Artillery Glossary

G-Z Terms

GABION: Large cylindrical basket made of woven twigs and open at both ends. Gabions were used to reinforce earthen fortifications and to repair damage to works caused by artillery fire. After the gabion was put into position it was filled with earth allowing it to protect the defenders against small arms fire.

GABIONNADE: A parapet built of gabions.

GAGE: The caliber of a gun.

GALLOPER: A carriage on which very small guns were conveyed.

GARRISON: 1) Infantry, or other military units, assigned to service in a fort or fortress. These soldiers had permanent quarters and duty areas. 2) Artillery assigned to a garrison. See Siege and Garrison Artillery.

GARRISON ARTILLERY: See Siege and Garrison Artillery.

GATE: The opening or passage through which molten metal was poured or run into a mold in projectile manufacturing.

GATE WASTE: The piece of metal which remained in the gate opening after completion of the casting of a projectile. The waste piece of metal was normally removed during the finishing process.

GIMLET: A heavy metal wire with a wooden handle on one end and a screw at the other. It was used to remove broken friction primers or other obstructions from the vent of a tube.

GIN: A large tripod fitted with a windlass and a series of blocks and tackles. It was used to mount heavy guns and move large projectiles and other equipment. A field gin could be transported with field batteries while a garrison gin was much larger and was permanently mounted.


GRAPESHOT: Iron balls which, when bound together, formed a stand of grapeshot. Also known as "grape." See Stand of Grape.

GRATE: Used to heat shot in siege batteries, or other situations where no furnace was available and hot shot was desired. The grate consisted of four iron bars placed about 4 inches apart resting on three iron stands about 1 foot high.

GRAZE: A term used by artillerist to denote the first touch of a projectile on horizontal ground after being fired from the weapon.

GREASE: See Tar.

GREASE BUCKET: See Tar Bucket.

GREEK FIRE: Incendiary material used against fortified towns and cities. The composition was contained in tin tubes, 3-inches long, closed at one end and primed with powder and coal tar. These were placed inside a shell and fired at the target. When the shell exploded, the tin tubes were ignited and the flaming composition spilled out, setting fires. Although Greek Fire was very seldom used, reports record its use during the siege of Charleston, South Carolina, among others.

GRENADE: A shell which was manually propelled against an attacking enemy. Many grenades were shells which were defective and unfit for firing, but six-pound spherical case-shot was used frequently. These shells were usually ignited by a short fuze, or had a percussion system contained internally which exploded upon impact. The most common grenade was the hand grenade which, as the name implies, was thrown by hand. Examples of hand grenades were Adams, Ketchum, Hanes Excelsior, and Rains (Confederate). A rampart grenade was a much larger shell and was usually rolled down the ramparts of a fortification against an attacking enemy.

GROOVES: See Rifling.

GUN: 1) A term of classification: artillery weapon with a long barrel designed to throw a solid shot at a long range, using a low elevation angle. The gun had no chamber and used a heavy powder charge. 2) Generic term: any artillery weapon or cannon. 3) Small-arm weapon such as pistol, musket, rifle, or carbine.

GUN BOAT: A large boat fitted with a gun in the bow or amidships. During the Civil War the term applied to light-draught steamers armed with guns, or to iron clad boats. These boats were used on the coast and navigable rivers.

GUN COTTON: Cotton immersed in a mixture of nitric and sulphuric acids, then washed with water and dried. This process made the cotton highly explosive and it could be used in lieu of gunpowder. Gun cotton saw limited use in the Civil War.

GUN CREW: See Artillery Crew.

GUN HEAD: Metal which was added to the muzzle of the tube during casting in order to compensate for shrinkage during cooling. Also called a shrink head.

GUN PORT: An opening in the side of a ship to accommodate the muzzle of the gun. The gun port was covered by a half port shutter.

GUN SHOT: A term used to indicate the range of a cannon shot.

GUN STONE: A stone fired from a cannon in place of a cannon ball.

GUNNAGE: A naval term for the number of guns in a ship-of-war.

GUNNER: The member of an artillery crew, usually the sergeant, who was responsible for giving the orders for cleaning, loading, and firing the weapon. The gunner was usually the member who actually fired the weapon.


GUNNER’S IMPLEMENTS: Nomenclature given to those tools used by the artillery gunner to prepare the weapon for firing. These included calipers, elevating arc, level (perpendicular), pincers, plummet, pouch, and quadrant.

GUNNER’S LEVEL: Also known as gunner’s perpendicular. It was made of sheet brass with the lower point cut in the form of a crescent. The points of the crescent were made of steel. A small spirit level was attached parallel to the points and a sliding scale was fastened perpendicular to the axis of the level. The instrument was used to mark the points of sight on siege guns and mortars when the platform was not level.

GUNNER’S MATE: A rank for the assistant gunner in the navy.

GUNNER’S PINCERS: A steel pair of jaws with iron handles used for grasping and removing any debris that extended above the vent. A nail puller was forged into the end of one handle.

GUNNER’S POUCH: A leather pouch, which fastened to the waist belt and contained the gunner’s level, gimlet, vent punch, and chalk.

GUNNER’S QUADRANT: A graduated metal or wood quadrant. The quadrant was a quarter of a circle (6-inch radius) attached to a rule, 23.5-inches long. A plummet, or plumb-line and bob, was attached to the center of the curve. The quadrant was used to determine the required degree of elevation of the piece.

GUNPOWDER: The proportion of ingredients for use in the gunpowder produced during the Civil War was 75% saltpetre, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulphur. Charcoal was the combustible ingredient while the salt peter (potassium nitrate) furnished the oxygen necessary to support a rapid combustion. Sulphur was needed to change gunpowder rapidly into the large volume of gas necessary to cause the projectile to move through the bore of the weapon. Powder was produced as coarse grains for cannon and fine grains for small arms.  For more scientific information read Historical Aspects and Black Powder Manufacturing.

HALF PORT: A naval term for the gun port shutter. It had a hole in the center which fit around the projecting muzzle of a cannon.

HAND CART: A two-wheeled wooden cart fitted with two shafts, joined together at the ends, and supported immediately in front of the body by iron legs, similar to the modern wheelbarrow. It was used for the transportation of light ordnance supplies over short distances.

HAND GRENADE: See Grenade.

HAND SLING CART: See Sling Cart.

HANDLES: See Dolphins, Ears.

HANDSPIKE: Metal or wooden poles of various sizes inserted in the trail of cannon and used for maneuvering cannon to the left or right. On field pieces, the trail handspike was 53-inches in length. The maneuvering handspike was used for garrison and seacoast carriages and gins and was 66-inches long, while that used for siege and other heavy work was 84-inches in length. The shod handspike was used for mortars and their casemate and barbette carriages. The truck and roller handspikes were wrought iron and used for casemate carriages.

HAUSSE SIGHT: See Pendulum-Hausse Sight.

HAVERSACK: 1) In artillery service: a leather bag, with a leather flap affixed, used to carry the powder bag cartridge from the limber to the weapon. The haversack was usually reserved for field pieces and mortars and its use was supposed to prevent accidents while the cartridges were being transported. 2) In other branches of service: a leather or linen bag issued to the individual soldier and used to carry rations.

HEAVY METAL: An unofficial term used for guns or shot of large caliber.

