Howitzer

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CivilWarTalk

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Howitzer

Shell-firing artillery piece of medium size, firing it's projectiles with a lighter charge - and hence, a lower velocity and higher trajectory - than a gun of equivalent caliber. While the howitzer's maximum range was shorter than the gun's, it's explosive shells were valuable against troops, and it's wheeled carriage let it be used in the field. Larger-caliber howitzers were used in sieges.
 
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James N.

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IM000465.JPG

Although from the period of the American Revolution the one above shows the stubby shape and short length typically associated with the howitzer. Below, a large Union howitzer mounted on a siege carriage on display on Grant's Last Line at Shiloh NMP, although nothing quite like this participated in the battle there.

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Belfoured

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Howitzers also had a chambered bore, something else distinguishing them from other types of artillery.
That's an important point (which reflects the technology st the time). Overall, by the start of the Civil War they (the M1841 12 lb) were obsolete. Although they were still present in fair numbers on the federal side well into 1862 (mostly western theater I would say, without doing an actual study), their ability to fire at higher elevation really was not used - mostly useful for shell at, however, much shorter ranges than the M1857 Napoleon, and for canister. Those used in the 18th century (at least in the AWI) (Mueller's "howitz") were almost like "semi-mortars", being considered a higher elevation option to guns. Of course, the always interesting, "thinking outside the box" Norman Wiard designed his 2.6" and 3.67" rifles to fire at wide elevation ranges, up to 35 degrees IIRC. But he could never convince the Ordnance Department and Wiard's "devil incarnate" James Ripley to adopt his innovative gun and carriage designs.
 

John Winn

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That's an important point (which reflects the technology st the time). Overall, by the start of the Civil War they (the M1841 12 lb) were obsolete. Although they were still present in fair numbers on the federal side well into 1862 (mostly western theater I would say, without doing an actual study), their ability to fire at higher elevation really was not used - mostly useful for shell at, however, much shorter ranges than the M1857 Napoleon, and for canister. Those used in the 18th century (at least in the AWI) (Mueller's "howitz") were almost like "semi-mortars", being considered a higher elevation option to guns. Of course, the always interesting, "thinking outside the box" Norman Wiard designed his 2.6" and 3.67" rifles to fire at wide elevation ranges, up to 35 degrees IIRC. But he could never convince the Ordnance Department and Wiard's "devil incarnate" James Ripley to adopt his innovative gun and carriage designs.
My guy, E.P. Alexander, was rather fond of the howitzer and would use them like mortars, digging a trench for the trail so as to get an acute angle and then using a smaller powder charge. But yeah, not very popular on the Union side for some reason.
 

Rhea Cole

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View attachment 345910

Although from the period of the American Revolution the one above shows the stubby shape and short length typically associated with the howitzer. Below, a large Union howitzer mounted on a siege carriage on display on Grant's Last Line at Shiloh NMP, although nothing quite like this participated in the battle there.

View attachment 345911
artillery fortress rosecrans.jpeg
Fortress Rosecrans, Battery Mitchell. Murfreesboro, Tennessee


Waud aiming mortar.jpg
Aiming a mortar. Alexander Waud. Library of Congress

battery with mortar. Waud.jpg

Battery with mortar. Alexander Waud. Library of Congress
 
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Belfoured

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My guy, E.P. Alexander, was rather fond of the howitzer and would use them like mortars, digging a trench for the trail so as to get an acute angle and then using a smaller powder charge. But yeah, not very popular on the Union side for some reason.
Hunt would have bare-knuckled Porter on that one. I'm guessing Porter may have liked the weight.
 

James N.

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Hunt would have bare-knuckled Porter on that one. I'm guessing Porter may have liked the weight.
In addition to the weight, in Fighting For The Confederacy Porter said he liked using them to skip shot across the ground to increase their range. By doing so he managed to take out a sharpshooter's nest in a house during the Battle of Fredericksburg; after the battle, he visited it and attested to what a mess he had made!
 

Belfoured

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In addition to the weight, in Fighting For The Confederacy Porter said he liked using them to skip shot across the ground to increase their range. By doing so he managed to take out a sharpshooter's nest in a house during the Battle of Fredericksburg; after the battle, he visited it and attested to what a mess he had made!
I saw that. I was a little surprised he was using them for solid shot.
 
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Rhea Cole

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Grazing fire, DBA, skipping solid shot across the ground, was a standard tactical procedure. At Stones River, where the tree line is roughly 800 yards from the pike, Confederate infantry charged out of the Cedars at about 4:00 pm. Solid shot was sent bounding across the intervening cotton field. After the first bounce, the ball is gyro stabilized & bounds forward like a demented Jack Rabbit. Not only is there a significant psychological effect from the spurts of dirt & plants marching toward the battle line, but the gunner can clearly make out the fall of shot. A single ball could take out six men. The ducking & dodging would break up the formation.

At Waterloo, Napoleon's grazing shot buried itself into the muddy plowed field in front of the British infantry. The balls that did not simply burrow down in lost so much of their velocity as to be made ineffectual.

Back in those days of yore in the late 1970's, we live fired an original 12 pound Napoleon at Stones River NB. After hours, a piece of plywood was leaned against the cedar trees. We would take turns firing grazing shots across the cotton field at it. It was quite something to see. Balls would bound right into the woods with a satisfying series of cracks... it was a simpler time.
 

