Double Vs Single Cannister

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Are there any disadvantages to using double cannister, with the obvious exception that you will run out of cannister rounds twice as fast? Do they have materially less velocity or a change in the dispersion pattern? If not, why wouldn't you ALWAYS fire double cannister?

How wide was the typical spread of a cannister/double cannister round? And what was the effective range?
 

drezac

Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
May 4, 2014
Location
Baltimore,Ohio
It was basically a last ditch effort when being overrun or covering a retreat. Typically, you would only have 4 or 5 canister in your limber box. Counting the rounds with the caissons, each gun would have only had 12 to 15 canister readily available. You would start using canister at ranges of 350 yards, double canister ( with only one charge) at 150 yards. At those distances, you won't have much time to fire - by the time you fire the 4 or 5 canister in your limber box, you have either stopped the advance, you are limbering up to run, or you have already been overrun.

In addition, you are also overloading the gun and there will be more of a chance the gun could burst or incur damage.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
My understanding is as follows:


At close range (~100 yards IIRC), single canister already pretty much saturates the (narrow) threat cone. At this range the only real benefit of double canister is that some of the balls might be knocked off target and widen the threat cone.

At long range (~300 yards or so) canister is mostly either going over the heads of the targets or burying itself at their feet. Double canister is just a waste at that range.

At medium range, there is a point where the threat cone of a single stand of canister has widened enough that the balls do not saturate it. At that range then double canister increases the saturation of the threat cone, and so is beneficial.


(I should note here that the morale effect of losing three files of men right next to one another, punching a hole in the line, is much greater than the effect of losing the same six men spread over an entire company. Double canister allows for that greater saturation.)


Double canister also:
- means each individual canister ball is moving slower
- increases strain on the gun
- uses up ammunition faster
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
In the manual, the doctrine for the use of canister is clearly laid out. For example, with smoothbores, firing on a battery or cavalry was done with a solid shot & a canister round fired to graze along the ground.

At Hoover’s Gap, Lilly’s 3” ordinance rifles fired a solid bolt & three canister rounds at advancing CSA infantry. Wilder had the ammunition boxes repacked to increase the number of canister.

At Franklin & during the Atlanta Campaign, 3” rifles were loaded with “dummies. That consisted of a solid bolt & socks filled with Minnie balls loaded to the muzzle. The commander said that he could clearly hear the report of the gun followed by “.., the sound of the bones…”

In practice, canister was fired to strike the ground 10 meters in front of the target. The resulting spray of dirt would herald the balls passing through the target upward from ankle height. Properly deployed, the guns would be engaging the target at interlocking 45 degree angles. The effect could tear tightly packed attackers to tatters.

Solid round shot was fired at a low angle. The ball would strike the ground & bound along like a demented rabbit spraying dirt as it spun. The psychological effect of a dozen of the things leaping at you from converging 45 degree angles must have been terrifying. A single ball could strike six men. The resulting traumatic amputations & spray of teeth & bone amounted to organic shrapnel.

When & how to deploy canister & solid shot is clearly laid down in the manual. The canister demos I have seen online do not give a proper impression. They fire a single round aimed directly at the target. As a result, many rounds sail overhead. By skipping the round along the ground, virtually all of the projectiles would strike the target low & lethal.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
A video of potential interest on Youtube:

Canister Shot From Civil War Cannon.wmv

"We fired 17 rounds of Canister from an original Civil War Napoleon Field Cannon for a study on battlefield archeology. Each Canister shell contained 27 steel balls 1.5" in dia that were painted a certain color and then fired out onto a field from various cannon positions. The cannon's coordinates and the balls that were found were all documented using GPS Technology. The cannon was fired at various barrel elevations and at different levels of terrain. The data when analyzed will hopefully help archeologists determine where the cannons may have been placed during a historic battle. Please visit: https://www.batteryi.org/"
 

FedericoFCavada

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
Having been a volunteer at a battlefield archaeology survey of the Palo Alto battleground just a bit north of modern-day Brownsville, Texas, we found a lot of canister shot. A whole lot. The balls were of cast iron. Some cast iron American cannon balls were recovered as well. Also a "U.S." marked rosette from a horse bridle and some other artifacts. The search was on for green cannon projectiles, since the Mexicans used slag from the silver mines to make bronze or brass cannister balls and cannon shot. As it oxidizes, the copper content turns it green. After a while, inserting pin flags where artifacts were found, and recording the information on GPS and so on, you could look out more widely and realize that it was often a pattern of where the shot had spread and fallen. Chilling.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
It was basically a last ditch effort when being overrun or covering a retreat. Typically, you would only have 4 or 5 canister in your limber box. Counting the rounds with the caissons, each gun would have only had 12 to 15 canister readily available. You would start using canister at ranges of 350 yards, double canister ( with only one charge) at 150 yards. At those distances, you won't have much time to fire - by the time you fire the 4 or 5 canister in your limber box, you have either stopped the advance, you are limbering up to run, or you have already been overrun.

