Challenge Your Understanding

Become a Cannoneer

An artillerist was responsible for firing cannons in the heat of battle. Generally, a crew of six to eight men worked on a single gun. When each soldier performed his task correctly, a cannon crew could fire a gun an average of three times per minute.

Your job is to assist a cannon crew by seeing that they are properly equipped. Identify the items below by placing them in the boxes under the correct labels. Once you successfully identify all the equipment, the cannoneers will be ready to fire their gun.

Artillery Shell - Artillery round connected to a black powder cartridge ready to be loaded and fired.

Ammunition Chest - Ammunition for the artillery piece was carried inside this chest which was carried on the limber.

Friction Primer - In use, the wire was hooked to the lanyard and the long tube inserted into the vent. A steady, quick pull on the lanyard dragged the serrated wire across the friction composition igniting it and setting off the black powder which flashed down the tube and vent, firing the cannon.

Gunner’s haversack - Artillery crews used this leather bag to protect and carry the rounds for firing the gun.

Sponge Bucket - The sponge bucket was filled with water in which the number one man would dip the sponge before driving it to the bottom of the tube to extinguish smoldering embers after firing the cannon.

Sponge & Rammer - The sponge consisted of a wooden sponge-head covered with wool that the number one man drove to the bottom of the bore and turned numerous times to put out any embers from the previous firing of the piece.

The number two man would place the cartridge inside the bore, and number one would use the rammer-head made of hard wood to shove it down the bore with a single stroke.

Lanyard - A strong cord with a hook at one end used to fire a cannon. In use, the wire of the friction primer was hooked to the lanyard. The long tube of the friction primer was inserted into the vent. A steady, quick pull on the lanyard set off the powder, which ignited the charge.

Worm - The worm, an iron implement shaped like a double corkscrew was attached to the end of a stave and used to withdraw unfired cartridges, rags, or other debris from inside the bore of the cannon.

Priming Wire - The number three man of the cannon crew would insert this priming wire into the vent after the round had been shoved into the end of the cannon, and prick through the wool cartridge bag into the powder. This motion would expose the powder for ignition of the gun.


Equip an Infantry Solider

Late December
"There has been a great deal of stealing going on recently & every camp near ours has been robbed at night of provisions clothes boots ... A robbery of clothes is now quite a serious matter."
- Confederate soldier

By December of 1864, soldiers from both armies had settled into the daily routine of picket and trench duty. With the weather growing colder, they welcomed the end of active operations for the year and a chance to build proper winter shelters. Particularly, those soldiers from Lee's army, hoped that they would have a break from the constant whiz of bullets and shells. Getting adequate clothing for the cold winter months was a concern for soldiers of both armies, though Union soldiers fared well in this regard thanks to the depot at City Point. For Confederate soldiers, however, getting proper equipment was another matter entirely.

Imagine that you were a soldier in the trench lines around Petersburg in the winter of 1864 and 65. For five long months you have been laying low in the trenches, listening to the whiz of bullets and the roar of artillery shells. What equipment did you need to have behind these trench lines to survive the fighting in the Western Front for five months, and still another four months to come? Take a look and find out.

Knapsacks were initially issued to all infantrymen and other soldiers who habitually served on foot. Soldiers carried many of their belongings and supplies inside the knapsack. The majority of knapsacks were made of cotton cloth painted black or coated with some preparation of this color which rendered them waterproof. The longer a soldier served, the less he learned that he needed to keep in his knapsack.

"When a campaign was fairly under way the average infantryman's wardrobe was what he had on. Only that and nothing more...It seemed rather sad to see a man step out of the ranks, unsling his knapsack, seat himself for a moment to overhaul its contents, transfer to his pocket some little keepsake, then, rising and casting one despairing look at it, hurry on after the column. Many would not even open their knapsack, but, giving them a toss, would leave them to fate, and sternly resume their march."
- John D. Billings, 10th Massachusetts Battery

"This knapsack weighed from fifteen to twenty-five pounds, sometimes even more ... The knapsack vanished early in the struggle ... as [it] was found to gall the back and shoulders, and weary the man before half the march was accomplished."
- Edward McCarthy, Richmond Howitzers

Sack Coat or Shell Jacket
The U.S. army sack coat was loose and formless, with four large uniform buttons, and carried no braid or decoration of any sort; it even lacked shoulder straps. Its greatest assets were comfort, simplicity of manufacture and cheapness.

The shell jacket was established as the upper garment of the Confederate enlisted man, though soldiers from both armies wore shell jackets. It was initially made of wool, uniform in color and shape.

