Ammunition Chests Exploded During the Gettysburg Campaign

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Tom Elmore

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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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Tom Elmore

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Sources....

Prior to the Battle:


(CSA) One limber; Capt. James F. Hart’s South Carolina battery; June 21; Upperville, VA.​
(James F. Hart, Bachelder Papers, 2:1215) One gun lost by reason of the explosion of the limber chest, as it was being retired from the skirmish line. The team drawing this gun was killed by the explosion … [the gun] left in the hands of the Federals.​
(Alfred R. Waud, drawing, “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.​
(Diary of John Henry Vest, Second Company Richmond Howitzers) June 27, the limber chest of one of the three Confederate guns was blown up. Nobody hurt.​
(Amherst Artillery, Albemarle Artillery and Sturdivant’s Battery, Virginia Regimental Histories Series, by W. Cullen Sherwood and Richard L. Nicholas) While marching toward Carlisle on 27 June, Berkeley noted that a caisson belonging to the Third (Company) Richmond Howitzers exploded just ahead of Kirkpatrick’s battery. 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.​
(Diary of George Lockley, Captain, Company A, 1st Michigan Infantry) One of our caissons exploded at 4:45 a.m. Some of a noise.​
(USA) One caisson limber; Lt. A.C.M. Pennington’s Battery M, 2nd U.S. Artillery; June 30; between Hanover and Abbottstown, PA.​
(Official Report of Brig. Gen. George A. Custer; https://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-mystery-of-james-moran-who-died-in-a-caisson-explosion.123847/) One man (James Moran) mortally wounded, two horses killed and two horses wounded.​

July 1:

(CSA) Two caissons?; probably Capt. Richard C. M. Page’s Morris (Virginia) Artillery; July 1, afternoon; Oak Hill.​
(Louis Fischer, Pioneer, 74 PA): July 1, witnessed artillery duel between Dilger’s Napoleons and a battery north of the McLean barn on Oak Ridge. They blew up two or three enemy caissons and disabled one or two of their guns without loss.​
(Diary of Samuel Pickens, D/5 AL) July 1, witnessed an artillery duel between one of our batteries stationed about 150 yards in front of us and a Yankee battery away to our left. Five or six dead horses, and one or two broken caissons or gun carriages were left by our battery when it moved off.​
(USA) One caisson; Lt. James Stewart’s Battery B, 4th U.S.; July 1; Seminary Ridge.​
(Official Reports of Col. Charles S. Wainwright and Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt.)​
 
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Tom Elmore

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Sources Continued...

July 2:


