Civil War

Civil War

During the American Civil War, which lasted
from 1861-1865, over 620,000 accounted soldiers were killed. Known
as the "the first modern war", historians generally agree that the reason
for this was because this was a time of transition for the military.

Armies and Navies were still using tactics where they would gather large
forces of firepower to bear on the enemy. At the same time, weapons
were being developed which were accurate and lethal well beyond any arms
of the earlier conflicts. As a result of these two conditions many
more casualties were sustained. Add to that the lack of medical knowledge
of disease and infection and the numbers truly began to grow. This
paper is an overview of the types of weaponry that was used during this

Artillery generally falls into three basic
categories; guns, howitzers and mortars. The main difference between
them being the trajectory of the round fire. A gun has a high muzzle
velocity and a very flat trajectory. Normally a gun is used in a
direct fire mode where the target can be seen and penetration is desirable.

Good targets for a gun would be things like brick or earth forts, ships,
buildings, and targets in tree lines.

Howitzers have a somewhat lower muzzle
velocity and arc their shells onto a target. They are used in both
a direct fire and indirect fire mode. Keep in mind with the limited
range of the pieces available during the Civil War there was no indirect
fire such as we know it today. Targets were generally always within
the line of sight of the artillery men. This is especially useful
when an enemy is concealed behind a prepared position or the artillery
men desire to have a shell explode over an enemy’s head. The air-burst
does less damage to hardened targets such as masonry walls, and redoubts,
but causes many more human casualties due to the shrapnel covering a large

Mortars have a very pronounced arc of flight.

They have a relatively low muzzle velocity and are unsuitable for direct
fire. Their principle value comes from being able to lob shells behind
an obstacle such as a fort or a hill. Unlike modern mortars, those
used during the Civil War were bulky devises and mounted at a fixed angle
usually between 45 and 50 degrees. They were not very accurate and
depended solely upon the amount of propelling powder to determine their
point of impact.

Shells, hollow ammunition filled with gunpowder
and equipped with a fuse, were the most common type of explosive artillery
round used during the Civil War. Fuses could be either timed so the
round would explode after a certain number of seconds had elapsed, or were
percussion so the ammunition would explode upon striking an object.

Shells were generally used as long range rounds, meant to explode among
an advancing enemy or used to blow apart enemy forts.

Solid shot was a kinetic energy round.

Its speed and mass were used to penetrate walls, fort and armor.

To produce any type of casualty effect, the round would have to actually
strike the target. Solid shot was particularly used against ironclad
ships where a shell would do little or no damage. During one test
an 8 inch Brooke rifle with 16 pounds of powder fired a 140 pound ball

260 yards and penetrated eight inches of iron backed by 18 inches of solid

While there are many accounts of troops
charging bravely into a "hail of grape" there is little fact in this.

Grape shot was used very little on the land battlefield during the Civil

War. The ammunition encountered by the soldiers was called canister,
one of the war’s most deadliest rounds. Canister was basically a
tin packed with sawdust and musket balls which, when fired, spread out
and turned the artillery piece into a giant shotgun. At close range
against masses infantry this round was devastating, cutting huge swaths
through the attacking men.

Grape shot was widely used in the 19th
century wars, but by the time of the American Civil War, grape was primarily
used by navel gun crews. Similar to canister, grape shot consisted
of meat balls, but unlike canister which fired 76 balls, a round of grape
shot consisted of nine or so balls and were usually not packed in cans.

A standard round consisted of three tiers of three 2 inch diameter balls
separated by iron plates and held together by a central rod which connected
the bottom plates. Another design consisted of an iron bottom plate
with a central pin around which the balls were stacked. A cloth bag,
usually of canvas, covered the balls which was