In addition, you are also overloading the gun and there will be more of a chance the gun could burst or incur damage.
An excellent point about supply. Hunt's prescribed chest for Napoleons was only 4 canister rounds - 5 for the rifles. He also warned against the "prevailing tendency" to use canister. Also an excellent point about distance vs. time to fire. Even though siting after recoil was less of an issue, crew safety still was.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Having been a volunteer at a battlefield archaeology survey of the Palo Alto battleground just a bit north of modern-day Brownsville, Texas, we found a lot of canister shot. A whole lot. The balls were of cast iron. Some cast iron American cannon balls were recovered as well. Also a "U.S." marked rosette from a horse bridle and some other artifacts. The search was on for green cannon projectiles, since the Mexicans used slag from the silver mines to make bronze or brass cannister balls and cannon shot. As it oxidizes, the copper content turns it green. After a while, inserting pin flags where artifacts were found, and recording the information on GPS and so on, you could look out more widely and realize that it was often a pattern of where the shot had spread and fallen. Chilling.
By the way, congratulations on being part of that work. It produced some excellent analysis.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Just for comparison, at the time of the AWI, canister was generally referred to as "tin case". There isn't much in the sources that analyzes its actual use and effects, but in 1780 the British Board of Ordnance conducted tests using the Light 6lb gun. (Generally, testing at this time appears to have been done using targets 30 yards wide and 9 feet high). The 1780 tests were conducted using 60 rounds at ranges from 200 yards to 500 yards with three rounds at elevations rising from point blank in quarters of a degree to one degree. The average percentage of hits dropped with increasing range - 49% firing at point blank at 200 yards to 13.5% at one degree of elevation at 500 yards. These tests also showed apparently decreasing velocity at increased range - almost all shot of 354 that struck penetrated at 200 yards; 157 penetrated of 265 striking at 300 yards; 93 penetrated of 201 striking at 400 yards; and 22 penetrated of 98 striking at 500 yards. All FWIW, of course.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Just for comparison, at the time of the AWI, canister was generally referred to as "tin case". There isn't much in the sources that analyzes its actual use and effects, but in 1780 the British Board of Ordnance conducted tests using the Light 6lb gun. (Generally, testing at this time appears to have been done using targets 30 yards wide and 9 feet high). The 1780 tests were conducted using 60 rounds at ranges from 200 yards to 500 yards with three rounds at elevations rising from point blank in quarters of a degree to one degree. The average percentage of hits dropped with increasing range - 49% firing at point blank at 200 yards to 13.5% at one degree of elevation at 500 yards. These tests also showed apparently decreasing velocity at increased range - almost all shot of 354 that struck penetrated at 200 yards; 157 penetrated of 265 striking at 300 yards; 93 penetrated of 201 striking at 400 yards; and 22 penetrated of 98 striking at 500 yards. All FWIW, of course.
This certainly supports the 300 yard maximum range given for canister in the manual.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Are there any disadvantages to using double cannister, with the obvious exception that you will run out of cannister rounds twice as fast? Do they have materially less velocity or a change in the dispersion pattern? If not, why wouldn't you ALWAYS fire double cannister?

How wide was the typical spread of a cannister/double cannister round? And what was the effective range?
The book says 90' wide at 300 yards. That has to be highly conditional.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
This certainly supports the 300 yard maximum range given for canister in the manual.
I wish there were more on actual practice by the Royal Artillery but there isn't (forget the American side - they used a mix of bronze and iron guns with calibers and ordnance all over the lot). The battles where field artillery played a role were limited - Trenton, Saratoga, Brandywine, Monmouth, Guilford CH. Even some of the original sources that do exist are contradictory - such as whether the 3 lb guns with Tarleton at Cowpens fired tin case/canister or solid shot. It's not hard to appreciate how much more raw material there is for the Civil War.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I wish there were more on actual practice by the Royal Artillery but there isn't (forget the American side - they used a mix of bronze and iron guns with calibers and ordnance all over the lot). The battles where field artillery played a role were limited - Trenton, Saratoga, Brandywine, Monmouth, Guilford CH. Even some of the original sources that do exist are contradictory - such as whether the 3 lb guns with Tarleton at Cowpens fired tin case/canister or solid shot. It's not hard to appreciate how much more raw material there is for the Civil War.
I am always impressed at the snowball fight ranges they engaged at during the age of smoothbore warfare. Without Shrapnel’s invention, cannon fire could not have been all that effective. The path of destruction was 3” wide, after all. That was only about three times that of a musket

Here at Stones River, 60% of the CSA infantry were armed with smoothbores & almost all their cannon were 1841 six pounders & howitzers. Because their friction primers were so bad, Waters Alabama Battery stayed up all night making quill primers.

