The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 12-08-2000, 11:29 AM
Scarlett67 Scarlett67 is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: The Middle of Nowhere, WI
Posts: 10,667
Specifically, those from the Civil War. I'm copyediting a Civil War-era western, and the author has a cannonball hitting the ground and exploding, sending shrapnel flying. Normally I defer to the author's expertise, but I've never heard of an exploding cannonball -- I thought they were just big solid-metal bowling-ball-type things that did their damage by crashing into things. I haven't found anything helpful in my Web searching, and I can usually kill questions like this pretty easily that way. All I need is a simple confirmation that it's possible.

Am I a victim of watching too many circuses and Roadrunner cartoons? Help me, O artilleryheads!
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 12-08-2000, 11:42 AM
jumblemind jumblemind is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2000
I was always under the impression that most cannonballs encased gunpowder or some other such explosive that was ignited somehow by the force of impact. But then again, some are known to explode mid-flight, hence "the bombs bursting in air."
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 12-08-2000, 11:49 AM
Survey1215 Survey1215 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2000
I believe you're correct, though it would be possible
for a cannonball to disintegrate on impact with another
solid object, thus sending shrapnel at high velocity in
all directions. Alternatively, the cannonball could strike something like a stone foundation for a house or a horse-drawn wagon, and the splinter damage from that would certainly shred plenty of Union or Confederate soldiers.

But cannonballs weren't high explosive like modern
artillery shells, which are designed to go kablooey as soon
as they strike something solid and cause a lot of trouble for the surrounding area.

Of course, I've only posted seven times, so WTF do I know?
__________________
Franklin: I see you're making a sand castle...it looks kind of crooked.
Charlie Brown: I guess maybe it is...where I come from, I'm not famous for doing things right.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 12-08-2000, 11:50 AM
Finagle Finagle is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Somewhere near Boston
Posts: 8,429
Yup, they exploded. At least some of them. Here's a site with some pictures.

http://relicman.com/artball.htm

Looks like the cannon balls were fused. I'm unclear as to whether the firing of the cannon lit the fuse, but I'm guessing this was so.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 12-08-2000, 11:51 AM
Guy Propski Guy Propski is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 1999
There are different kinds of ammo that can be shot from a cannon. We're mostly used to seeing a cannonball. Cannonballs can range from bocce ball size to bowling ball size. They usually contain a small hollow in the center, so that they may shatter upon impact and spray outwards into very large shrapnel.

There is also cannister shot. It looks like a large juice can packed with very large (1/2" to 1") shot, called grape shot. When the cannister hits the target, the cannister shatters and sprays grape shot in all direction. If it hits in the middle of a group of soldiers, we're talking Raw Meat City.

Then there's chain shot, which is two small cannonballs attached by a length of chain. Fired out of a cannon, the two balls sort of spread out to the length of the chain. It was made to take out a whole row of advancing soldiers; the chain would act like a weedwhacker and chop them up.

Back to the explosion. Don't take Hollywood's word for it. The cannonball impacting into the ground doesn't explode like a grenade, but the force of impact is still enough to plow a lot of dirt, stone, and shattered cannonball into a wide direction.

Cannons were originally invented to knock down walls of castles and forts, sort of like a high-powered catapult. It's only later that they were turned into anti-personnel weapons.

Jumblemind--the "bombs bursting in air" from the Star Spangled Banner are more closely related to skyrockets, not cannonballs.
__________________
I am not so much disappointed as I am blinded with rage.--Fat Tony
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 12-08-2000, 11:51 AM
jumblemind jumblemind is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2000
Actually, I just found a site/cite that says "it was not till the Napoleonic Wars (1800-1815) that Henry Shrapnel, a British artillery-man, invented the exploding cannonball (the fuse for which too had to be hand-lit)." Apparently, they were just firing hunks of metal at each other for 400 years until Mr. Shrapnel invented, er, shrapnel.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 12-08-2000, 11:55 AM
jumblemind jumblemind is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2000
Thanks, Guy. What were the skyrockets used for?
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 12-08-2000, 11:55 AM
Scarlett67 Scarlett67 is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: The Middle of Nowhere, WI
Posts: 10,667
Wow, thanks! You guys are fast, and for such a dumb question, too.

