Rockets and Infernal Devices – American Civil War

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Rocket used in the United States service was Hale’s. Two sizes were listed, 2¼ inch (outside diameter), weight 6 pounds, and 3¼ inch, weight 16 pounds. Ranges: at 5° elevation, 500 to 600 yards; at 47°, 2¼ inch, 1760 yards, and 3¼ inch, 2200 yards. Light iron case. War heads solid, explosive, or incendiary.

Usually fired from tubes or light carriages. Modern-looking launcher shown has adjustable front legs and sight. It was five feet long. The Hale was an improvement on the Congreve, being spin stabilized by rotation caused by three metal vanes inserted in the exhaust nozzle. The Congreve was stabilized by a long stick. Propellant was slow-burning mixture of niter, charcoal, and sulphur, forced into case under great pressure. Fissuring of packed propellant often caused irregular burning or explosion. Flight was erratic (sometimes endangering the rocket crews), and consequently weapons saw little service.

Hale Spin Stabilized Rocket

Launcher for Hale’s Rocket

1706406722 644 Rockets and Infernal Devices – American Civil War

Congreve Stick Rocket

From War Years with Jeb Stuart, by Lieutenant Colonel W. W. Blackford, C.S.A.

“Stuart opened on them with a Congreve rocket battery, the first and last time the latter ever appeared in action with us. It had been gotten up by some foreign chap who managed it on this occasion. They were huge rockets, fired from a sort of a gun carriage, witch a shell at the end which exploded in due time, scattering “liquid damnation,” as the men called it. Their course was erratic; they went straight enough in their first flight, but after striking, the flight might be continued in any other course, even directly back towards where it came from. Great consternation was occasioned among the camps of the enemy as these unearthly serpents went zigzagging about among them…. A few tents were fired but the rockets proved to be of little practical value…”

Ketcham’s Grenade, made in several weights:1, 2, 3, and 5 Ibs.

This percussion grenade had to land point first on the plunger, which was kept from striking the cap on the nipple prematurely by a friction spring in the side of the plunger hole. To ensure this, a wooden tail with cardboard fins was plugged into a hole in the upper end.

Hand grenades are almost as old as gunpowder itself and the name of the weapon is immortalized in the titles of many famous Continental regiments. Technical deficiencies, mainly in the weakness of the bursting charge and the means of ignition, kept it from becoming the popular and effective weapon it is today, but the perfection of the percussion cap in the mid-nineteenth century gave the grenade a new lease on life. Thousands were used during the Civil War, over 90,000 of Ketcham’s grenades being purchased by the U.S. government. There were other types: the Adams, and the ingenious but dangerous “Excelsior.” In addition, many thousands of rounds of 6-pdr. spherical case were used as grenades, either thrown or rolled down inclines after the fuse had been lit.


Patented in August 1862, this grenade consisted of an inner and outer shell of cast iron. The inner sphere, which was 2½ inches in diameter, was filled with powder and fitted with 14 nipples, on which percussion caps were placed before using. The outer shell was in two pieces, which screwed together. When striking an object, one of the 14 percussion caps was certain to receive a blow sufficient to detonate it. On exploding, both inner and outer cases would break up into many small pieces.

As there was no safety device, the bomb was exceedingly dangerous after the nipples were capped. For this reason few were manufactured.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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