Model 1861 Ketchum
Infantry Hand Grenade
The Ketchum Hand Grenade was an interesting concept for its time - though during the American Civil War it proved largely ineffective.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Hand grenades were recorded in battle as early as the period of the Byzantine Empire (395 - 1453) so, at the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865), they were hardly new inventions - just advanced some for the then-modern battlefields. Both sides of the conflict eventually used some form of infantry hand grenade with the Confederacy appreciated more traditional spherical forms and Union forces relying largely on the "Ketchum" type. The Ketchum grenade was developed by one William F. Ketchum of Buffalo, New York (its patent was secured in August of 1861) and taken into Union Army service a short time later.
Mr. Ketchum devised a complete grenade system composed of three primary components. Its design was such that the weapon's accuracy and detonation was ensured by way of stabilizing fins. The fins were added to the stem of the dart-like weapon - effectively mimicking a modern-day "lawn dart". The overall design incorporated the "body" of the grenade out in front of the tube "neck" and this was followed by the stabilizing fins at the rear. A pressure plate with primer component was situated at the "nose" of the grenade with the striker set within this encasement, ready to accept contact when landing. Black powder charge filled the body 's case. The tube connected the case to the four-finned tail unit (the entire tail unit made out of wood) so, when thrown, the grenade would land on its heavier body/nose end. The grenade was produced in three primary weight classes: 1lb, 3lb, and 5lb for variation and effectiveness.
In service, the Ketchum (like other early-form hand grenades) provided mixed results for the attackers. It was largely ineffective as the dart-like projectile required rather precise landing on its nose to detonate. This meant that the dart could either fall harmlessly on the ground or be intercepted by enemy elements expecting its arrival - either proved more often than not particularly with enemy units that had encountered the weapon in previous engagements. This led to the grenades simply being collected and hurled back at the attackers! Additionally, its range was limited to the throwing power of the individual troop - so attackers were forced to come into dangerously close ranges before hurling their grenades at well-dug-in defenders.
Ketchums were known to be used in the siege assaults of both Vicksburg (May - July 1863) and Petersburg (June 1864 - March 1865) as well as other notable and minor engagements. Not an outright success, it did provide a bit more firepower to the standard rifleman of the Civil War period.