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Artillery. Artillery has played a critical role in providing close support to the infantry, bombarding fortifications, defending coasts, and, in the twentieth century, attacking tanks and aircraft. Beginning with the initial settlements, English colonists in North America, like Europeans, employed smoothbore, muzzle‐loading, black powder, cast‐bronze cannons and howitzers. Cannons, also called guns by the nineteenth century, had powerful, flat trajectories to batter down fortification walls or to shatter troop formations, while howitzers had curved trajectories for lobbing projectiles over fortification walls or into troop formations. Colonial artillery fired several types of projectiles, among them: solid shot, an exploding shell that was detonated by a fuse; canister, which was a can filled with musket balls; and grapeshot, a cluster of iron balls grouped around a wooden spindle and covered by a heavy cloth netting.

English colonists gave their artillery colorful names, such as falcon, saker, demiculverin, and culverin, to name a few. A falcon shot a 2‐ to 3‐pound projectile; a culverin fired a 15‐ to 22‐pound projectile. During the seventeenth century, however, Europeans and Americans started designating their artillery by the size of the projectile that they threw. For example, a cannon that shot a 4‐pound projectile was known as a 4‐pounder. Besides classifying their howitzers by the size of the projectile that it shot, Europeans and Americans also labeled them by the size of the bore, such as a 5.5‐inch howitzer.

Meanwhile, most European armies began to classify their artillery as field, siege, garrison, and coast artillery. Light pieces, usually 3‐ to 12‐pounders, served as field artillery to support the infantry and cavalry, while heavier and less maneuverable pieces were employed as siege, garrison, and coast artillery where mobility was not critical.

Unlike the Europeans, colonists had little use for arranging their artillery functionally by size. First, the rugged North American terrain limited artillery to siege operations along coasts or to the defense of a fortification because even the lightest pieces were too heavy to drag across the roadless terrain. Second, Native American warfare was too mobile for artillery of any size.

Although the colonists did not employ artillery extensively or standardize it, they had a diverse assortment composed primarily of French and British pieces. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1775, the colonists had thirteen different calibers of artillery, ranging from 3‐ to 24‐pounder cannons and 5.5‐ to 8‐inch howitzers. Cut off from their sources of artillery at the beginning of the war, the Americans started casting their own iron and bronze artillery in foundries in Philadelphia by 1775. Under the guidance of Henry Knox, who commanded the Continental army's artillery throughout most of the Revolution, they developed a system of field, garrison, siege, and coast artillery of 3‐ to 32‐pounders. Colonial field artillery could hit targets at between 500 and 1,000 yards, while garrison, siege, and coast artillery had ranges of 2,000–3,000 yards.

After the Revolution, the Americans retained their categories of artillery. For coast artillery, which also doubled as siege artillery and garrison artillery, the Americans used 18‐, 24‐, and 32‐pounder cannons. Bronze and cast‐iron field artillery armed frontier forts but seldom saw action during the Native American wars. Later, in the 1840s, the Americans adopted rockets with explosive and incendiary warheads for use against personnel and fortifications at ranges of around 3,000 yards. Although rockets provided greater firepower than cannon artillery, developments with more accurate rifled artillery in the 1840s and 1850s caused rocket artillery to fall out of favor.

American smoothbore bronze artillery experienced its apogee in the middle of the nineteenth century. Designed by Maj. Alfred Mordecai of the army during the 1840s, the field artillery system had 6‐ and 12‐pounder guns to support the infantry and cavalry, and 12‐, 24‐, and 32‐pounder howitzers to bombard temporary field and permanent fortifications. For coastal defense, the army employed Columbiad cannons of 10 to 15 inches designed by Col. George Bomford.

Improved metallurgy and advancements in machining permitted significant breakthroughs with rifled muzzle‐loading and breech‐loading artillery. In the 1840s, the Italian Army produced the first workable rifled fieldpiece. Ranges of rifled artillery were twice that of smoothbore artillery—sometimes up to 4,000 yards.

