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Civil War Heavy Explosive Ordnance

A Guide to Large Artillery Projectiles, Torpedoes, and Mines

Jack Bell

Publication Year: 2003

Civil War Heavy Explosive Ordnance is the definitive reference book on Union and Confederate large caliber artillery projectiles, torpedoes, and mines. Some of these projectiles are from the most famous battles of the Civil War, such as those at Fort Sumter, Charleston, Vicksburg, and Richmond. Others were fired from famous cannon, such as the “Swamp Angel” of Charleston and “Whistling Dick” of Vicksburg. And some were involved in torpedo attacks against major warships. Jack Bell covers more than 360 projectiles from public and private collections in smoothbore calibers of 32-pounder and up, rifled projectiles of 4-inch caliber and larger, and twenty-one Union and Confederate torpedoes and mines. Each data sheet shows multiple views of the projectile or torpedo (using more than 1,000 photos) with data including diameter, weight, gun used to fire it, rarity index, and provenance. This comprehensive volume will be of great interest to Civil War historians, museum curators, field archaeologists, private collectors, dealers, and consultants on unexploded ordnance. “This will become a required reference guide at every Civil War site and related museum.”--Wayne E. Stark, Civil War artillery historian

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Title Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

The Civil War was a time of great experimentation, with appalling failures and stunning successes on both sides along the way in the development of heavy explosive ordnance. It was this process of experimentation, failure, and success that produced the wide variety of types of cannon, projectiles, sabots, torpedoes, mines, and fuzes that we...

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pp. x-xii

Many people contributed to this book, beginning with some important “collectors” at the end of the Civil War. First among these was Brig. Gen. Henry L. Abbot, whose collection of projectiles during and just after the war constitutes the bulk of the current West Point Civil War artillery collection. Another was Bvt. Brig. Gen. Peter S. Michie, USMA Class of 1863, who in the summer of 1865 collected many of the Confederate torpedoes that are...

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pp. 1-18

Equally impressive was the scale with which heavy explosive ordnance was used, a scale never known before, and a harbinger of twentieth-century warfare. In 1863 the Confederates in the Charleston area were firing as much as 25 tons per day of heavy projectiles at Union forces, who were firing 40 tons of artillery a day at Fort Sumter alone.2 Then in December 1864 and January 1865, the Union Navy, in a four-day...

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The Role of Heavy Explosive Ordnance in Strategic Battles

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pp. 19-29

The development of heavy explosive ordnance brought awesome destructive power to the battlefield never experienced before. But that power was not fully tested or understood before deployment under actual battle conditions, and could be destructive to the user as awell as to the enemy....

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Guide to Using Data Sheets

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pp. 30-35

Most projectile data sheets have photographs of the side, top, and bottom of the projectile. The ruler scale applies only to the side view of the projectile. It is important to note that the scale does not include the height of the fuze, only the length of the projectile. The torpedo data sheets normally have only a side view and a close-up photo of the fuze...


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pp. 36-42

Section 1. Large Smoothbore Projectiles

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Shot, Shell, and Case Shot

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pp. 43-89

Smoothbore projectiles are generally classified in six categories, according to their design and proposed use. Shot, shell, and case shot are discussed in this section. Canister, grape stands and quilted grape will be discussed in the sections that follow....

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pp. 90-98

Canister are always cylindrical. They were designed as antipersonnel projectiles used at short range against enemy troops or naval crews. Canister contain no explosive charge. They are usually made with thin sheet metal sides that disintegrate as the canister is fired. At very close ranges, cannon crews might be ordered to use double canisters for each firing, creating a deadly wall of balls and metal debris directed against enemy troops....

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Grape Stands and Quilted Grape

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pp. 99-112

For both smoothbore and rifled artillery, grape stands and quilted grape served a different purpose from case shot and canister. Quilted grape and grape stands were designed to damage ships’ rigging and spars or fortification equipment, with the fragments from this damage causing major casualties to gun crews....