I had called Mr. Scarlett, the sometime history buff, at work to ask him this question, and he mentioned how you see the explosion from a cannonball in pirate and Civil War movies. I said, "Well, yeah, but that's just the movies." He said that that was about the only experience we could have -- "I mean, nobody's ever fired a cannonball at me personally." Which thought just cracked me up.

Thanks again!
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 12-08-2000, 11:59 AM
Opengrave Opengrave is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2000
The cannonballs were hollow, much like an egg, but with a small hole leading to the outside of the ball. The inside was filled with explosives and the whole thing was loaded with the hole facing the primary charge. The primary charge forced the ball out the muzzle and simultaneously ignited the 'fuse' for the cannonball. The distance traveled before the ball exploded could be controlled by the burn rate of the fuse. Go to http://www.civilwarartillery.com then select 'Projectiles and Fuses' - should have all the info you could need to make your decision.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:03 PM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Out of the slimy mud of words
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 6,992
Quote:
Originally posted by Guy Propski

Then there's chain shot, which is two small cannonballs attached by a length of chain. Fired out of a cannon, the two balls sort of spread out to the length of the chain. It was made to take out a whole row of advancing soldiers; the chain would act like a weedwhacker and chop them up.
As the first users of "chain shot" discovered, both cannons must fire with a very high degree of synchronization. Even a slight difference in the time of firing leads to a trajectory that is just as likely to take out you and your buds as it is the bad guys. So, it saw limited use to say the least.
__________________
"We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance" - John Archibald Wheeler
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:04 PM
Spiny Norman Spiny Norman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Curses, these people work fast!

But I like this link, so I'm going to post it anyway: (scroll down): http://myhome.shinbiro.com/~PMOADE/arty.htm

S. Norman
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:12 PM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
I actually have a cannonball. My dad bought it from an antique dealer in the 1970's, and gave it to me about 10 years ago.

I really don't know anything about it, except:

- It's black.
- It's about the size of a bowling ball.
- It weighs about 80 lbs.

I don't know how old it is, who made it, it or whether or not it has ever been fired. I also don't know if it's the "exploding" type. (Geeze, I hope not!)
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:20 PM
Guy Propski Guy Propski is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 1999
The rockets were packed with shrapnel, and would spray it outwards after exploding. They also caused fires. Compared to cannons, they were lightweight and inaccurate, but also kind of scary.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:22 PM
Spoke Spoke is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Quote:
Originally posted by KarlGauss
Quote:
Originally posted by Guy Propski

Then there's chain shot, which is two small cannonballs attached by a length of chain. Fired out of a cannon, the two balls sort of spread out to the length of the chain. It was made to take out a whole row of advancing soldiers; the chain would act like a weedwhacker and chop them up.
As the first users of "chain shot" discovered, both cannons must fire with a very high degree of synchronization. Even a slight difference in the time of firing leads to a trajectory that is just as likely to take out you and your buds as it is the bad guys. So, it saw limited use to say the least.
On the old courthouse square in Athens, Georgia sits the world's only double-barreled cannon. It was intended to launch two cannon balls connected by a long chain, but it wound up being fired only once, for the reason you mention. It was impossible to synchronize the firing of the two barrels. Except for that one firing of that one cannon, I'm not aware of any other attempt to use two cannon balls connected by a chain. Is that the instance you were thinking of? Or was this tried on other occasions?
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:24 PM
Walrus Walrus is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Do cannonballs explode?

Ammunition for (smoothbore/early rifled)artillery pieces:-
Field pieces:

1) Round Shot (cannon balls)- Solid iron balls (usually cast iron and therefore brittle) used at longer distances to knock over files of men or horses or to batter solid object (buildings, ships etc). The range can be extended by bouncing the ball along the surface or skipping over the water.
Early roundshot (pre-Marlburian in Europe/Americas, but noted in India as late ad the 1850s and China in the 1860s) was of stone.

2) Grape Shot - A sabot (wooden plate about the size of the bore of the gun)with a cylindrical cloth bag (smaller than the bore)filled with musket balls or iron equivalent, this is used at very short range and turns the gun into, effectively, a large bore shot-gun.

3) Case Shot - A cylindrical tin cannister of musket balls (or similar), smaller in diameter than the bore of the gun, which split under the force of being fired the effect was similar to that of grape shot, but the range slightly longer.

