Close-up of grapeshot from an American Revolution sketch of artillery devices
Model of a carronade with grapeshot ammunition

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.[1] 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.[2] Second, the balls were cast large enough to cut rigging, destroy spars and blocks, and puncture multiple sails.[3][4]

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.

Use in conflicts

Conflicts in which grapeshot was effectively used include:

See also


  1. Old Humphrey (1799). The old sea captain. p. 227.
  2. Charles Gerard Davis (1984). American Sailing Ships: Their Plans and History. p. 109.
  3. Henry Burchstead Skinner (1853). The Book of Indian Battles from the Landing of the Pilgrims to King Philips War. p. 141.
  4. Martin, Tyrone G (1987). "Isaac Hull's Victory Revisited". American Neptune.
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