Although rifled artillery promised to make smoothbore artillery obsolete, Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War of 1861–65 did not abandon their muzzle‐loading smoothbores for rifled breechloaders or muzzleloaders. Prominent siege pieces included 10‐, 20‐, 30‐, 60‐, 100‐, 200‐, and 300‐pounder rifled artillery produced by Robert P. Parrott of the United States. Other important siege and coast artillery pieces were smoothbores developed by Capt. Thomas J. Rodman of the army. Some of the most popular rifled fieldpieces were the muzzle‐loading, wrought‐iron M1861 3‐inch rifle and muzzle‐loading 3‐ to 10‐inch rifled guns. The latter, again manufactured by Robert P. Parrott, were of cast iron, with a wrought‐iron hoop around the breech to prevent the weapon from bursting upon being fired. Like their smoothbore counterparts, rifled artillery fired solid shot, exploding shell, canister, and occasionally grapeshot, and used black powder as a propelling and bursting charge. However, smoothbore fieldpieces, especially the M1857 12‐pounder Napoleon, remained the favorite because direct fire (also called line‐of‐sight fire direction) and the difficult terrain of Civil War battlefields prevented gun crews from engaging targets beyond human eyesight of about one mile and forced them to fire at targets at relatively short ranges.

A surplus of Civil War artillery and engagement in wars with Native Americans stalled new ordnance developments between 1865 and 1900. Early in the 1900s, Americans adopted breech‐loading, rifled steel field artillery with recoil systems that allowed the gun tube to recoil on the carriage and return into battery without moving the carriage. At the same time the Americans started using high‐explosive powder as a propelling and a bursting charge for steel shell and shrapnel, a projectile that was filled with iron balls. These high‐explosive powders increased ranges and diminished the amount of smoke produced when the cannon was fired; the M1903 3‐inch field gun, for example, had a range of almost 7,000 yards. For coastal defense, Americans introduced steel, rifled artillery mounted on disappearing carriages. Upon being fired, the gun moved back for some distance before swinging down behind the parapet to permit the gun crew to load the weapon out of sight of enemy guns.

Coupled with these advancements, Americans adopted indirect fire for their field artillery early in the twentieth century. This arching fire permitted concealing the field gun behind cover to protect it from counterbattery fire and small‐arms fire, and engaging targets beyond human eyesight. By World War I, all combatants were using indirect fire, locating their guns several miles behind the infantry line; they acquired targets by using forward observers, who relayed target information back to the batteries by telegraphy, telephone, and even human runners.

Even though the Americans went into World War I with distinct classifications of field, siege, and coast artillery, the war obscured the differences. Requiring heavy guns to batter down elaborate German earthworks and concrete fortifications along the western front, the U.S. Army frequently employed heavy coast and siege artillery pieces; some were mounted on railroad tracks in a field artillery role to help 75mm guns, 105mm howitzers, 155mm guns and howitzers, and 240mm, 8‐inch and 9.2‐inch howitzers shatter enemy positions. The army also introduced antiaircraft artillery, assigning it to the Coast Artillery branch.

During World War II, multiple rocket launchers mounted on trucks were used to lay down heavy concentrations of fire rapidly. The army even employed a recoilless rifle designed to fire the same size of projectile as light fieldpieces to engage tanks, enemy bunkers, and lightly armored vehicles. Ninety mm antiaircraft guns and shells with proximity fuses were employed to shoot down aircraft detected by radar or the human eye. The main U.S. artillery pieces in World War II were the 105mm howitzer, with a range of 12,500 yards; the 155mm howitzer, with a range of 16,350 yards; and the 155mm gun, with a range of 25,500 yards. All were later utilized in the Korean War.