4) "Spherical Case" Shot (Shrapnel)- A Light, hollow iron ball, packed around the walls with musket balls or similar and fitted with a small bursting charge of black powder and a fuse (usually loaded so that the fuse is lit by the firing charge of the gun). The aim was to achieve the effect of case shot at aproaching round-shot range.

For Howitzers (High Angle field pieces) and Mortars add
"Common Shell" (or "bomb shell") - Hollow cast iron balls filled with gunpowder and a fuse ("Common Shell" is a burst effect anti-materiel weapon as opposed to "Spherical Case" which is an anti-personnel weapon).

Siege pieces are a law unto themselves, but basically the high angle weapons would fire shell while the "direct fire battering" guns would use round shot.

The situation changes when there is a move to streamlined projectiles for the later muzzle loaded rifled pieces.

Any use to you?

Walrus
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:26 PM
Spoke Spoke is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
I have a cannon ball too, Crafter_Man. Mine is one of those useless little 6-pounders. My uncle found it near Trion, in northwest Georgia.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:31 PM
Prof. Dumbledore Prof. Dumbledore is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
I wonder why but all this cannonball talk makes me wonder how bowling was invented. Here's my theory. The soldiers were thinking of ways to pass time and they started throwing cannonballs at beer bottles or something and voila bowling was invented... Just my theory.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:32 PM
john_e_wagner john_e_wagner is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
They have both kinds, although the exploding cannonballs were pretty dangerous. You lit them before lighting the cannon. If the cannon doesn’t fire run like hell. There is an amazing amount of projectiles from cannons. Here is a list I recall from reading and when I was in the Army. (Yes they actually demonstrated muzzle loading cannons to us. It seemed like bowling to me. You could actually see the ball flying, then rolling on the ground.):
1) Plain cannonball
2) Shot (basically ball bearings)
3) Cannonball rigged to explode with a fuse. (I don’t recall when impact / timer fuses became available.) Sometimes the fuse was lit by the firing of the cannon, and others were lit before firing.
4) Two cannonballs linked by a chain fired from separate cannons. I would not want to be one of the gun bunnies doing that. (Timing is everything. Imagine one cannon not firing.)
5) Chains, nails and anything else hard lying around. Effective at close range. (But usually only one shot before the rampaging infantry, cavalry will get the piece. This is particulary effective in fixed fortification that the forces have to come in a fixed field of fire.)

As far as modern artillery goes you have:
1) DPICM (dual-purpose conventional munitions) This is currently the shell of choice. It basically contains a bunch of shaped charges that when they land explode with a plasma jet firing down. There is a variation of this for personal that bounces then explodes that is effective against those pesky grunts in foxholes. Never ever shoot this into trees you might want to go through.
2) Copperhead: This a laser guided munition that is guided by forward observers. This is a one shot one kill round that is very expensive.
3) Scatterable landmines: Essentially same design as DPICM except they are land mines. These self explode after a set time, up to three days IIRC.
4) Nuclear: This is a one shot wonder for the piece. It is destroyed when fired. Not from the explosion but from the amount of powder used.
5)HE: High Explosive. This can be set with a number of fuses. Timers (from when shot is fired...not used much any more) Altitude sensors that are adjustable. Impact (or a slight delay to go into your target.
6) Beehive: No longer used. Basically shot molded into a shell that breaks up when fired and yes it does look like a Beehive. (Like a shotgun) This has been replaced by setting the timers to very short. In Vietnam several batteries were in direct fire mode using these types of shell. (I mean by direct fire is by shooting your attacker at close range. Indirect fire is shot at an angle. Gun batteries do not want to be in a direct fire mode. This is a job for tanks....

BTW artillery uses powder bags and tanks use a sealed shell. This allows tanks to shoot at a high rate of speed, but the range is lower and uses a much smaller shell.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:41 PM
Walrus Walrus is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Do cannonballs explode?

quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Originally posted by KarlGauss

quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Originally posted by Guy Propski

Then there's chain shot, which is two small cannonballs attached by a length of chain. Fired out of a cannon, the two balls sort of spread out to the length of the chain. It was made to take out a whole row of advancing soldiers; the chain would act like a weedwhacker and chop them up.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


As the first users of "chain shot" discovered, both cannons must fire with a very high degree of synchronization. Even a slight difference in the time of firing leads to a trajectory that is just as likely to take out you and your buds as it is the bad guys. So, it saw limited use to say the least.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Gentlemen,

Chain Shot was used extensively by many navies during the Napoleonic period to damage the rigging of ships and there was no major sychronisation problem.
The chained balls were both loaded into the same barrel and fired, the irregularities of ball(s) and barrel and windage caused the chained pair to twist and swing in flight.

