Cannons to the left of me Welcome to our Artillery Page Cannons to the right of me

* * * PLEASE NOTE * * *

The 11th Pennsylvania Regiment does not have an active artillery impression.

Battlefield Artillery Tactics

     Battlefield tactics of artillery during the Revolutionary War were practically non-existent, for tactics required movement which, due to the weight of the artillery pieces, was extremely difficult once the battle had begun.  The artillery was normally placed in a "Grand Battery" in the middle of the troop formations, or interspersed between troop units.  The object was to hope troop movements would place a large number of formations in line with the cannon, so shots could mow through them in larger numbers.

Varieties of cannon in use during the Revolutionary War

Field Artillery Piece

Field Cannon : The field cannon was the primary battlefield artillery piece.  It fired its shot on a relatively flat trajectory to 'bounce' the ball across the battlefield and plow through enemy troop formations.  The casualty rate of field artillery was quite heavy.  There were several types and sizes of field artillery.  Cannon are categorized by the size solid shot they fire.  1, 3, and 6 pound shot were some of the most common.  Their wheels were large to permit the easy movement over irregular terrain.  Larger sizes (12, 24, 32 pound shot) were used primarily against fortifications during siege warfare, as these pieces were too large to move around the battlefield.  The largest number of casualties recorded by a single cannon shot was 42, hit by a 32 pound cannonball*.

Garrison Cannon / Ship's Deck Gun

Garrison Cannon : The barrel of the garrison cannon was very similar to the field cannon, although the carriage had smaller wheels, as it was usually employed in forts and on ships where the cannon rested on fort walls or ships decks.  The shot sizes also ranged into the larger weights to be employed against other ships and forts.  This cannon was also designed to fire with a relatively flat trajectory.


Howitzers : The howitzer was designed to have a much higher trajectory, for the purpose of lobbing shot over obstacles.  A popular projectile was the shell, a hollow ball filled with powder and lit by a fuse from the igniting cannon charge.  If the timing of the fuse was calculated correctly, it would explode in the air over the troops, sending a shower of fiery debris down onto them. 

Coehorn Mortar

Mortars : The Coehorn Mortar (shown here) was a useful weapon because of its small size and ease of movement.  It usually had a fixed trajectory (around 45 degrees), and the distance the shot traveled  was adjusted by varying the powder charge.  Just like the howitzer, the use of the exploding shell was popular to reach troops inside fortifications.

Firing positions for the Field Cannon

( Extracted directly from the Continental Line Black Powder Safety Regulations )

Worm & Loader Ram & Sponge Firer (Commander) Vent Tender Powder Handler Powder Box Handler The GUN The Powder BoxPositions of the gun crew

Gun Commander : This man has overall command of the gun and crew.  He is responsible for giving commands and assuring that crew members execute their duties correctly and safely.  He does not normally take part in any loading or firing activities.  If he does serve the gun, he will only serve in position #1 (Firer).

#1 Firer : This man's job is to maintain the linstock and to touch off the charge when ordered by the Gun Commander.

#2 Vent Tender : This man stops (tends) the vent to be sure NO air escapes during worming, sponging and loading.  He picks open the charge with a priming wire and priming the piece.  This man must have a leather thumbstall to protect his thumb from the heat of the gun while tending the vent.  This position is critical to safe operation of the piece, and should always be manned by an experienced artillerist.

#3 Ram & Sponge : This man sponges the piece and rams home the cartridge.  He must always be sure the sponge is in good condition and that there is water for the artillery bucket.  This man is required to wear heavy duty leather gloves for protection while performing his duties.  This is the most dangerous position on the crew and must exercise extreme caution at all times.

#4 Worm & Loader : This man's job is to extract the spent cartridge casing (searching the piece), and to place the new round in the muzzle for #3 to ram (charge the piece).

#5 Powder Handler : This man's job is to remove the powder box to a secure position before the piece is fired, and to bring each round forward to #4 for loading.  He is also responsible for manning the tiller for aiming the gun, and guarding the powder box at all times.

#6 Powder Box Handler : This man is charged with the security of the powder box at all times.

Firing procedures for the Field Cannon

Searching the piece

Search the Piece : The first step in the firing process is to search the barrel with a worm.  This insures that any and all foreign objects are removed from the barrel, including remnants from a previously fired shot.  A worm is a wooden pole with a spiral coil on the end that catches anything in the barrel.

Swabbing the barrel

Swab : After worming, the barrel is swabbed.  A finger is placed over the touch hole to prevent air from getting in or out.  A wet sheepskin covered sponge is rammed down the barrel.  The swab fits tightly down the barrel, and extinguishes any burning embers that may have remained after worming.  The swab also cleans the barrel and removes any fowling left by the black powder from the previous shot.  Searching and swabbing are normally done twice to ensure a clean barrel.

Ramming down powder charge

Charge with Powder : A new powder charge is placed in the barrel and rammed home.  These charges were made before hand, and contained specific charges of powder, sewn into a fabric bag.  This made the handling of large quantities of powder relatively safe and quick.

Ramming down shot

Ram down Ball : After the powder has been rammed home, the shot to be fired is placed in the barrel and rammed home also.  Sometimes powder and shot were placed into a single unit to expedite the loading process.  Types of shot used were solid, chain, bargrape, and canister.

Pricking the powder bag

Prick : Once the cannon was loaded, the next step was to prepare for firing.  The first step was to prick the powder bag.  This allowed the powder inside to be exposed to the touchhole.

Priming the vent

Prime : The final step prior to firing was to place powder into the touchhole to allow the entire charge to be ignited.  The use of a powder horn is shown here, although the more common method was the use of a quill.  A quill was simply a large bird feather, cut to a specified length and opened at both ends to leave a hollow tube.  The tube was filled with powder.  Just like the powder charges, these were made ahead of time to allow the quick firing of the cannon.  A quill could be inserted into the touchhole in a matter of seconds.

F I R E  ! ! !

Give Fire : Once the quill was placed in the touchhole, the word "PRIMED" was announced to the entire gun crew.  When the command "GIVE FIRE" was ordered, the entire crew moved to their firing positions, usually a pace away from the gun.  A slow match was placed to the quill, igniting the powder in the quill.  The fire quickly traveled down the quill igniting the primary charge in the barrel.  With a loud BOOM the cannon ball was sent flying towards the enemy.


Mott's Artillery

Colonel Knox's Artillery Regiment of the Continental Line

United Train of Artillery (Rhode Island)

CLICK HERE to read about

Saint Barbara

and why she is the patron saint of artillerists

CLICK HERE to read the history of Field Artillery (from the U.S.F.A.A.)


All the pen & ink drawings shown on this page can be found

in C. Keith Wilbur's The Revolutionary Soldier (1969, 1993)

Color cannon drawings from Armies of the American Revolution by Ian Hogg & John H. Batchelor (1975)

Photos are from the unit's photo library

( * - Armies of the American Revolution, by Ian Hogg & John H. Batchelor )


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