We commentate that with a quill primer weekend. The training secession is pretty amusing. You really are up close & personal when that thing goes off! It will make you jump back… that is a fact.

One of the often overlooked aspects of the A of TN vs A of the C is how outclassed the CSA artillery was. It was common for a battery of 1841 12 pound howitzers & smoothbore 6 pdrs to engage 3” rifles or 14 pdr Ames rifles & 12 pound Napoleons. All things being equal, we know how that was going to work out.

From where we usually do artillery demos at the Chicago Board of Trade’s position, there is a section of guns at Pardon’s position 800 yards away. They are about the size of a letter ‘n’ on my iPad. I have aimed the gun at them I don’t know how many times… don’t know if I ever could have hit one.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
I am always impressed at the snowball fight ranges they engaged at during the age of smoothbore warfare. Without Shrapnel’s invention, cannon fire could not have been all that effective. The path of destruction was 3” wide, after all. That was only about three times that of a musket

Here at Stones River, 60% of the CSA infantry were armed with smoothbores & almost all their cannon were 1841 six pounders & howitzers. Because their friction primers were so bad, Waters Alabama Battery stayed up all night making quill primers.

We commentate that with a quill primer weekend. The training secession is pretty amusing. You really are up close & personal when that thing goes off! It will make you jump back… that is a fact.

One of the often overlooked aspects of the A of TN vs A of the C is how outclassed the CSA artillery was. It was common for a battery of 1841 12 pound howitzers & smoothbore 6 pdrs to engage 3” rifles or 14 pdr Ames rifles & 12 pound Napoleons. All things being equal, we know how that was going to work out.

From where we usually do artillery demos at the Chicago Board of Trade’s position, there is a section of guns at Pardon’s position 800 yards away. They are about the size of a letter ‘n’ on my iPad. I have aimed the gun at them I don’t know how many times… don’t know if I ever could have hit one.
A good example of what you're referring to was at Shiloh on April 6. At one point, a Confederate battery of six M1841 6 lb smoothbores was taking on two 6 lb rifles of the 1st Minn. Light and four 10 lb Parrotts from one of the 1st Missouri Light's batteries (possibly Welker's H). The results were predictable and the Rebel commander got his guns out of Dodge.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
A good example of what you're referring to was at Shiloh on April 6. At one point, a Confederate battery of six M1841 6 lb smoothbores was taking on two 6 lb rifles of the 1st Minn. Light and four 10 lb Parrotts from one of the 1st Missouri Light's batteries (possibly Welker's H). The results were predictable and the Rebel commander got his guns out of Dodge.
Seeing that great wad of five primers for each round certainly must have been a moral booster. The first living history trip I took was to Chickamauga for a CSA battery demo stop Snodgrass Hill. We were all issued with what turned out to be factory defective primers. There were two six gun misfires. The wire initiating charge would fizz, but the powder on the tube would not ignite. By chance, we had an unopened pack of primers in the ammunition box & that saved the day. You could say that it was an especially accurate CSA demo.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
It was basically a last ditch effort when being overrun or covering a retreat. Typically, you would only have 4 or 5 canister in your limber box. Counting the rounds with the caissons, each gun would have only had 12 to 15 canister readily available. You would start using canister at ranges of 350 yards, double canister ( with only one charge) at 150 yards. At those distances, you won't have much time to fire - by the time you fire the 4 or 5 canister in your limber box, you have either stopped the advance, you are limbering up to run, or you have already been overrun.

In addition, you are also overloading the gun and there will be more of a chance the gun could burst or incur damage.
The most comprehensive set of reports by Union battery commanders is at Gettysburg. I have found only four reports that record the use of double-shotted canister - 1st Ohio Light, "L": 1st NY Light; 4th US, "G": and 15th NY. That isn't conclusive (there may be instances not recorded) but it's pretty strong evidence that this was a "last resort" tactic. (Note that three of the four are state volunteer units)
 
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