Civil War Artillery

How the weaponry of the Civil War changed the way that battles are won forever.


Historians have long recognized that the artillery that was introduced and used during the American Civil War changed the game when it came to how wars were fought at the time. In fact, there were advancements made to artillery at the time of the Civil War that have had a major impact on the guns that are produced and used in war even today.


So-called rapid fire guns were one of the most pronounced developments of Civil War artillery. Ammunition was able to be fired at a faster pace than ever before, without having to reload between rounds. This ancestor of the machine gun was capable of posting a much higher body count than simple muskets, which had been used up until then.

That isn’t to say that the rifle-musket, a better developed version of its more primitive predecessor, didn’t come in handy to soldiers on Civil War battlefields, however. Coupled with the minié ball, a conical, soft-lead bullet that was designed to travel further, the rifle-musket allowed shooters reliably good aim at longer distances. These improvements in speed and accuracy made for one of the deadliest wars in American history.


With the Civil War came the ability to move cannons around the battle area with more ease than ever before. This mobility was an important feature for soldiers, who needed to be able to advance and retreat as situations on the battlefield changed. Most cannons of the era fell into one of two categories, either howitzers or guns, and each would have been used at different times dependent on battle conditions and proximity to enemy troops.

civilwarartillery-cannonsGuns were heavy and featured a longer barrel that could fire a shot low and far. These weapons used a large charge of powder and were most often fired at the enemy’s first advance, in order to stop them as early as possible. Howitzers, on the other hand, were short-barreled and would shoot their ammunition higher, but with less linear distance covered. They used a small powder charge and could be moved much more readily than the heavier guns, so they were usually fired as the opposing troops moved in, wheeling and turning as needed for the best aim.

It may seem hard to imagine, but some of the biggest innovations to weapons in general came during the time of the Civil War. In fact, the artillery of this era represents advancements that have undoubtedly gone on to change the course of world history.

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