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Section 2. Introduction to Rifled Projectiles

In this section each type of rifled projectile is described in two parts. First, an introductory narrative section discusses details about the designer, the manufacturing, and performance of the projectiles. The second part is composed of data sheets on projectiles in ascending caliber order. For each caliber the data sheets are sequenced to cover bolts first, then shells, case shot, and finally any special purpose projectiles (e.g., incendiary...

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pp. 114-116

John Absterdam patented a number of projectile designs in 1862 and 1864. The Union Army Absterdam shells were made in the 3-inch and 4.5-inch calibers. Two of these 4.5- inch designs are included in the book, having been used in the 1864-65 Richmond-Petersburg siege....

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pp. 117-119

Credit for the design of the Archer projectiles and the Archer safety fuzes is being changed in this book. Cdr. John Brooke’s papers and Charles Dews’ authoritative book on the Tredegar Foundry clearly indicate that credit for the design of both the Archer projectiles and the Archer safety fuzes should go to Dr. Robert Archer. The confusion that arose in earlier books about whom to credit is the result of three Dr. Archers being...

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pp. 120-132

Sir William G. Armstrong designed a family of rifles and projectiles in the 1850s that were highly prized by the British government. In fact the British government controlled the company that produced the rifles and projectiles—Elswick Ordnance Company—and would not allow any to be sold to foreign countries until they completed their rearmament program in 1861–1862.1 The British government withdrew from the company in 1862,...

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pp. 133-140

Capt. Theophilus Alexander Blakely, a British inventor, designed a number of rifles and projectiles in a wide variety of calibers, which were sold before the war to individual Southern states and later to the Confederacy. At least two batteries of Blakely rifles were also sold to Union units. It is well known that South Carolina had acquired a 3.5-inch Blakely rifle before the war, which participated in the initial bombardment of Fort...

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pp. 141-152

Sir Bashley Britten designed a lead-cupped rifled projectile and received a British patent on it in August 1855.1 Britten was unable to get an American patent on his projectile design until after the war. Some experts suspect that the U.S. Government’s anti-British sentiment caused this delay....

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pp. 153-196

Cdr. John Mercer Brooke, CSN, is best known for his designs of rifled cannon and projectiles for the Confederacy. He also designed the torpedoes and armor for the CSS Virginia and oversaw its manufacture by Tredegar Foundry.1 Brooke was so highly regarded by both sides that Union Adm. David Porter said he only regretted the loss of two officers to the Confederacy from the United States Navy: Brooke and Catesby Jones.2 Porter did...

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pp. 197-203

Lt. Col. William L. Broun became commander of the Richmond Arsenal in June 1863. It appears that he soon began to work on the redesign of rifled bolts and shells with copper ring sabots to improve their performance (and to reduce the consumption of scarce copper). Shells attributed to Broun’s designs appear on 1864 battlefields....

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pp. 204-218

J. Webster Cochran was a longtime inventor of weapons and projectiles.1 He designed and was granted patents on projectiles and fuzes from the 1850s through at least 1863.2 His only success in terms of government purchases appears to be the family of Cochran projectiles and fuzes purchased and used very early in the war by the Union Navy. These were produced in navy calibers only, except for a 3.8-inch bolt that is in the West Point...

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pp. 219-224

Adm. John A. Dahlgren was the leading pioneer of Union Navy cannon development in the Civil War. He designed both smoothbore cannon and rifles as well as rifled projectiles. For example, he designed IX, X, XI, and XV-inch smoothbore guns, as well as 12- and 24- pounder smoothbore boat howitzers. He also pioneered in the development of small and large caliber rifled cannon, including the 3.4-inch boat howitzer, and 4-, 4.4-, 5.1-, and...

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pp. 225-237

The designer of the Harding family of projectiles has proved to be the most elusive of any of the designers of Civil War projectiles. The author searched in vain at the National Archives, the Museum of the Confederacy, the Library of Virginia, and talked with librarians at the Charleston Historical Society and the Charleston Museum. No information was found to identify Harding....