HORSE ARTILLERY: A highly maneuverable artillery unit in which all the cannoneers were mounted. These units were especially adapted for use with cavalry, for sudden attacks upon particular points, and for supporting the advance or covering the retreat of an army.

HORSE TEAM: Transported artillery and artillerist to different points on the battlefield and on marches. In the Union army, six draught horses were assigned to each field weapon and its limber; the Confederate army often used four horses. Additional draught horse teams were used to haul the caissons and supply wagons. Individual saddle mounts were required for officers, sergeants, buglers, guidon bearers, and horse artillerist. Reserve and packhorses also traveled with a battery. Heavy artillery, including siege weapons, required greater numbers of horses while light artillery, assigned to the cavalry or organized as horse artillery, used fewer animals.

HOT SHOT: A solid shot projectile which was heated white- or red-hot in a specially constructed furnace. Its purpose was to set fire to wooden ships or wooden buildings inside fortifications. Fired with a reduced powder charge, the shot split and splintered the wood which made it favorable for burning. The red-hot balls did not set fire to the wood immediately, but smoldered for some time before causing flame. Furnaces for heating the shot were erected at the site of seacoast batteries, while grates were used for temporary positions. After properly heating the furnace, a 24-pounder could be heated red-hot in twenty-five minutes.

HOT SHOT FORK: A large iron fork, with two prongs which curved inward and upward, used to carry hot shot from the furnace or grate to the muzzle of the weapon.

HOWITZER: A short-barreled weapon with a large powder chamber. Howitzers were lighter and fired shells with lower powder charges at higher elevations, but lower ranges than guns of the same caliber.

HURTER: The beam, or joist, on a gun platform which prevented the wheels from striking the parapet when run in battery.

IMPETUS: The altitude through which a heavy body had to fall in order to acquire a velocity equal to that with which a ball was discharged from a piece of ordnance.

INCENDIARY SHELL: A hollow projectile with two compartments separated by a thin wall. The front compartment contained the bursting charge and the rear compartment held the flammable mixture. Valenciennes composition, composed of fifty parts nitre, twenty-eight of sulphur, eighteen of antimony, and six of rosin, was a common incendiary solution. The cotton, or other material, was soaked in the flammable fluid and loaded through a hole in the base of the projectile. A threaded bolt was used to close this opening. A Mr. Fleming and Mr. Alfred Berney were two pioneers in the development of other incendiary compositions. The purpose of this type shell was to set fire to buildings, powder magazines, shipping, and stockades. Incendiary Parrott projectiles were fired into Petersburg, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina.

INDENTED LINE: See Cremaillere.

INITIAL VELOCITY: The speed at which a projectile left the muzzle of a weapon. Initial velocity was measured in feet per second.

INSIGNIA: The insignia for the U.S. Army Artillery Corps consisted of two brass crossed cannon tubes for hat identification. The small tubes designated light, or field, artillery, while the large tubes signified heavy artillery units. Buttons for the enlisted men were similar to the other branches except the shield on the eagle carried the letter "A". Officers’ epaulettes had a scarlet background and all uniforms were trimmed in scarlet. The Hardee hat cord was also scarlet. The Confederate Army also used the scarlet designation, but the standard issued button had a large "A" in either Roman block or script.

IRON: Used in the manufacturing of projectiles and cannon tubes, as well as certain carriages. Iron, for tube manufacturing, was less expensive than bronze and was more capable of sustaining heavy siege firing with larger charges of powder. Conversely, iron was heavier and less tenacious than bronze.

KETCH: See Bomb-Ketch.

KNOB: See Cascabel.

LADLE: 1) Used to remove projectiles from pieces when firing was not desired. The ladle was made of sheet brass affixed to a wooded head and adapted for a shaft. It was designed to be shoved under the projectile and withdrawn from the tube. 2) Used for carrying shot, or hot shot, to the artillery piece. This type ladle consisted of an iron ring and from one to three handles, depending on the size of the shot being transported. Large shot required two or three men to transport.

LANDS: See Rifling.

LANYARD: Made of a strong twisted cord, 12-feet long, with a wooden handle attached at one end and an iron hook at the other. The lanyard hook was attached to the eye in the serrated wire of the friction primer after the primer was seated into the vent. The gunner would grip the wooden handle and pull the lanyard quickly, thereby causing the wire to pull through the primer, causing a spark. This would ignite the powder charge in the tube.

LATHE DIMPLE: A drilled or countersunk depression found on the base or sabot of rifled projectiles. This was the true center of the projectile and this was where the lathe arbor held the projectile in place while being turned on a lathe.

LATHE DOG: A raised area on the body of a projectile, also referred to as a lathe lug or notch. Its purpose was to keep the projectile from slipping as it was being turned to bore tolerance on the lathe. It was usually chipped off with a chisel when the projectile was completed, but it is not uncommon to find projectiles with the lathe dog intact. On Confederate rifled projectiles, the lathe dog is found on the ogive or nose.

LATHE LUG: See Lathe Dog.

LIFTING JACK: A geared screw-type jack for lifting heavy weights. These were used in moving heavy artillery.

LIGHT BALL: An oval projectile made of a canvass sack filled with combustible material. An iron bottom was attached with cement to the bottom of the sack to keep the projectile from bursting. It differed from a fire ball in that it was used to light up the works of the "friendly" forces. For that reason it did not contain a shell inside.

LIGHT ROOM: A small room attached to the magazine on a naval vessel. Its purpose was to admit light into the magazine.

LIMBER: A two-wheeled carriage which was used to transport the cannon and its carriage. The iron ring (lunette) on the cannon trail was attached to an iron pintle at the rear of the limber to form a four-wheeled unit. The limber also carried an ammunition chest, tar bucket, leather or canvass water buckets, and a tarpaulin. Six horses were usually required to pull the limber and cannon.


LINE OF METAL: See Natural Line of Sight.

LINCHPIN: Iron pin-and-ring set inserted into the wheel hub of the carriage to prevent the wheel from sliding off the axle.

LINSTOCK: A wooden rod, about 31-inches long, used to hold a slow match for igniting the powder in the vent. The staff was tipped at one end with an iron point so it could be inserted in the ground between firing.

LIP: See Molding.

LOADING TONG: Used for inserting the powder cartridge and projectile into mortars and other large weapons. Tongs were formed of two arms hinged together so that the bent ends of the short arms entered the ears of the projectile, while the widened and grooved ends of the long arms could carry the cartridge.

LOCK: Mechanism designed to ignite the powder charge in the cannon by the strike of a piece of metal, called a hammer, which was accomplished through the use of springs or a lanyard. The lock was made obsolete by the friction primer, except in the Navy. Fragments of primers laying about on the deck could be hazardous to the bare feet of the sailors manning the weapons.

LOCK PIECE: A block of metal cast on the tube just behind the vent opening. The lock was attached to this block.

LUNETTE: 1) Fortifications: an improvement on the standard redan by providing flanks. From these flanks artillery fire could sweep terrain which could not be defended well from the faces. 2) Artillery: the iron ring located on the trail of the cannon which was used to attach the cannon carriage to the limber.

