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"What type of cannon?" Topic

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American Civil War

974 hits since 10 Mar 2018
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Cleburne1863 Supporting Member of TMP10 Mar 2018 9:07 p.m. PST

You are a new captain raising an artillery battery. You can equip it with either 12 pdr Napoleons or 3" Ordnance Rifles. Which do you choose?

I think I'd choose the Napoleons. Great canister, and good shells at range.

vagamer63 Supporting Member of TMP10 Mar 2018 10:09 p.m. PST

Give me one regiment, and one battery of Napoleons and I will take that hill!

Trajanus10 Mar 2018 11:34 p.m. PST

Don't think Henry Hunt would agree with you Brad. Not judging by the number of 3" Rifles in the AoP by the time of Gettysburg.

Maybe that's an Army based decision rather than a battery based one though. He may have been considering counter battery work more than an idvidual Captain might.

Personally l would agree with him as I think canister's importance may be over rated as an unsupported battery was often overrun anyway and guns in a supported or improved position were better off for a number of reasons, not just if they were rifle or smoothbore.

Also you could always use the dodge of setting the fuse on shells to zero so it acted like a kind of canister. Not quite as good but I'd still rather not be stood in front of it!

Over all I'd go for accuracy at a longer range and hope not to be hung out to dry!

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP10 Mar 2018 11:37 p.m. PST

How much does each type cost? How much equipment does each need? How many crew? Ammo supply? Maintenance?

These are probably the type of questions that would be asked…

WarWizard11 Mar 2018 3:22 a.m. PST

I am currently working on my 28mm Confederate and Union Batteries. 4 guns each. I am trying to decide what ordinance to give each. Would a 4 gun battery typically have the same type of gun or would they be mixed? I am not meaning to hijack this thread but I thought would not be mined if I asked this here.


pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 3:33 a.m. PST

Union batteries tended to be the same gun types, especially in the East. Confederate batteries were more likely to be mixed (for example, a section of 3" Rifles and a section of Napoleons). But sometimes, they would be the same.

Extrabio1947 Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 4:18 a.m. PST

I'm going with the ordnance rifles, preferring the longer range and accuracy. Much better for counter-battery fire, while still offering decent canister performance (Cushing's Battery at Gettysburg).

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 5:35 a.m. PST

2nd the Ordnance rifles

WarWizard11 Mar 2018 6:18 a.m. PST

Thanks for that info!

Cleburne1863 Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 6:33 a.m. PST

I wonder if there is any empirical data concerning whether rifles were better for counterbattery fire vs. smoothbores? Shells exploding over the battery and raining shrapnel down on the crew and horses can do just as much damage as a solid bolt striking a spoke or axle and disabling a gun.

I'm not arguing one way or the other. Now I'm just curious if there is any hard data out there. :)

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 7:58 a.m. PST

Don't understand the reference to 'bolt,' since
rifled artillery also fired exploding shell/shrapnel.

While true that a 'bolt' needed to hit directly to
damage a piece or equipment, so did the roundshot
fired by a Napoleon.

Ordnance rifles outranged the Napoleon by about 200
yards at 5 deg elevation, so for counterbattery, I'd
choose the rifled gun versus the smoothbore.

Additionally, the 3" projectile weighed about 2 1/2
pounds less than the 12 pounder, and the charge weight
for the rifle was 1 pound versus the 2.5 pounds for the
Napoleon. So the rifled battery could carry more
ammunition in the same limber space.

The MV for the Napoleon was higher than for the 3"
though, the Napoleon's MV being 1440 ft/sec versus
about 1200 for the rifled gun, if that makes any

Given the difference in accuracy, plus the factors I've
stated above, the 3" for me.

donlowry11 Mar 2018 8:22 a.m. PST

I believe it was Hunt who asked that a new canister round be developed for the Napoleon, as the existing round had too few balls (27 IIRC).

Nevertheless, I think if I were a corps or army commander I would want more Napoleons -- as a battery commander I'd prefer rifles, as less chance of being asked to fight at close range.

rmaker11 Mar 2018 9:20 a.m. PST

The MV for the Napoleon was higher than for the 3"
though, the Napoleon's MV being 1440 ft/sec versus
about 1200 for the rifled gun, if that makes any

True, but the ballistic form of the rifle projectile was much more favorable. Spherical projectiles have vey high drag in the transonic range, so the M857's rounds were probably going less than 1100 fps within 100 feet of the muzzle.

Bill N11 Mar 2018 10:14 a.m. PST

You did not specify whether the gun would ordinarily be assigned to support a brigade or division of infantry or whether it would be used with the corps or army reserve. If the former I would lean towards the Napoleon. If the latter the rifle.

