Discussion Case Shot

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
My understanding is that there are 4 major types of ammunition. Cannister, solid shot, shell, and grape.

My further understanding is that shell is a solid ball w/ powder that explodes (either w/ a fuse or on contact with some rounds).
And that grape is very similiar except when it explodes, it has a number of smaller metal balls that disperse, similiar in concept to cannister fire.

My question is, in what circumstances would shell be preferable to grape? It sounds like the concept of both is you're going to have an exploding round that disburses a ton of metal over the heads of infantry. It also sounds like grape would be more damaging because it has the metal balls in it. So why does grape not make shell unnecessary?
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
First off, shells also contain metal balls. Grape was generally a naval round while canister was used in field guns. Canister is a close-range round and commonly was either fired so as to have the balls skip along the ground (like solid shot) or, in really dire straights, fired directly into advancing troops. Shells, on the other hand, had much greater range and were fired so as to explode above and somewhat in front of advancing troops. This rained the shrapnel down on them from above and used the momentum of the shell itself to propel the contents (i.e. the explosive charge was only enough to break open the shell and release the contents.

Canister was really a last-ditch kind of thing used when the guns were at risk of being overtaken. That's one reason there weren't very many canister rounds in the boxes.
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
My first response was a little off; too early in the morning !

I was referring to spherical case, not shells per se. Case is a type of shell that had a thinner wall, contained balls, and was exploded with a small charge of powder. The tactical use and range issues are pretty much the same, though, as with simple shells.

Thanks, that makes sense. You note the use and range issues are the same - wouldn't case be superior because there are more balls and thus a wider disbursement of damage versus simple shells? i'm trying to figure out why case didn't make simple shells obsolete.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Thanks, that makes sense. You note the use and range issues are the same - wouldn't case be superior because there are more balls and thus a wider disbursement of damage versus simple shells? i'm trying to figure out why case didn't make simple shells obsolete.
I'm not sure why case didn't totally replace simple shells. Hopefully one of our artillery experts can shine some light on that question.
 

ucvrelics

Colonel
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Shiloh 2020
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
I'm not sure why case didn't totally replace simple shells. Hopefully one of our artillery experts can shine some light on that question.
The case was more of an anti-personnel rd where the spherical or common shell had thicker walls and could fire a LOT further and was used more against fixed targets and could be either contact to air burst. Maybe @redbob can splain it better
 

ucvrelics

Colonel
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Shiloh 2020
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
Did grape have a sheathing like canister?
No it was a stand of grape with a top and bottom plate and a spiral that held the balls in place till fired. Some hand cloth to hold the balls in place.

A0135A.jpg

A0138A.jpg
 

FedericoFCavada

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
Canister is a metal can full of cast iron balls. The can disintegrates when the round is fired, and fragments + metal balls emerge from the barrel like a smooth-bore shotgun load, creating a pattern as they move downrange.

Grapeshot also emerges from the barrel in smaller balls and some fragments if it was held together by a bolt and metal plates, or just the odd fragment of canvas or chord if it was bound up like that.

Spherical case shot and shell had fuses, which detonated the round shell, causing it to explode. An exploding shell, embedded in a wood structure, was highly effective in destroying it. An exploding spherical case shot showered metal fragments and metal balls or shrapnel balls on troops without cover.
 

redbob

Major
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
Feb 18, 2013
Location
Hoover, Alabama
A case shot had thinner walls than an explosive shell and below are the 5 types of ammunition for a 12# Napoleon.
From left:
Solid shot
Case shot (note thinner walls)
Canister minus can
Explosive shell (thicker walls and this particular one is a Confederate design with lines of weakness cast into the body for more consistent pieces when detonated)
Grape shot
Shell.JPG
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
For 20 years I told visitors at Stones River that grape shot was for large caliber cannon, principally at sea. The individual balls in a “stand of grape” were, in some instances, the same diameter as the bore of our 1841 six ponders. Grape was intended to destroy the top hamper of a sailing ship & secondarily as an antipersonnel weapon. In effect, it turned a 36 pnd gun into a giant shotgun. The stand of grape for the 11” guns that the Neosho fired during Thomas’ attack at Nashville in Dec 1864 weighed 128 pounds, if memory serves.

Despite the “… grape & canister…” referred to in thousands of soldier letters, grape was not issued to field guns. You can imagine my astonishment when, at the visitor center museum at FT Defiance in Clarksville TN, I saw a stand of grape for a six pnd cannon! Never say never where the ACW is concerned. It had to be some kind of naval/ gunboat thing.

Canister consisted of 28 iron balls that were of a diameter appropriate for the bore. It is, once again, a giant shotgun round. There was no bursting charge. The thin metal can that housed the canister balls would come apart as the round left the muzzle. At 300 yards max effective range, the balls were in a spread about 90’ wide.

It is generally believed that the small number ( 5 +/-) of canister packed in the ammunition chests were only used as a last ditch defense. While that is true, canister was also used in aggressive ways, as well.