MAGAZINE: A safe storage area for projectiles and gunpowder on land and ships. The magazine for semi-permanent field fortifications was constructed of timbers and covered with earth. It was usually located behind and to the flank of the artillery emplacement. In siege situations, two small magazines were constructed rather than one large one. In forts and fortresses, the magazine was located in a well-protected casemate or in specially constructed bomb-proof storage rooms out of the range of attacking batteries. For land batteries, smaller magazines, known as expense magazines, were located near the guns and were used to store small amounts of powder and projectiles for immediate use. In naval vessels, the magazine was usually located in the lowest hole amidship, below the waterline, where it was protected by heavy timbers. Air circulation was essential for all magazines to prevent contamination of the powder. All personnel entering the magazine were required to leave any metal equipment outside to prevent accidental sparks. In the navy, flooding hoses were laid out in each compartment in case of emergency.

MALLEABLE CAST IRON: Cast iron which had been melted and stirred constantly, while exposed to intense heat, until it lost its carbon. Because the iron became malleable, or able to be shaped easily, this metal was used to form sabots for certain projectile patterns. When the projectile was fired, the malleable cast iron sabot would expand into the grooves of the tube without breaking. An example of a malleable cast iron sabot is the Delafield projectile.


MANTLET: A bullet-proof shield made of wood, rope matting, or metal used to protect cannon crews at the embrasures.

MARK OF RECEPTION: A stamp on the tube made by the appropriate agency accepting the tube. The letters "U.S." were used for the army; an anchor for the navy; and the letters "C.S." for the Confederate forces. British pieces were stamped with a broad arrow.

MARKING: Ordnance foundry and inspection symbols required to be stamped on artillery tubes. These markings usually consisted of the number of the gun, the initials of the inspector, the initials of the foundry, the year of fabrication, the weight of the piece in pounds, the foundry number, and the letters "U.S."

MARTEL’LO TOWERS: Circular structures of masonry usually found on seacoasts. These had a small gun on the summit which could sweep in all directions.

MASKED BATTERY: A battery so concealed or disguised so as not to be seen by the enemy until the last possible moment. Cavalry was often used to mask a battery because it could be moved out quickly.

MATRIX: A medium of sulphur, asphaltum-pitch, or tree rosin added to the interior of a case-shot projectile for the purpose of stabilizing the case-shot balls. The matrix helped prevent damage to the bursting charge can or cavity and prevented accidental discharge caused by movement of the cast-shot balls during the firing process.

MEALED POWDER: Powder which has been granulated to a fine size and grade. Mealed powder could be mixed easily with nitre and other ingredients.

MEN’S HARNESS: Also known as a Bricole. A rope, 4-inches thick and 18-feet long, with thimbles and a hook, much in the fashion of a drag rope. However, instead of handles, the harness had five pairs of leather loops approximately 3 ½-feet apart. This allowed ten men to be fastened to the rope in order to drag heavy ordnance or supplies short distances or up steep inclines when horses could not be used.

MERLON: The section of parapet between two embrasures in a fortification. The merlon was usually 15- to 18-feet long.

MORTAR: An artillery tube with a short chamber, designed to fire shells, fire balls, and carcasses at high elevations (45 degrees) using a small powder charge. Mortars were usually sized by bore diameter in inches except for the smaller 12-pounder and 24-pounder sizes. The chamber of a mortar (called a Gomer chamber, after its inventor) was specially designed to concentrate the charge in a small area so the projectile could receive as much of the explosion as possible. Mortar projectiles usually exploded while still high in the air and rained fragments down on fortifications and enemy soldiers

MORTAR BED: Carriage for a mortar, usually made of iron, wrought iron, or wood. Because the mortar fired a projectile at a high elevation, the recoil tended to force the piece downward instead of backwards. A short, squat mortar bed could withstand this downward shock whereas a wheeled carriage easily broke apart.

MORTAR WAGON: Wagon designed for the transportation of siege mortars and their beds, heavy guns, and large shot and shell. The limber and wheels are the same as those of the gun carriage. The mortar was usually carried mounted on its bed.

MOLD VENT: A small opening in a projectile mold which allowed gases to be released during the pouring process. This let the molten metal to completely fill the mold, causing the projectile to be stronger and smoother. Waste from the mold vent was chiseled from the projectile after it was removed from the mold.

MOLDING: The architectural rings and raised bands on a cannon tube which served as decorations. Moldings include Astragal (half-circle with fillet on each side), Lip (cavetto in form backed by a fillet), Echinus (quarter-round), Cavetto (concave with quarter circle curve), and Fillet (narrow and flat).

MOUNT: 1) To place a gun on its carriage. 2) Naval term indicating how many guns were carried on a ship (i.e." the ship mounts seventy-four guns").

MOUNTAIN ARTILLERY: Consisted of the 12-pounder mountain howitzer (US) and the 2.25-inch mountain rifle (CS). These weapons could be quickly disassembled for transportation on pack animals. It could be reassembled and ready for firing in one minute. No limber was included, so ammunition was carried in narrow boxes strapped to each side of a pack animal. A complete battery normally consisted of six howitzers, seven carriages, thirty-six ammunition chests, various battery tools, and thirty-three pack animals.

MUZZLE: The mouth, or opening, of the bore of a cannon tube and the face that surrounds it. The muzzle opening was chamfered, or beveled, to prevent abrasion and to facilitate loading.

MUZZLE-LOADER: A weapon which had the projectile and charge loaded through the mouth, or muzzle, of the bore. Most artillery pieces of the Civil War were muzzle-loaders.

MUZZLE BAND: Also known as a muzzle ring. In field and siege howitzers and mortars, a muzzle band took the place of the muzzle swell.

MUZZLE FACE: See Face Of The Piece.

MUZZLE RING: See Muzzle Band.

MUZZLE SIGHT: An iron leaf sight which was screwed into the muzzle swell of guns, or into the middle of the muzzle band of howitzers. The muzzle sight was used as a forward aiming point.

MUZZLE SWELL: The largest part of the gun in front of the neck, just behind the muzzle.

NAIL BALL: A round projectile with an iron pin projecting from it. This prevented the projectile from turning in the bore of the piece.

NATURAL ANGLE OF SIGHT: The angle which the natural line of sight made with the axis of the piece.

NATURAL LINE OF SIGHT: Also known as the line of metal. A line drawn from the highest point of the base ring to the highest point of the muzzle swell. When muzzle swells were not visible, a line of sight could be formed by affixing a front sight to the muzzle, such as with seacoast guns.

NAVAL ARTILLERY: Those pieces supplied to the naval forces and mounted on barges, boats, and ships and used for offensive attacks or defensive tactics.

NECK: The smallest part of the piece in front of the astragal or the chase ring. Also, the narrowest part of the cascabel.

NIPPLE: A short, round metal device, with a hole through the center, similar to the nipple or cone on Civil War small arms. The nipple was attached to the contact end of the percussion fuze and held the percussion cap in place. When the slider fell against the anvil, the percussion cap would explode, transfer a flame through the hole in the nipple, and ignite the powder train.

NOTCH: See Lathe Dog.

OGEE: An ornamental molding in the shape of an "S," sometimes used on guns, mortars, and howitzers.

OGIVE: The curve which determined the shape of the nose of a pointed or elongated projectile.

