Don’t mix your Hotchkiss and Schenkl shells!

I always like to hear General Henry J. Hunt’s opinion about any artillery subject.  That’s because Hunt was more often than not offering blunt advice based on field experience.  On November 3, 1863, Hunt offered, by way of his Assistant Adjutant-General, Captain John N. Craig, advice and directions concerning ammunition handling and selection to Lieutenant-Colonel J. Albert Monroe, Second Corps Chief of Artillery:

Colonel: In reply to your note of this date, I am instructed by the chief of artillery to state:

1. There is no prescribed mode of packing the ammunition of 3-inch guns, as chests of different batteries are often issued marked, and not uniformly. When marked the ammunition should be packed accordingly. There is no objection to your prescribing the mode of packing, but when a mode has been adopted, and systematically followed, it would not be good policy during field operations to change it, unless there is a manifest fault in the packing, which produces injury.

2. For rifled guns, 25 shells, 20 shrapnel to 5 canister is a proper proportion, the shell to be increased to 30 at the expense of the shrapnel, if the commander of the battery desires it, There is too much shrapnel used. Fifty rounds is the load to each chest.

Here again, if I may, another knock on canister… at least with the Ordnance Rifles. The proportion of canister to shells and shrapnel (case) demonstrates the preferences of those directing the guns.

3. As both the Hotchkiss and Schenkl ammunition are provided, commanders of batteries can use either system, but in no case must two projectiles of the same kind be used in a battery. That is, no battery must have both Hotchkiss and Schenkl shell or both Hutchkiss and Schenkl shrapnel. They may have Hotchkiss shell and Schenkl shrapnel, or vice versa, but he recommends strongly that, unless they have a marked preference for special projectiles, all should be of one system, either Hotchkiss or Schenkl. He believes Schenkl to be best and safest in every respect.

4. The object of the latitude given to battery commanders is to make them responsible for the efficiency of their batteries. Ammunition to which men and officers are most accustomed is the best to supply them. There is an evil, however, in using two kinds of the same description in the same battery or in the same army corps, or even in the same army, but with two systems which have such strong supporters as the Schenkl and Hotchkiss, it can hardly be avoided without a worse evil.

We tend to overlook that Civil War artillerists not only selected different types of projectiles, but from projectiles with different designs and functional characteristics.  The projectiles designed by Andrew Hotchkiss and John Schenkl offered advantages and disadvantages.  Not mentioned were the projectiles from Robert P. Parrott for his guns, or those by Charles James which had fallen into disfavor.  Standardized issue offered consistency.  Hunt’s preference for the Schenkl is duly noted here.

5. There has been no authority of a general character given to depart from the book of tactics in the packing of light 12-pounder ammunition. Permission will, however, be given to increase the number of canister at the expense of shrapnel. The full number of solid shot, 12, and of shell, 4, must be carried. The shrapnel may be reduced to 8, and added either to the canister or shell or both. The use of solid shot is too much neglected. It is the most efficient of our projectiles. He would not object if the allowance were increased to 16 rounds. It was intended that a part of the spherical case should be used as solid shot. The proportion laid down in the tactics is, he believes, the best. If any change should be made it should be to increase the number of solid shot. On no account will a less number be allowed than that prescribed, and the chief of artillery desires that you would impress on battery commanders the importance and superior value of solid-shot fire in almost all cases.

The fifth paragraph, much like Hunt’s earlier comments about canister, seems to challenge “conventional wisdom” often offered up by those interpreting artillery use in the Civil War.  Increased allowance of solid shot?  Against a reduction of case shot, and certainly not in deference to canister?  Clearly Hunt did not feel his 12-pdr Napoleon guns should just set there firing canister at close range targets. All too often, those 12-pdrs needed solid shot during artillery duals.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part II, Serial 49, pages 413-4.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

2 thoughts on “Don’t mix your Hotchkiss and Schenkl shells!

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