(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.​
(Capt. Elijah D. Taft, 5th NY Battery, Official Report) Private John C. Begg mortally wounded by the explosion of a caisson limber July 2 while approaching the battlefield; he died July 7.​
(New York at Gettysburg, III:1297) Private John C. Begg was killed by the explosion of a caisson limber while coming on the battlefield, July 2d.​
(Cowles, Fifth Massachusetts Battery) One limber of Taft’s 5th New York battery was blown up on the road and one man killed at 10 a.m., July 2.​
(Levi W. Baker, Ninth Massachusetts Battery, p. 55) A little in front of us a caisson blew up, killing one man, tearing his face entirely off.​
(Tillie Pierce Alleman, What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle) We see a man thrown high in the air and come down in a wheat field close by. He is picked up and carried into the house. As they pass by I see his eyes are blown out and his whole person seems to be one black mass. The first words I hear him say is: “Oh, dear! I forgot to read my Bible today! What will my poor wife and children say?” I saw the soldiers carry him upstairs; they laid him upon a bed and wrapped him in cotton. How I pitied that poor man.​
(Diary of Jacob Thomas Zehrung, 73 OH) July 2, four miles in the rear of Gettysburg, while looking at the artillery pass one of the caissons blowed up, it was awful.​
(John H. Shane, 1st Maryland Eastern Shore, National Tribune, November 27, 1924) (While moving up the Taneytown Road) encountered a disabled artillery limber, on fire, from which occasionally exploded a shell, causing the column to swerve considerably away from the road. [This may be a separate incident.]​
(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.​
(Louis Leon, Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier, 53 NC, p. 35) Our regiment supported a battery all day (July 2). The caisson of the battery we were supporting was blown up and we got a big good sprinkling of the wood from it.​
(Powhatan, Salem and Courtney Henrico Artillery, Virginia Regimental Histories Series): The 1st Virginia regiment reported one 3-inch caisson exploded by shell from enemy.​
(CSA) One caisson; Capt. William F. Dement’s Maryland Battery; late afternoon of July 2; Benner’s Hill.​
(Memoir of John William Ford Hatton, Dement’s Maryland Battery) A short distance to my left, Corporal Thompson (Sam) was engaged during the firing [July 2] in dealing out ammunition from the caisson. He was rather careless in closing the lid of the box immediately after extracting a round. He was warned by a comrade that he was running a great risk. His reply was, “Oh, nothing’s going to hurt Sam. Sam’s going to Baltimore!” A few seconds after he uttered these words with a light and joyful heart, a shell exploded in close proximity to his caisson, scattering sparks in every direction, some of which fell into the opened limber box, causing it to explode … a form lying on the ground … the body of Sam Thompson /// (Boy Soldiers of the Confederacy) Henry Albert Roby was thrown into the air and struck a wheel as he came down, but was not seriously injured.​
(Andrew’s O.R. – Latimer’s BN) One caisson blown up, one caisson dismounted.​
(The Story of a Cannoneer Under Stonewall Jackson, by Edward Alexander Moore, Rockbridge Artillery, New York and Washington: The Neale Publishing Company, 1907, p. 191) Latimer’s guns were unlimbered … In less than five minutes one of Latimer’s caissons was exploded and called forth a lusty cheer from the enemy. In five minutes more a Federal caisson was blown up, which brought forth a larger cheer from us.​
(USA) One caisson and caisson limber; Lt. James Stewart’s Battery B, 4th U.S.; late afternoon of July 2; Cemetery Hill.​
(James Stewart, Battery B Fourth United States Artillery, paper prepared for the Ohio Commandery of the MOLLUS, ed. by W. H. Chamberlin, Cincinnati: 1896, Reprint: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1991, vol. 4, p. 190) [Capt.] Cooper [1st Pennsylvania Battery B] at once replied, and about the first shot he fired blew up a caisson. I ordered my men to give three cheers for Cooper’s battery. The echo had scarcely died away when one of my caissons met the same fate. … The three chests were sent skyward and the horses started off on a run towards the town, but one of the swing team got over the traces, throwing him down and causing the rest of the team to halt. The men ran after them and brought them back; 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.​
(James Stewart, Battery B Fourth United States Artillery, paper prepared for the Ohio Commandery of the MOLLUS, ed. by W. H. Chamberlin, Cincinnati: 1896, Reprint: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1991, vol. 4, p. 191) A few minutes after, one of my limbers was also blown up, causing a loss of two men and two horses.​
(USA) One caisson limber; Lt. George Breck’s Battery L, 1st New York; late afternoon of July 2; Cemetery Hill.​
(Official Report of George Breck) During the cannonade, an ammunition chest of one of my caisson limbers was struck by a shell, exploding a few rounds of ammunition which it contained, and completely destroying it.​
(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.​
(Muhlenberg, Official Report, 12th Corps Artillery) [In the late afternoon on July 2 the enemy] continued an incessant fire for 30 minutes; then, having a caisson exploded, ceased.​
(2nd Lt. Edward R. Geary, Battery E, Pennsylvania, Knap’s battery, 9 July letter) We blew up two [enemy] caissons.​
(Julian Wisner Hinkley, A Narrative of Service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry) At one point a battery was placed on a hill across Rock Creek directly in front of our regiment and began dropping shells unpleasantly close. But Battery M, 1st New York seemed to get their range at once and silenced them. Next day I found a dozen dead horses and two exploded caissons.​
(Edwin E. Bryant, History of the Third Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry) In the early afternoon, enemy tried to plant a battery on an eminence opposite our front to the left [on Benner’s Hill], but Knap’s battery opened on them with three 10-pounder Parrotts. Van Reed’s Battery K, 5th New York Artillery joined in with a section of 12-pounder Parrotts and after a brisk cannonade of 30 minutes over our heads, blew up one of the enemy’s caissons.​
(5th Maine Battery in the War) Engaged battery of 20-pounder Parrotts July 2, four of its ammunition chests blown up in less than 20 minutes.​
(CSA) Two or three caissons; Lt. Stephen C. Gilbert’s Brooks South Carolina Artillery; late afternoon of July 2; Warfield Ridge.​
(Michael Hanifen, History of Battery B, First New Jersey Artillery) Afternoon July 2, in less than 30 minutes one of the enemy’s limbers blew up.​
(Rhett’s Battery, commanded by Lieutenant Stephen C. Gilbert, Confederate Military History, Extended Addition, vol. VI, SC, pp. 595-596) Lost two caissons, two guns dismounted.​
(Diary of Private Albert H. Prince, Gilbert’s battery) Three of our caissons are blown up.​
 
