Artillery at Wilson's Creek

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A battery consisted of four to six cannons. Each cannon had a crew of 15 men, and 12 horses. The canoon in front, the caisson in the middle (which held ammunition and pulled the cannon) and the ammunition wagon to the rear (held extra ammunition and parts)

This is written in layman terms and to help young people understand the firing procedure for a Civil War six pound cannon - NPS approved procedure


Solid shot fired thru it weighed 6.1 lbs so it is called a "Six Pound Field Gun" Max range - 1520 yards, but very little arc

Fired a 12.25 pound solid shot, so it is called a "12 pound Howitzer". Max range - 1100 yards, more arc than field gun

Every position had a number. Here is where the cannon crew stood preparing to load cannon. Every man was trained to do any position. "G" is the gunner, usually a corporal.

Cannoners..Post!! There are other commands sometimes given in battle, but this is the usual procedure.

Rammer sponge

At the command "Solid shot! Load! " #1 gets the rammer sponge and wets the sponge end in a water pail. This is important because before putting a live round into the barrel, it is important to extinguish any fire that may be in the barrel from the last firing. #2 steps inside and prepares to receive the round. #3 put his finger over the vent hole in the cannon. (see next) #4 prepares his equipment. And the gunner moves the cannon left or right with the hand spike.


#3 has on his  left thumb a thumbstall. On the back of the cannon is a vent that he must cover while #1 pushes the sponge rammer into the cannon. If not, any remaining powder may ignite and #1 looses an arm. The cannon gets very hot, thus the leather thumbstall.

The #5 man delivers the round to number 2. Note #2 has his back to the enemy to protect the round from being hit by a bullet.

After #2 loads the round in the barrel and steps back, #1 rams it home. Notice #3 is still covering the vent hole. Even though the barrel has been sponged, there still exists the chance sparks could ignite the powder bag, that is part of the round.  If this happens, the rammer, and the right arm of #1 are heading toward the enemy. When finished #1 steps out.

Number #3 now steps back to the hand spike for any last minute corrections by the gunner. The gunner has been sighting the weapon during this time, by raising or lowering the barrel.

The gunner gives a touchdown signal that tells #3 he is set. Much of the procedure is done by drill, using signal's, not sounds. Battle noise would drown out many commands, endangering the crew.

At the command "Ready" # 3 and #4 step inside the wheel base. #1 and #2 step back and make their bodies flat to the end of the barrel. (In case the round prematurely fires after exiting the barrel, this ensures there will be some part of their bodies available for the funeral - just kidding)

#3 takes out a vent pick and pokes a hole in the powder bag. Each round has a powderbag attached which when lit, explodes and sends the projectile down range. (see pictures below)

#4 has prepared a friction primer and attached it to his lanyard. The wire pulls thru the primer, and sends a flame down into the powderbag. The explosion sends the projectile down field. 

After the hole has been poked, #4 sticks the friction primer into the vent hole, #3 places his hand over the lanyard. As #4 backs away to stretch the lanyard, #3 makes sure if #4 trips and pulls at the lanyard, the cannon does not prematurley go off. If #4 does start to trip, he drops his end of the lanyard immediately.

Upon reaching the end of the lanyard, #4 sets his feet and shakes his head to #3. This tells #3 it is clear to step back to his position.

#4 turns away from the cannon to protect himself from the snapping lanyard. #1 and #2 watch the end of the barrel to ensure the cannon fires. In battle, smoke and noise sometimes disguised the individual cannon firing noise. It was absoluitely necessary to make sure the cannon fired.

"Fire!" Right at you! Many infrantymen saw this very thing as they marched forward. Very few, if any, lived to tell about it.

Notice the puff of smoke coming out the vent hole in the back. Notice #1's water bucket under the cannon. There is also an extra rammer-sponge on the cannon.

#6 and #7 observe the firing. It was their job to get the round that is specified by the gunner, set the fuse if necesssary, and give it to #5.

Solid Round - solid iron ball (with powder bag attached)

Spherical case (shell) - ball that explodes in the air, spraying troops with shrapnel. A fuse ignited inside the exploding cannon, is what makes it explode. The fuse length tells how far it will go before exploding.

Canister (40 to 90 balls) - metal cannister filled with metal balls - used like a giant shotgun against infantry

Between the explosive powder, and the actual round, is a round piece of wood called a sabot. Sabot comes from the French word meaning "wooden shoe". French millworkers, protesting modern mechanization, would cast their wooden shoes into the new machinery, breaking them down. Thus came the word, sabotage.  

Artillery at the Battle of Wilson's Creek
Totten's Battery Four six pound field guns and two twelve pound howitzers
DuBois' Battery Three six pound field guns and one twelve pound howitzer
Backoff' Battery Three six pound field guns and three twleve pound howitzers
Woodruff's Battery Two six pound field guns and two twelve pound howitzers
Reid's Battery Four six pound field guns
Guibor's Battery Four six pound field guns
Bledsoe's Battery Two six pound field guns and one twelve pound howitzer

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