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pp. 238-254

Andrew Hotchkiss of Connecticut developed the Hotchkiss family of projectiles and was granted his first patent on October 16, 1855. He improved the design and was granted subsequent patents on July 24, 1860, and May 14, 1861.1 The dates cast into many of his projectiles—October 9, 1855, and May 14, 1861—are somewhat confusing. The October 9 date is the date the first patent was applied for, not the date...

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pp. 255-263

Charles T. James was a retired general in the Rhode Island Militia and a former U.S. senator from Rhode Island. In 1856 he patented the famous “bird-cage” projectile, currently designated as Type I. The sabot of this projectile was made of three layers: an inner layer of lead cast on to the shell body; a thin tin sheet middle layer; and a rough canvas outer covering. James’ second design was patented in 1862, and purchased only in the 3.8-...

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Lynall Thomas

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pp. 264-267

Not much is known about Lynall Thomas, an Englishman credited with the design of complicated rifled shells of doubtful effectiveness supplied to the Confederacy. The shell consisted of a narrow shell body with a very large head. Behind the head a lead sleeve and lead disk were cast and a midshell thick iron band put on the outside of the lead sleeve. Another lead disk separated the midshell iron band from a thick rear iron band....

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pp. 268-270

General Abbot attributes two designs of large caliber bolts to Maury.1 This probably refers to Matthew F. Maury, a Confederate naval officer involved in the design and construction of Confederate gunboats.2 However, the author has not found a definitive connection between him and the design of the projectiles, except for General Abbot’s description and similar descriptions of a Maury bolt in other period documents. The...

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pp. 271-319

Robert Parker Parrott was both the most successful and the most controversial designer and founder of rifled cannon and projectiles of the Civil War. His West Point Foundry was located in Cold Spring, New York, across the Hudson River from the United States Military Academy at West Point. During the war, Parrott and the West Point Foundry produced over 3,100 cannon, twice as many as the combined cannon production of all Confederate...

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pp. 320-323

“Preston” is painted on several shells photographed at the Charleston Arsenal in 1865, undoubtedly by Union Army officers who recovered them and labeled them as such. The label probably relates to the use of the shells in Blakely rifles. The particular ones with the flanged rifling were made in the Fawcett, Preston and Co. foundry in Liverpool, England.1 Ripley diligently checked surviving Confederate records, but could...

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pp. 324-353

Dr. John Read was an early pioneer in the design of rifled projectiles. Working with Robert Parrott at West Point and independently at Fort Monroe with the army, Read experimented with several designs, before developing and patenting a shell with a ring sabot in 1856 (No. 15999). Later, but before the war began, he improved the design with a safety groove to eliminate the chipping problem on the shell body...

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pp. 354-358

Sylvanus Sawyer and his brother Addison M. Sawyer developed and patented a system of rifles, projectiles, and fuzes that were highly regarded early in the war. They had a 5.86-inch rifle and projectiles under test at Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads in 1859.1 It may have been the same rifle that in 1861 earned Sawyer that high regard. Sawyer’s rifle was the only cannon available to the Union Army that could hit the Confederate batteries defending...

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pp. 359-378

John P. Schenkl designed extremely effective rifled projectiles and percussion fuzes that were favored by both the Union Army and Navy. The shell body strongly tapers to the rear, maintaining a forward center of gravity that is helpful to flight stability. The sabot is unique among Civil War projectiles: a papier-mach

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pp. 379-387

The foundry was taken over initially by the Confederate Army in February 1863, under the command of Col. George Rains (of Rains grenade and torpedo fuze fame).1 It was soon transferred to the navy under the command of Catesby ap R. Jones. Jones had been the executive officer of the CSS Virginia in its brief history. As fate would have it, Jones was actually in command of the Virginia during the historic battle with the...