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July 3, morning:


(USA) One caisson; unidentified; about 4:45 a.m. on July 3; near the 11th Massachusetts of the Third Corps in front of Cemetery Ridge.​
(Henry N. Blake, Three Years in the Army of the Potomac – 11th Massachusetts) The rebel artillery opened with the dawn of daybreak … upon July 3, and continued their fire with unusual accuracy for an hour, at the position which was held by the left center. The third shot exploded a caisson in the battery which was planted upon the left of the regiment; and fragments of wheels, and the woodwork, balls, and shells, ascended in a cloud of smoke and flame about one hundred feet in the air, and reminded me of the pictures which represent the eruption of a volcano.​
(Diary of A. F. Cavada, Humphreys’ staff) Morning July 3, one of our batteries posted close by us on our left next became the [?] of these rebel sugar plums – the second or third shot exploded one of its caissons sending the contents in all directions. … division moved back about half a mile.​
(USA) One caisson; unidentified – possibly Lt. Evan Thomas’ Battery C, 4th U.S.; early morning of July 3; central Cemetery Ridge.​
(Vermont in the Civil War, A History of the Part Taken by Vermont Soldiers and Sailors in the War for the Union 1861-5, by G. G. Benedict, II:461) In morning cannonade on July 3, the 14th Regiment lost several non-commissioned officers and men killed by the explosion of a caisson of the battery close to which they were lying.​
(Letter of Lt. George G. Benedict, March 16, 1864, Bachelder Papers, 1:96) At daylight the 14th was close to the battery in its rear and lost some men by explosion of a caisson.​
(Letter of Col. Wheelock G. Veazey, Bachelder Papers, 1:59) The enemy also open with artillery at four o’clock in the morning with considerable effect, and blew up a caisson in my rear, belonging to a battery supported by the 14th Regt.​
(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.​
(George H. Washburn, A Complete Military History and Record of the 108th Regiment N.Y. Vols., Diary of Lt. Parsons) About 5 a.m. July 3 the ball opened again … [Not long after] A caisson of one of our batteries has at this moment exploded, killing a number of horses and I know not how many men.​
(Diary of Battery A, 1st R.I. Artillery – Arnold’s) July 3, enemy’s batteries on his right opened on us before daylight. Three limbers of Battery A, 4th U.S. were blown up early in the morning.​
(Official Report of Captain John G. Hazard, Second Corps Artillery) About 8 a.m. the enemy exploded three limbers of Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery.​
(Lewis H. Crandell, E/125 NY, diary) Morning July 3, a caisson of the battery we supported was blown up making terrible havoc.​
 
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Tom Elmore

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Sources Continued...

July 3, afternoon:


