Educator's Guide: Mathematics: Gunners


The Civil War was the apex of the muzzle loading era. During the Civil War, the cannon's role varied from battle to battle. At Vicksburg, the Union had field and siege cannon from the Army and Navy. The Confederates had easy to move field artillery and the larger heavier guns at the river batteries. The gunnery crews became experts in mathematic sighting angles, target ranges, trajectory paths, charges and shell weight ratios were quickly calculated in the field under fire. Yet the crew could not out perform their gun's abilities. The cannon's speed, accuracy and strength determined it placement on the lines and, in a sense, its success or failure.


Have a discussion with your students about cannon ranges. Ask them to guess how far a cannon could fire its shot or shell. Gather their estimates and have the students chart the ranges. Compare the students chart to the actual chart for a 12 pounder, referred to as a Napoleon. Make signs for the various distances a shot or shell would travel. Divide the class into artillery teams of 3 or 4 students. Assign each artillery team an angle of fire. Have your students measure their pace against a yard stick. Take the class to a large field, establish a battery or line of fire. One student will be a shot fired, another student will be a shell fired. Have the students pace off how far the projectile travels.

Questions to Ponder:

1. Did the cannon shoot as far as you thought? Why or Why not?

2. How did the angle affect the range?

Classroom Activities:

  • Mathematics
  • Social Studies


  • K- 12


Younger students can measure the distances. This will help them understand yards. Older students can analyze how an angle affected distance. Discuss 19th century distances of yards traveled by a projectile to the miles of today's weapons. Older students can compare trajectory paths and distance traveled.


12 pounder (Napoleon) range chart, large field, yard stick, poster board or blackboard to make chart, pamphlet "Give 'em blizzards"

Range Chart

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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