The advent of nuclear cannon artillery, rockets, and guided missiles during the 1950s and 1960s transformed the field artillery. First fired in May 1953 at Frenchman's Flat, Nevada, the 280mm cannon, known as “Atomic Annie,” shot a 200‐pound nuclear projectile up to 20 miles. Later, the army also developed nuclear warheads for 8‐inch and 155mm artillery pieces. In the 1950s, it introduced the “Honest John,” a first‐generation free flight rocket with a range of about 24 miles, to carry either a conventional or a nuclear warhead; and the medium‐range Redstone, Corporal, and Sergeant guided missiles, with nuclear and conventional warheads and ranges between 75 and 200 miles.

Aircraft and high‐velocity naval guns made concrete coastal fortifications vulnerable and obsolete; the Coast Artillery branch was abolished in 1950, and succeeded in 1968 by the Air Defense artillery. Antiaircraft missile artillery included large, immobile surface‐to‐air missiles such as the radar‐guided Nike Ajax with a range of 100 miles; they defended American cities. The Nike Hawk, with a range of 25 miles, was a mobile antiaircraft missile. The Redeye, with a range of 3,300 yards, was a lightweight, man‐portable antiaircraft missile.

Also beginning in the 1960s, the U.S. Army introduced new field artillery for the tactical nuclear battlefield to replace World War II pieces. These new weapons included the M102 105mm howitzer, with a range of 16,500 yards; the M109 155mm self‐propelled artillery with a range of 19,700 yards; and the M110 8‐inch artillery, with a range of 18,400 yards. Although intended for the European battlefield, these field guns saw service in Vietnam.

From the mid‐1970s onward, high technology improved U.S. artillery. Field and air defense artillery employed computers for fire direction and adopted precision‐guided munitions (PGMs). The highly sophisticated Patriot air defense missile with a range of 65 miles replaced the Nike Hercules and Nike Hawk missiles, while the Redeye was replaced by the shoulder‐fired Stinger, with a range of 3 miles homed in on heat emitted from the aircraft target. The army fielded the nuclear Pershing II missile with a range of 1,000 miles in Europe in the mid‐1980s and the Multiple‐Launch Rocket System with a range of 15 miles in the field artillery and simultaneously improved the M109 self‐propelled 155mm howitzer. Both the howitzer and the rocket system were employed by some NATO armies in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the 1990s, the U.S. Army started laying the foundations to introduce leap‐ahead artillery technology. It would include digital command, control, and communication systems; fire‐and‐forget munitions; and new propellants to give unprecedented ranges.

Although artillery technology had changed greatly since the colonial era, the basic role of artillery on the battlefield remained constant. Field artillery still provided close support of infantry and now armor (replacing cavalry). Coastal artillery had become obsolete due to high‐velocity naval ordnance and especially aircraft and missiles. Yet air defense artillery had emerged to take on a defensive mission against the new skyborne weapons.
[See also Army Combat Branches: Artillery; Nuclear Weapons; Weaponry, Army.]


Albert Manucy , Artillery Through the Ages: A Short Illustrated History of Cannon, Emphasizing Types Used in America, 1949.
Fairfax Downey , Sound of the Guns: The Story of American Artillery, 1956.
Kenneth P. Werrell , Archie, Flak, AAA, and Sam, 1988.
Boyd L. Dastrup , King of Battle: A Branch History of the U.S. Army's Field Artillery, 1992.
Bruce I. Gudmundson , On Artillery, 1993.
Boyd L. Dastrup , Modernizing the King of Battle: 1973–1991, 1994.

Boyd L. Dastrup


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ARTILLERY in the U.S. Army dates from the American Revolution, when Massachusetts and Rhode Island units joined in the siege of Boston. The first Continental army artillery regiment was raised in January 1776; by 1777, four Continental regiments were in operation. Artillery men manned the country's first coast defenses in 1794, leading to a traditional classification of U.S. Army artillery into field, siege and garrison, and coast artillery.