To fire on a battery or cavalry, a solid shot or bolt was loaded & two cans of canister balls were rammed home on top. Wilder & Eli Lilly, whose battery was assigned to the Lightening Brigade, reconfigured the ammunition chests to contain more canister rounds. At Hoover’s Gap, June 1863, Lilly’s 3” rifles fired “long range canister” at Bate’s attacking infantry. The solid bolt & three canister wrought havoc.

Another antipersonnel round that is not generally known outside the Redleg community are Dummies that consisted of bags or socks loosely filled with pieces of scrap metal or lead balls. During the Atlanta Campaign & at Franklin Union 3” rifles were loaded with a powder charge, solid bolt, canister & then crammed to the muzzle with dummies filled with Minnie balls. The commander of a battery that engage closely packed CSA attackers with dummies stated that “… I heard the report of the gun followed by the sound of the bones…”

Spherical case was the invention of Sir Henry Shrapnel, it consisted of a thin walled sphere for smoothbore or bolt for rifles filled with pistol balls & sulpher. A timed fuse & small bursting charge caused the case to break open scattering a shower of fragments & balls to impact personnel with great effect. Ideally, the Shrapnel round detonated 10 meters above & in front of the target.

The momentum alone caused the fragments & balls to impact the target at a speed approaching the speed of sound. The air bursts of spherical case/Shrapnel would have made the air above the target look something like Berlin in 1945. General Hanson of the Orphan Brigade was mortally wounded by the fuse of a case shot.

Shell was exactly what it sounded like. It was a thick walled sphere or bolt filled with powder. A timed fuse caused the shell to explode above a personal/mounted target after 2 seconds of flight/about 800 yards, for example. The jagged chunks of the case impacting flesh at near the speed of sound was devastating. The bore of 6 pnd 1841 model cannon was too small for shell.

Mortars, Howitzers & Napoleons fired shell in high arching trajectory with fused cut for air bursts or after impacting structures. At night, the trail of sparks from the timed fuses acted like tracers across the sky.

Rifle bolt shells could have impact fuses. For obvious reasons, smoothbore balls did not have impact fuses.

To batter in a door, gate or wall, a blank charge was used. The cannon was pushed up against the surface & the muzzle blast would create a breach for infantry to jump through. At point blank range, a solid ball could bounce back & kill the canon crew.

Hope this removes any confusion about artillery rounds. Feel free to seek clarification or ask related questions. I am National Park black powder cannon gunner who has been answering visitor questions for over two decades. The only dumb question is the one you did not ask.
 
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Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
The case was more of an anti-personnel rd where the spherical or common shell had thicker walls and could fire a LOT further and was used more against fixed targets and could be either contact to air burst. Maybe @redbob can splain it better
Agree that case was more of an anti-personnel round (although shell had that use, as well). It also functioned differently with a time fuze - prescribed practice was that it would be set to go off c. 75 yards before the target, while time fuzed shell was generally set to go off over the target. Case would result in small projectiles, while shell would result in larger, varying numbers of fragments. I'm not certain that the ranges of case and shell were all that different per se, but the distance for which the time fuze was set for each was substantially different, for the reason set out above (All this ignores the use of percussion fuzes on rifled guns).

In describing spherical case, I've always found it useful to point out that in the 18th century the Royal Artillery called what we know as canister "tin case".
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Grape was a naval and heavy artillery round. It was not used for field artillery, they used canister instead.
I'd add that grape had been previously used by field artillery but by 1861 was relegated to the uses you identify. One annoying issue with after action reports filed during the Civil War is that you will see frequent references by officers to the use of "grape", when they likely meant either case or canister. The 1841 Ordnance Manual restricted it to siege, garrison, and sea coast service.
 
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BillWright

Private
Joined
Jul 15, 2021
Around Vicksburg 12 pounder and some six pounder case was the most common spherical shell. Some of you might be interested in how case shot was made. It usually had the borman fuse, lead balls being poured into the cavity. The shell was then filled with tar which served as a matrix which held the balls in place. A drill was inserted into the fuse hole and then bored out the tar and lead through the middle. Then the bursting charge was poured into the cavity of the shell and then the boreman fuse was screwed in. This is the typical way a 12 pound case shot was made.
Strangely at Champion Hill several case shells have been found that didn’t contain the regular round case shot but instead had a oblong/bullet shaped projectiles that contained powder. I assume these were firing at batteries in hopes of exploding the limbers. Mistakenly these mini projectiles were thought to be incendiary bullets but they are not. They are incendiary from case shot
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
For 20 years I told visitors at Stones River that grape shot was for large caliber cannon, principally at sea. The individual balls in a “stand of grape” were, in some instances, the same diameter as the bore of our 1841 six ponders. Grape was intended to destroy the top hamper of a sailing ship & secondarily as an antipersonnel weapon. In effect, it turned a 36 pnd gun into a giant shotgun. The stand of grape for the 11” guns that the Neosho fired during Thomas’ attack at Nashville in Dec 1864 weighed 128 pounds, if memory serves.

