Tag Archives: AHC

Ketchum If You Can

Ketchum If You Can

Ketchum If You Can


It may not be the classic “pineapple” that you are used to seeing when you hear the term “hand grenade“. Think of these as the first revision.

This design was patented in 1861 by William Ketchum, the mayor of Buffalo, New York. The grenades were used, sometimes, by the Union army during the Civil War. Unlike the ones that you see today these didn’t have the classic, pull the pin and throw.

Instead, they contained a percussion cap in the nose. All you had to do was throw them and hope they landed nose-first. The fins were there to spin it and to make sure that happened. Of course, that did not always happen. As such, they did not always go off, which made them sort of useless. Needless to say, they were not popular.

During the war, they had documented use in the siege of Petersburg and Vicksburg and a number of specimens have survived. One of the most fascinating stories concerning these comes from the 1863 siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana where the Confederates rigged up a system using blankets to catch the devices, preventing them from going off. Then, of course, they would send them back leading to a high stakes game of hot potato.

With their dubious success, these weapons were relegated to the scrap heap of history and remain a footnote in the Civil War. In case you’re curious. The “pineapple” grenade that is seen in all the WWII movies came into service in Late 1917-18 and underwent a number of revisions before finally ending its service in the 1970s.

Civil War Army Organization “In Brief”

Civil War Army Organization

Yes, the photo is a bit unwieldy but we are sticking with our theme on the blog and using our own pictures when possible. While reading or studying about the Civil War you have most likely run across the terms Regiment, Brigade, Division, Corps and Army. Each of those units represents a number of men, but even I sometimes get lost in exactly what each represents. So let’s break it down a little.

A REGIMENT usually contains 800 soldiers and is commanded by a Colonel.

A BRIGADE is usually made up of 2 to 5 Regiments and about 2,600 men. They are commanded by a Brigade General.

A DIVISION usually contains 2 to 4 Brigades or about 8,000 men. A Major General is in command.

Next is a CORPS made up of 2 to 3 Divisions, commanded by a Major General and containing around 26,000 men.

Then comes ARMY. Generally 3 Corps to an Army and about 80,000 men commanded by a Major General.

Now there are actually levels below Regiment. The COMPANY is usually 100 men led by a Captain. Then platoon, section, and the squad as the smallest unit.

The numbers above generally would be considered as best case scenarios and especially as the war went on, no unit stayed at full strength for very long. And of course, the estimated strengths above varied between armies and sides. The actual numbers are less important than knowing the relative size of the units.

So if in doubt just remember the mnemonic RBDCA which stands for Regiment, Brigade, Division, Corps, Army. OK, maybe that isn’t much help.

Sherman’s Neckties

Sherman's Neckties

Sherman’s Neckties


Late 1864 found the Union Army under General Sherman having just taken Atlanta and well in control of the Deep South. The Confederate army was scattered and trying to fight a war on multiple fronts. Sherman knew that he was in a position to provide a death-blow to the enemy. Perhaps even bring an end to the war.

With Atlanta secured he set his sights on Savannah about 250 miles to the east. It was not the target that made his next actions so controversial, but how they would be accomplished that put Sherman into the annals of military history. He would seek out and destroy not just the enemy military, but anything that could be used in support of them. Industry, farms, food, livestock. Anything that the South could use to prolong the war would be a valid target. Tied in with the fact that the army would have to supply itself on the way, the utter devastation of the South would be accomplished.

War is Hell

One target that the army went after with particular glee was the railroads. Destroying the railroads would have even more of an effect that destroying buildings and crops. In order to make sure that the destroyed rails could not be repaired extra steps would need taken. So the Union Army got creative.

Rails were dismantled and placed on bonfires until they were red-hot. They would then be taken off the fire and twisted around a nearby tree. Tied up much like a necktie. The rails could never be salved without being reforged, and in a time of war, with resources already stretched, this just was not going to happen. The name Sherman’s Necktie became how these fancy decorations were known. The one you see in the picture above is authentic. Rumor has it that if you look on the path that the army took in 1864 you can still find some. A monument to the harsh reality of war.




The Shell Game

.The Shell Game

The Shell Game

Picture someone firing a cannon. What do you picture coming out of the barrel? Probably a round ball, which would make sense because that is often how it’s portrayed. During the Civil War, the art of artillery, and of designing munitions entered a new age. The picture above is a collection of many of the different types of projectiles that were used during the war.