ORDNANCE AND ORDNANCE STORES: Generic terms which, for the artillery, encompassed all cannon, guns, howitzers, mortars, cannon balls, shot, and shells, for land service; all gun carriages, mortar beds, caissons, and traveling forges, with their equipments; all other apparatus and machines required for the service and maneuvers of artillery, in garrisons, sieges, or in the field; together with the materials for their construction, preservation, and repair.

ORDNANCE DEPARTMENT: The department of the Army charged with procuring ordnance and ordnance stores. Since this department often employed outside contractors and contract labor, it carried a number of trained army officers as Inspectors of Ordnance, whose primary function was to certify the quality of the ordnance purchased.

ORDNANCE SERGEANT: Sergeant whose duty was to receive and preserve the ordnance, arms, ammunition, and other military stores. Usually there was one Ordnance Sergeant per duty post. Each sergeant was appointed and had to have served at least eight years in service, with at least four years as a non-commissioned officer. Ordnance Sergeants received an extra five dollars pay each month.

PACKING BOX: See Ammunition Crate.

PAPER TIME FUZE: A tapered paper case filled with a gunpowder and resin composition. Paper fuzes were designed to burn for a specified number of seconds, as printed on the package or fuze itself. The fuze was also graduated in seconds on the outside paper so the gunner could cut the fuze for a shorter burning time if desired. Burning time could be set to explode the projectile above the ground or after impact. The paper fuze was driven into metal or wooden fuze holders, which had been previously inserted into the fuze hole of the projectile. The fuze was ignited by the flame from the explosion of the propellant charge of the weapon.

PARADOS: A traverse covering the interior of a work from reverse fire.

PARAPET: A wall surmounting the rampart in a fortification. The parapet was usually 7-feet high to protect the defenders and contained a banquette slope to allow troops to fire over it.

PARBUCKLE: A rope, 4-inches thick and 12-feet long, with a hook at one end and a loop at the other. A parbuckle was used to roll a gun up or down an incline.

PARK: See Artillery Park.

PASS BOX: Used to carry cartridge bags to the artillery weapons. Garrison and siege pass boxes were made of white pine with a hinged lid and wooden handle. The top was fastened by a brass hook and staple arrangement. In the field artillery, pass boxes were more cylinder shaped and covered with leather, and had a leather strap as a handle.

PATTERN: A classification of projectiles and ordnance based primarily on the date of patent or evidence of the first known field recoveries. Usually the designations of the different patterns of a projectile followed a chronological order of development. Minor variations in the body style, sabot, and fuzing system did not affect the designation.

PENDULUM-HAUSSE SIGHT: Also called the Hausse Sight. A free-swinging sighting piece attached to a seat on the barrel near the breech. The sight consisted of an upright piece of sheet brass with a movable slider. The slider traveled along a graduated scale. At the lower end of the sight was a lead-filled bulb which allowed the scale to remain in a vertical position regardless of the rough ground or the trunnions. This allowed the pendulum-hausse sight to be used when the breech sight and tangent scale were affected by a faulty position of the trunnions. Each pendulum-hausse sight was made to fit a specific weapon type.

PENETRATION: In test firing, the distance the tested projectile could travel through a substance which was similar to materials to be encountered in field situations. Material varied according to purpose and design of the projectile and included earth, wood, masonry, and wrought iron plates.

PERCUSSION CAP: A slightly conical copper cap, shaped like a top-hat, which contained fulminate of mercury. The rim of the cap had four slits cut into it in order to allow the cap to completely collapse. The cap was placed on the nipple of the fuze slider in the percussion fuze and, when struck upon impact, sent a spark to the charge.

PERCUSSION FUZE: A fuze designed to communicate fire to the bursting charge of the projectile at the moment of impact with the ground or other hard surface. Most percussion fuzes employed a plunger and anvil method of detonation.

PERCUSSION PRIMER OR TUBE: A small pipe which had a cup at one end and was filled with an explosive composition for firing cannon. In the navy, the percussion primer was composed of a quill tube, capped by a percussion wafer. The tube was filled with fine powder and the wafer was composed of cartridge paper enclosing a layer of fulminate of mercury mixed with a small quantity of mealed powder. This tube was used in place of the friction primer common to the army.

PERPENDICULAR: See Gunner’s Level.

PIECE: A generic term which is used to denote any artillery weapon.

PIERRIER: A small type of cannon or a mortar used to throw stones.

PILE: Artillery projectiles placed in a tiered arrangement to allow free circulation of air during storage. The projectiles were piled according to kind and caliber and the piles were marked with the number of serviceable rounds.

PINTLE: An iron pin, with a nut or key at the top, used to anchor the front of the barbette carriage to the pintle plate. The pintle served as a pivot for the gun.

PINTLE PLATE: A circular or square iron plate fastened to a stone block in a barbette emplacement. The pintle on the barbette carriage fit into the pintle plate.

PLATFORM: Made of wood and used to rest siege mortars and guns.

PLUMMET: A lead or iron weight suspended by a string. Used for leveling gun carriages and platforms. Also known as line-and-bob.

PLUNGER: Also called a striker or slider, the plunger was the inside moveable part of the percussion fuze. When the fuze struck a hard surface, the plunger was driven down a chamber and struck the percussion cap against an anvil. This caused a flame to be directed to the powder charge.

POINTING A PIECE: Term used to describe aiming a weapon by establishing such direction and elevation, or depression, that the projectile struck an object when fired. The art of pointing varied between different weapons and often included the use of pointing stakes, boards, cords, and wires to set up various angles and trajectories.

POLE-PAD: A padded leather cover which was placed on the end of the artillery carriage pole to prevent injury to the lead horses. The pole-pad was taken off the pole and stored when the carriage was not in use. Often referred to as a limber pole-pad.

POLYGONAL CAVITY: A type of interior cavity of a spherical common shell which was cast with lines of weakness to improve the fragmentation. The fragment patterns were cast as trapezoid shaped pieces, pentagonal dodecahedron (pentagon shaped pieces), and rhomboidal dodecahedron (diamond shaped pieces). This technique was attributed to C.S.A. Colonel John W. Mallet, Superintendent of Laboratories, Macon, Georgia. This type cavity was popular with the Confederate forces.

POMMELION: See cascabel.

PORTFIRE: A composition of nitre, sulphur, and mealed powder driven into a case of strong paper. Portfire was used to fire guns previous to the introduction of the friction primer. It was also used in emergency situations and to fire rockets. A full length portfire would burn for about ten minutes and could not be extinguished by water.

PORTFIRE CASE: A leather enclosed case designed to hold twelve portfires.

PORTFIRE CUTTER: A strong pair of scissors with an indention 1-inch wide and 0.4-inch deep in one blade for holding the portfire. This was used to cut the portfire to different lengths.

PORTFIRE STOCK: Brass socket fastened to a wood stock and used to hold the portfire.

POWDER: See Gunpowder.

POWDER BAG: See Cartridge Bag.

POWDER CARTRIDGE: See Cartridge Bag.


POWDER CHARGE: Gunpowder loaded in the chamber of a weapon to be used as a propellant for the projectile. The powder was usually contained in a cartridge bag.

POWDER CHEST: A naval term for a torpedo affixed to the side of a ship to assist in repelling boarders.

POWDER MEASURE: Cylindrical copper utensil with a flanged bottom. It was used to measure powder for projectiles and weapons.

