Cast iron with no explosive. Used against cavalry, troops in a column, buildings and other solid objects. More accurate than shell or spherical case with a longer range.

Solid Shot is what is classically known as a cannonball. The weight of the solid shot that a gun would fire determined whether a cannon was a 6-pounder, 12- pounder, etc. Solid shot did serve as an antipersonnel weapon, but its main purpose was to batter down walls, buildings, and other fortifications.

Its smashing effect was used against opposing batteries, wagons, buildings as well as against infantry and cavalry. A skillful gunner could cause the shot to skip across the ground in front of advancing troops, causing it to throw rocks, dirt and debris. At Pea Ridge, Federal gunners fired shot into the rocky ridge that the Confederates were sheltering in, causing the projectile to shatter when it hit the trees or rock face. These fragments multiplied the shot's killing power.

Stone balls, cheap to manufacture, relatively light and therefore well suited to the feeble construction of early ordnance, were in general use for large caliber cannon in the fourteenth century. There were experiments along other lines such as those at Tournay in the 1330's with long, pointed projectiles. Lead-coated stones were fairly popular, and solid lead balls were used in some small pieces, but the stone ball was more or less standard.

Cast-iron shot had been introduced by 1400, and, with the improvement of cannon during that century, iron shot gradually replaced stone. By the end of the 1500's stone survived for use only in the pedreros, murtherers, and other relics of the earlier period. Iron shot for the smoothbore was a solid, round shot, cast in fairly accurate molds; the mold marks that invariably show on all cannonballs were of small importance, for the ball did not fit the bore tightly. After casting, shot were checked with a ring gauge -- a hoop through which each ball had to pass. The Spanish term for this tool is very descriptive: pasabala, "ball-passer."

Shot was used mainly in the flat-trajectory cannon. The small caliber guns fired nothing but shot, for small sizes of the other type projectiles were not effective. Shot was the prescription when the situation called for "great accuracy, at very long range," and penetration. Fired at ships, a shot was capable of breaching the planks (at 100-yard range a 24-pounder shot would penetrate 4-1/2 feet of "sound and hard" oak). With a fair aim at the waterline, a gunner could sink or seriously damage a vessel with a few rounds. On ironclad targets like the Monitor and Virginia (Merrimack), however, round shot did little more than bounce; it took the long, armor-piercing rifle projectile to force the development of the tremendously thick plate of modern times.

Spherical Case

Developed by the British Lieutenant (later General) Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842). Hollow shell with powder and 40-80 musket balls that exploded in all directions. Fused; used 500- 1,500 yards. More effective than shell, but more difficult to manufacture.

Spherical Case, or Case Shot was the same size as the solid shot. The one major difference was it was hollow in the middle. Inside the hollow case or round was black powder filled with iron balls. Initially, when the powder bag was ignited, the fire would encircle the round inside the cannon tube, igniting a paper fuse that was inserted into a wooden plug at the top of the round. As the ball traveled down range, the fuse would burn until it reached the inside of the round and the black powder would be ignited. The case would burst in the air and above the enemy causing fragments of iron and balls to rain down upon the unlucky foe.

Similar to the common shell, this had thinner walls and was filled with small lead or iron balls, called case shot. The case shot scattered over a wide area when the projectile burst, giving it an added killing effect. On land this was used against both men and animals.

Spherical case shot was an attempt to carry the effectiveness of grape and canister beyond its previous range, by means of a bursting shell. It was the forerunner of the shrapnel used so much in World War I and was invented by Lt. Henry Shrapnel, of the British Army, in 1784. There had been previous attempts to produce a projectile of this kind, such as the German Zimmerman's "hail shot" of 1573—case shot with a bursting charge and a primitive time fuze—but Shrapnel's invention was the first air-bursting case shot which, in technical words, "imparted directional velocity" to the bullets it contained. Shrapnel's new shell was first used against the French in 1808, but was not called by its inventor's name until 1852.


Tin can containing 27 iron balls packed in sawdust. Tin can ripped open at the muzzle and showered the balls directly at the troops. Good for repelling the enemy at close range--50-300 yards. For more devastating effect, could be used in double load. This turned a cannon into a giant shotgun.

One of the earliest kinds of scatter projectiles was case shot, used at Constantinople in 1453. The name comes from its case, or can, usually metal, which was filled with scrap, musket balls, or slugs.

