Thursday, February 4, 2010

Horse Artillery

A horse train pulling a gun carriage during the Crimean War. Roger Fenton, 1855.

Horse artillery was a type of light, fast-moving and fast-firing artillery which provided highly mobile fire support to European and American armies (especially to cavalry units) from the 17th to the early 20th century. It consisted of light cannons or howitzers attached to light but sturdy two-wheeled carriages called caissons or limbers, with the individual crewmen riding either the horses or the caissons into battle. This was in contrast to field artillery where the pieces were heavier and the crew marched on foot.

A model of a 1850 Swedish horse-drawn artillery on display at the Army Museum in Stockholm.

When the riding artillery advanced on the enemy it could easily be confused with cavalry. A riding battery had a front of 52 artillerymen on horseback and moved at a gallop. When the six-horse strong carriages wheeled around and unlimbered (made ready for fire) the cannons, they could be an unpleasant surprise for the enemy. Trials performed in the late 18th century showed that it could be done rapidly: 'To take 300 paces, unlimber and fire took only one minute'.

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