The practice of "double-shotting" guns was a common practice, often carried out with dissimilar ammunition.
At Trafalgar, Victory raked one opponent with a 64lb carronade loaded with grape over ball.

Regards

Walrus
__________________
The truth is out there, The lies are in your head. - Terry pratchett
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 12-08-2000, 12:50 PM
SSgtBaloo SSgtBaloo is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 1999
re: chain shot...

Chain shot was not fired from two cannon, nor was it an experimental type of cannon round. Both balls (and the attached chain) were loaded into a single cannon bore. When fired, the balls would tend to take different trajectories, but the chain would prevent them from spreading more than it's length apart. The result was a spinning chain with a heavy ball on each end. You'd think this would be a fairly effective antipersonnel weapon, but it wasn't intended for this use. Grapeshot, cannister, and spherical case shot were much more cost-effective. Chain shot was used to damage rigging in naval battles. I can't imagine it would be effective at much more than point-blank range.

An early type of incendiary shell was called "red hot shot". A round ball would be heated in a small forge until it was red hot. The interior would be molten, and when it struck it's target, it broke apart, showering red-hot fragments of solid and molten iron all over. I've heard of these rounds being used in naval battles, but am not certain if this was a "standard" procedure. It seems to me that this type of round would pose nearly as much hazard to those firing it as to their targets. The possibility that the red-hot shot might set the cannon off while someone was still ramming it home would be sobering. Were I the captain of a (presumably flammable) wooden ship with canvas sails, I would hesitate to employ a weapon that would pose such a risk of setting fire to my own vessel.

~~Baloo
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 12-08-2000, 01:04 PM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Quote:
Originally posted by spoke-
I have a cannon ball too, Crafter_Man. Mine is one of those useless little 6-pounders. My uncle found it near Trion, in northwest Georgia.
What do you do with it? Is it in a display case?

Our cannonball just sits on the living room floor atop a small wood pedestal my dad made. It's basically just a conversation piece, though it doesn't work very well as such:

Guest: "What's the deal with the bowling ball?"
Me: "It's not a bowling ball. It's a cannonball."
Guest: "No Sh*t? Hey, mind if I get a beer?"

I don't know what I'm going to do with it. Maybe I should sell it on Ebay:

"For sale: cannonball. $25 plus $120 shipping."
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 12-08-2000, 01:08 PM
Spoke Spoke is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Baloo wrote:
Quote:
Chain shot was not fired from two cannon, nor was it an experimental type of cannon round.
Good post, Baloo, but I have one nit-pick. The type of chain shot used by the aforementioned double-barreled cannon was an experimental round. It was two cannonballs connected by a long chain, designed to mow down rows of enemy troops. The experiment failed, because of the difficulty in synchronizing the firing of the two barrels, as noted in my previous post.
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 12-08-2000, 01:17 PM
Leonidas Leonidas is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
The quick answer to your question is "sorta". Since I'm being so exact saying that, I'll go into a little more detail.

The common "cannonball" of the American Civil War is very similar to cannonballs from many years before. Its a cast iron (most of the time) solid ball. Being cast iron and fired at a high (relatively, anyway) velocity, if it hit a hard enough object it might break apart and throw little chunks of itself everywhere. In most cases the ground would not quality as a hard enough object.

How common this breakup might be is hard to say, but you should keep the following in mind:

1) Cast iron roundshot (the more "accurate" term) was made to be used once. If then enemy could use it back against you (which would almost be a miracle in itself given the diversity of calibers in use at the time), it would be a bad thing.

2) Roundshot was not fired from a rifled barrel in just about all cases, so accuracy was really a primary design element in these weapons.

3) Roundshot was made under a huge variety of conditions, ranging from iron foundries, to almost homemade cottage-work conditions. It was not unheard of for roundshot to fly apart upon leaving the barrel because the cannonball itself was cast in such a flawed way.

