commanded by a captain. Artillery brigade
A brigade is a major tactical military formation that is typically composed of two to five battalions, plus supporting elements depending on the era and nationality of a given army and could be perceived as an enlarged/reinforced regiment...

s composed of five batteries were commanded by colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

s and supported the infantry organizations as follows: each infantry corps
A corps is either a large formation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function such as Artillery or Signals representing an arm of service...

 was supported directly by one artillery brigade and, in the case of the Army of the Potomac, five brigades formed the Artillery Reserve. This arrangement, championed by Hunt, allowed artillery to be massed in support of the entire army's objective, rather than being dispersed all across the battlefield. An example of the tension between infantry commanders and artillery commanders was during the massive Confederate bombardment of Cemetery Ridge
Cemetery Ridge
Cemetery Ridge is a geographic feature in Gettysburg National Military Park south of the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that figured prominently in the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1 to July 3, 1863. It formed a primary defensive position for the Union Army during the battle, roughly the center of...

 on 3 July 1863, the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg
Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg , was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War, it is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac...

. Hunt had difficulty persuading the infantry commanders, such as Maj. Gen.
Major general (United States)
In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general...

 Winfield S. Hancock, against using all of their artillery ammunition in response to the Confederate bombardment, understanding the value to the defenders of saving the ammunition for the infantry assault to come, Pickett's Charge
Pickett's Charge
Pickett's Charge was an infantry assault ordered by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee against Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's Union positions on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Its futility was predicted by the charge's commander,...


At the start of the war, the U.S. Army had 2,283 guns on hand, but only about 10% of these were field artillery pieces. By the end of the war, the army had 3,325 guns, of which 53% were field pieces. The army reported as "supplied to the army during the war" the following quantities: 7,892 guns, 6,335,295 artillery projectiles, 2,862,177 rounds of fixed artillery ammunition, 45,258 tons of lead metal, and 13,320 tons of gunpowder.

Confederate artillery

The South was at a relative disadvantage to the North for deployment of artillery. The industrial North had far greater capacity for manufacturing weapons, and the Union blockade
Union blockade
The Union Blockade, or the Blockade of the South, took place between 1861 and 1865, during the American Civil War, when the Union Navy maintained a strenuous effort on the Atlantic and Gulf Coast of the Confederate States of America designed to prevent the passage of trade goods, supplies, and arms...

 of Southern ports prevented many foreign arms from reaching the Southern armies. The Confederacy had to rely to a significant extent on captured Union artillery pieces (either on the battlefield or by capturing armories, such as Harpers Ferry); it is estimated that two thirds of all Confederate field artillery was captured from the Union. The Confederate cannons built in the South often suffered from the shortage of quality metals and shoddy workmanship. Another disadvantage was the quality of ammunition. The fuses needed for detonating shells and cases were frequently inaccurate, causing premature or delayed explosions. All that, coupled with the Union gunners' initial competence and experience gained as the war progressed, led Southern forces to dread assaults on Northern positions backed up by artillery. A Southern officer observed, "The combination of Yankee artillery with Rebel infantry would make an army that could be beaten by no one."

Confederate batteries usually consisted of four guns, in contrast to the Union's six. This was a matter of necessity, because guns were always in short supply. And, unlike the Union, batteries frequently consisted of mixed caliber weapons. Confederate batteries were generally organized into battalions (versus the Union brigades) of four batteries each, and the battalions were assigned to the direct support of infantry divisions
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

. Each infantry corps was assigned two battalions as an Artillery Reserve, but there was no such Reserve at the army level. The chief of artillery for Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

's Army of Northern Virginia
Army of Northern Virginia
The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary military force of the Confederate States of America in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, as well as the primary command structure of the Department of Northern Virginia. It was most often arrayed against the Union Army of the Potomac...

, Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton
William N. Pendleton
William Nelson Pendleton was an American teacher, Episcopal priest, and soldier. He served as a Confederate general during the American Civil War, noted for his position as Gen. Robert E. Lee's chief of artillery for most of the conflict...

, had considerable difficulty massing artillery for best effect because of this organization.


Although virtually all battles of the Civil War included artillery, some battles are known better than others for significant artillery engagements, arguably critical to the overall outcome:
  • Battle of Antietam
    Battle of Antietam
    The Battle of Antietam , fought on September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and Antietam Creek, as part of the Maryland Campaign, was the first major battle in the American Civil War to take place on Northern soil. It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with about 23,000...

  • Battle of Chancellorsville
    Battle of Chancellorsville
    The Battle of Chancellorsville was a major battle of the American Civil War, and the principal engagement of the Chancellorsville Campaign. It was fought from April 30 to May 6, 1863, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near the village of Chancellorsville. Two related battles were fought nearby on...

  • Battle of Stones River
    Battle of Stones River
    The Battle of Stones River or Second Battle of Murfreesboro , was fought from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, in Middle Tennessee, as the culmination of the Stones River Campaign in the Western Theater of the American Civil War...