(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.​
(John Gibbon, Recollections of the Civil War) During the cannonade, three of Cushing’s limber boxes blew up at once, sending the contents in a vast column of smoke high in the air, and above the din could be heard the triumphant yells of the enemy as he recognized this result of his fire.​
(Thomas M. Aldrich, History of Battery A, 1st R.I.) During height of [cannonade] a shell struck the no. 2 limber of Cushing’s battery, and exploded it, which connected with their nos. 1 and 3 and exploded both of them also. The concussion from these limbers was so powerful that I was thrown down and my horses got twisted up as the lead and swing ones turned short around. The horses of the first limber started, and as far as I could see, went straight into the enemy’s lines. Our horses were very uneasy the rest of the day.​
(71st Pennsylvania, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, by Bates, vol. 2, p. 797) A shot struck one of Cushing’s caissons, and instantly three of those standing near, and loaded down with fixed ammunition, were blown up, hurling into the air the fragments of this once powerful battery, which descended in a perfect shower upon companies A and F, lying near them. Men, horses, and limbers were hurled together in confusion.​
(Col. Norman J. Hall, Official Report) Three of his limbers were blown up and changed with the caisson limbers under fire.​
(William P. Haines, History of the Men of Company F [12th New Jersey]) During the July 3 cannonade, one of our caissons blew up near the left of our regiment, a great column of smoke rising up several hundred feet. Almost immediately after, the same thing occurred in one of their batteries in our front.​
(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.​
(Ernest Linden Watt, History of the Nineteenth Regiment Massachusetts Infantry) July 3 cannonade. With two guns left … then a caisson burst.​
(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.​
(Lt John Egan, The History of the First Regiment of Artillery) One caisson was blown up.​
(George H. Washburn, A Complete Military History and Record of the 108th Regiment N.Y. Volunteers, p. 316) Jacob Spring, Jr. of I/108 NY and three comrades happened to be under a limber chest when a rebel shell exploded the caisson right over their heads and killed all three of his comrades, he being the only survivor. Patrick McDonald of K/108 NY, wounded by explosion of caisson while supporting a U.S. battery.​
(USA) Four caissons; Lt. Evan Thomas’ Battery C, 4th U.S.; afternoon cannonade on July 3; central Cemetery Ridge.​
(Vermont in the Civil War, A History of the Part Taken by Vermont Soldiers and Sailors in the War for the Union 1861-5, by G. G. Benedict, II:463-466) During July 3 cannonade, four caissons of Thomas’ Battery to right and rear of brigade were blown up at once – cheers from enemy.​
(USA) One caisson or ammunition wagon; unidentified battery; afternoon cannonade on July 3; Taneytown road near the Hummelbaugh buildings.​
(Maj. Alexander Biddle, 121 PA, Biddle Family Papers) A caisson was blown up in a battery on a hill to our right, another to our left, an ammunition wagon or caisson was exploded in the [Taneytown] road behind us.​
(Colonel Chapman Biddle, in History of the 121st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, by the Survivors’ Association, Philadelphia: 1893, p. 52) A caisson, filled with ammunition exploded directly in rear of the regiment, its driver never found.​
(USA) One caisson; unidentified battery; afternoon cannonade on July 3; on or near the Taneytown road.​
(Address of Private Thomas V. Cooper, 26 PA, Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, 1:198) The 26th lost few on the third day, and most of these by the explosion of a caisson [during the artillery duel].​
(CSA) One caisson; unidentified – possibly Lt. William E. Zimmerman’s Pee Dee (South Carolina) Artillery; afternoon cannonade on July 3; Seminary Ridge.​
(George S. Bernard, E/12 VA, The Gettysburg Campaign) E. M. Field, who commanded the 12th Virginia wrote, “Colonel Pegram, who was standing near us in a position to watch the effect of his fire, remarked that he had exploded one of the enemy’s caissons, and raising his hat, gave a cheer. A few moments later a shot, or shell, from one of the enemy’s guns exploded one of his (Pegram’s) caissons.”​
(Historical Sketch of the Pee Dee Light Artillery, by Ordnance Sergeant J. W. Brunson) One gun and one caisson dismounted, one caisson exploded and 25 horses killed.​
(The Purcell, Crenshaw and Letcher Artillery, by Peter S. Carmichael, The Virginia Regimental Histories Series) On July 3, Pegram lost one caisson and two ammunition chests exploded.​
(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.​
(Sgt. William K. Haines, Company I, 5th New Jersey, wounded and a prisoner near the Sherfy house) One of our shots dismounted a rebel gun near where I sat, exploded the caisson and killed – or wounded so they had to be killed – all six of its horses.​
(Captain Patrick Hart, 15th NY, Official Report) I directed my fire on this battery and on his caissons, which were partly covered by the barn. I candidly believe it was I who caused his caissons to explode and set the barn on fire.​
(USA) One caisson; Lt. John W. Sterling’s 2nd Connecticut Battery; July 3; south Cemetery Ridge.​
(Sergeant D. B. Lockwood, Connecticut During the Rebellion) A caisson exploded by a shell.​
(Letters of Henry Waldo Hart, 2nd Connecticut battery, Virginia Polytechnical Institute) We had one of our caissons blown up.​
(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; late afternoon of July 3; advanced position just east of the Emmitsburg road.​
(Official Report of Major B. F. Eshleman) One limber blown up.​
(Official Report of Andrew Cowan, 1st New York Independent Battery) July 3, the enemy advanced several smooth-bore batteries to within 1,300 yards, and opened on the part of the line I occupied. I concentrated my fire on a single battery, and exploded four of its limbers in rapid succession, driving it from the field.​
(New York at Gettysburg, Cowan’s Battery) An enemy battery galloped forward to the Emmitsburg Road to assist in covering the retreat. The guns of the First New York Battery, one aimed by Captain Cowan and the other by Sergeant Van Etten, exploded two ammunition chests of that battery in quick succession, whereupon it was hurriedly withdrawn.​
(USA) Caisson; unidentified, near the 14th Connecticut – possibly Lt. Gulian V. Weir’s Battery C, 5th U.S.; soon after the charge repulsed on July 3; Cemetery Ridge.​
(Col. John A. Fite, 7th Tennessee, Gettysburg Magazine, issue 2, p. 107) Fite was captured at the stone fence once the shooting stopped, and taken to Major Theodore G. Ellis, 14th Connecticut. The Confederate artillery reopened and blew up a caisson right beside them.​
 