4) With #3 in mind though, most cannonballs could be fired at rolled iron plate thick enough to stop them cold without breaking up, so its hard to judge the overall behavior.

When used in an anti-personnel role, the standard technique was to fire at the ground in front of the advancing troops, and just let the cannonball roll along the ground. With massed troop formations marching in tightly ordered lines, this is rather like a lethal form of bowling. The cannonball would hit the ground, skip along a little above the ground, hit again, skip again, etc. Anybody who doesn't think this would be unpleasant to be on the receiving end of probably doesn't have the sense to flinch from foul balls hit into the stands either.


Now that we've covered cannonballs and the material properties of cast iron in more detail than more people ever care about (and resisting the urge to continue anyway), I'll get on to the rest of your question. Could these "cannonballs" explode?

The manufacturers of weapons tried for a long time to get the explosion to occur at the point of impact. Hitting a man you want dead with a 20-pound ball of iron going 350mph might be sufficient, but rubble-filled stone walls would likely be less impressed. However, if you could make the wall explode from within, NOW you're talking death on a large scale, which is what they were really after.

Making a metal object filled with gunpowder explode was no big thing back then. The quality of cannon making generally proved that was readily possible. Unfortunately, that was too close for comfort, and rather defeated the purpose.

Some experiments (by which I mean somebody sold an unproven idea as the way to hurl death afar, but which generally had lethal consequences for those nearby) were done with firing a hollow iron ball filled with gunpowder with a fuse sticking out the back so that the charge in the gun would also light the fuse. Since this hollow ball was essentially a shell to move the gunpowder away from you until it exploded, it began to be referred to as a "shell. (Who says that artillerists aren't creative?) Unfortunately it was far too common in this arrangement for the fuse to get pushed back into the gunpowder-filled hollow, sometimes making the shell explode before it had even left the gun. This was generally bad for the gun, and somewhat worse for the crew or anybody else who happened to be standing nearby.

Finally some enterprising person figured out that if the fuse faced away from the firing charge in the gun, that the heat of the gasses that leaked around the shell would ignite the fuse anyway. This made everybody happy, except those downrange of the cannon.

While very destructive, for a long time these explosive shells were mostly limited to being used in short-barreled, high angle mortars. The reason being you had to make sure that the fuse stayed facing to the front of the gun, so you couldn't just pop it into the barrel and let it roll down. The shells had to be carefully lowered down into the barrel, thus the limit of short barrels that were already almost vertical. If you weren't careful the shell could lodge in the barrel, causing the gun AND the shell to explode. This is a way to really ruin your own day.

In case you're wondering why all this effort to keep the artillerist alive, keep in mind that in this era an artillerist was rather like a good software developer is today. If you didn't treat him right, he could get another job elsewhere, and the results might be hazardous to your health. Plus, they cost a fortune and took a long time to train. Additionally, there is a morale benefit to not having your own men explode at random in battle. That kind of thing can shake your confidence.

Anyway, this basic type of mortar was still in use (and essentially unchanged) at the time of the American Civil War, and once the shell was flying, nobody much cared if you called it a cannonball or a shell. Either way you didn't want to be nearby when it hit. However, this was more of a strategic weapon then a tactical one, since large mortars didn't deal with moving targets or changing battlefield conditions well.

There were also shrapnel shells in use at the time. These were designed to fly some distance and then burst over the head of enemy troops, spraying them with small pieces of solid shot. These were generally fired from rifled barrels, so they actually had some accuracy, but you almost had to guess how long you wanted the fuse to delay before bursting. Many of them burst too high or too low to be effective. These could be fired from light guns, and so would almost certainly be in use in a tactical role in any significant battle where they were available.

Some larger guns also fired explosive shells from rifled barrels, but these were normally so large and heavy as to be fortress or naval only weapons. They were also extremely destructive to infantry in the open, so most people who got to see them explode from "nearby" did so to their own detriment.

So, to sum up, "Sorta…"
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 12-08-2000, 01:18 PM
sewalk sewalk is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Cannonballs do not explode. Artillery shells (a la Shrapnel) do. Cannonballs were designed to be used against ships and fortifications; the large holes were obviously not good for the structural integrity of the target.