Despite the “… grape & canister…” referred to in thousands of soldier letters, grape was not issued to field guns. You can imagine my astonishment when, at the visitor center museum at FT Defiance in Clarksville TN, I saw a stand of grape for a six pnd cannon! Never say never where the ACW is concerned. It had to be some kind of naval/ gunboat thing.

Canister consisted of 28 iron balls that were of a diameter appropriate for the bore. It is, once again, a giant shotgun round. There was no bursting charge. The thin metal can that housed the canister balls would come apart as the round left the muzzle. At 300 yards max effective range, the balls were in a spread about 90’ wide.

It is generally believed that the small number ( 5 +/-) of canister packed in the ammunition chests were only used as a last ditch defense. While that is true, canister was also used in aggressive ways, as well.

To fire on a battery or cavalry, a solid shot or bolt was loaded & two cans of canister balls were rammed home on top. Wilder & Eli Lilly, whose battery was assigned to the Lightening Brigade, reconfigured the ammunition chests to contain more canister rounds. At Hoover’s Gap, June 1863, Lilly’s 3” rifles fired “long range canister” at Bate’s attacking infantry. The solid bolt & three canister wrought havoc.

Another antipersonnel round that is not generally known outside the Redleg community. Dummies consisted of bags or socks loosely filled with pieces of scrap metal or lead balls. During the Atlanta Campaign & at Franklin Union 3” rifles were loaded with a powder charge, solid bolt, canister & then crammed to the muzzle with dummies filled with Minnie balls. The commander of a battery that engage closely packed CSA attackers with dummies stated that “… I heard the report of the gun followed by the sound of the bones…”

Spherical case was the invention of Sir Henry Shrapnel, it consisted of a thin walled sphere for smoothbore or bolt for rifles filled with pistol balls & sulpher. A timed fuse & small bursting charge caused the case to break open scattering a shower of fragments & balls to impact personnel with great effect. Ideally, the Shrapnel round detonated 10 meters above & in front of the target.

The momentum alone caused the fragments & balls to impact the target at a speed approaching the speed of sound. The air bursts of spherical case/Shrapnel would have made the air above the target look something like Berlin in 1945. General Hanson of the Orphan Brigade was mortally wounded by the fuse of a CSA shot.

Shell was exactly what it sounded like. It was a thick walled sphere or bolt filled with powder. A timed fuse caused the shell to explode above a personal/mounted target after 2 seconds of flight/about 800 yards, for example. The jagged chunks of the case impacting flesh at near the speed of sound was devastating. The bore of 6 pnd 1841 model cannon was too small for shell.

Mortars, Howitzers & Napoleons fired shell in high arching trajectory with fused cut for air bursts or after impacting structures. At night, the trail of sparks from the timed fuses acted like tracers across the sky.

Rifle bolt shells could have impact fuses. For obvious reasons, smoothbore balls did not have impact fuses.

To batter in a door, gate or wall, a blank charge was used. The cannon was pushed up against the surface & the muzzle blast would create a breach for infantry to jump through. At point blank range, a solid ball could bounce back & kill the canon crew.

Hope this removes any confusion about artillery rounds. Feel free to seek clarification or ask related questions. I am National Park black powder cannon gunner who has been answering visitor questions for over two decades. The only dumb question is the one you did not ask.
Nice material. One note about canister is that Brother Hunt believed that the canister round prescribed by the Ordnance Dep't for most of the war contained too few projectiles - that may be one reason why he warned that the "tendency" to use canister was "too great". As for dumb questions, I've asked more than my share. (That may be a result of my experience trying to maneuver a replica Light 6 pounder of 18th century British design with its $^^#**& bracket carriage. Not sure how those matrosses could deal with that)
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Around Vicksburg 12 pounder and some six pounder case was the most common spherical shell. Some of you might be interested in how case shot was made. It usually had the borman fuse, lead balls being poured into the cavity. The shell was then filled with tar which served as a matrix which held the balls in place. A drill was inserted into the fuse hole and then bored out the tar and lead through the middle. Then the bursting charge was poured into the cavity of the shell and then the boreman fuse was screwed in. This is the typical way a 12 pound case shot was made.
Strangely at Champion Hill several case shells have been found that didn’t contain the regular round case shot but instead had a oblong/bullet shaped projectiles that contained powder. I assume these were firing at batteries in hopes of exploding the limbers. Mistakenly these mini projectiles were thought to be incendiary bullets but they are not. They are incendiary from case shot
Good points and you raise an interesting one. We tend to discuss official, prescribed rounds and practices but there was always some "free lancing" and "innovation" that went on - mostly on the Confederate side. The variety of ordnance that is found on ACW battlefields has a lot more variety than the books would indicate.
 
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