Artillery Work

Simonson’s battery pushed their guns to the limit. If fired too fast, the hot guns swelled, making loading difficult or impossible, as well as dangerous. Sometimes they put wet blankets over the barrel. The man who put his thumb over the touch hole, to quell embers, wore a leather glove at least. Their equipment also included a pole with a corkscrew hook–using that would take some plain old guts, such as when Wes Conner was driven from his cannon and left it double loaded after two primers had failed. Robert Hale Strong describes watching them work.

“Our artillerymen were stripped to the waist for their work. It was a sight to watch them firing those cannons. Each man at the cannon is numbered, and each number has just certain things to do. He does this with the regularity of clock work, and does nothing else. The caisson holding the ammunition is brought up to a few feet in rear of the cannon, the horses are unhitched and taken a short distance to the rear and hidden if possible, and firing begins. One man brings the powder cartridge from the caisson. Another man shoves it into the cannon muzzle. Another one rams it down. By this time, the first man has returned from the caisson with a shot or a shell. If it is a shell and the fuse is already cut to the required length, the shell is passed on to the cannon, inserted and rammed home. If not properly fused, the fuse is adjusted first. Then the priming is inserted in the touch hole and the string that fires the cannon is pulled. After the shell screams out and the cannon recoils, the cannon is run back into position. Then one man puts his finger over the touch hole to keep out air. Another with a swab or sponge on a pole wipes out the cannon. Another shell is inserted and fired. As this is done two or three times in a minute, everybody is on the jump. Every so often, the end of the swab is dipped in a bucket of water and the cannon thoroughly washed out.1 If an artilleryman is killed or wounded, another stands ready to take his place. Each is trained to do the next man’s job when needed. At this time we had a good view of the enemy’s guns and of their lines behind. We could see our shells burst inside their lines. One shell knocked a wheel off one of their cannon. All this time, their shells were striking and bursting among us. Some of our gunner men were just literally blown to pieces. As they were, the next one would take his place. It was a grand sight, but a horrible one.”

Strong, Robert Hale. A Yankee Private’s Civil War (Dover Military History, Weapons, Armor) . Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.

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