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Civil War Artillery -Guns, Caissons et al

Field artillery in the Civil War was the combat arm that provided direct support to the infantry and cavalry units engaged on the field.  The guns were deployed on the field by the crews and typically fired from an elevated position of security on the flanks of the attacker or from designated positions within a defensive line.

Flying artillery accompanied the cavalry and was trained to gallop into firing position and move with the cavalry over the field.  Probably the performance of the Alabamian Major John Pelham set the standard for this arm at Fredericksburg.  He was a favorite of Stuart and always seemed to be where he was most needed.

Field artillery guns were mounted on gun carriages pulled by limbers.  The favorite guns of the era were the 1857 12-pounder bronze Napoleon smoothbore and the 3-inch iron ordnance rifle.  Other guns saw service but these were the most popular.  The gun carriage was towed into position attached to the limber which also mounted an ammunition box containing around 30 rounds of fixed ammunition.  That means the projectile was attached to the propellant.   

The gun platoon also contained an ammunition caisson mounting two boxes along with the single box on the limber.  When the gun limber ammunition supply was depleted the caisson limber would replace it and the gun limber would be restocked.   

Both gun and caisson were pulled by six horse teams.  In the horse artillery all the crew was mounted on horses.  Three rode on the “near” horse and some rode on the ammunition boxes.  The cannoneers were mounted on individual horses.

Caissons were developed by the English and were adopted by the French which provided the name which means “box”.  In addition to the ammunition basic load the caisson also mounted a spare wheel.  The artillery battery also had a limber that towed the battery forge, used to repair the battery’s equipment, iron, wood and leather.

The Army Song familiar to all as “The Caisson Song” was based on the field artillery’s supply wagon.  Military funerals today  carry the casket mounted on a caisson.


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