You had the solid round shot, which is what you were picturing. It was effective in knocking things down and were often heated in ovens until red-hot so that when the hit something, like a house, ship or fortification, it could set it on fire.

There was “canister” which turned your canon into a giant shotgun peppering the enemy with small round projectiles.

You had timed fuses for shells that could cause them to either burst in the air and rain shrapnel down on the enemy, or they could be set to detonate some time after hitting the ground effectively acting a type of land mine.

Then came the rifled projectiles (the ones that look like giant bullets). They could travel further and could be outfitted with fuses or set to explode on contact.

Every situation had a special shell that could be used.  If you would like more information on each individual type of ammunition produced I would recommend this website, Civil War Artillery Projectiles. They break down the many different types well.

So the next time someone asks what a cannon fires, ask for more detail because there are many, many different options…


The Polls are Closed

Polls Book For 1864 Election

The Polls are Closed

The American Republic has always been a tenuous thing. In the Fall of 1864 is was undergoing one of its most dire tests as the Civil War raged on.  The war had been going on for over three years and the outcome was far from decided.

President Lincoln had led the United States through the early defeats at the hands of the Confederacy and was only now begging to see the end of the conflict in sight. There was one more obstacle ahead of him that even he was not sure what the outcome would be. 1864 brought the next presidential election.  An election that was going to happen in spite of the war.

Opposing President Lincoln would be General George B. McClellan, a man who Lincoln had put in charge of the army twice. McClellan ran as a Democrat on the platform that they would negotiate a peace and end the war.  It was felt that the support he had with the army would give him enough votes to defeat Lincoln and end the war.

Besides the fact that the election was being held during wartime, this election would be the first time that soldiers in the field would be able to vote. The poll book in the picture is the method that this was carried out.  Even in the throes of a civil war, the people would be heard from.

Against expectations, almost 70% of the army voted for Lincoln and in effect a continuation of the war. Lincoln won the election handily by over 400,000 popular votes, winning all but three states that participated.

Without that victory, the outcome of the war may have been completely different, and with it the fate of our country.

For more details on the 1864 election visit this site US History.Org







On the eve of the Civil War, the South found themselves in a curious predicament. The North was highly industrialized. They could produce arms, ammunition, and finished goods in a capacity that the South could not hope to match. Headed into the war they needed to either seriously ramp up the industrial base, or depend on the European powers to provide the goods and war material they needed.

At the peak of the war, the North had over 100,000 factories with over 1 million factory workers churning out products. The South managed to work up to approx 20,000 factories with just over 100,000 working in them.

To make up for the gap the Confederacy returned back to the roots of home-based manufacturing. The scene above is a depiction of a Southern woman at a work table in her home assembling cartridges.  Doing such work, as well as making blankets, cooking for the troops, sewing for the troops and even watching over the family farms were their primary role during the war.

Interestingly enough, such home-based manufacturing was one of the primary roles of the women on the home front during the American Revolution. While then men went out to fight, the women provided them the means to carry one.

It was not enough. As the war progressed the power of the Northern industry was brought to bear. The South simply could not keep up. Many of the men of the Confederate army would have gladly continued fighting. They were simply running out of the means to do so.

A Well Dressed Johnny Reb (Confederate Infantry)

Confederate Infantry

A Well Dressed Johnny Reb (Confederate Infantry)

The photo above is a representation of what a regular Confederate Infantry Soldier would have looked like. Notice the nice clean uniform. The musket, canteen, nice hat, bayonet hanging from his belt. There is even a backpack to hold rations and personal belongings. Wow. Looking at this you would think that this fellow was part of a well supplied and outfitted army.

Of course everyone started off with a nice clean uniform. There were a number of regulations that attempted to standardize the type of shirt and pants, the color of the fabric and the hat that should be worn. Unfortunately the South had a difficult time with the mass fabrication of uniforms.  There ended up being a lot of variety.

Once the Southern industrial base caught up to war effort the uniforms became more standardized and better supplied. Being able to access cloth imported from Britain also helped. Some of the CSA units at the end of the war were better uniformed than at the start.

The hat worn here is not the regulation Kepi, but a wide brimmed usually wool hat that provided much more protection from the weather. These hats were popular among the enlisted and officers and were almost always of civilian origin.


