Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Five books on Civil War siege artillery

1. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast, and Naval Cannon by Edwin Olmstead, Wayne E. Stark, and Spencer C. Tucker (1997).
A comprehensive reference guide, this book is commonly regarded as the bible of the Civil War heavy artillery used by both sides. It's been out of print for quite a while with online secondary market prices undulating wildly between barely three figures and outrageous placeholder numbers that no one would ever pay (see the link above!).
2. Civil War Heavy Explosive Ordnance: A Guide to Large Artillery Projectiles, Torpedoes, and Mines by Jack Bell (2003).
Striving to be the most essential reference on heavy artillery ammunition, Bell's book is a fitting supplement to The Big Guns.
3. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War by Warren Ripley (1970).
If a Brinks truck hasn't crashed and spilled its contents in your neighborhood then Ripley's more general purpose classic will still serve as a decent budget alternative to the above pair of far more definitive-level works. It has gone through multiple editions over the years. My personal copy is a 1984 Fourth (revised) Edition.
4. Sumter Is Avenged!: The Siege and Reduction of Fort Pulaski by Herbert M. Schiller (1995).
The next two books in the list (one Union and one Confederate in perspective) explore the big guns in action. One of my favorites, and one of the better White Mane titles from its run, is Schiller's study of the devastating effects of Civil War large-bore rifled artillery on a Third System masonry fort.
5. Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston
edited by Warren Ripley (1986).
Ripley's book offers an interesting glimpse into the other side of things. From July 1863 through the end of August 1864, Confederate artillery major Edward Manigault wrote a wonderfully observant daily account of the Siege of Charleston. His is a unique record of events, and given the journal's official status also an incredible compilation of detailed administrative information regarding Confederate heavy artillery.

On a final note, I was tempted to include this on the list but ultimately decided to keep to my 'book only' rule for the "Five on..." feature. Anyone with more than a passing interest in Civil War heavy guns will greatly benefit from following Craig Swain's To the Sound of the Guns and his many deeply informative posts on the topic.


  1. Drew: An emphatic "second" for Craig's site. While I consider myself heavily immersed in the subject of field artillery, To the Sound is my go-to reference on the big guns and on fortifications. There is some great, well-researched material over there.

    1. It would take some doing, but it would be worthwhile (for us, maybe not for him) to turn all that into a book project of some kind.

    2. I can be persuasive - and he'd know he could sell at least two copies. I'm loaded with concepts for artillery publications - so long as I don't have to do the work.


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