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pp. 388-390

The Skates Foundry in Mobile, Alabama, manufactured both projectiles and bronze field caliber cannon for the Confederacy. They are credited with the manufacture of some very early 6.4-inch shells, which were used throughout the war by Confederate gunners in Mobile Bay. As with Selma shells, documentation indicating the individual designer of Skates shells has not been found to date. Using the precedent of naming the Selma...

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pp. 391-397

Little is known of the designer of the Stafford family of projectiles. He was probably well connected politically, based on the political controversy highlighted below. The projectiles were sub-caliber projectiles, meaning that the bulk of the projectile was substantially smaller than the caliber of the rifle. This is similar in concept to the sabot rounds used in current models of Abrams tanks. The concept of sub-caliber projectiles is...

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pp. 398-431

Establishing proper credit for the design of Tennessee projectiles has been a challenge for decades. Period documents refer to them by a variety of names including, “Tennessee Shell,” “copper saucer,” and “copper cup.” Even Cdr. John Brooke referred to the design as “Tennessee Sabot” in correspondence to the Confederate secretary of the navy and to Catesby Jones at the Selma Foundry in 1863.1...

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pp. 432-444

In the early months of the war, Southern foundries scrambled to meet the Confederacy’s needs for a wide variety of military ordnance. At this time Tredegar and Bellona Foundries were the only ones that could make large caliber cannons needed by the Confederacy.1 Charles Dew’s book on Tredegar2 and the Tredegar Foundry records,3 indicated that in July 1861 Tredegar developed some hybrid cannon designs and promoted their use with...

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pp. 445-452

The design was unique among Civil War projectiles. All Whitworth projectiles regardless of caliber had six concave sides with a twist matching the twist of the hexagonal rifle bore. The windage on these projectiles is smaller than that in any other period projectile: no more than about 2/1000 inch. Normal windage on large caliber projectiles ranged from 5/100 to 10/100 for rifled projectiles to as much as 20/100 for large...

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Miscellaneous Bolts and Shells

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pp. 453-469

With the experimentation so widespread during the war, there are a number of types of projectiles that were one-of-a-kind experimental or single battlefield recoveries. These include Abbot, Dimick, Emery, French lugged projectiles, Gorgas, Rodman, a number of finned shot and shells, and two unidentified Confederate projectiles. Each is described...

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Section 3. Torpedoes and Mines

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pp. 471-496

The Confederates were forced to invest heavily in the development and deployment of torpedoes to protect their extensive ports and riverways. Confederates could not deploy enough ships, artillery, and men to defend the extensive river and coastal areas in the South. Even in heavily defended areas such as Mobile, Charleston, and Wilmington, torpedoes added significantly to the threat to exposed Union ships and gunboats....

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Appendix A. Missing and Unaccounted For

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pp. 497-498

This list of “missing” projectiles is provided below, together with the data source where they were identified. They are “unaccounted for” among surviving projectiles. Hopefully others will do additional research and locate these projectiles. Some of these are field calibers, but are included as part of an effort to expand the knowledge in the field:...

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Appendix B. Civil War Cannon Rifling

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pp. 499-505

The rifling found on the sabots of fired Civil War rifled artillery projectiles provides important information to the artillery student. Usually, it indicates which type of cannon fired the projectile. This in turn often allows a person to identify the specific cannon and perhaps the battery or ship that fired the projectile....

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Appendix C. Rifled Projectile Sabot Designs

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pp. 506-526

Correct identification of rifled projectiles often requires accurate identification of sabot designs. This appendix provides specific information to assist the student of projectiles in identifying sabot designs of both field and large caliber rifled artillery projectiles used in the war....


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pp. 527-529


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pp. 531-537

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414295
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574411638

Page Count: 552
Illustrations: 1016 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Equipment and supplies.
  • Mines (Military explosives) -- Confederate States of America -- History.
  • Mines (Military explosives) -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Submarine mines -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Submarine mines -- Confederate States of America -- History.
  • Projectiles -- History -- 19th century.
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