"And rainy day & no drill. We have drawn our clothing so there is considerable washing going on ... I drew a coat & will wear the old one on fatigue also ..."
- William Ray, 7th Wisconsin Volunteers, November 19, 1864

"The heat was at times terrific, but the men became greatly accustomed to it, and endured it with wonderful ease. Their heavy woolen clothes were a great annoyance; tough linen or cotton clothes would have been a great relief; indeed, there are many objections to woolen clothing for soldiers, even in winter."
- Edward Stevens McCarthy, Army of Northern Virginia

The enlisted soldier wore straight, cuffless "stove pipe" trousers, fairly full. Creasing was unknown in those days and trousers were pressed round, if pressed at all. U.S. army issue trousers were made of sky blue kersey, while Confederate soldiers wore gray or butternut.

"... I went down and washed evry bit of our clothing (but coats) & boiled them & now we will be rid of lice perhaps for a few days at least ... We feel much better. Most all of us have got what we call the ground itch which is caused by being so dirty. Our clothes is packed full of dust & our skins is caked with dirt."
- William Ray, 7th Wisconsin Volunteers / At Petersburg, August 1, 1864

"I sold my pants, vest, shoes, & drawers for sixtyone dollars so you see I am flush again ... You will have to make me more pants and drawers, if you can raise the material make two pair of pants & four pair of drawers ..."
- Virginia Soldier

Forage Hats, Kepis, Slouch Hat
The forage cap was commonly worn by soldiers of both armies during the Civil War. The wool forage cap was mass produced in 1861, with visors of roughly cut pieces of leather that rapidly assumed a curved shape. The sides collapsed so that the top tended to incline forward. Similar to the forage cap, the kepi was a copy of the French officer's hat. The kepi was shorter and was not very popular because it did not protect from the rain or sun like the slouch hat. The soft-brimmed felt slouch hat was popular throughout the Confederate forces. It was practical, comfortable, and protected soldiers from the sun and rain.

"Some of our men place an old hat on a ramrod & elevate it just enough for the Yankees to see it, & then coolly count the shots that hit or miss it."
- Capt. Benjamin Wesley Justice

Boots / Brogans and Socks
The "Jefferson boot" was the dress regulation shoe of foot soldiers. The Jefferson meant a high quarter shoe. The tops were moderately high with from two to five pairs eyelets for laces. Soles were sewn to uppers or fastened by pegs, nails, and occasionally rubber. Socks were often thick wool.

"... the weather lately has been altogether to warm for fighting, even in the shade we strip to our shirts and breeches. Boots and shirts is saturated with perspiration without the least exertion on our part ..."
- Charles Reed, Ninth Massachussets Battery, June 28, 1864

"... all I lack is my over coat. If you can send it I would be glad I do not want any blankets if you send any clothing but my coat let it be a par of sockes."
- Pvt. Alfred Newton Proffit, 18th NC

"Caps were destined to hold out longer than some other uncomfortable things, but they finally yielded to the demands of comfort and common sense, and a good soft felt hat was worn instead."
- Francis McCarthy, Richmond Howitzers

Every soldier on field service was issued a haversack or "bread bag" in which he carried his rations and eating utensils on the march. It was worn over the right soldier and rested on the left hip, with a tin cup usually buckled to the strap. The haversack was used to carry field or "marching rations" such as hard bread, salt pork, or fresh meat, sugar, and coffee. Items like tobacco, paper and pencil and a sewing kit were also carried in the haversack.

"The very thought of fresh vegetables made me throw away all caution ... I crawled along worm-fashion to the pea patch and soon filled my haversack ... I grabbed as many beats and squash as could be carried by the tops and , with my haversack ... I proceeded to crawl out on my belly."
- John Haley, 17th Maine, June 18th

"First he gathered a few small twigs and made a very small fire. On the fire he put a battered old tin cup. Into this he poured some coffee from his canteen. From some mysterious place in his clothes he drew forth sugar and dropped it into the cup. Next, from an old worn haversack, he took a chunk of raw bacon and a "pone" of corn bread. Then, drawing a large pocket knife, in a dexterous manner he sliced and ate his bread and meat, occasionally sipping his coffee."
- Edward Stevens McCarthy, Captain First Company Richmond Howitzers

The canteen was the vessel in which the soldier on active service carried his drinking water or some other refreshing liquid. Canteens were made of several materials, but wood and tin were by far the most usual in this period. Some were also covered in wool cloth. The strap allowed it to be worn over the right shoulder opposite the cartridge box.

