Artillery - Drilling

Illustration of how soldiers stood for drill.

Field artillery was organized in batteries. Although it varied from time to time, a battery consisted of six of the same kind of cannons.

US regulations prescribed a captain as a battery commandeer. A battery would have three sections: left, right, and center. Four lieutenants served under the captain. Six noncommissioned officers were mounted to direct the movement of each piece. There was also a bugler.

Each gun had a crew that consisted of nine men. This included the "gunner" who was the chief of the piece, the chief of caisson, and seven artillerymen who were all assigned numbers for servicing the piece.

A light artillery battery consisted of sixty-six men at full regulation strength.

A trained and disciplined battery could come into action and fire its first shot in well under one minute. Depending upon the terrain, a 14-yard space between the cannons was called for in the regulations.

Cannoneers took their positions as in the diagram shown.

At the command, "Commence firing," the gunner ordered, "Load."

· Number 1 sponged the tube, while Number 3 held his thumb on the vent.

· Number 2 took a round from Number 5 and placed it in the muzzle.

· Number 1 rammed the round home, again with Number 3 holding his thumb on the vent.

· The gunner sighted the cannon.

· When the gun was loaded, 3 moved to the trail and moved it left or right with the trailspike as directed by the gunner.

· Number 5 got another round from Number 6 or 7 at the limber where 6 cut fuses (if needed) for shell and/or case.

The gunner stepped clear to the side of the piece to observe the effect of fire, and gave the command, "Ready."

· Numbers 1 and 2 stepped clear.

· Number 3 punctured the cartridge with the vent pick.

· Number 4 attached the lanyard to a friction primer and inserted the primer in the vent.

· Number 3 covered the vent with his left thumb while 4 pulled the lanyard taut. At nod from 4 that he is ready, 3 stepped clear of the wheel.

At the gunner's command, "Fire,"

· Number 4 yanked the lanyard.

The gunner ordered the cannon run back up and the process was repeated until the command, "Cease firing."

Good smoothbore crews could fire two aimed shots per minute with fixed ammunition. When firing canister, the rate of fire could be doubled, but this was often at the risk of not sponging the barrel between rounds. Sponging not only helped to cool the tube, but more importantly, it extinguished any smoldering cartridge bag remains. Against charging infantry, however, the chance of premature explosion was worth taking as opposed to the capture of the gun.

Crews for siege, garrison, and seacoast weapons were generally about the same number as field crews, even though some projectiles required at least two men to handle and load them. Depending upon the size of the mortar, the crew consisted of three, five, or more men. It could take as long as three and one half minutes to load, aim, and fire a big columbiad. Some mortars were fired at only the rate of every three to five minutes.

Information for this section was taken from Cannons: An Introduction to Civil War Artillery by Dean S. Thomas, Thomas Publications (used by permission), and from the 1845 Artillery Regulations.

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Last updated: July 30, 2016

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