The Rockets of Company G

Part 1


One of the more intriguing elements of the 74th was the rockets used predominately by the men of Company G.  The rocket launcher was a new technology introduced in the Union Army and pretty much ignored by everyone else except for Colonel Schimmelfennig who saw it as a means of having a miniature cannon that he could move about with him.  The technology was relatively straight forward – consisting of a tube that could be adjusted in height thereby determining its range; a resister that determined the amount of velocity the rocket left the tube with; and, the rocket itself.

Now, I am not going to give a lot of details about the rockets and their use – I leave that for Bret to do in his book that is probably going to hit the stands in 2002/03 – so the details are there.  But, he did provide us some information on when these were used in the Charleston materials posted on the site.




The rocket pictured here with Bret is located at Ft. Ward in Alexandria, Virginia.  Few of these survived the Civil War and there is also one in a private collector’s hands in the Charleston area.  I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures – it was apparently darker in the room than I had thought.  Here is what is on the explanation card pictured on the right:


Hale Rocket Launcher

During the 1840s, British inventor William Hale developed a rocket that stabilized its flight with rotational thrust from the internal propellant charge.  The rockets were made with three types of warheads:  a solid head, exploding shell, and case.  Standard rockets were 2 ½ inch (weight: 6 pounds) or 3 ¼ inch (weight: 16 pounds).  During the Civil War, rockets saw limited use and were fired from tubes or troughs mounted on portable stands or light carriages.  Maximum range was about 2,000 yards.


Here is the illustration of the rocket itself




Now in the two movies linked below you can hear Bret describe to Brian and I how these worked – Bret has information that leads him to believe that range was a bit farther than that given – again we have to wait for the book.


First movie – Bret is explaining how the resister worked in delaying the departure of the rocket from the launch tube.  Brian is in the background.


Second movie – Bret is explaining a bit about the accuracy and the range of the rockets as a result of questions from Brian and then myself.


I should also point out that Ft. Ward, in addition to being a great museum and location to take the family, is very similar in its construction and design to Ft. Blenker built by our ancestors as part of the defenses of Washington, D.C.  Be sure to take some time when you are in the area to visit Ft. Ward – you will not regret the opportunity.



Here Bret is pointing out the location of Ft. Blenker, no longer in existence, on the map at Ft. Ward. 


Cannon at Ft. Ward that look out over the approach area.


These forts all had bombproofs within them.  Think of a large trench filled with 50-100 men sitting out an artillery attack – sounds about as much fun as a root canal without Novocain to this visitor.


Bret with Brian in the area of the cannon at Ft. Ward.  The various munitions were stored in the bunkers are being pointed at by Bret.