Victorian Limber

A cannon deployed in front of its Limber.

A Limber is a type of carriage which supports a cannon during transport. This was primarily to aid transportation and ease deployment, although later Limber also became ammunition holders as well. 


It is unknown when the Limber was first used, although it is known that in pre-nineteenth century Europe that cannon were placed on carriages. These carriages were supported by a pintle (a bolt) on a two wheel cart, which was towed via a horse (or other beast of burden).[1]

Nineteenth CenturyEdit


An 1461 example of a Limber and Cannon.

The first change to the design and use of Limber was introduced by Britain at the start of the nineteenth century, before France developed a similar system (which the United States would later copy).[2] Rather than the original system, which used a single horse to tow the piece using the Limber, the new systems had a bar extending from the front of the Limber to which two horses could be attached.[3][4]

This new system allowed for the ammunition chest, which was previously towed on a caisson by a separate horse, to be located on the Limber, meaning each piece could have it's own individual set of equipment which could be deployed in the same space. The team would walk alongside the carriage and unlimber (detach) the cannon when it was to be deployed. The Limber would then be moved six paces away from the cannon.

Later, improved materials meant that the pole on the Limber could be extended, allowing for larger teams of horses. It was common for these teams to include as many as six horses (although a minimum of four was required for most deployments in the American Civil War).[5] A caisson, which carried two extra ammunition chests and a spare wheel, were often towed by the six horse teams behind the limber, although these were often dropped at the beginning of the engagement (for the sake of manoeuvrability).[6]

Limber forge

A drawing of a Battery Wagon and Travelling Forge.

As tactics evolved, the caisson and Limber essentially became fused together, as the common tactic became to pound the enemy with artillery from one position. This meant that crews could keep the chest on the Limber full as a reserve, instead using the caisson's chests. The chest on the Limber also contained a number of blacksmiths tools and often carried a travelling forge, intended for quick, in-field, repairs.[7]

Twentieth CenturyEdit

The system using six horses remained in use until the conclusion of the Second World War. Attempts had been made to replace the teams of horses with Artillery Tractors, however old methods died hard. Only the en-masse use of Tanks and self-propelled guns during the Second World War and beyond push the Limber out of use (along with the Field Guns it towed).

That being said, the largest artillery pieces in use to this day (and during the twentieth century) retain a Limber, although this is simply to aid the distribution of weight. 

Design DetailsEdit

Modern Limber

An example of a modern, US made, Limber.

A Limber was commonly made from wood and made alongside the carriage of the gun it was to tow. Later, the use of metals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries became increasingly common. The Limber was made with two wheels, although when attached to a caisson it had four wheels (including the caisson's).

Limber were made heavier to support more weight, particularly as the weight of cannon increased. This also allowed larger chests to be fitted, alongside the travelling forge.[8]


The caisson was a similar design to the Limber. Originally, these were towed by a seperate horse (in the days when a single horse towed a Limber and Cannon), although as teams increased, the caisson was moved with the Limber and Cannon. Typically, the caisson was equipped with two chests of shells (50 for a six Iber cannon[9] and a spare wheel.

Later, the Limber and caisson became one and the same as tactics meant that the need for manouevrability was reduced.


  1. Gibbon, J., The Artillerists Manual (2nd Edition), (New York: Van Nostrand, 1863), p.159
  2. Ripley, W., Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, (Charleston, S.C.: The Battery Press, 1984), pp.190-1
  3. Ibid., p.191
  4. Gibbon, J., The Artillerists Manual, p.159
  7. Einhorn, D., Civil War Blacksmithing: Constructing Cannon Wheels, Travelling Forge, Knives and Other Projects and Information, (CreateSpace, 2010)
  8. Ibid.
  9. (Modern Limber Image)

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