  • Battle of Fredericksburg
    Battle of Fredericksburg
    The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside...

  • Battle of Gettysburg
    Battle of Gettysburg
    The Battle of Gettysburg , was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle with the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War, it is often described as the war's turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac...

  • Battle of Malvern Hill
    Battle of Malvern Hill
    The Battle of Malvern Hill, also known as the Battle of Poindexter's Farm, took place on July 1, 1862, in Henrico County, Virginia, on the seventh and last day of the Seven Days Battles of the American Civil War. Gen. Robert E. Lee launched a series of disjointed assaults on the nearly impregnable...

Notable Civil War artillerists

Not nearly as well known as their infantry and cavalry counterparts, a small group of officers excelled at artillery deployment, organization, and the science of gunnery:
  • Edward Porter Alexander
    Edward Porter Alexander
    Edward Porter Alexander was an engineer, an officer in the U.S. Army, a Confederate general in the American Civil War, and later a railroad executive, planter, and author....

  • Thomas H. Carter
    Thomas H. Carter (Colonel)
    Thomas Henry Carter was an artillery officer in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. His battalion played an important role in the Battle of Gettysburg.-Early life:...

  • Alonzo Cushing
    Alonzo Cushing
    -References:* Brown, Kent Masterson. Cushing of Gettysburg. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993. ISBN 0-8131-1837-9.-Further reading:* Haight, Theron Wilber. . Madison: Wisconsin History Commission, 1910. .* -External links:**...

  • John Gibbon
    John Gibbon
    John Gibbon was a career United States Army officer who fought in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

     (Artillerist's Manual)
  • Henry Jackson Hunt
    Henry Jackson Hunt
    Henry Jackson Hunt was Chief of Artillery in the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. Considered by his contemporaries the greatest artillery tactician and strategist of the war, he was a master of the science of gunnery and rewrote the manual on the organization and use of artillery...

  • Stonewall Jackson
    Stonewall Jackson
    ຄຽשת״ׇׂׂׂׂ֣|birth_place= Clarksburg, Virginia |death_place=Guinea Station, Virginia|placeofburial=Stonewall Jackson Memorial CemeteryLexington, Virginia|placeofburial_label= Place of burial|image=...

     (artillery instructor before the war)
  • Joseph W. Latimer
    Joseph W. Latimer
    Joseph White Latimer , "The Boy Major," was a promising young officer in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia's artillery branch during the American Civil War. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg....

  • Freeman McGilvery
    Freeman McGilvery
    Freeman McGilvery was a United States Army artillery officer during the American Civil War. He gained fame at the Battle of Gettysburg for taking the initiative to piece together a line of guns that greatly contributed to the Union victory.-Biography:McGilvery was born in Prospect, Maine...

  • "Willy" Pegram
  • John Pelham
  • William N. Pendleton
    William N. Pendleton
    William Nelson Pendleton was an American teacher, Episcopal priest, and soldier. He served as a Confederate general during the American Civil War, noted for his position as Gen. Robert E. Lee's chief of artillery for most of the conflict...

  • Charles S. Wainwright
    Charles S. Wainwright
    Charles Shiels Wainwright was a produce farmer in the state of New York and an artillery officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He played an important role in the defense of Cemetery Hill during the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, where his artillery helped repel a Confederate...

  • Reuben Lindsay Walker
    Reuben Lindsay Walker
    Reuben Lindsay Walker was a Confederate general who served in the artillery during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

Notable Civil War artillery organizations

  • Danville Artillery
    Danville Artillery
    The Danville Artillery was a field artillery company in the Confederate States Army, Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War. It was also referred to informally as a battery, although this reference was only infrequently used during the war....

  • Fluvanna Artillery
    Fluvanna Artillery
    The Fluvanna Artillery was an artillery battery formed from citizens of Fluvanna County, Virginia, during the American Civil War. It participated in the Antietam and Gettysburg Campaigns, as well as the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864 under Confederate Major General Jubal Early.With the...

  • Washington Artillery

See also

  • Field Artillery Branch (United States)
  • Samuel Ringgold (US Army officer)
  • Double-barreled cannon
    Double-barreled cannon
    The double-barreled cannon is an American Civil War-era experimental weapon and is now a modern landmark located in Athens, Georgia. While originally built for warfare, the cannon never saw battle.-Concept:...

  • Field artillery
    Field artillery
    Field artillery is a category of mobile artillery used to support armies in the field. These weapons are specialized for mobility, tactical proficiency, long range, short range and extremely long range target engagement....

  • Siege artillery in the American Civil War
    Siege artillery in the American Civil War
    Siege artillery is heavy artillery primarily used in military attacks on fortified places. At the time of the American Civil War, the U.S. Army classified its artillery into three types, depending on the gun's weight and intended use. Field artillery were light pieces that often traveled with the...

Further reading

  • Gottfried, Bradley M. The Artillery of Gettysburg. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-58182-623-4.
  • Wise, Jennings C. The Long Arm of Lee: The History of the Artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959. .

External links

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