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- Jan 16, 2015
Small sample of the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting, featuring an exploding limber.
The purpose of this post is to document the detonation of artillery ammunition chests before and during the battle. Each cannon within a battery was supplied by four chests – one on the limber transporting the cannon, two on the caisson, and a fourth on another limber to which the caisson was attached (also known as the caisson limber). These wooden boxes contained assorted types of ammunition for the cannon, plus fuses and friction primers, etc. The sturdy chests could reliably withstand small-arms fire, but rarely a direct strike from an enemy artillery round. If improperly packed, a chest also posed a slight risk of detonation simply from jostling over roads or difficult terrain. Perhaps roughly 50 ammunition chests were destroyed in the Gettysburg campaign, about 90 percent in battle, and the rest spontaneously.
Before the battle: (4)
(CSA) One limber; Capt. James F. Hart’s South Carolina battery; June 21; Upperville, VA.
Remarks: This incident was drawn by Alfred R. Waud and titled, “Explosion of a rebel limber at the battle near Middleburg June 21st.”
(CSA) One limber/caisson; Capt. Benjamin H. Smith’s Third Richmond Howitzers; June 27; enroute to Carlisle, PA.
Remarks: The top of the chest was blown nearly out of sight and the wheel horses were badly burned, but no casualties occurred among the men. Two men who had been riding on the chest had dismounted only a short time before.
(USA) One caisson; unidentified battery of the Fifth Corps; morning of June 28; north of Buckeystown, MD near the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
(USA) One caisson limber; Lt. A.C.M. Pennington’s Battery M, 2nd U.S. Artillery; June 30; between Hanover and Abbottstown, PA.
Remarks: Private James Moran was mortally wounded; two horses were killed and two wounded.
July 1: (2)
(CSA) Two caissons?; probably Capt. Richard C. M. Page’s Morris (Virginia) Artillery; July 1, afternoon; Oak Hill.
(USA) One caisson; Lt. James Stewart’s Battery B, 4th U.S.; July 1; Seminary Ridge.
July 2: (8)
(USA) One caisson limber; Capt. Elijah D. Taft’s 5th New York Artillery; 10 a.m. on July 2; on the Taneytown Road about three miles south of Gettysburg.
Remarks: A spontaneous detonation, Private John C. Begg was mortally wounded and taken to a private residence; he died on July 7.
(CSA) One caisson; unidentified – possibly Lt. John M. Cunningham’s Powhatan (Virginia) Artillery; July 2; just south of the Lutheran Theological Seminary on Seminary Ridge.
(CSA) One caisson; Capt. William F. Dement’s Maryland Battery; late afternoon of July 2; Benner’s Hill. Remarks: Corporal Samuel Thompson was killed; Private Henry A. Roby was thrown into the air and struck a wheel as he descended, but was not seriously injured.
(USA) One caisson and caisson limber; Lt. James Stewart’s Battery B, 4th U.S.; late afternoon of July 2, about 5 minutes after Dement’s caisson had exploded; Cemetery Hill. Remarks: Three chests detonated and the horses began running towards the town, but one horse stumbled and halted the rest of the team, which was recovered; every hair was burnt off the tails and manes of the wheel horses.
(USA) One limber; Lt. James Stewart’s Battery B, 4th U.S.; late afternoon of July 2; Cemetery Hill.
(USA) One caisson limber; Lt. George Breck’s Battery L, 1st New York; late afternoon of July 2; Cemetery Hill.
(CSA) One caisson; unidentified – possibly Capt. Charles I. Raine’s Lee (Virginia) Battery; late afternoon of July 2, about 25 minutes after Dement’s caisson had exploded; Benner’s Hill.
(CSA) Two or three caissons; Lt. Stephen C. Gilbert’s Brooks’ South Carolina Artillery; late afternoon of July 2; Warfield Ridge.
July 3, early morning: (3)
(USA) One caisson; unidentified; about 4:45 a.m. on July 3; near the 11th Massachusetts, in front of Cemetery Ridge.
(USA) One caisson; unidentified – possibly Lt. Evan Thomas’ Battery C, 4th U.S.; early morning of July 3; central Cemetery Ridge.
Remarks: The 14th Vermont, lying near the battery, lost several non-commissioned officers and men killed by the explosion.
(USA) Three limbers; Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing’s Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery; shortly after 5 a.m. on July 3; near the Angle on Cemetery Ridge.
July 3, afternoon: (11)
Eyewitness accounts report the detonation of up to a dozen Union ammunition chests, and somewhat fewer Confederate chests, all or nearly all occurring during the 90 minute artillery duel (from 1 to 2:30 p.m.) preceding the Confederate infantry charge against Cemetery Ridge. Only a portion are reliably documented.
(USA) Three limbers; Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing’s Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery; afternoon cannonade on July 3; near the Angle on Cemetery Ridge.
Remarks: Credible sources disagree as to when Cushing’s battery simultaneously lost three chests: it was either in the early morning or during the afternoon cannonade – perhaps both. Not being able to resolve the issue, I have included both.
(USA) One caisson; Capt. James M. Rorty’s Battery B, 1st New York Artillery; afternoon cannonade on July 3; south of the copse on Cemetery Ridge.
(USA) One caisson/limber; Lt. George A. Woodruff’s Battery I, 1st U.S. Artillery; afternoon cannonade on July 3; Ziegler’s Grove on Cemetery Ridge.
Remarks: Three soldiers were killed and at least one wounded (Private Patrick McDonald) in the 108th New York, which was posted close to the battery.
(USA) Four? caissons; Lt. Evan Thomas’ Battery C, 4th U.S.; afternoon cannonade on July 3; central Cemetery Ridge.
(USA) One caisson or ammunition wagon; unidentified battery; afternoon cannonade on July 3; Taneytown road near the Hummelbaugh buildings.
Remarks: The driver was never found.
(USA) One caisson; unidentified battery; afternoon cannonade on July 3; probably on or near the Taneytown road.
Remarks: A few casualties resulted in the 26th Pennsylvania of the Third Corps.
(CSA) One caisson; unidentified – possibly Lt. William E. Zimmerman’s Pee Dee (South Carolina) Artillery; afternoon cannonade on July 3; Seminary Ridge.
Remarks: Occurred moments after a Union caisson had detonated on Cemetery Ridge.
(CSA) One caisson; unidentified – probably in Col. E. P. Alexander’s battalion; afternoon cannonade on July 3; near Sherfy house/barn on the Emmitsburg road.
Remarks: Six horses were either killed or so badly wounded they had to be shot.
(USA) One caisson; Lt. John W. Sterling’s 2nd Connecticut Battery; afternoon cannonade on July 3; south Cemetery Ridge.
(CSA) One to four chests on limbers/caissons; belonging to several guns representing Capt. Merritt B. Miller’s Third Company Washington (Louisiana) Artillery, Capt. Charles W. Squires’ First Company Washington Artillery, Capt. Joseph Norcom’s Fourth Company Washington Artillery battery and Capt. Hugh M. Garden’s Palmetto (South Carolina) Artillery; during the afternoon infantry charge on July 3; advanced position just east of the Emmitsburg road.
(USA) Caisson; unidentified, near the 14th Connecticut – possibly Lt. Gulian V. Weir’s Battery C, 5th U.S.; soon after the charge was repulsed on July 3; Cemetery Ridge.
Incidents: Union 18 / Confederate 10 / Total 28
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