[Note: This will eventually be stored as a separate page for reference purposes.]
There were numerous explosions at various arsenals during the war, and even one after the war ended. They occurred both in the North [Barthelow Manufacturing in Philadelphia, PA, in March of 1862; Allegheny Arsenal, Pittsburg, PA in November 1862] and the South [Confederate Arsenal in Jackson, MS, in November of 1862; Washington Arsenal in Richmond, in March 1863].
Apparently, outside of killing dozens of young women and girls working in these arsenals and disrupting manufacturing, these explosions did not affect the problems with the fuses in the field that both sides encountered.
According to Bradley M. Gottfried, in the forward to George Newton’s Silent Sentinels: A Reference Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg, the Confederates had a whole host of problems and not just at Gettysburg.
“There were several other reasons why Northern Artillery enjoyed a distinct advantage on the field at Gettysburg. Two were simply quantity and quality: Meade’s Army of the Potomac had more cannon, and they were in better quality [overall] than those that accompanied Lee’s army into Pennsylvania. Northern batteries usually contained six guns of similar type. Confederate batteries typically contained four guns, usually of varying types. To his credit [W. N.] Pendleton wanted to emulate the enemy’s system, but was stymied because he did not have enough artillery to increase each battery from four to six guns of similar type. Batteries containing mixed gun types posed significant problems because each battery required several different types of ammunition. Also, in the heat of battle, the wrong fixed ammunition was rammed down a cannon’s barrel, rendering the gun temporarily useless. This occurred several times at Gettysburg.
“Another pair of advantages Federal artillerymen enjoyed over their Southern counterparts at Gettysburg was the quality and quantity of their fixed [artillery] ammunition. Simply put, Federal gunners had access to superior ammunition in much higher quantities. The Confederates at Gettysburg had 20% less ammunition per gun than the Federals. By the end of the Battle, the Army of the Potomac still had enough ammunition on hand to re-fight the entire battle two additional times, while the Army of Northern Virginia had enough for perhaps one more day of combat. The relative scarcity of ammunition also limited target practice, so the general effectiveness of Confederate artillerymen tended to be inferior to their Northern counterparts. The quality of the ammunition was also a major issue. According to one Confederate artillery officer, only 20% of his fuses functioned properly. Although this statement might be exaggerated, serves to illustrate that the effectiveness of Confederate artillery was hindered by the quality of its fuses, which caused shells to explode too early, too late, or not at all.”
Newton, George W. Silent Sentinels: A Reference Guide to the Artillery at Gettysburg. Savas Beattie LLC, New York. 2005. ISBN 1-932714-14-6
According to E. Porter Alexander, quoted in Philip Cole’s Civil War Artillery at Gettysburg, the Confederate adopted the Bormann fuse, a mechanical fuse, in 1861 and immediately began having problems. “Careful tests being made of it, it was found that fully four fifths of the shell exploded prematurely, and very many of them in the gun…Repeated attempts were made to improve the manufacture, but they accomplished nothing, and until after the Battle of Chancellorsville the Bormann fuse continued in use, and premature explosions of shell were so frequent that the artillery could only be used over the heads of the infantry with such danger and demoralization to the latter that it was seldom attempted. Ernest requests were made of the Ordnance Department to substitute for the Bormann fuse, the common paper fuses, to be cut to the required length and fixed on the field, as being not only more economical and more certain, but as allowing, what is often very desirable, a greater range than five seconds, which is the limit of the Bormann fuse. These requests, occurring from our own guns among the infantry in front during the Battle of Fredericksburg were at length successful in accomplishing the substitution. The ammunition already on hand, however, had to be used up, and its imperfections affected the fire even as late as Gettysburg. The paper fuse was found to answer much better, and no further complaints of ammunition came from the smoothbores.”
Cole, Philip M. Civil War Artillery at Gettysburg. Da Capo Press/Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA. 2002. ISBN 0-306-81145-6
I will note here that examining these books in a somewhat more than cursory manner led me to discover the following:
The Union guns had the same problem with the Bormann fuses, and could not use those guns to fire over the heads of infantry.