"There was not a drop of water with any of us, and with three canteens beside my own I started off in quest of some. Seeing a house not far off, hither I went, finding many there ahead of me, getting the precious liquid out of a very deep well. I cannot describe my feelings as I drew near the water, for my lips were parched with thirst."
- Daniel G. Crotty, Third Michigan Volunteer Infantry

Musket and Minnie Balls
The model 1842 was the standard arm of the Infantry soldiers prior to 1855. At the outbreak of the Civil War thousands of these arms were stored in U.S. and state arsenals. Additional thousands were in the hands of state militia. As a result, the model 1842 saw extensive Civil War action, especially in the first two years of the war. They fired a solid round shot known as buck and ball shot. Rifled muskets were used extensively at Petersburg, where the conical Minnie ball was fired at a much faster and accurate speed than the buck and ball shot.

"On an advance into the cornfield, a shower of bullets flew around our heads. We had no protection but corn stalks, but not a man was hurt. This was nothing short of miraculous because the air was full of flying devils, whistling and screaming around us, cutting cornstalks and grass as clean as a scythe."
- John Haley, 17th Maine Volunteer Regiment

This weapon was usually only used when the moment came for charging. It was a knife fixed to the front end of a musket or rifle. The order to 'Fix Bayonets' had a special significance as the mark of a serious determination to overrun the enemy. Alternatively, the bayonet was also used among soldiers as a candle holder or a digging tool when soldiers did not have proper equipment to dig trenches.

"The Thirty-Seventh New York go into the fight with a wild cheer, and drive the rebels at the point of the bayonet. The firing along the line is terrific...Drawing up in line in an open field, we wait for the expected charge. They emerge from the woods beyond, and every man is ready to give them a warm reception...but we have no occasion to use them, for the rebels get back into the woods again."
- Daniel G. Crotty, Third Michigan Volunteer Infantry

Belt and Cartridge Box
The infantry wore a black leather waist belt. To the right end was attached a buckle. Pictured above, the belt of Union soldiers had an oval brass plate, stamped with "US" representing their army while Confederate soldiers had a “CS” stamp. On this waist belt, soldiers would sometimes attach their cartridge box that contained inserts to carry paper black powder cartridges to fire their rifles.

"... my work was finished so I cleaned up my gun & accourtriments ready for the Inspection & muster tomorrow."
- William Ray, 7th Wisconsin Volunteers, December 30, 1864

Soldiers from both armies were issued wool blankets and gum blankets. Soldiers on field service could pack their blankets and other provisions in their knapsack that could become very heavy on a long march in the hot sun, so infantrymen got rid of their knapsacks and carried their belongings in blanket rolls slung over either the right or left shoulder. Soldiers would lay the gum blanket, with the rubber side facing the ground. The rubber side would keep them dry if the ground was wet while they slept at night.

"Winter life in camp is very weary, as it is but one routine over and over again--reveille in the morning, breakfast call, sick call, guard mount call, drill call, dinner call which is the best of all calls; the batallion, or brigade call, which is not liked very well; dress parade call, supper call, roll call and taps, which means lights out and cover up in blankets."
- D.G. Crotty, Third Michigan Volunteer Infantry

"I fear there will be much suffering as many of the men are badly supplies with blankets, clothing, etc. ... The weather is growing quite cold."
- Hospital Steward, North Carolina

Among the food rations a soldier commonly carried in his haversack was salt pork, dried beans, coffee and hard square crackers made of salt, flour, and water. Hardtack was one of the major staples for both Northern and Southern soldiers.

"We got some pickled cucumbers and onions this evening. They are verry nice. So much for the Sanitary Commission & we got 4 cans of preserved turkey, beef & tomatoes & once before get Sourkraut & We live well now."
- William Ray, 7th Wisconsin Volunteers / July 4, 1864 at Petersburg

"Well I Cant say that we are hungry. I Can live on bread and water if they would only give us plenty of bread but if you will take one tinful of flour & make it up with Cold water and bake it you will find it don’t make much bread."
- Private Alexander Fewell, 17th South Carolina


Equip a Cavalry Soldier

“My men are ragged. Many have neither overcoats nor blankets, and numbers are obliged to shiver on picket, clad in tattered remnants of Jacket and Pantalons.”
- Capt. Zimmerman Davis, 5th South Carolina Cavalry

Similar to the foot soldiers in the trenches of Petersburg, cavalry soldiers suffered from the elements as well during the nearly ten month siege. While Union soldiers enjoyed a greater supply of equipment and rations than their Confederate counterparts, both endured the heat of summer, the frost of winter, and the difficulty of traveling through the mud bogged roads of spring. Particularly, as the major cavalry engagement unfolded in the last days of the siege, proper equipment was critical to the mobility of cavalrymen to carry out their orders.

