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"Why howitzers?" Topic

19 Posts

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American Civil War

895 hits since 24 May 2018
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Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP25 May 2018 9:20 a.m. PST

So the early war 6pdr batteries had 2 howitzers. But from my understanding. The 6pdr could use shell, case etc. So in ecence a gun-howitzer like the 12pdr Napoleon. So why the need for howitzers?

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP25 May 2018 9:28 a.m. PST

Mobility and uses on the frontier.

MajorB25 May 2018 9:48 a.m. PST

"Why howitzers?"

Why not?

Vintage Wargaming25 May 2018 10:07 a.m. PST


79thPA Supporting Member of TMP25 May 2018 10:18 a.m. PST

A 6pdr was not like a 12pd Napoleon or a howitzer. The howitzer was more effective than the 6pdr in delivering "explosive" rounds and firing at troops behind cover. Mixed batteries were common throughout Europe (and the US) because the guns were designed to do two different things. While there may be some cross-over, one does not replace the other.

advocate25 May 2018 10:26 a.m. PST

Tradition. Indirect fire. Apparently good at firing case so an element of self-defence for the battery.

rmaker25 May 2018 11:01 a.m. PST

Advocate is right. Tradition. We'd always done it that way. And, to be honest, 6-pdr shell was pathetic and 6-pdr spherical case not much better. There was a good reason why the Union phased out 6-pdrs as quickly as possible.

By the way, 79th PA, 18th and 19th Century howitzers were NOT particularly high elevation weapons, so firing at troops in cover wasn't the issue.

USAFpilot25 May 2018 11:03 a.m. PST

Can someone explain in simple terms the difference between the two (cannon vs howitzer) for an Air Force puke? Thanks.

saltflats192925 May 2018 11:15 a.m. PST
donlowry25 May 2018 11:38 a.m. PST

A gun fires on a relatively flat trajectory with relatively high velocity. A howitzer lobs its shells at a relatively higher trajectory and lower velocity.

The howitzer can have a shorter barrel for its caliber, or a higher caliber for its length, because it doesn't need the velocity of the gun. Therefore, batteries with 6-pdr guns could include 12-pdr howitzers of about the same weight (the piece, not the shot).

Because of its higher velocity, the gun would be more accurate. Because of its larger bore (caliber), the howitzer could fire a larger canister round.

BTW, I was an Air Force type myself (but not a pilot).

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP25 May 2018 11:38 a.m. PST

Not to disagree with advocate and rmaker, but I note that the Army of Tennessee upped its howitzer percentage prior to the 1864 Campaign. I think they were perceived as having an edge in defensive fighting.

Onomarchos Supporting Member of TMP25 May 2018 12:32 p.m. PST


If I was an early war CSA arty commander, I would take two howitzers because they fired 12-pound ammo instead of 6-pound.
The 12 pdr. Howitzer was by far the most effective field piece of the war for use at any range under 400 yards. Its large shells gave it firepower, while its lightweight, less than 800 lbs, made it highly mobile and easy to position, even by hand.
Because of its mobility, the piece was readily adaptable for close infantry support. The 12-pdr howitzer's great weakness was its effective range, which is not much over 1,000 yards, well under that of even the 6-pdr gun. It made the piece an easy target for other artillery.

Blutarski26 May 2018 3:22 a.m. PST

Onomarchos has pretty much laid it all out. Some interesting factoids -

The canister round for the 12-pounder howitzer contained 48 balls as opposed to the early to mid war standard of 27.

US government purchases of smoothbore artillery projectiles, 1861 to 1865:
6-pounder shot: 158,561
6-pounder case: 110,874
6-pounder shell: 1,541

… from which it may surmised that the howitzers were present in the battery organization for the purpose of delivering explosive shell fire upon structures, materiel targets, etc.


donlowry27 May 2018 8:30 a.m. PST

Or course, pre-war batteries had a mix of guns and howitzers because batteries were rare and you seldom had more than 1, so it had to be multi-capable.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP27 May 2018 9:39 a.m. PST

Napoleon didn't lack batteries. And he still had howitzers in his batteries.
But i guess the answer was. Because 6pdrs had useless shells and next to useless case.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP27 May 2018 2:53 p.m. PST

Gunfreak, you are the OP and framed the question in terms
of the ACW.

Hence I'm intrigued that you now introduce Napoleon's
artillery into the discussion.


Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP27 May 2018 3:00 p.m. PST

It was an answer to downlowry.
Claiming the reason for the howitzer was lack of batteries. When obviously not. Since lack of batteries weren't a thing in the Napoleonic wars but all napoleonic batteries had howitzers (Except for russians that had proto gun-howitzers instead of howitzers

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP28 May 2018 5:46 a.m. PST

Re: Don's comment – he was apparently addressing
pre-ACW artillery establishments.

I'm not sure how accurate the case that 'batteries
were rare', unless he meant in the Regulars.

There were militia batteries, such as the Richmond
Howitzers. In some cases, these were both legitimate
Militia organizations and also a sort of Social

donlowry28 May 2018 8:06 a.m. PST

Yes, I was talking about the pre-war Regulars, but Gunfreak makes a good point. So maybe the real answer is: "because it's always been done that way."

Ed, yes, I think a lot of the pre-war militia units were more social than military -- get together once a month to march around in snazzy uniforms and impress the ladies, while networking with your fellow members. Except that after John Brown's raid some of the Southern militia started to take it more seriously.

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