THEY AREN'T ALL BALLS
An Email conversation with the Captain of the USS Clueless
has got me to thinkin'. I thought I'd share a few thoughts on Civil War artillery.
Some people are probably thinking that this is a dull and boring subject. But it's all about big guns shooting big bullets that blow stuff up. How can that be boring?
Most people have the idea that Civil War cannons only shot stuff that looked like this
. A perfect round iron ball that would plow through the enemy ranks or chip away at fortifications. But there was a great deal more to it.
For one thing, the ball itself was usually filled with gunpowder, and a fuse was used to set it off. In this picture here
you can see a CW cannonball with the hole where the fuse was inserted. The fuse allowed the ball to be set to explode either when it hit something or when the shell had travelled a certain distance and was over the enemy (airburst)
a picture with an intact fuse still inserted in the ball. Just turn the fuse a certain number of revolutions (or fraction of a revolution) to set the time before the ball would explode.
But it was much more involved than that. CW artillery shells were available
in a dizzying assortment
. Shells for long range shots
, shells for punching through armor
, and shells designed to discourage closing infantry
were all in the cannoneers arsenal.
So why do most people think that they only shot roundball?
Mainly because roundball was the cheapest and most reliable, so they were used the most. Walk through a museum and roundball is probably what you'll see. And there's something similar going on today.
Most of the artillery shells available to modern cannoneers are pretty much improved versions of CW artillery, but there's a great deal more to it. We now have programmable ammunition
, which means that the gun crew can turn a screw and the same ammo will do different things
. We also have stuff designed to destroy certain targets
, so it will do the job more effeciently. All in all, the artillery can do awesome things as long as they have the right loads in the caisson.
But the stuff that's just imporved CW shells are used the most, just like roundball was used the most during the Civil War. The reason why is the same: it's cheaper and more reliable than the fancy ammo.
I wonder if people 150 years in the future will forget that we had all this neato stuff and just think the we fired roundball?
P.S. All of the Civil War shells shown here are actual relics that are for sale here