A few units served as light artillery during the War of 1812, but most doubled as either infantry or manned coast defenses. In 1821 Congress authorized four artillery regiments of nine companies each. It increased the number of companies in each artillery regiment to twelve in 1847. Most artillery regiments in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) fought as infantry, although a few performed well as light artillery. After the war, the batteries of artillery scattered all over the United States. By the end of the Civil War, the regular army had five artillery regiments, with a total of sixty batteries, mostly field artillery. In 1898, two additional regiments were organized, and in 1899 each regiment gained two heavy batteries, bringing the total number of batteries to ninety-eight. After a major reorganization of artillery in 1901, the coast and field artillery became full separate branches in 1907. The number of field artillery regiments greatly increased during World War I, and antiaircraft units swelled the size of coast artillery.

Increased demand in World War II for flexible, mobile, and more powerful units led to the reorganization of regiments into separate battalions, batteries, and groups of field, coast, and antiaircraft artillery. They remained separate until the advent of the Combat Arms Regimental System in 1957, which reorganized the three components as regiments. In 1968 the Air Defense Artillery became a separate branch, and the artillery branch dissolved when Field Artillery again became a separate branch in 1969.

Most American artillery has copied, improved on, or adapted the ordnance of other nations. Between 1840 and 1860, John A. Dahlgren and T. J. Rodman improved the range and weight of shot used in cast guns. During the Civil War, the Robert P. Parrott rifled muzzle-loading gun outranged its smoothbore contemporaries. From 1865 to the Spanish-American War, inventors paid a great deal of attention to fortress guns, with innovations in mounts and fire control. The proximity fuse (introduced just before World War II) carried a miniature radio set that sent a continuous impulse. As the shell approached the target, the impulse's echo duration became shorter, activating the firing mechanism at a predetermined interval. Initially most useful in antiaircraft guns, the fuse's adaptation to regular artillery had devastating effect.

American inventiveness concentrated on fire control and laying techniques. By the Spanish-American War the artillery had perfected the indirect laying method and developed overhead fire procedures. This led to the technique of using map data to fire on unseen targets, a method used widely in World War I. By World War II the United States fielded the most widely feared artillery of the combatants. One especially effective technique was the time-on-target (TOT), whereby any number and caliber of guns within range of a target could fire so that all their shells arrived at the same time.

During the nuclear arms race of the 1950s, American artillery units developed nuclear projectiles for use with conventional 203 mm howitzers. The Soviets developed a comparable system. Since then, however, developments in artillery technology have focused on conventional munitions. In the 1970s, projectiles were developed that could emit a number of submunitions, capable of destroying a variety of targets. Later, the army developed the guided projectile—the artillery version of the "smart bomb" that debuted with such fanfare during the Persian Gulf War—which forward personnel could illuminate by laser and guide to its target.


Downey, Fairfax Davis. The Sound of the Guns. New York: D. McKay, 1956.

Dupuy, R. Ernest. The Compact History of the United States Army. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1973.

Sawicki, James A., ed. Field Artillery Battalions of the U.S. Army. Dumfries, Va.: Centaur Publications, 1977.

U.S. Army Artillery School. U.S. Army Field Artillery School Guide. Fort Sill, Okla.: Author, 1983.

WarnerStark/c. w.; a. r.

See alsoArmy, United States ; Munitions ; Ordnance .


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ar·til·ler·y / ärˈtilərē/ • n. (pl. -ler·ies) large-caliber guns used in warfare on land: tanks and heavy artillery. ∎  a military detachment or branch of the armed forces that uses such guns.DERIVATIVES: ar·til·ler·ist / -rist/·til·ler·y·man / -mən/ n.


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artillery Projectile-firing weapons with a carriage or mount. An artillery piece is generally one of four types: gun, howitzer, mortar, or missile launcher. Modern artillery is classified according to calibre; ranging from under 105mm for light artillery to more than 155mm for heavy. Artillery changed the whole strategy and tactics of siege warfare. Advances in the 19th century, such as smokeless powder, elongated shells, rifling, and rapid-fire breach loading, made artillery indispensable in battle. See also army; cannon


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artillery XIV. — (O)F. artillerie, f. OF. artillier, alt. (after art) of atillier equip, arm, prob. a byform of atirier, f. tire order; see TIER, -ERY.

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