POWDER MONKEY: A naval term for a boy who passed powder cartridges to the guns.

POWDER TRAIN: Powder-filled channel, usually a metal tube, in the interior of a case-shot projectile. This tube extended from the base of the fuze into the powder chamber. The purpose of the powder train was to transfer the flame from the fuze, through the case-shot balls, and into the bursting charge.

PRE-GUIDED FLIGHT: A projectile directed to a predetermined path of flight by means of studs or flanges manufactured onto the projectile. The projectile usually was the same shape as the bore but slightly smaller in diameter.

PREPONDERANCE OF PIECE: The difference in weight between the tube in front of the trunnions and the tube in the rear of the trunnions. It was measured by the amount of force necessary to be applied at the rear of the base ring to balance the piece when it was suspended freely on the axis of the trunnions. Preponderance had to be determined in order to avoid a sudden dipping of the muzzle and a violent concussion on the carriage at the breech during firing.

PRIME: To insert a priming tube in the vent of the cannon.

PRIMER: See Friction Primer.

PRIMING: A powder train laid in order to communicate with the charge to be fired.

PRIMING TUBE: See Percussion Primer or Tube.

PRIMING WIRE: Iron wire pointed at one end with a circular loop at the other. It was inserted through the vent in order to pierce the cartridge bag seated in the bore. This allowed the flame from the primer to reach the propellant charge.

PROJECTILE: 1) The shot or shell fired from artillery weapons. Projectiles were classified as spherical, (fired from smoothbore guns), or elongated, (fired from rifled guns). They were also classified by their construction. Solid shot were made of cast iron; shells had hollow interiors containing the bursting charge; and case-shot shells had hollow interiors filled with lead or iron case-shot contained in a matrix. Other classifications included bar-shot, canister, carcass, chain-shot, and stand of grape. 2) Bullet fired from small arms weapons.

PROLONGE: Hemp rope 12' long with a hook at one end and a toggle at the other. Two rings were attached equal distance in the middle of the rope. The hook and toggle were passed through the rings and hooked together to shorten the length as desired. The prolonge was used to quickly and temporarily attach the gun to the limber when changing positions or advancing and retreating.

PROPELLANT CHARGE: See Service Charge.

PROVENANCE: Term used in describing the source or place of origin of artillery projectiles, (i.e. Federal, Confederate, arsenal designation, etc).

PUNCH: See Fuze Cutter.

QUADRANT: See Gunner’s Quadrant.

QUADRANT SIGHT: Also known as Quarter Sight. These were divisions marked on the upper quarters of the base ring and were used for pointing a piece at a less elevation than the natural angle of sight. Quadrant sights were not used to any appreciable extent during the Civil War.

QUARTER SIGHT: See Quadrant Sight.

QUICK MATCH: Cotton wick soaked in gummed brandy or whiskey and coated with a paste of mealed powder and gummed spirits. A yard of quick match burned in the open air for thirteen seconds and much slower in an enclosed tube. Quick matches were used to fire mortars and priming fire and light balls, carcasses, rockets, priming tubes, etc.


QUILTED GRAPE: Constructed similar to a stand of grape, but had a wooden or metal bottom plate with a covering of canvas. Twine or wire was wrapped around the canvas and tied at the top of the stand. Although most quilted grape stands were obsolete by the Civil War, some large caliber stands were still used by naval and seacoast batteries.

QUION: A wedge made of oak and used in place of an elevating screw for mortars and large howitzers.

RABBETTED: A sabot attachment system consisting of notches or cuts manufactured into the base of rifled projectiles. Its purpose was to keep the sabot from turning while the projectile was being fired.

RAKE: A naval term indicating gunfire along the line of an object (i.e. to "rake a ship" meant to sweep with shot at the length of the ship).

RATCHET WHEEL: A wheel with pointed and angular teeth which rests against the ratchets of the weapon and is used to elevate or depress the piece.

RATCHETS: A series of indention’s cut into the breech of large weapons. Ratchets were used to set elevation.

RAMMER: A wooden cylinder made of elm, poplar, maple, or similar wood. The rammer was attached to a wooden staff, usually the opposite end of the sponge. The center of the rammer was slightly concave to avoid contact with the fuze. It was used to drive the powder cartridge and projectile to the base of the bore in preparation for firing.

RAMPART: A broad embankment of earth which surrounded a fortified place. In forts or fortresses, the rampart was considered to be the entire top of the fortification, and held the epaulement to protect the artillery crew. In many fortifications, a dirt ramp was constructed to the top of the rampart to provide access for weapons and troops.


RANGE: Term used to measure distance from the muzzle of the gun to the first graze (impact) made on horizontal ground, with the weapon mounted on its appropriate carriage. The range of a spherical case-shot was determined by the distance at which the shell burst near the ground in the time given, thus providing the elevation and the length of fuze required for certain distances.

REBATED: Term used to describe a projectile with a groove cut or cast into it.

RECOIL: The backward movement of a cannon immediately after being discharged. It was necessary to reposition the weapon after each recoil.

REDAN: A small field fortification with two walls set at a salient angle facing the enemy. The rear, or gorge, was usually open. A redan was used to cover a camp, the front of a battlefield, advanced posts, roads into or out of towns, bridges, etc.

REDOUBT: A small field fortification enclosed on all sides. A redoubt might be in the shape of a square, polygon, or pentagon.

RE-ENTERING ANGLE: An angle which pointed inward, towards the work.

REINFORCE: The thickest part of the body of a gun, in front of the breech. If there was more than one reinforce, the one next to the breech was called the first reinforce and the other was the second reinforce.

REINFORCE BAND: See Reinforce Ring.

REINFORCE RING: A narrow metal ring around the junction of the first and second reinforce on a gun tube. This was also know as a reinforce band (not to be confused with a reinforcing band).

REINFORCE SIGHT: A sight placed on the second reinforce of a gun tube. Large weapons and some navy guns had the front sight set there.

REINFORCING BAND: A heavy metal ring or band which was fixed over the breech area of rifled artillery to provide extra strength.

REGISTRY NUMBER: A government serial number placed on each artillery weapon at the foundry.

REMAINING VELOCITY: The speed of a projectile measured by the space in feet passed over in a second at any point of its trajectory after the initial velocity.

REVETMENT: Construction designed to protect the interior slopes of the parapets from erosion or other damage which could cause failure of the wall. Materials used consisted of fascines, gabions, sod, sand bags, or timber bound tightly against the slope.

RICOCHET: Firing a solid shot at such a low angle of elevation which caused the shot to graze (strike) a hard surface, bounce up, and travel close to the surface. Ricochet fire was used to destroy gun carriages, inflict greater damage on enemy troops, and, in the navy, to increase the chances of striking an enemy ship at the water line.

RIFLE: Term referring to a cannon tube cut with spiral lands and grooves, known as rifling.

RIFLED ORDNANCE: Projectiles constructed to conform to the land and groove bores of rifled guns.

RIFLING: Also referred to as lands and grooves, rifling was the technique of cutting spiral grooves into the bore of the barrel of artillery and firearms weapons. This allowed the expanding sabot of a fired projectile to engage the grooves and rotate. This caused greater accuracy and stability of the projectile. Those portions of the original smoothbore that remained after the grooves were cut were known as lands and were used as the nominal measurement for the actual diameter of the bore. The twist of the rifling was either uniform for the entire length of the bore, or it progressively increased from the breech to the muzzle.

