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"What types of ammunition did rifled artillery fire?" Topic

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huevans01108 Jan 2022 6:45 a.m. PST

Basic, dumb question:

What types of ammo did rifled field artillery fire in the 1860 – 1880 period?…. Was it just explosive shell? Was solid shot still used?

Was canister used at all in rifled weapons? How about shrapnel?

JimDuncanUK08 Jan 2022 7:52 a.m. PST

Some reading for you, answers within.


Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2022 8:08 a.m. PST

Ammunition for Russian cast iron bronze rifled breechloaders during 1877 Russo-Turkish War was high-explosive percussion fuzed, incendiary, time-fused shrapnel, and canister.

French 1870-1871 artillery used common shell, shrapnel, and canister. Prussians used shell, shrapnel, and case shot. That would also be for any country that bought Krupp produced artillery, such as the Egyptians and Turks, among others.


35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2022 9:10 a.m. PST

For US Civil War, the were various designs of shells for rifled pieces, but types were the same. Solid, timed exploding shell to create shrapnel, timed case shot, which created both shrapnel and would have normally small round balls that would disperse on explosion and of course canister (basically the metal can loaded with balls packed in a matrix) when fired the can would disintegrate and the balls would disperse like a shotgun. Rifled pieces were not as effective with canister as smoothbore were, due to the rifling in the barrel. The rifling did not allow them to have as wide an arc as a smoothbore. The rifle of course made up for that with distance an accuracy. The old story was; you could go up to a good smoothbore gun Sargent and ask him if he could put a shell in the barn out there. He would say yes and put one in the barn. Same question to a rifled gunner and he would ask if you want it through the door or the window. Don't know if the story is true, but it tells you the difference. Great sources on the web for the types of Civil War artillery, shell shape, distance, types of timed fuses, etc. Union timed fuses were better on the whole then Confederate, manufactured in the same place and with more precision.

donlowry08 Jan 2022 9:24 a.m. PST

In the ACW, the usual types: Solid shot, explosive shell, and canister. Shell, in most cases, exploded by percussion when hitting the ground, not a timed fuse, IIRC. Not sure about shrapnel, as that would have required a timed fuse.

The most common types of rifled field artillery in the ACW were the 10-pounder Parrott and 3-inch Ordnance Rifle. Both could use the same ammunition (except early Parrotts, which were 2.9" caliber). Less common were 12-pounder James bronze rifles. There was also a 20-pounder Parrott, but not commonly used, as it was a bit heavy for field use (although only 3.67" caliber, the same as a 12-pounder James), a 30-pounder Parrott siege gun, and much large sizes for coastal defense and Naval use. The Confederates imported some British Armstrong, Whitworth and Blakely rifles, mostly in 12-pounder or 3-inch calibers. Also a few Wiard rifles in 6-pounder and 10-pounder sizes.

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2022 9:46 a.m. PST

The use of a percussion or timed fuse was the decision of the gunner and depended on what the intention of the gunner, air burst or ground. For case shot the air burst would have been more useful to allow the balls packed is to disperse outward. In soft ground conditions the shell could bury itself and defeat the propose of the percussion fuses. It actually gets more technical, but need to leave.

If you mean the parrot and 3 inch ordnance fired the same type of rounds, that is true, but to my knowledge the shells were not interchangeable between types, I.e. you could not shove a parrot shell into a 3 inch.

Good site to start:

huevans01108 Jan 2022 10:20 a.m. PST

Cheers, guys! You're more than kind and very helpful!

I'll start looking at your stuff.

huevans01109 Jan 2022 7:27 a.m. PST

Can you gents also recommend any articles re range and accuracy of rifled field guns based on observations made during the engagements fought?

donlowry09 Jan 2022 8:34 a.m. PST

My understanding is that, once the 10-pdr Parrott was upgraded to 3" from 2.9", the same ammo would work with either the Parrott or the Ordnance 3". In fact, that was why the Parrott was changed. (Arms and Equipment of the Civil War -- Jack Coggins)

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2022 11:19 a.m. PST

The short answer is yes. The 2.9 inch bore of the 10 pdr Parrott rifle was upgraded to a full 3 inch bore in the fall of 1863 & were delivered to the field beginning in January of 1864. Since it was almost impossible to tell a projectile for the 2.9 vs one for the full 3 inch by eye, especially during battle, all new castings of the Parrott were ordered cast to 3 inches. Some of the earlier cast 2,9's were rebored to 3 inches, but obliviously not all.
The Confederates actually had a 2.9-inch Parrott put out of action because they tried to ram a 3-inch projectile down the bore on the 1st days fight. Don't know of any such thing happening with any Union battery, but the conversion simplified the supply of projectiles for them. It's my understanding that Parrott rounds were to be used, if possible, but other others could be used if no more Parrott rounds were available.
The two versions are usually easy to tell apart by the prescient or lack of a muzzle swell. Parrott Rifles..jpg
The near tube is a 2-9-inch, vs the 3-inch furthest away.

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2022 11:20 a.m. PST

Sorry the .jpg did not come through

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2022 11:46 a.m. PST

I am contacting my resident expert on CW artillery to see book recommendations.

Remember these were line of sight guns, so even if you could fire over 2 miles, you had to see the target to be truly accurate. Also experience of the crew and gunner would be A dependency. If you could not see them you were firing blind.

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2022 7:03 p.m. PST

This what gunner Sgt. sent.

The ranges are found in a variety of books. Probably among the cheapest & is most likely still available is "Civil War Artillery At Gettysburg, Organization, Equipment, Ammunition, & Tactics" by Philip M. Cole, a former battlefield guide at Gettysburg. The attachments sent are from his book, & Benton's.
Others are " Artillery & Ammunition of the Civil War" by Warren Ripley, (I believe it's out of print),
The 1862 & 1863 Ordnance Manuals have range figures for rifled artillery.
Ordnance & Gunnery by Capt. James G. Benton, (used to instruct West Point cadets)

I have a couple of charts he sent. If you want them email me at the email addresses in the TMP marketplace for ACW where I am selling books under 35thOVI.

huevans01110 Jan 2022 4:12 p.m. PST

The ranges are found in a variety of books. Probably among the cheapest & is most likely still available is "Civil War Artillery At Gettysburg, Organization, Equipment, Ammunition, & Tactics" by Philip M. Cole, a former battlefield guide at Gettysburg. The attachments sent are from his book, & Benton's.

Cheers! I get a hit on this at my local alumni university library!

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP10 Jan 2022 4:38 p.m. PST


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