T Corret Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 11:31 a.m. PST

I was at a reenactment event that had a full size Napoleon and a 10lber Parrot (close bore-size to the ordinance rifle), and from across the field the Napoleon's bore looked like the gate of Hell. I can tell you what cannon I wouldn't want to charge.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP11 Mar 2018 12:56 p.m. PST

At least the 3" rifle can shoot accurately at over minie rifle range!

Trajanus11 Mar 2018 3:01 p.m. PST


Obviously only from one battle but Gottfried's well annotated "The Artillery of Gettysburg" has all aspects of battery work and ammo use covered.

Including the over running of Union Batteries as the 3rd Corps collapsed and how the Reserve Artillery saved the day.

Along with details of counter battery fire from both sides, right down to E.Porter Alexander refusing to send in his Howitzers in to support Pickett, on the grounds that it would be sending them to their deaths.

The book strongly points up the dubious pleasure of being in a smoothbore battery facing Rifles.

As far as I'm aware neither army had solid shot available for their Rifled Artillery at Gettysburg.

Oddly enough, due to having many more Rifles than Napoleons the AoP had twice as much Canister available for Rifle batteries than Smoothbores, where as in the ANV it was the other way round!

BW195911 Mar 2018 4:52 p.m. PST

Through out the war only one 3" Rifle burst, the same could not be said of any other type. It was also a lighter tube which is why it was used a lot by the horse artillery of the Union armies.

I'll take a 3" rifle

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Mar 2018 3:29 a.m. PST

The Napoleons look so splendid when the barrels are all bright and shiny :) Also, I love the bell-like sound they make when they fire.

donlowry12 Mar 2018 8:07 a.m. PST

… right down to E.Porter Alexander refusing to send in his Howitzers in to support Pickett, on the grounds that it would be sending them to their deaths.

IIRC, Alexander didn't send the howitzers to support Pickett because he couldn't find them; Pendleton had moved them without notifying him.

Trajanus12 Mar 2018 9:36 a.m. PST


Pendleton offered nine Howitzers then moved four before Alexander could call on them when he found those gone, along with the other five, that were shifted to the rear by the Major commanding the detachment.

There were something like thirty Howitzers that went begging during the battle because of a shortage of good battery positions on the Confederate side of the field. This meant they could not be sited close enough to fire without being chopped up by Union guns.

It may well be that I've mixed Alexander's statement up in that regard, or I read it in the post war ruckus around "the charge" and its viability.

Alexander never forgave Longstreet for trying (in his view) to shift the Go/No-Go call, before Pickett was sent, in onto him.

One other thing Pendleton moved that Alexander, or at least the people he sent to look for them, definitely couldn't find were the reserve ammunition wagons.

Hence the "hurry up" message before the charge as ammo started to run out. When it was discovered the supply had been shifted way to the rear.

donlowry13 Mar 2018 8:23 a.m. PST

OK, I may have been mixing up the missing howitzers with the missing ammo train, so far as blaming Pendleton. Sorry 'bout that.

Trajanus13 Mar 2018 10:40 a.m. PST


I don't think you were wrong. As far as I know both the Howitzers and the Ammo went walkabout! :o)

Actually, the events are often held up as examples of Lee's short coming as man manager, in that Pendleton was allowed to carry on being a liability rather than Lee throwing him under the bus. Or should that be stagecoach? :o)

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2018 8:01 p.m. PST

Trajanus – no, not the stagecoach, the battery wagon !

Trajanus14 Mar 2018 12:54 a.m. PST

Good one!

donlowry14 Mar 2018 8:24 a.m. PST

Pendleton would have been better employed as chief of chaplains.

Blutarski14 Mar 2018 12:10 p.m. PST

A problem associated with use of rifled artillery in counter-battery fire was the tendency of its percussion-fuzed projectiles to bury themselves in soft ground, thereby reducing their effect.


Trajanus14 Mar 2018 1:27 p.m. PST

Well that assumes they were using percussion and not timed fused rounds. There again in soft ground solid shot did the same thing.

I'd love to know how much percussion ammunition was used, particularly as the limber chest fire tables gave time of flight in seconds to aid in fuse setting. Not something you would need when firing percussion.

Also much is made of the superiority of the Union Bormann Time Fuse and the problems the Confederate manufactures had in reproducing them.

I would imagine that if you had a superior fuse and a whole bunch of Rifles the temptation would be to stick with Time rather than use Percussion.

From Gottfried I get the impression that Confederate gunners were less than happy with the accuracy of Union Rifles being able to explode Shell and Case around or above there positions.

Then of course any of this requires capable gun crews in the first place!

Blutarski14 Mar 2018 3:55 p.m. PST

Hi Trajanus,
I question whether smoothbore shot possessed an equal propensity to bury itself in soft ground. The cross sectional density of a rifled projectile (shell weight divided by area of the bore) was about 2x greater for the rifled projectile Rifled gun of 3-inch bore versus Napoleon smoothbore of 4.62-inch bore. And the striking velocity of a rifled projectile at typical engagement ranges was likely greater than that of a round shot.

