Brief History and Interesting Facts About Civil War Cannons and Artillery


Long-range weapons like cannons and other artillery pieces played an integral part during the American Civil War. It wasn’t a new invention, but it was widely used to defeat large groups of soldiers from the enemy. Like their older counterparts, civil war cannons could shoot several types of ammunition to the enemy. When you purchase cannon balls for sale and miniature cannon models, you will find that the type of ammunition depended greatly on how far or near the enemy was.

The solid round shot

You will see plenty of round solid shots when you look at cannon balls for sale. This is the most common projectile known to even non-civil war cannon aficionados. This type of ammunition is used for long-range shots. It is a round, solid iron ball attached to metal bands and shot with a wooden sabot.

Explosive shell 

As the enemies get closer, the artillery team uses lighter, faster-moving ammunition. Still reserved for mostly long shots, the explosive shell is a hollow iron ball filled with black gun powder. As it is shot into mid-air, the cannonball explodes sending shrapnels to attack the enemy. Misses and wrong calculations in the projectile could be deadly for the attacking party.

Case shot

This is very similar in structure to the explosive shell. The difference is that it also has small iron balls in its hollow cannister. The shell explodes as it hits the target and is a little stronger than the explosive shell alone.

Cannister shot 

This is like a cross between a shotgun and a cannon. This is shot from a smaller cannon for close-range shots. In cases when the enemy has already reached the artillery team, the canisters are used for defense. Unlike other cannons which seem to target objects or areas rather than an actual person, this closer range weapon is designed to eliminate individuals.

Death at the scene 

Aside from the obvious challenge of transporting cannons and cannon artillery, handling them is quite challenging too. It took around four to six horses just to transport cannons to their designated areas. It also took at least ten men to operate a single cannon because the weapon was so heavy.

Unfortunately, while being shot by these cannons is certainly deadly, there were deaths too because the cannons were not handled correctly. Soldiers lost lives not just because the other party succeeded at targeting them, but because cannon balls themselves were highly explosive. A single handling mistake could mean death for the entire crew.

Before the Pickett’s Charge 

During the last day of the Gettysburg battle, the artillery team of the Confederate Troop was ordered by General Lee to “clear the way for his men” by attacking the Union. This resulted in a 90-minute exchange between the two parties. However, the Southern artillery failed to overcome the Union artillery which was more than ready to retaliate. This happened before the Pickett’s Charge.

Innovations in Technique 

One of the most interesting attack techniques developed by the artillery team was actually airborne using hot air balloons. No cannons were used. Instead, cannon balls were dropped from hot air balloons. This was always a dangerous task as cannon balls are flammable and hot air balloons used hot air to fly.

If you are looking for war memorabilia such as cannon balls for sale, check out Gettysburg Museum of History. Contact us today for inquiries.