Canister was also an antipersonnel weapon. The size of a large orange juice can, it was packed with layer upon layer of 1 inch diameter iron balls and sawdust. When fired, it was basically a gigantic shot gun shell as the powder charge disintegrated the can and it would mow down anyone by spraying out iron balls 400 yards down range within a width of 25 yards as it was being propelled out of the tube.

A tin cylinder filled with iron balls, it was fired at extremely close range (less than 400 yards) against attacking infantry or cavalry. At ranges of less than 200 yards, 2 and 3 rounds of canister were fired at once. The effect of a canister round firing was similar to a giant shotgun blast.

Incendiary / Hot Shot

Incendiary missiles, such as buckets or barrels filled with a fiercely burning composition, had been used from earliest times, long before cannon. These crude incendiaries survived through the 1700's as, for instance, the flaming cargoes of fire ships that were sent amidst the enemy fleet. But in the year 1672 there appeared an iron shell called a carcass, filled with pitch and other materials that burned at intense heat for about 8 minutes. The flame escaped through vents, three to five in number, around the fuze hole of the shell. The carcass was standard ammunition until smoothbores went out of use. The United States ordnance manual of 1861 lists carcasses for 12-, 18-, 24-, 32-, and 42-pounder guns as well as 8-, 10-, and 13-inch mortars.

During the late 1500's, the heating of iron cannon balls to serve as incendiaries was suggested, but not for another 200 years was the idea successfully carried out. Hot shot was nothing but round shot, heated to a red glow over a grate or in a furnace. It was fired from cannon at such inflammable targets as wooden ships or powder magazines. During the siege of Gibraltar in 1782, the British fired and destroyed a part of Spain's fleet with hot shot; and in United States seacoast forts shot furnaces were standard equipment during the first half of the 1800's.

Loading hot shot was not particularly dangerous. After the powder charge was in the gun with a dry wad in front of it, another wad of wet straw, or clay, was put into the barrel. When the cherry-red shot was rammed home, the wet wad prevented a premature explosion of the charge.

Chain Shot

Chain shot usually consisted of two balls of shot that were joined together by a chain. But chain shot was made in a variety of forms. A "split shot" was a split ball, the two halves of which linked together by two heavy links of chain. "Split chain shot" and "spider shot" were other variations of chain rounds. The type known as "star shot" was a bag containing an iron ring to which were fasted five 3 to 4 foot lengths of chain. There is one apocryphal tale, about an experiment with chain shot as anti-personnel missiles: instead of charging a single cannon with the two balls, two guns were used, side by side. The ball in one gun was chained to the ball in the other. The projectiles were to fly forth, stretching the long chain between them, mowing down a sizeable segment of the enemy. Instead, the chain wrapped the gun crews in a murderous embrace; one gun had fired late.

Bar Shot

Bar shot appears in a Castillo inventory of 1706, and like chain shot, was for specialized work like cutting a ship's rigging. Bar shot consisted of two spherical balls of shot joined together with a bar. The principle of these types of shot was that they could be fired at the masts and rigging of ships and their whirling action would mangle and ruin a ship's sails and rigging, or to destroy her masts and yards.


Round, hollow projectile with a powder-filled cavity. Fused; exploded into 5-12 large pieces. Loud air burst terrorized troops and horses.

The word "bomb" comes from the French, who derived it from the Latin. But the Romans got it originally from the Greek bombos, meaning a deep, hollow sound. "Bombard" is a derivation. Today bomb is pronounced "balm," but in the early days it was commonly pronounced "bum." The modern equivalent of the "bum" is an HE shell.

The first recorded use of explosive shells was by the Venetians in 1376. Their bombs were hemispheres of stone or bronze, joined together with hoops and exploded by means of a primitive powder fuze. Shells filled with explosive or incendiary mixtures were standard for mortars after 1550. The idea of firing shells from long naval guns was not new. It had been proposed on and off since there had been shells and naval guns to combine. Probably the most serious unfruitful proposal was in 1765, by Bigot de Morogues, one of the more influential naval writers and thinkers of the 18th Century. The French did, eventually, conduct tests with shells fired from heavy 24- and 36-pounder naval cannon. These began at Toulon in 1789 and moved to Meudon in 1790.