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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:

(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:

(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:

(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:

(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:

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.
Wow! This is quite a piece of work. If possible, can you provide your sources? If so, I would like your permission to circulate this among the Licensed Battlefield Guides at Gettysburg.

If you don't already know, the late Harry Pfanz tells us that Cannoneer John Hatton of Dement's Battery on Benner's Hill on July 2 reported that Corporal Thompson was careless about closing the lid on the ammunition chest that day. It is said that sparks from an exploding shell fell into the chest and set it off.

Thanks for this excellent list.
 

Stone in the wall

First Sergeant
Joined
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Location
Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson County WV
Wow! This is quite a piece of work. If possible, can you provide your sources? If so, I would like your permission to circulate this among the Licensed Battlefield Guides at Gettysburg.

If you don't already know, the late Harry Pfanz tells us that Cannoneer John Hatton of Dement's Battery on Benner's Hill on July 2 reported that Corporal Thompson was careless about closing the lid on the ammunition chest that day. It is said that sparks from an exploding shell fell into the chest and set it off.

Thanks for this excellent list.
Welcome to CWT from "inside of Mosby's Confederacy". I'm sure we all would like to meet and learn about you on The New Recruites Meet and Greet Sight. Clark
 
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Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
This posting is a supplement to the Gettysburg caisson thread. It is interesting to note that as the war went on the way artillery was deployed changed. About a year after Stones River where 58 union cannon were deployed in the open field in the traditional manner. Each section of guns (2) shared a caisson. When the ammunition on that caisson was depleted, the second caisson came up from a place of safety. The empty caisson was returned to the reserve artillery park & exchanged for one with full chests. The two limbers & two caisson chest provided each gun about 200 rounds. It was the close proximity of the artillery park that allowed Parson's battery to fire almost 2,000 rounds on New Years Eve 1862. His battery was the pin of the hinge that Rosecrans swung back on.

IMG_5025.jpg

The caisson is the two wheeled cart with two ammunition chests & a spare wheel. It was pulled by a limber with one ammunition chest. Ammunition in the furthest chest back was brought forward to the gun by 2 crewmen carrying the round in a leather bag. At the chest, two men worked to insert fuses & prepare the round for firing. Once the chests were emptied, the caisson could be quickly replaced with a loaded one. The ammunition on the limber pulling the gun was the last chest to be opened. That way, there would be ammunition instantly available when the gun deployed.

IMG_5019.jpg

This rifled six pounder fired a 14 pound James round. Each of the limbers would have had six horses hitched in pairs. The men bringing up the round had to keep moving at a brisk pace to keep the gun fed. This is the position of the Chicago Board of Trade Battery on December 31, 1862. It is across the road from the visitor center at Stones River National Battlefield.

Needless to say, twelve horses & the ammunition chests presented quite a target. A little over a year later, at Kennesaw Mountain, the limbers & caissons were removed to a safe position. The guns were dug in with protective berms on three sides. Five yards behind the gun a pit was dug to protect the ammunition chests. Because of a period of wet weather followed by a long dry spell set the red clay soil like cement, in the park artillery positions are surprisingly intact. Especially impressive is a 24 gun Union battery. The chances of striking a dug in ammunition chest was minuscule compared with one deployed on open ground.