The grey color of the uniforms was chosen for a number of reasons. First, many of the state militias uniforms were of that color. Or at least a shade or two off. Secondly, is was a cheap color to dye the cloth. Third, even though not actually intentional, the grey provided a basic level of camouflage against the tree lines.

Uniforms that came out of the the Richmond facilities maintained their color.  The grey uniforms that were made in the Western and Deep South facilities often faded to a brown or tan color.  Sometimes homespun fabric was used that was a similar color. This “butternut” color became almost as iconic as the grey you see above.


The Weight of the World

Average Weight Carried by a Union Soldier

The Weight of the World

A soldier during the Civil War. heck all wars, have to carry their entire world on them. Everything the need to live and fight needs to be within reach. Sure when times were good units would have supply wagons to take some of the burden, but when speed of march is an issue it would not be unusually for the men be a day or two ahead of the wagons. This diagram breaks down how much each piece of a soldiers kit weighed. A little hard to read, so I will break it down here.

Knapsack that contained a wool blanket, gum blanket, shelter half and personal items 16 lbs

Canteen with one quart of water 3 lbs

Haversack with 3 days marching rations 7 lbs

Cap pouch, Waist belt, Bayonet and Scabbard 3 lbs

Shoes and Clothes 5 lbs

Cartridge box and 40 rounds of ammunition 5 lbs

Extra Ammunition (In pockets) 2 lbs

Rifle-Musket 9 lbs

In total about 50 lbs of kit. A normal march would be between 6 and 8 miles a day (sometimes up to 20 or more). In the warm weather of campaign season wearing a wool uniform that does not make for a comfortable day. One thing that the Union troops found out early in the war was that all that equipment tended to make running away much more difficult, so they would ditch anything they could. A long trail of debris would mark the path of a retreating unit. Of course to the pursuing Confederate forces this was a windfall as they could pick up the leftovers and do pretty well.


A Post About A Post


A Post About A Post

When people start shooting at you it is generally a good idea to find some sort of cover. Tree, fence, big hole in the ground, whatever works. Early in the Civil War the armies matched up in the  Old World Style, line up shoulder to shoulder, get as close as you can and shoot in the general direction of the enemy.

Today we look at the paintings and read the descriptions of such battles and wonder what the heck they were thinking doing that. It is however the only way it would work. See guns at the time, for most of the “black powder” era, were incredibly in accurate. Mainly because they were smooth bore. Basically every time you fired it there was no way to tell where the shot would go. So your only hope of hitting anything was to have a lot of people shooting at it.

As the accuracy progressed and the armies started seeing more rifles (grooved barrels) the idea of standing in lines, getting close and shooting started to be a losing proposition for all sides.  As such more fighting started being done from cover, this would eventually evolve into the precursor of trench warfare that made WWI such a joy.

The pic above is a fence post that has become a bullet catcher. In battles all over the country trees and fences absorbed more lead than a five-year old eating paint chips. Think for a second what it would have been like to be on the other side of the fence. Hearing it whittled down more and more with each shot.  I count seven bullets, how many do you see?




Surgeons of the Civil War

Civil War Surgeon Kit

Surgeon of the Civil War

The topic of Civil War medicine is one that there have been many, many books and museums dedicated to. This is just a brief  look into the kit of a typical surgeon of the time.

The first thing you notice above and a preponderance of saws alongside the knives.  While a grisly thing, such tools became a necessity . Without a doubt the number one most practiced procedure during the war was amputation. The Minie ball that was in use by both sides during the war was slow-moving and soft lead. When it impacted with the body it caused terrible wounds. If it connected with a bone it would often shatter it spread a grisly form of shrapnel inside the body.

During the fighting arms and legs took the majority of the hits. Most of the time due to the limited knowledge of the day amputation was the only way to save the soldier’s life. While a good surgeon could perform an amputation in ten minutes, bad ones would take much longer.

More Tools of the Surgeon

Among the knives and saws there are a number of probes and forceps. The surgeon used these to pull bullets out of the bodies when time permitted.  In the back of the kit you will see a bottle of chloroform, the  closest thing to a general anesthetic at the time.

Now that we have taken a look at the tools, in another post we will look at what it took to become an army surgeon. That will be almost more shocking than looking in your doctors kit and finding a half-dozen different saws…