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Part Four-- Civil War New Innovations-- Article about New Armament Technology for Naval Vessels-- Cannon and Ammunition

Also Read about Technology at Ironclads #7

Improved Artillery & Ammunition

Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren

Dahlgren Fact Box
Birth name John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren
Nickname(s) "Father of American naval ordnance"
Born (1809-11-13)November 13, 1809
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died July 12, 1870(1870-07-12) (aged 60)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America

Union Navy

Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 18261870
Rank Rear Admiral
Commands held South Atlantic Blockading Squadron
South Pacific Squadron
Bureau of Ordnance
Washington Navy Yard
Battles/wars American Civil War
Spouse(s) Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren


John A. Dahlgren on the Pawnee with "one of his "Dahlgren Guns"

       Major artillery developments caused further change to warships.  In the 1850s, several innovations in cannon construction enabled the military to build bigger, more accurate, and longer-ranged guns.  One such change was conceived by John Dahlgren, a naval officer who developed a technique for reinforcing the breach of a cannon to better withstand the extra gunpowder needed to fire larger shells at greater distances.  Furthermore, although both Union and Confederate navies continued to use smoothbore cannon, rifled cannon (which featured grooves on the inside of the barrel to impart a spin on the projectile) became increasingly common in the 1850s and 1860s.  These weapons were significantly more accurate than their smoothbore predecessors, and when combined with the long range of newer naval guns, meant that naval battles could be fought at much greater distances.

(left) Dahlgren Cannon brought up in the turret of the USS Monitor.  These big guns were not quite big enough to sink the Virginia.  Later monitor vessels would have a larger cannon.

      These innovations were amplified by the widespread adoption of explosive shells, which had been developed in the 1820s.  Several types of  cannon shot existed in the centuries before the Civil War, but virtually all of them were designed to cripple a ship or kill her crew. Shells, however, contained a fuse timed to detonate after hitting the ship, meaning that a single shell could blow a sizeable hole in a wooden ship and send her to the bottom.