Shells were not specifically designed as anti-personnel ordnance. They were intended to make even bigger holes in the target than solid shot. Contrary to popular belief, shells do not always explode upon impact. The designed purpose of the shell defines the point of detonation. antipersonnel and antiaircraft rounds use a timed fuse (not always accurate, hence "bombs bursting in air") or a radar-proximity fuse (probably the second most important development of WWII, after the atomic bomb) which is incredibly accurate and deadly to infantry (a 20m airburst covers a MUCH larger area than a below-ground burst). Armor-piercing rounds are designed to delay detonation until after they have penetrated sufficiently into the target to maximize damage and have a hardened nose to facilitate this.
Reply With Quote
  #25  
Old 12-08-2000, 01:19 PM
Spoke Spoke is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
The chain shot used on ships is a different critter. You can see it pictured here. (Scroll down.) Looks like two hemispheres connected by a short chain.

Crafter_man, my little cannon ball just sits in a drawer. I don't think anyone who didn't know something about artillery would recognize it as a cannon ball at all, because of its size. Therefore, it's value as a conversation piece is even more limited than that of your own.

Guest: "What's with the ball bearing?"
Me: "That's not a ball bearing. That's a cannon ball!"
Gueat: *snicker* "Yeah, right! On Lilliput, maybe..."
Reply With Quote
  #26  
Old 12-08-2000, 01:23 PM
Irishman Irishman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Oh, Oh, Oh, I know this one! Baloo, I just read Leiutenant Hornblower by Forester, and he talks about this. The red hot shot was not used by sailing crews - as you surmise, having a forge on a ship and lots of fire is scary. Rather, red hot shot was used by ground cannon, notably forts. Thus you have the forge to heat the shot. They were devestating against ships because not only did the shots pose damage to the crew, but could also set fires. Imagine red hot iron embedded into the deck or frame of a sailing ship, and trying to pour enough water to cool it before it can ignite.
Reply With Quote
  #27  
Old 12-08-2000, 01:38 PM
MEBuckner MEBuckner is online now
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Posts: 10,359
Re: Red-hot shot

There was a pretty extensive discussion of this one in one of the Hornblower novels--Lieutenant Hornblower, IIRC. Basically, you wouldn't want to fire the stuff from a "(presumably flammable)wooden ship with canvas sails" for exactly the reason Baloo said--the risk was too great that you'd wind up setting your own ship on fire. However, it was fired at ships, from shore fortifications, and could prove quite nasty when so employed. Even in a nice stone fortress it could turn around and bite you if you didn't handle it right--I believe they used some sort of cloth pad between the red-hot cannon ball and the powder charge, since you definitely wouldn't want those coming into premature contact in the barrel of your cannon.
__________________
"In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves." -- Carl Sagan
Reply With Quote
  #28  
Old 12-08-2000, 01:41 PM
MEBuckner MEBuckner is online now
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Posts: 10,359
Darn it! I didn't even see that last post--I tell ya, the posts around here are flying as thick and as fast as roundshot from a 74's broadside....
__________________
"In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves." -- Carl Sagan
Reply With Quote
  #29  
Old 12-08-2000, 01:53 PM
Diver Diver is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 1999
As has been stated, some cannonballs did indeed explode. I have seen the fuses that were used in some - I think these were Civil War era. The fuses about an inch in diameter as I recall, and were screwed into a cavity on the side of the ball. They had a serpentine (spiral) track with fuse powder in it. The track was covered with a metal foil that could be punctured so as to expose the fuse. Exposing more or less of the fuse provided a crude way to time the explosion for an air burst or close to impact. As someone else said, I believe the ball was loaded with the fuse in the front so that it would be ignited by gases in front of the ball.
Reply With Quote
  #30  
Old 12-08-2000, 02:22 PM
brad_d brad_d is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
It sounds like there's possibly a small semantic problem regarding what, precisely, constitutes a "cannonball."

Some are saying that a cannonball, by definition, cannot explode because only a solid spherical hunk of metal is truly a cannonball. Spherical shells of metal with some explosive on the inside don't qualify as cannonballs. Speaking strictly, I'm inclined to believe that this is accurate.

However, what I'm guessing the OP really asked is less dependent on terminology: "Were there metal spheres that laypersons might refer to as 'cannonballs' that actually exploded during this era?"