Belfoured

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Grazing fire, DBA, skipping solid shot across the ground, was a standard tactical procedure. At Stones River, where the tree line is roughly 800 yards from the pike, Confederate infantry charged out of the Cedars at about 4:00 pm. Solid shot was sent bounding across the intervening cotton field. After the first bounce, the ball is gyro stabilized & bounds forward like a demented Jack Rabbit. Not only is there a significant psychological effect from the spurts of dirt & plants marching toward the battle line, but the gunner can clearly make out the fall of shot. A single ball could take out six men. The ducking & dodging would break up the formation.

At Waterloo, Napoleon's grazing shot buried itself into the muddy plowed field in front of the British infantry. The balls that did not simply burrow down in lost so much of their velocity as to be made ineffectual.

Back in those days of yore in the late 1970's, we live fired an original 12 pound Napoleon at Stones River NB. After hours, a piece of plywood was leaned against the cedar trees. We would take turns firing grazing shots across the cotton field at it. It was quite something to see. Balls would bound right into the woods with a satisfying series of cracks... it was a simpler time.
As usual, good stuff. My point is that I have always found it interesting that Alexander apparently was using M1841 field howitzers for solid shot. They were strongly considered to be shell/canister weapons.
 
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Belfoured

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They had plenty of 12 pound solid shot. Each ammunition chest contained 12 solid shot, 12 spherical case, 4 shell, 4 canister for a total of 32 rounds.
That was the prescribed chest for the M1857 Napoleon, which handled a full charge, etc. The M1841 field howitzer was designed for a much smaller charge and had the sub chamber. As I said, it was basically designed for shell and canister.
 

James N.

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At Waterloo, Napoleon's grazing shot buried itself into the muddy plowed field in front of the British infantry. The balls that did not simply burrow down in lost so much of their velocity as to be made ineffectual.

Back in those days of yore in the late 1970's, we live fired an original 12 pound Napoleon at Stones River NB. After hours, a piece of plywood was leaned against the cedar trees. We would take turns firing grazing shots across the cotton field at it. It was quite something to see. Balls would bound right into the woods with a satisfying series of cracks... it was a simpler time.
It's very likely this cost him the battle - he wanted to attack as early as possible, but waited several hours for the ground to dry in order to avoid this very thing; of course the waiting didn't help him anyway, but it certainly gave Blucher's Prussians time to arrive and save Wellington's beleaguered army.

I too remember seeing NPS "live-fire" demonstrations at Vicksburg NMP back in the 1970's also using a (reproduction?) 12lb. Napoleon firing into the loess hillside outside the Visitor Center.
 

Rhea Cole

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That was the prescribed chest for the M1857 Napoleon, which handled a full charge, etc. The M1841 field howitzer was designed for a much smaller charge and had the sub chamber. As I said, it was basically designed for shell and canister.
That is true, but the howitzer chest contained no solid shot, they had to come from somewheres.
 
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Belfoured

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That is true, but the howitzer chest contained no solid shot, they had to come from somewheres.
That was the US prescribed chest. I have no idea what Alexander was following - I'm assuming he was using the M1841, so I'm still trying to figure out the solid shot angle.
 

Rhea Cole

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We could be off into one of those definitional black holes. The Napoleon was a gun/howitzer. I assume there were not many of the little 1841 model 12 pounders left in the field as time went on. They were a bit of a pop-gun in 1861.
 

Belfoured

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We could be off into one of those definitional black holes. The Napoleon was a gun/howitzer. I assume there were not many of the little 1841 model 12 pounders left in the field as time went on. They were a bit of a pop-gun in 1861.
Good point - when I refer to "howitzer" I mean the M1841 field howitzer (and any knockoffs). Despite the formal title I think the M1857 Napoleon was generally considered a "gun". It certainly was not a true "howitzer". I'm assuming that Alexander was using some version of the latter, with its shorter tube and smaller charge.
 
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Rhea Cole

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Good point - when I refer to "howitzer" I mean the M1841 field howitzer (and any knockoffs). Despite the formal title I think the M1857 Napoleon was generally considered a "gun". It certainly was not a true "howitzer". I'm assuming that Alexander was using some version of the latter, with its shorter tube and smaller charge.
The Napoleon was a howitzer, that was one of the reasons it was so effective. I believe there is a technical definition thing going on here.
how-it-zer, a short gun for firing shells on high trajectories at low velocities. The Napoleon certainly did that.
The thing that made the Napoleon so effective is that it did both the cannon & howitzer job equally well.
 

John Winn

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The Napoleon was a howitzer, that was one of the reasons it was so effective. I believe there is a technical definition thing going on here.
how-it-zer, a short gun for firing shells on high trajectories at low velocities. The Napoleon certainly did that.
The thing that made the Napoleon so effective is that it did both the cannon & howitzer job equally well.
I have to disagree. While it was lighter than other guns of the time it wasn't a howitzer. It had a longer barrel, didn't have a chambered bore, and didn't have the same trajectory. The "light" 12 pounder gun is clearly not considered a howitzer in the 1864 manual (Instruction for Field Artillery by French, Barry, and Hunt; pp 5-6).
 
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