No disagreement regarding superiority of Union artillery fuzes. The high inherent accuracy of the rifled field gun coupled with (more or less) reliable fuzes and the stationary nature of a battery in action, it would not take long for Union gunners to find the range and deliver fire onto a target within effective range. On the other hand, Confederate fuzes were so unreliable in both action and timing as to make ranging a vexing problem (btw, a very good book on ACW ammunition (and fuzes) is "Field Artillery Projectiles of the Civil War, 1861-1865" by Kerksis and Dickey)



Trajanus15 Mar 2018 7:40 a.m. PST

Couple of interesting quotes here:

From the OR Report of Lieut. George Breck, Battery L, First New York Light Artillery mentioned, …"the amount of ammunition expended during the three days battle was 1290 rounds, consisting of Schenkl percussion, 523 rounds, Schenkl compound [a combination time fuse and a percussion fuse], 715 rounds; and canister, 52 rounds."

"Of the most valuable kind of rifle ammunition, shrapnel, the Confederates made none, on account of the scarcity of lead. Of the next most useful kind, percussion shell, (invaluable for getting the range,) few were to be had until the last year of the war. The fuse then used, Girardey's, was excellent, probably better than any of the enemy's patterns, and it possessed the peculiar excellence of being carried loose in the chest and applied to any shell at the moment it was needed, so that just as many shells could be made "percussion" as the gunner wished. This perfection of the fuse, however, was only reached during the fall of 1864, and before that period the percussion-shell had a fuse-plug specially fitted to it at the arsenal, and the supply furnished was very small."

Gen. E. P. Alexander, late Chief of Artillery of Longstreet's Corps.

A limited sample but gives some reply to my question of amounts of percussion used. In the Union quite a lot in the Confederacy very little!

Also interesting point that the Confederate Artillery would appear to have been restricted to Solid Shot or Common Shell at long range through most of the War.

Blutarski15 Mar 2018 10:45 a.m. PST

Hi Trajanus,
Alexander had a lot to say retrospectively about the Confederate artillery arm. I found a number of important Alexander comments regarding CSA artillery materiel in "Field Artillery Projectiles of the Civil War, 1861-1865"), which quoted Alexander's paper in its entirety.

Some extracted comments …

> The Seven Days Lee had about 300 guns, but it suffered from "the wretched character of the ammunition which filled its chests" …

> Re ammunition shortages "… the majority of the batteries took the field without having ever fired a round in practice and passed through the war without aiming a gun at any target but the enemy. The order 'save your ammunition' was reiterated on every battle-field and many an awful pounding had to be borne in silence from the Yankee guns while every shot was reserved for their infantry. (Blutarski note What does this say for Lee's order for a mass bombardment in support of Pickett? Was Lee trying for one great roll of the dice?)

> Confederate efforts to manufacture a satisfactory copy of the Bormann fuze were a failure. 4/5s of smoothbore shells fired resulted in prematures which posed a considerable danger to any intervening friendly infantry. Although it was agreed to revert to old-fashioned but far more reliable paper fuzes in January 1863, existing stocks of Bormann-fuzed ammunition were not depleted until Gettysburg.

> Rifled ammunition was (if possible) even more of a problem. Early rifled projectile sabot designs almost uniformly failed to take the rifling of the gun, resulting in much shortened range, great inaccuracy and even tumbling. According to Alexander, "not one shell in twenty exploded". A re-design in 1862 resulted in only minor improvement in performance one-quarter taking proper flight and, of those, about one-quarter properly exploding when striking. A further 1863 re-design considerably improved flight performance, but was not a cure-all. The McAvoy Fuse Igniter" provided a large improvement in fuze performance.

> An anecdotal example of Confederate rifled artillery ammunition performance: at the siege of Knoxville, a battery of four Parrot rifles fired a total of 120 projectiles; all but two of the shells fired either tumbled or burst prematurely.

> Alexander asserted: "Of the most valuable kind of rifle ammunition, shrapnel, the Confederates made none, on account of the scarcity of lead. Of the next most useful kind, percussion shell (invaluable for getting the range) few were to be had until the last year of the war."

> Confederate percussion fuzes were also very unreliable until introduction of the excellent Girardey Fuze, but that did not appear until Fall of 1864.

A lot to chew on here, even allowing for the possibility of a little disgruntled hyperbole on Alexander's part …..


Trajanus16 Mar 2018 7:15 a.m. PST

A lot to chew on here, even allowing for the possibility of a little disgruntled hyperbole on Alexander's part ….

There's a lot of that about but there again he wasn't the only one! :o)

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