Imagine that you were a cavalry soldier who had received orders to march nearly twenty miles to meet the enemy at a critical crossroads. What equipment did you need to have to prepare for such a battle? Take a look and find out.

“The trooper has his carbine to care for and keep in order, which evens him up with the infantryman in care of arms and equipments, and in addition to this he has his revolver, sabre, and horse equipments to keep in order and his horse to water, feed and groom every day, and the soldier who enlists in the cavalry service...will soon learn, to his sorrow, that he has been laboring under a grievous mistake."
- 1st Ohio Cavalry


"Here, Captain Kulhs ... galloped his horse defiantly up to and over the breastworks, utterly oblivious of the fact that he alone was charging upon Pickett's Division of ten thousand veteran infantry. I think his daring must have struck such amazement into the enemy that they refrained from shooting him at such close range."
- Chaplain Humphries, 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry

Horses during the Petersburg Campaign suffered alongside the soldiers. As mounts for officers, couriers, and the cavalry, and for pulling heavy artillery, supply wagons and ambulances, horses were important to the war effort on both sides. At Petersburg the Union Army was supported by approximately 65,000 horses and mules. The Confederate army used fewer horses and mules, but when winter came, many of them were sent home to be cared for by their soldier-owners to be recalled to active duty when the spring campaign began.

Carbines were well-suited to cavalry operations. They were shorter and handier than rifles and weighed considerably less. Some models were breechloading repeaters which had a quick rate of fire and were fairly accurate.

"In a close defensive fight, he found, no doubt, that carbines, well-handled, are a merciless foe to face, and so reflecting, he paused and ceased firing; and when we were satisfied that he declined the combat, we leaned on our arms and rested from the turmoil of this hard day."

The cavalryman's sword, intended for mounted combat, was the saber. Sabers were issued to cavalrymen usually with blunt blades, though many ingenious soldiers quickly learned to sharpen them for greater advantage. This weapon, however, was not widely used since cavalrymen rarely found themselves fighting in such close contact with the enemy.

"These cavalry fights are miserable affairs. Neither party has any idea of serious charging with the sabre. They approach one another with considerable boldness, until they get to within about forty yards, and then, at the very moment when a dash is necessary, and the sword alone should be used, they hesitate, halt, and commence a desultory fire with carbines and revolvers."

The shell jacket and trousers of a cavalry soldier were similar to that of an infantry. They were made of wool, and both the jacket and pants were trimmed in yellow piping that identified that soldier as a cavalryman.

"The sergeant charged the pants to my account and then handed me a jacket, a small one, evidently made for a humped-backed dwarf. The jacket was covered with yellow braid. O, so yellow that it made me sick. The jacket was charged to me also."
- Wisconsin Volunteer

Because a cavalryman’s duty was to travel on horseback, he was furnished with tall boots that reached just above the knee.

"A pair of good boots is something we can't get along without...Uncle Sam doesn't furnish us anything but shoes to wear in the winter. The shoes are very good ones to wear in the summer ..."
- William Margraff, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves

The revolver was a popular weapon among cavalrymen in the Civil War. They fired paper wrapped cartridges, using copper percussion caps to ignite the charge. The revolver, though valued for a quick firing rate, was not always a dependable weapon. They were accurate only at very short range which meant they were useful only in close actions.

“The revolver was by far the more popular weapon among cavalrymen. Revolvers were accurate at very short range however, so they were only useful in close actions. Such close actions were not very common in mounted combat. As the war progressed, cavalrymen become more successful at cavalry raids and scouting exercises."
- S.L. Gracey, Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry

The saddle was the most important piece of horse furniture. This type of saddle, the McLellan, was the regulation U.S. cavalry saddle throughout the Civil War. This saddle was issued with its seat open and covered solely with rawhide. A blanket was placed under the saddle for the comfort of the rider. The Confederate cavalry used a similar design.

"Our saddles were being made in Monroeville, and very naturally the men were taking a lively interest in that part of the work and in watching its progress, and we began to realize something in regard to the immense amount of material required to fit out a cavalry regiment."
- Thomas Croft, Third Ohio Cavalry



Petersburg Index


Grant's Headquarters at City Point

The Eastern Front

The Western Front

The Battle of Five Forks

Poplar Grove National Cemetery

Challenge Your Understanding (current section)


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