Thursday, December 12, 2013

7 Things I Learned about Civil War Artillery

A M1857 Napoleon at Stones River battlefield cemetery, courtesy of Wikipedia
Rangers and volunteers from the James A. Garfield National Historic Site have been hosting a monthly series of talks about the battles of the Civil War at the Mentor Public Library.

On Wednesday, Ted Karle of the NEO Civil War Round Table talked about the artillery used in the Civil War.

Here are some interesting facts I learned from Karle's talk:

1. Artillery was responsible for about 10 percent of the 388,000 battle casualties during the American Civil War.

(About 620,000 soldiers died total from combat, accident, starvation and disease during the war.)

2. Unsurprisingly, the Union had the Confederacy outgunned.

The North had 163 field pieces at the beginning of the war and more horses with which to transport them.

By comparison, the South only had 35 field pieces.

That number increased for both sides during the war, but the Confederacy was (at least in part) dependent upon captured artillery.

3. The most common gun was the M1857 Napoleon (pictured above.) Karle posited that the 12-pound Napoleon cannon probably killed more soldiers than any other during the war.

However, the most famous gun of the war was an 18-pound Confederate cannon named Whistling Dick.

The iron smoothbore Model 1839 was rifled; and, because of this rifling, shells would whistle when fired from it.

It's claimed that Whistling Dick sank the Union gunboat Cincinnati at Vicksburg.

4. The most famous mortar, however, was The Dictator.

Its tube weighed more than eight tons and could lob a 220-pound shell.

The Union used it to wreak havoc during the siege of Petersburg.

5. All aspects of artillery were upgraded during the Civil War. Guns, powder, projectiles and fuses all became bigger, faster, more powerful or more precise.

Muskets with grooved barrels increased accuracy substantially (and led to a lot of deaths because military tactics had not caught up with the technology.)

6. You can always spot the artillerymen in Civil War photos because both sides wore hats with crossed cannons and uniforms with scarlet piping.

7. Perhaps you've heard the truism that artillery is the "king of battle" and infantry is the queen. (According to Karle, General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson would often use that analogy.)

The comparison may initially sound dismissive of infantry, but it's actually a compliment once put in context. The artillery is being compared to a king in chess--powerful, important but immobile. Meanwhile, the queen has more reach and maneuverability. 

For more info on Civil War artillery you can check out some of these sites.

The Garfield/Mentor Library Civil War series will continue January 8 with an armchair tour of battle sites. The talk is free and open to the public. You can register for it on the library's website.

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