Not very far from where the Chicago Board of Trade guns are on display, December 1864 found the Washington Artillery going into battery to support Nathan Bedford Forrest & General Bates' attack on Murfreesboro. A 20 pound parrott rifle at Fortress Rosecrans hit a caisson at two miles with the first shot. A volley of 20 pound rounds with contact fuses rained down. Out ranged, out gunned & out of options, the Confederate cannoneers had no choice but to limber up & run for it without firing a shot in return. During the grading for a parking lot, the duds from this bombardment brought construction to a halt. Army bomb disposal experts from Fort Campbell blew up the highly dangerous shells in place.
 
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Cavalier

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
The limber has one chest and is attached to a gun or caisson. The horses are attached to the limber. The caisson has two chests and a spare wheel wheel. It requires a limber, with horses attached, just like a gun does, to be moved.

The photo is post # 7 above is a caisson with its limber attached.

i hope that helps. John
 
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Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
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Can somebody once and for all explain the difference between a limber and a caisson. Since both contained ammunition chests, what were the respective functions of the two devices that distinguished them from each other?
An ammunition chest was mounted on the limber. Think of the limber as the truck of a semitrailer. It was used to tow the cannons, caissons, battery wagon & traveling forge in a battery. You can think of the caisson as a utility trailer. Empty ammunition chests were off loaded & replaced quickly. It is used to transport coffins in military funerals today.

IMG_5213.jpg

The limber is a two wheeled vehicle that is used to tow the gun, caisson, traveling forge & battery wagon. The ammunition chest looks like a seat, but it is not. The artillerymen walked. It was only in time of dire emergency that they rode on the limber chest. It is very difficult not to be thrown off of it. The chest itself can be detached & replaced with a fresh supply of ammunition.

IMG_5240.jpg


If you have the Official Atlas of the Civil War plate CLXXIII, the third from the back of the book, has exact drawings of the battery wagon, traveling forge, caisson, harness & various gun carriages. If you don't have that book, you should get one, it is an excellent reference book.
 
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Wallyfish

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Greensburg, Pa
Great thread. I am no artillery expert. Was a solid shell equally dangerous to an ammunition chest as an exploding shell? I don't know what the temperature of a solid shell was when it hit a target, So I don't know if the solid shell heat (or friction of the impact) could trigger an explosion.

I have always assumed that an exploding shell brought more risks to the ammunition chest because of the shell heat and embers.
 

jackt62

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
The limber is a two wheel vehicle that had four to six horses hitched. An ammunition chest was mounted on the limber. Think of the limber as the truck of a semitrailer. It was used to tow the cannons, caissons, battery wagon & traveling forge in a battery. You can think of the caisson as a utility trailer. Empty ammunition chests were off loaded & replaced quickly. It is used to transport coffins in military funerals today.
Thank you!
 
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Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Great thread. I am no artillery expert. Was a solid shell equally dangerous to an ammunition chest as an exploding shell? I don't know what the temperature of a solid shell was when it hit a target, So I don't know if the solid shell heat (or friction of the impact) could trigger an explosion.

I have always assumed that an exploding shell brought more risks to the ammunition chest because of the shell heat and embers.
A Civil War artillery round traveled at just under the speed of sound. A solid 10 pound bolt has a flat nose about an inch & a half in diameter. Force is equal to mass times the velocity squared with an impact area of an inch & a half in diameter. Even without a calculator, the pounds per square inch is an impressive number. Black powder is extremely stable, for ignition, it requires a spark or a flame. Needless to say, a 10 pound bolt smashing through an ammunition chest would provide plenty of both. A contact fuse would add a whole 'nother level of explosive power & razor sharp red hot shell casing to the mix. A Shrapnel type shell where a small bursting charge breaks open the thin walled shell & a double handful of balls rain down from 10 meters above the target would be less likely to set off the ammunition in the chest. It would, however, be murderous when peppering the horses & cannoneers. It would take a freak hit from canister to set off an ammunition box.
 
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EJ Zander

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Aug 23, 2011
Location
Gettysburg, PA
Nice work Tom!
The before the battle explosion that killed James Moran occurred just south of the square in Abbottstown on RT194.. He is buried at the Immaculate Heart of Mary church several miles away. Visited his grave a few times while at the church. His headstone has him serving with the 63rd PA and is wrong. Because that James Moran died in the overland campaign. Pics are in the link below.
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/16805940/james-moran
 
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