RIMBASE: The short cylinder, or shoulder, which united the trunnion with the body of the weapon. Its purpose was to provide extra strength at the trunnion junction and to limit any sideways movement in the trunnion beds.

RIMBASE SIGHT: Small leaf-type sight which was screwed into the rimbase.

RING GAUGE: An iron ring with a wooden handle, used to determine the diameter of a spherical projectile. The gauge came in two sizes; the largest 0.02- or 0.03-inches greater than the true diameter of the projectile; the smallest 0.02- or 0.03-inches or less than the true diameter. To be a true diameter, the projectile should not pass through the small gauge at all but had to pass in any direction through the large gauge.

ROCK FIRE: An incendiary material used to set fire to ships and buildings. It was much like Greek Fire in that it burned very slowly and was difficult to extinguish. The composition was made with rosin, sulphur, nitre, regulus of antimony, and turpentine. It was contained in paper cylinders containing a primer and was placed inside shells to be fired at the target. It was known to the Confederates as Fire Stone.

ROCKET: A projectile set in motion by a force within itself. Most rockets were composed of a strong case of paper or wrought iron containing a composition of nitre, charcoal, and sulphur. This composition was designed to burn slower than gunpowder. The rocket head was either a solid shot, shell, or spherical case-shot and the base was perforated by one or more vents. The majority of Civil War rockets were patterned after William Hale’s design. The Hale rocket had three vents in the base for stability and rotation and no guide stick. The Confederates also used a pattern designed by Colonel William Congreve. The Congreve rocket used a directing stick which was inserted directly through the case. The size of rockets were indicated by the diameter of the cases in inches or by weight.



SABOT: The sabot served as the driving band for the projectile, and was made of wood, brass, copper, lead, papier-mâché, leather, rope, or wrought iron. The sabot for a rifled projectile was attached directly onto the projectile. When the weapon was fired, the gases from the propellant charge caused the sabot to expand into the rifling grooves. This, in turn, caused a rotation motion of the projectile which extended its range and improved stability. In the case of a smoothbore projectile a wooden sabot, made of poplar, basswood, linden, or other close grained wood, was used to hold the projectile with its fuze forward and in the center of the bore. Solid shot had the sabot attached with two crossed tin straps. If the wooden sabot was tied to a cartridge bag, the entire round was then referred to as fixed ammunition.

SADDLE: Two types of saddles existed for artillery use: the driver’s and the pack. The driver’s saddle was made much like the standard pattern of cavalry saddles. This saddle was used by the mounted artillery crew members who drove the horse team pulling the cannon, limber, and caissons. In the standard six-horse team, a driver was assigned to the lead pair, swing pair, and wheel pair of horses. The pack saddle was used for securing the barrel of the mountain howitzer for transportation by horse or mule. It had special hitches and rings to secure the load.

SALIENT: Part of a fortification defensive line called cremaillere or indented line. The salient was an angle, or sharp point, which faced out towards the enemy and was constructed in the simplest of entrenchments. The salient was often the target of artillery bombardments.

SALTPETRE: Also known as nitrate of potash. It comprised approximately 75% of the gunpowder formula.

SALVO: A simultaneous discharge of artillery against a target.

SCALE: To clean the inside of a cannon by the explosion of a small quantity of powder.

SCRAPER: Iron implement, 27-inches long, with a spoon on one end and a spade-shaped scraper on the other. It was used to remove the residue of powder from the bore of mortars and large howitzers.

SEACOAST ARTILLERY: Heavy weapons which were usually permanently mounted in position in forts or other defensive areas along river banks and coastal waterways. Seacoast weapons were mounted on barbette, casemate, flank casemate, and Columbiad carriages, or, as in the case of mortars, beds. Some examples of seacoast artillery were the 10-inch Columbiad and 15-inch caliber Rodman smoothbore cannon.

SEGMENTED SHELL: A rifled projectile which contained small pieces of iron (segments) bonded together and arranged around the bursting charge. When the projectile exploded the segments would be dispersed over a large area. An example of a segmented projectile is the Britten.

SERVICE CHARGE: Also known as a Propellant Charge. This charge was the amount of gunpowder needed to fire a specified projectile the desired distance. Service charge was stated in pounds and was obtained from standardized range tables. The size of the gun dictated the amount of the service charge, not the projectile or range.

SHELL: Also known as a common shell. A hollow projectile of cast iron containing a bursting charge, which was ignited by means of a fuze. A shell fired at troops was set to go off in the air above the target or, if ricochet was desired, to plunge into the column before detonation. When fired at works or buildings, the fuze was set to explode after penetration.

SHELL HOOK: Also known as Shell Tong. Shell hooks were similar to loading tongs in that they had two bent iron arms connected with a pivot. An iron ring was attached through two smaller rings to the rear of the hooks. Shell hooks were used to move mortar or other heavy shells which could not be easily handled. The artillerist placed the open ends of the hooks into the ears of the shell, put a handspike through the large ring, and lifted, thereby engaging the hooks.

SHELL PLUG SCREW: A large tapered iron screw with a 2 inch ring attached. The plug screw was used to remove wooden or cork plugs from the fuze hole of a shell prior to inserting the fuze holder.

SHELL TONG: See Shell Hook.

SHRINK HEAD: See Gun Head.

SHOD HANDSPIKE: See Handspike.

SHORT SWORD: See Foot Artillery Sword.

SHOT: See Solid Shot.

SIDE-LOADER: A projectile which had a hole in the side of the body in order to facilitate the loading of case-shot material and matrix. This hole was usually sealed with a lead, iron, brass, or copper threaded plug. Side-loaded case-shot was commonly found in a variety of Confederate patterns of both rifled and spherical projectiles.

SIEGE: To completely surround a fortified city or other defensive works in order to force the surrender of the defenders. Artillery fire was important in a siege to soften the target and harass the inhabitants of the besieged position. A successful siege prohibited the movement of supplies into the area and cut off communications to any allies. Vicksburg, Atlanta, and Richmond are examples of cities under siege during the Civil War.

SIEGE AND GARRISON ARTILLERY: Large and cumbersome weapons which could be moved, with difficulty, from one position to another. This type artillery was designated "siege" if it was used to attack a fortification and "garrison" if it was used to defend the fortification. The common weapons used for siege and garrison batteries were 12-, 18-, and 24-pounder guns; 8-inch howitzers; 8- and 10-inch and Coehorn mortars.

SIEGE TRAIN: See Artillery Train.

SIGHTS: Equipment and implements used to align a weapon for accuracy before firing.

SIGHTS OF THE PIECE: Artificial marks on the piece for determining the line of fire. Sights were usually determined by the use of the gunner’s level when the trunnions were perfectly horizontal.

SIGNAL ROCKETS: Used by the Signal Corps to convey messages or directions across distances. Signal rockets were composed of a paper or pasteboard cylinder filled with a charge and a light stick to give direction. Also included was a pot containing various ornaments; stars, serpents, streamers, gold rain, or marrons (used to give a loud report for the effect of cannonading).

SLIDER: See Plunger.

