In this week’s episode we’ll be covering Cannons and a little bit about other Artillery as well. I was pressed for time this week, so my apologies for the dip in quality for this week’s episode.
Welcome back to the 18th Century Podcast, I’m your host, Cj. In today’s episode, we’ll take a look at Cannons during the 18th Century. I have high hopes this episode will explode in the podcast world. I’m sorry, I had to. If you’d like to read the script for this episode and its citations, go to 18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. Let’s begin with how a Cannon functions.
PART 1 How A Cannon Functions
I think the most basic thing to understand about Cannons, is how they function. Let’s go over some of the parts, crew, and a drill on how to fire it. Now some of the terminology and how I will describe the drill will be a modern interpretation, but the premise remains the same. The positions of the Gun Crew are as follows: Front Left, Front Right, Rear Left, Rear Right, Powder Handler, and Gun Captain. I will now read from the National Park Service’s Manual of Instruction for the Safe Use of Reproduction 18th Century Artillery in Historic Weapons Demonstrations. I’ll be reading from their twelve steps. “#1 Form at the Rear of the Piece Members of the gun crew standing at their positions perform a ‘Right About Face’ and walk to the rear of the gun. The Powder Handler walks from his post and joins the line at the right. #2 Man the Piece Gun crew performs a ‘Right About Face’ and walk to their positions on the gun. The Powder Handler walks to his post by the ammunition chest. #3 Search Piece RR checks that vent is clear with pick and calls out “clear.” Upon hearing “clear” from RR, FL inserts the wad hook into the bore, and slides it to the breech. He then turns the shaft of the wad hook to search for any debris from previous shots. After searching, wad hook is withdrawn and FL calls out ‘clear.’ (If objects or debris are found, a second search is recommended.) #4 AdvanceSponge FR dampens sponge head in bucket and shakes off any excess moisture. (The sponge head should be damp, but not soaking wet.) The sponge is placed against the lower rim of the muzzle of the gun. #5 Tend Vent RR covers the vent thoroughly using the thumbstall, standing either ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the wheel (depending upon the size of the gun). #6 Sponge Piece FR inserts the sponge into the bore all the way to the breech. He turns the sponge several times. FR and RR maintain eye contact as RR maintains the seal over the vent at all times. When the sponge is with-drawn, FR reverses the staff bringing the ram head against the muzzle. #7 Handle Cartridge FL hands wad hook to RL, who holds it with his left hand, keeping the linstock in his right. FL turns to his left to receive the cartridge. RL places the head of the linstock under the trail of the gun. PH opens the ammunition chest, removes one cartridge and immediately places it in the leather haversack. The chest is closed. PH moves forward, staying to the left of gun, stops at GC to inspect cartridge. PH continues forward, halts facing FL and hands him the cartridge. PH walks back to his position by the ammunition chest. FL holds the cartridge with both hands against his body and faces forward. #8 Charge Piece (or with Cartridge) FL inserts (slides) cartridge into muzzle keeping hands below muzzle. FL turns to RL and retrieves wad hook. RL keeps linstock under trail. #9 Ram Down Cartridge Using the rammer, FR pushes the car-tridge to the breech of the gun in a smooth single movement. (The ram staff is held with both hands “palms up” and thumbs along the side of the staff. When ramming, avoid “throwing” the rammer into the bore, or pounding the cartridge.) When the cartridge is seated, FR immediately withdraws the rammer and resumes his position. #10 Prime RR withdraws his thumb from the vent. Using the left hand’s thumb and forefinger only, take the priming wire (pick) and insert it into the vent hole, letting it drop onto the cartridge. Then still using only thumb and fore finger, push down and break open the cartridge, and the priming wire is removed and placed in its storage location. A quill is selected and placed into the vent again using only thumb and forefinger. RR returns to his original position. # 11 Take Aim GC advances to the breech of the gun and stands to the left of the carriage and does not stand inside the carriage cheeks. PH walks to the handspike at the trail and stands so no part of his body is directly behind the trail or handspike. GC extends his arms and locks elbows and places his palms against the breech of the gun, and aims through his upright thumbs. GC adjusts elevation or depression of barrel, and by tapping upon the cheeks of the carriage indicates to PH which direction the gun must be traversed. PH lifts the trail of the gun with the handspike to traverse it as required. When GC is satisfied with the lie of the gun, he and PH resume their places. #12 Fire GC makes eye contact with L and either with drawn sword or hand signal, gives a visual command accompanying the verbal com-mand to fire. LR brings the linstock to the vent in a smooth motion from the breech toward the muzzle, touching the primer quill with the glowing end of the burning match. Once the gun has fired, the gun captain and crew will secure the piece with the following motions:
Search Piece Advance Sponge Tend Vent Sponge Piece
At this juncture, the gun captain may command ‘Secure Piece’ and dismiss the crew.” Phew, that’s a lot of steps to get through just to fire a cannon! Now, We’re going to take a short break, and when we come back, we’ll be covering some different types of cannons of the 18th Century.
Part 2 Cannon Types
Welcome back. We’ll continue our second half of the show by going over some different types of cannons and other artillery used during the 18th Century. Let’s start off with mortars. The mortar was a small piece of artillery, with many variations. The caliber would range between 4.4 inches to 13 inches. The mortar was set at a 45-degree angle and to adjust for distance, they would use a different type of charge. The Howitzer was originally crafted to fire off bombs. It went through many changes over time, but it ended up having a short barrel while being able to fire a larger caliber. Both Howitzers and Mortars were chambered weapons. To explain what it meat that they were chambered, I’m going to quote from one of my sources, because they explain it best. This comes from americanrevolution.org, “a powder chamber was bored into the breech end of the inside of the tube which was smaller in diameter than the bore of the tube.” Now the Cannon itself has its origins in China, but it was deloped more so in Europe. In 18th Century warfare, I think it’s obvious to say that Cannon’s were prevalent during battle. The most common shot associated with Artillery was the Cannonball. If you don’t know what a Cannonball is for some reason, it’s a spherical object which is castiron. A few other types of shot used were Grapeshot, Canister shot, and Case shot. For the canister and case shots, they were each cylinder but the Canister shot was filled with iron balls, and the Case shot was filled with musket balls. Now Grapeshot had a similar idea, but instead of being made from metal, it would have a wood base and the iron or lead balls would be enclosed in a canvas bag. Grapeshot was way more effective for longer range. Grapeshot, Canister shot, and Case shot when fired all acted as a sort of shotgun once fired. The little balls would spread out the further they went. Some of the tools used for Cannons were as follows, a linestock would hold a slow-burning match which would ignite a wick to fire off the piece. A sponge would be used after a shot to make sure there was no burning powder left in the vent. A worm was a tool used to clear a Cannon from a misfire or remove debris leftover from a shot.
Again, my apologies from the first half of this episode. I thought the instructions from the National Park Service would have been presented a bit better. I skimmed over them before I recorded this episode, and I should have looked at them a little more in-depth. I was a bit rushed this week. I’ll try and do better for next weeks episode, again, my apologies. The script and citations for this episode and all other episodes can be found at https://18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. If you’d like to support the show, please share it and leave a review. I’ve been your host Cj, and thank you for listening to this episode of the 18th Century Podcast.
Manual of Instruction for the Safe Use of Reproduction 18th Century Artillery in Historic Weapons Demonstrations. National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/jela/upload/NPS-18th-Century-Artillery-Manual2016edition-2.pdf.
F., Brandon. “How to Load and Fire a Cannon in the American War of Independence.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 Apr. 2018, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9BiQv6gMLA.