In this segment of our examination of horse artillery, we will examine the organization and equipment of horse artillery batteries.
An artillery battery generally consisted of either four or six guns, and was commanded by a captain. Two guns formed a section, usually commanded by a lieutenant. During movement, each gun was hooked up behind a limber, which carried the ammunition chest, and was drawn by six horses. Each gun also had its caisson, carrying three ammunition chests, which was also drawn by six horses. These two units made up a platoon, which was commanded by a sergeant and two corporals. A battery was also accompanied by a forge, a wagon carrying the tents and supplies, and generally six additional caissons with reserve ammunition.
There were three drivers for each six-horse team, who rode the horses on the left side and held the reins for the horses on the right. A typical gun crew was made up of nine men. Where the artillery was designated as horse artillery, the crewmen each rode a horse, with two additional men acting as horse-holders in action. When there was a shortage of horses, two men could ride on each ammunition chest, but this added to the load for the horses towing the battery.
In addition to the lieutenants commanding each section, another lieutenant usually commanded the line of caissons. There was also an orderly and quartermaster sergeant, five artificers, two buglers, and a guidon-bearer.
First among the battery’s equipment, we must discuss the cannons themselves. Civil War horse artillery primarily used two different type of cannons, the 12-pounder Napoleon cannon and the 3-inch ordnance rifle. We’ll look at each separately.
The Model 1857 12-pound Napoleon cannon was the most popular smoothbore cannon used during the war. It was named after Napoleon III of France and was widely admired because of its safety, reliability, and killing power. It was particularly lethal at close range. The Napoleon reached America in 1857, and was the last cast bronze gun used by the American army. The Union version of the Napoleon can be recognized by the flared front end of the barrel, called the muzzle swell. The 12-pound in its name refers to the weight of the ammunition it fired. The Napoleon could fire solid ball, case, shell, grapeshot and cannister ammunition.
The 3-inch ordnance gun was the most widely used rifled artillery piece used during the war. Unlike the cast bronze Napoleon, the 3-inch was made of iron. It was popular because of its reliability and accuracy, and was exceptionally durable. The 3-inch in its name refers to the size of the bore, or opening at the muzzle. It normally fired solid bolt, case or common shells (generally Schenkel or Hotchkiss shells), but could fire cannister in an emergency. The 3-inch ordnance rifle had a range of roughly 1,800 yards. Although light by artillery standards, its weight was still significant at roughly 1,700 pounds for the cannon itself and its carriage. It was primarily produced by Phoenix Iron Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
The carriage of an artillery piece allows the cannon to be aimed, holds it in place while it is fired, and allows it to be moved where it is needed. It basically consisted of a cradle, a trail and two wheels.
The limber for field service was basically a two-wheeled cart, simply an axle, with its wheels, surmounted by a framework for holding an ammunition chest and receiving the tongue. At the back of the axle is the pintle hook, on which the lunette on the trail of the gun carriage can be keyed into place. The result is a four-wheeled cart that pivots on the pintle hook. The ammunition chest on the limber could be used as a seat for three crewmen, but in the horse artillery it was customary to spare the horses, and they would ride the limber and caisson only when necessary.
The caisson was intended to transport ammunition, and carried two ammunition chests like the one on the limber. It had a stock like that on the gun carriage, terminating in a lunette, so that it could be hooked to a limber for transportation. A caisson with its limber thus held three ammunition chests, which with the chest on the limber hauling the gun carriage made a total of four. The caisson with its drivers and crew would be under the direction of a corporal, who would report to the sergeant in charge of the gun to which the caisson was assigned. The line of caissons for the battery would be under the overall supervision of one of its lieutenants.
The battery wagon, also drawn by a limber, was a long bodied cart with a rounded top, which contained tools for the saddlers and carriage makers, spare parts, extra harness, and rough materials for fabricating parts. The limber which drew the battery wagon was a portable blacksmith shop, containing a light forge and blacksmith tools. Each battery had only one wagon and one forge, and they were expected to accompany the battery wherever it went.
Wheels for all three of the standard carriages, as well as caissons, limbers and battery wagons, were 57 inches high, and could be easily interchanged. All caissons carried an extra wheel on the back, and changing a broken wheel was a standard drill for a battery of horse artillery.