SLING CART: A two-wheeled carriage made of wood used to transport cannons and their carriages. The axle-tree was arched to make it stronger. The rear of the axle had a projection welded on to receive the end of a hook. An eye was attached to the front end of the pole for attaching the cart to a limber or horse. A hand sling cart was smaller and made entirely of iron, except for the pole. It was used for transporting artillery in the siege trenches.

SLOW MATCH: Prepared from hemp or flax soaked in a strong lye. Cotton rope formed a good match without any preparation. A slow match could retain a small flame or coal and burn at the rate of 4- to 5-inches per hour. Before the advent of friction primers, the slow match was used to light the portfire which, in turn, ignited the cannon fuze.

SMOKE BALL: A hollow paper sphere similar to a light ball, which contained a composition which emitted a dense and nauseous smoke. A smoke ball burned for 25-30 minutes and was used to suffocate enemy miners trying to undermine fortifications, or to conceal the operations of troops.

SMOOTHBORE: A musket or artillery barrel which was manufactured without rifling, or lands and grooves, in the bore.

SOLID SHOT: A solid iron projectile cast without a powder chamber or fuze hole. A solid spherical projectile was known as "shot" or "cannon ball" and was used against troops, fortifications, opposing batteries, etc. Spherical shot was also used for ricochet firing. The elongated rifled projectile was called a bolt and was fired primarily at fortifications.

SPENT BALL: A ball which reached its object without the necessary force to penetrate it.

SPHERICAL CASE: See Case-shot.

SPHERICAL PROJECTILES: Round solid shots or shells usually fired from a smoothbore gun.

SPIKE: To intentionally render an artillery piece unserviceable to avoid its capture and use by the enemy. Various means were used to accomplish this. A nail or small rod could be driven through the vent hole; a shot could be wedged in the bottom of the bore with the use of iron wedges driven in with the rammer; shells could be caused to burst in the bore, or broken shot fired from the tube with a high charge; two weapons could be fired at each other, muzzle to muzzle; the trunnions could be broken off, or bursted by firing heavy charges full of shot at great elevations.

SPLINTERS: A naval term for pieces of wood torn off by a shot which could endanger the crew in action.

SPLIT TRAIL: A gun carriage in which each cheek piece extended for the full length. This style was considered obsolete before the Civil War, but records indicate a Confederate howitzer carriage existed with a split trail which allowed the weapon to be used as a mortar in high-angle fire. This was an experimental arrangement which saw little use.

SPONGE: Made of coarse, well-twisted woolen yarn and fashioned into a bag, the sponge was attached to a sponge head which was, in turn, fastened to a wooden staff. In field artillery, the sponge was usually attached to the opposite end of the rammer staff. For some mortars and Columbiads, the sponge was attached directly to a staff without a sponge head. The sponge was used to carry water to the bottom of the bore to extinguish any burning embers and to help clean the weapon of powder residue. The artillerist responsible for sponging the cannon would insert the sponge and twist it three times clockwise and three times counter-clockwise.

SPONGE AND RAMMER: A wooden staff with the sponge affixed to one end and the rammer to the opposite end. This combination tool was used with most artillery pieces.

SPONGE BUCKET: Made of sheet iron, this bucket measured 9-inches high and 7.8-inches in diameter. A wooden cover was attached to the opening and was connected to the handle by two rings and a chain. A toggle bolt was fastened to the handle by two links and a swivel. This allowed the bucket to be attached to the eye of the axle strap on the carriage. The sponge bucket held water for dipping the sponge-head into when washing out the cannon tube. Not to be confused with the wooden water bucket.

SPONGE COVER: Made of Russia duck material (canvas). The cover was used to protect and preserve the sponge and was secured by means of a cord passing through the hem of the material. The cover was marked in black with the caliber of the gun to which it belonged. Carpet was used when this material was not available.

SPONGE HEAD: A wooden cylinder made of elm or poplar. The head was attached to a wooden staff, usually the opposite end of a rammer, and was fitted with the sponge.

SPRUE: An overflow of metal poured through the gate in a mold to cast a projectile. The sprue was later chiseled or cut off while finishing the projectile.

SPUR TUBE: A quill filled with mealed powder and having a quill spur, also filled with powder. It was used in the Navy in place of the friction primer, which was considered dangerous on board ships because the metal fragments could injure barefooted gunners. The powder in the tube was bored out in the middle and a match was used to ignite it.

STAND OF GRAPE: A projectile consisting of a cast iron bottom and top plate with a specific number (usually nine) of cast iron shot arranged in three tiers between them. The unit was held together by an axle bolt through the two plates and two iron rings around the shot. A hemp rope was attached to the top plate for ease in transportation and loading. When the projectile was fired it broke apart and spread with a shotgun effect. Grapeshot was used at relatively close range against advancing enemy but, by the time of the Civil War, it had been almost wholly replaced by canister.

STEEL: A metal composed of iron alloyed with various small percentages of carbon. Steel was categorized as hard, medium, or soft according to the carbon content, and it could be alloyed with other metals to produce variation in hardness, strength, elasticity, and malleability. Steel was a finer grain than cast iron. Civil War artillery projectiles were usually made out of cast iron and not of steel.

STOCK TRAIL: Carriage in which the short cheeks supporting the cannon were attached to each side of a single central stock. The wooden field carriage was typical of this arrangement.

STONE MORTAR: Used to throw stones a short distance, approximately 150 to 250 yards, or 6-pounder shells from 50 to 150 yards. The stones were put into a basket fitted to the bore, and placed on a wooden bottom which covered the mouth of the chamber. Stone mortars became obsolete early in the Civil War and were superseded by large caliber mortar projectiles.

STRIKER: See Plunger. Also known as a slider. The cylindrical device that impacted against the anvil cap inside a percussion fuze.

SUB-PATTERN: Term used in classification of artillery projectiles. Pattern is the first classification field used. Within the pattern, however, there may exist significant variations in the projectile body, sabot, or fuzing. When any of these variations exist, or a combination of differences, the projectile is further classified as a sub-pattern.

SULPHUR: Mineral which comprised about 10% of the mixture of gunpowder. Sulphur added consistency to the mixture and intensity to the flame. It also render the powder less liable to absorb moisture.

SWIVEL: A small artillery piece mounted on a pivot.

TAMPION: See Tompion.

TANGENT SCALE OR SIGHT: A rear sight made of sheet brass cut into a series of steps with degrees marked on each step. Each degree represented a known range for that weapon. A flange was located on the curved base so that the sight could rest on top of the base ring. The tangent scale was used in conjunction with the front sight and the system required absolutely level trunnions. The tangent sight saw little service during the Civil War and was replaced, to a great extent, by the pendulum hausse or breech sight.

TAR: Also referred to as grease, tar was used as a lubricant for the carriage axles and projectile shots. Hogs’ lard or tallow was usually used, with actual tar mixed in to keep the grease from melting during long marches and hot weather.

TAR BUCKET: Also referred to as a grease bucket. The tar bucket was made of sheet iron, 7.2- inches in diameter and 8-inches in height. It had a metal cover which was secured to the bucket by a metal stud riveted to the top. The handle was a chain attached to two hooks on the bucket. The tar bucket held the tar.

TERMINAL VELOCITY: The velocity at which a projectile struck the target.

