In artillery, grapeshot is a type of shot that is not one solid element, but a mass of small metal balls or slugs packed tightly into a canvas bag. It was used both in land and naval warfare. When assembled, the balls resembled a cluster of grapes, hence the name. On firing, the balls spread out from the muzzle, giving an effect similar to a giant shotgun.
Grapeshot was devastatingly effective against massed infantry at short range. It was used to savage massed infantry charges quickly. Cannons would fire solid shot to attack enemy artillery and troops at longer range and switch to grape when they or nearby troops were charged. When used in naval warfare, grapeshot served a dual purpose. First, it continued its role as an anti-personnel projectile. However, the effect was diminished due to a large portion of the crew being below decks and the addition of hammock netting in iron brackets intended to slow or stop smaller shot. Second, the balls were cast large enough to cut rigging, destroy spars and blocks, and puncture multiple sails.
Canister shot, also known as case shot, was packaged in a tin or brass container, possibly guided by a wooden sabot. Canister balls did not have to punch through the wooden hull of a ship, so they were smaller and more numerous. The later shrapnel shell was similar, but with a much greater range.
Scattershot is an improvised form of grapeshot that uses chain links, nails, shards of glass, rocks or other similar objects as the projectiles. Although scattershot can be cheaply made, it is less effective than grapeshot due to the lack of uniformity in the projectiles' mass, shape, material, and resultant ballistics.
Field-expedient claymore mines, consisting of a container, projectiles such as ball bearings or used ammo links arranged to project in one general direction, and explosives, are often called grapeshot.
Close-up of grapeshot from an American Revolution sketch of artillery devices
Battle of Guilford Court House (1781): Cornwallis ordered two grapeshots to be fired into the middle of a battlefield where hand-to-hand combat between the British and Continental Army was taking place.
Battle of Waterloo (1815): The Earl of Uxbridge was hit in the leg by French grapeshot, the leg was amputated, and he was commended for the injuries he sustained and his bravery in the battle.
In Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables, grapeshot was the weapon used against the barricades in the 1832 insurrection in Paris.
During the Battle of Buena Vista (Mexican–American War) in 1847, General Zachary Taylor effectively employed a double load of grapeshot for his artillery in defeating a numerically superior Mexican army led by Santa Anna. His famous order "double shot your guns and give them hell" became the campaign slogan that later won him the US presidency.
Battle of Kalauao: John Kendrick was accidentally killed when the British ship Jackel returned a thirteen-gun salute; one of her cannons was loaded with grapeshot.
Revolutionary War: Though they did not have the required resources for typical grapeshot, any small piece of metal was rammed down the barrel and fired at once; this method is known as scatter shot.
Jett Thomas' artillerymen successfully defended their two critical field pieces from encroaching Creek warriors in the Battle of Calebee Creek using grapeshot. This is considered the most critical phase in the rescuing of John B. Floyd's remaining troop from an already bloody siege.
An example of grapeshot
A small cannonball and holder for a grapeshot recovered from the CSS Georgia in 2015
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