On the last day of the battle of Gettysburg Before the famous charge, an artillery barrage was to soften up the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge. While the rebel forces lay in the woods on the opposite end of the long sloping field, the artillery started. At almost exactly 1 p.m. two shots were fired to signal the start of the barrage. The first salvo of the total 159 guns made a roar that shook the ground, made windows tremble and could be heard as far away as Pittsburgh.
On Cemetery ridge, outside of Meade’s HQ, one Union officer saw” a shell go through six horses standing broadside.” Another wrote, “Army HQ were visited with such a shower of projectiles that sixteen horses belonging to the staff and escort were killed before the officers could get away, and they stood not upon the order of their going”. Shells burst in the air. There was no place of safety. In one regiment, twenty-seven were killed or wounded by one shell. The entire length of Cemetery ridge was a mass of dust, smoke and explosions as Confederate artillery hit the Union line from Cemetery hill to Little Round Top. A reporter for the NY Tribune wrote that the shelling “made a very hell of fire that amazed even the oldest officers”.
It didn’t take long for the Federals to reply with their own canon along an area nearly two miles long. Though it was not as intense as expected. Artillery commander Brigadier General Henry W. Hunt was determined to save his ammunition for the infantry assault he knew was coming.
Despite the intensity of the Confederate shelling, it didn’t break the federal positions on the ridge. Most Rebel veterans knowing it was a waste of ammo. Being nearly impossible to break and infantry position behind a fortified line like the Union infantry behind a small rock wall at Cemetery Ridge. Few Union guns were silenced by Confederate artillery, even though it seemed otherwise. The Federal commander wisely slowly had his guns stop their counter fire and pulled back over the ridge. Giving the impression of guns being knocked out. The top of cemetery ridge is not very wide and quickly slopes away on the reverse side. Most of the CSA shelling passing over the targets and falling harmlessly to the rear while union guns were hidden.
The assault was made, and we all know how that ended. The CSA marching into musket fire and canon fire with solid shot and canister. Both direct fire and enfilading fire from Little Round Top. The canon using exploding ammunition, solid shot and the deadly canister shot tearing huge gaps in the assaulting infantry line.
Above are two type of artillery ammunition in my own collection. Both recovered from Civil War battlefields in North Eastern West Virginia. The left being the solid shot that would tear off limbs, decapitate and bounce all down the column of infantry when fired in an enfilading shot. To the right is a ball from canister, which is basically a giant shotgun like blast for infantry at 400 yards or closer. The canister shot was effectively fired at the ground slightly in front of advancing infantry at Gettysburg. Hitting the ground flattened the cone-shaped area of canister and skipped it off the ground, getting more hits from the conical pattern. Double canister could be fired from the canons, as long as a solid ball and canister behind it.
You can see from the size of the canister shot in my hand the kind of damage it would do to any part of the body.
Above is a confederate canon aiming at Cemetery Ridge.
Union artillery positions on Cemetery Ridge.
Me behind the rock wall at ” the angle” the objective of Pickett’s charge you can see Emmitsburg road in the distance.
That’s as close as the got.