TERREPLEIN: A term used in fortification engineering for any space which was level. Artillery was usually mounted in the terreplein.

THUMB STALL: Made of buckskin with horse hair stuffed under the thumb pad. A buckskin string secured the thumb stall to the wrist of the gunner. It was also manufactured in white buff leather. The gunner used the thumb stall to protect against heat when he stopped the vent (placed his thumb over the vent) during the sponging procedure.

TIME FUZE: A fuze designed to explode a projectile, at pre-set designated number of seconds after being fired from an artillery piece. The time fuze was often used with a case-shot projectile when an air burst was desired. The most common time fuzes were the Bormann (metal) and the paper fuze.

TOMPION: Also spelled tampion. A iron or brass stopper which fit in the muzzle of artillery pieces and small arms to protect the bore from weather or foreign materials. On larger guns the tompions have been made from wood. Many tompions also had cork attached for a more secure fit.


TOUCH HOLE: See vent.

TOW HOOK: A tool made of round iron with a hammer on one end and a hook on the other. It was used for unpacking ammunition boxes and for tightening and repairing the sabot straps on fixed-ammunition projectiles.

TOW-WAD: Rope fibers which were placed in the fuze plug opening of the projectile prior to shipping. Its purpose was to keep debris from entering the inner cavity of the shell and it was removed in the field prior to the insertion of the fuze. Tow-wad was also used as a shock absorber to prevent shells from moving around in the limber chest.

TRAIL: The part of the stock of the gun carriage behind the cheeks, which rests on the ground when the gun is unlimbered.


TRAIN: 1) To point or aim a gun at an object; 2) a line of gunpowder to fire a charge; 3) a line of artillery carriages and weapons on the march.

TRAJECTORY: The curve made by a projectile moving through space, from the time the projectile leaves the muzzle to the point of impact. Trajectory was affected by the elevation of the tube, the weight of the projectile, and the amount of gunpowder used.

TRANSOM: The pieces of wood or iron connecting the cheeks in a siege gun carriage.

TRAVERSE: Portions of parapets, which crossed the breadth of the covered way, at the salient and re-entering places of arms.

TRUCK: A low stout carriage for moving guns.


TRUNNIONS: The two short cylinders which projected from the sides of a gun barrel. These rested on the cheeks of the carriage and supported the barrel.

TRUNNION BAND: A band around the cannon barrel which was used to support the trunnions.

TUBE: The correct nomenclature for a cannon barrel. Tubes were made of either cast-iron, wrought-iron, steel, or bronze.

TUBE POUCH: A leather pouch which held the friction primers, lanyard, thumb-stall, the priming wire, and gunner’s gimlet. The sides and ends were made of russet sole-leather. It had two covers, the inner one having end pieces sewed to it which were shut over the ends of the pouch. The outer one, or flap, was of the same piece as the back, and was fastened down by a strap to a brass button riveted to the bottom of the pouch. Two small loops sewed to the inside of the flap served for carrying the priming wire and gimlet. It was similar in appearance to the cartridge box.

TWIST: Refers to the rotation imparted to a projectile by passing through a rifled bore. This allowed the shell to have greater range and better trajectory.

UNDERPLUG: An iron, brass, or copper circular threaded plug with a hole in the center. These plugs were screwed into the receiver hole of the projectile (usually a Bormann shell) before the Bormann fuze was seated. Its purpose was to support the soft metal fuze from being deformed during firing. Found in spherical and rifled projectiles with the Bormann time fuze.

UNLIMBER: To detach the trail of a gun from the limber.

UNSPIKE: The removal of the material used to spike the vent hole or bore of the tube. Various techniques were used depending on the type of spike and the metal of the tube.

VALISE: A leather case, usually 18-inches long and 8-inches wide, which was strapped on the saddle behind the gunner. It contained personal property of the gunner.

VARIANT: The minor differences found within a projectile pattern or sub-pattern, such as a wooden drive-in paper time fuze adapter as opposed to a threaded paper time fuze adapter. These differences are not enough to reclassify the projectile, so the specimen is said to be a "variant" of that pattern.

VELOCITY: The motion versus distance ratio of a projectile after being fired by a weapon. Gunners in the Civil War had to estimate velocity by using a measurement of distances by sound. In order to get a valid measurement they had to take into account the wind, temperature, and humidity present during firing.

VENT: A small hole bored through the breech end of the cannon tube. The .2-inch diameter opening received the friction primer which, when seated, transferred a spark to the powder charge. The internal diameter had to be very small because too much gas would otherwise escape through it and cause a misfire or lower velocity fire.

VENT COVER: To protect the vent, a leather strap with a brass or copper pin attached was fastened across the breech of the tube. The pin entered the vent hole to keep the strap from slipping. This replaced the vent apron.

VENT PUNCH: A tool for clearing the vent of any obstructions. It had an octagon head, with a hole in the center, and with a wire brazed to it. The wire had a flat end and was the same diameter as the priming wire.

WAD: Rope yarn twisted around the straps of the projectile sabot or the projectile itself. This rope, commonly referred to as "ring wads" in the army and "grommets" in the navy, increased the accuracy of fire and were preferred when keeping the ball in place. Wadding could also be made of straw or hay and wrapped with rope yarn. The "hay wadding" was commonly used in hot shot firing.

WATER BUCKET: Wooden or leather buckets used to carry clean water for the cannon crew. Wooden buckets usually were used in garrison duty since the rigors of the field caused them to be easily damaged. Not to be confused with the sponge bucket.

WATER CAP: Specially constructed water-proof caps which were affixed to fuzes used in the navy or seacoast batteries. These caps prevented water from extinguishing the flame when the shell was fired in a ricochet angle into a body of water.

WEIGHT RATIO: This was a crude method of determining the size and strength of a cannon. The weight of a solid shot which fit the bore, was divided into the known weight of the cannon.

WHEEL PAIR: Six horses were usually required to pull a field artillery piece. The two horses closest to the gun were referred to as the wheel pair.

WINDAGE: The space, or difference, between the bore diameter and the diameter of the projectile. Windage was measured by this difference. It was necessary to figure windage in order to make allowance for a piece becoming foul, the expansion of a shot by heat, the incrustation of rust, and the tin straps of fixed ammunition. Reducing windage increased the accuracy of fire and gave a more extensive range of fire.

WOODEN FUZE PLUG: A tapered wooden plug with a hole through the center. The plug was driven into the fuze hole of the projectile and then received the paper time fuze.

WORM: An iron implement shaped in a circular form having two branches twisted in a screw type fashion. It was used to clean the debris from the bore of the gun by twisting it after it was inserted. The worm was attached to a long wooden pole and it was the only implement on the pole.

WRENCH, FUZE: See fuze implements.

WROUGHT-IRON: A very tough, malleable iron made by striking the molten iron repeatedly with heavy automatic (usually steam-driven) hammers while it was cooling. The resulting product had great resistance to torque and could be shaped by re-heating and hammering to a desired form.

YAW: The wobbling motion of a projectile. Immediately upon exiting the muzzle of the tube, a projectile usually would begin to wobble. If the projectile was properly manufactured, and had caught the rifling of the bore, it would rapidly overcome the yaw and spin true on its axis. If the projectile was unable to overcome yaw, it would tumble in flight, thus decreasing its accuracy and range.