You read that right… sort of… Most people do not associate hand grenades with the Civil War. They were, however, used in the sieges at Vicksburg and Petersburg and even in the west at the Battle of Pilot Knob.
The “Ketchum Hand grenade” was patented by William F. Ketchum and looked like a large dart. This design meant for the grenade to land on it’s nose, behind of which held a percussion cap. Unfortunately, they didn’t always land on their noses. Many times they were tossed at the rebels who would “Ketchum” (catch them) in blankets without detonating and then hurled them back whereupon they did indeed detonate.
Obviously, they were not as useful as they appeared. Or were they?
At the Battle of Pilot Knob in September 1864, at the onset of Confederate General Sterling Price’s infamous raid into Missouri, the grenades had a different effect.
The confederates had advanced, fell back, advanced and fell back once again, slowly making ground on the fort and pushing the Union soldiers off the field into the fort. However, on the third and final advance, the Arkansas troops of Confederate General William Cabell’s brigade were able to advance into the moat at the foot of the steep, earthen mound walls of the fort. It was at this point, the Yankees were issued Ketchum Grenades from their powder magazine and began hurling them over the walls of the fort at the advancing Rebels.
The results were disastrous for the Rebels. Union Captain William J. Campbell of the 14th Iowa Infantry would recall,
…we rushed back to the banquette with the grenades and passed them to the men in the front, with orders to throw them into the ditch. Pandemonium instantly broke loose…men were blown above the parapet and fell back dead; the ditches were cleared as if by magic. It struck terror to the enemy’s lines, and they fell back in disorder…
By the time of World War I, the grenade had been modified and Serbian Army Colonel Miloš Vasić perfected the grenade design into the “Vasić” M.12 model” which continued to be used until the end of World War II.
But for many of the common Civil War soldiers, their first encounters with grenades were mysterious. Many of the more educated soldiers had knowledge of ancient weapons similar to grenades, but these common soldiers faced something they had never heard of or seen before – a weapon with significant destructive power at close range. Once again, the Civil War would foreshadow the brutality of wars to come.