Based on the fantastic link provided by Opengrave, I'd say that the answer is "yes." Follow their links to "Projectiles & Fuses"; "Field - Smoothbore" to see a bewildering array of Spherical Artillery Projectiles. Some are nothing more than solid metal balls, others are fused shells of one variety or another.
Reply With Quote
  #31  
Old 12-08-2000, 02:57 PM
hardhead365 hardhead365 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2000
Not only could they explode, they still do. Crafter_man you may want to send a picture and or description of your cannonball to the site that Opengrave provided, they can probably tell you if it is solid shot (no worries) or a shell (which could go boom in the night). If it is a shell they can also tell you where to get it disarmed. EOD is not for the untrained.
Reply With Quote
  #32  
Old 12-08-2000, 03:28 PM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Quote:
Originally posted by hardhead365
Not only could they explode, they still do. Crafter_man you may want to send a picture and or description of your cannonball to the site that Opengrave provided, they can probably tell you if it is solid shot (no worries) or a shell (which could go boom in the night). If it is a shell they can also tell you where to get it disarmed. EOD is not for the untrained.
Good idea; I'll do it.

Now I don't know squat about cannonballs, except from what I've read on this thread, but I would have a hard time believing it is nothing more than solid hunk on cast iron. But I guess I better find out for certain.
Reply With Quote
  #33  
Old 12-08-2000, 04:00 PM
monkeylucifer monkeylucifer is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2000
Re: re: chain shot...

Quote:
Originally posted by Baloo
An early type of incendiary shell was called "red hot shot". A round ball would be heated in a small forge until it was red hot. The interior would be molten, and when it struck it's target, it broke apart, showering red-hot fragments of solid and molten iron all over. I've heard of these rounds being used in naval battles, but am not certain if this was a "standard" procedure. It seems to me that this type of round would pose nearly as much hazard to those firing it as to their targets. The possibility that the red-hot shot might set the cannon off while someone was still ramming it home would be sobering. Were I the captain of a (presumably flammable) wooden ship with canvas sails, I would hesitate to employ a weapon that would pose such a risk of setting fire to my own vessel.
I have been to Fort Massachusetts, our local Civil War era fortress, several times in my life, and it has a pair of cannons that fire 15 inch cannonballs weighing approx. 300 pounds. According to the historical info I've read on the fort, these cannonballs were intended to be heated in forges located in the fort and fired at ship causing them to set the vessel on fire. So, it seems that the idea of red-hot balls ( ) was primarily for land based cannons, and not ship-borne ones.
Reply With Quote
  #34  
Old 12-08-2000, 07:38 PM
Major Feelgud Major Feelgud is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Cannonballs.

Roundshot do not explode, they are just round balls o'metal.

Shell shots do explode, they are a kind of hollowed out cannon ball with the center filled with gunpowder and a fuse leading outside. You lit the fuse and when it reached the powder the shell exploded.

The cannons you see in movies are wrong for many reasons. One is that shells are generally not fired out of regular cannons with the flat trajectories. Shells are only fired out of howitzers, a cannon with a very short barrel with a trajectory like a modern day mortar.

In a movie, when you see a cannon placed at the front line shooting a flat trajectory at soldiers advancing towards them, that's wrong. Most times shells were fired at fortresses or strongpoints because howitzers were very accurate. Roundshot because they came out of a smooth bore, were hideously inaccurate.
Reply With Quote
  #35  
Old 12-08-2000, 07:41 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: 847 mi. from Cecil
Posts: 28,927
Check out this (with pictures), recently on eBay:

Cannonball, CSA, 24lbr, polygonal cavity

Described thusly:
Quote:
This is a Cannonball a man gave me for some work I did for him. It is Confederate, made at the Selma, Al. arsenal during the Civil War. It about 5.5" in diameter and weighs about 18lbs. It is inert and harmless. This particular shell was widely used by the CSA forces during the fighting around Mobile during the Civil War. It designed to be fired from a mortar or howitzer and explode in the air raining down 12 diamond shaped fragments on the unfortunate target. The ball over all is in very good condition, there is spot that's pitted on the back opposite the fuse hole [see pic] about the size of your palm.
BTW, it sold for $265.00
Reply With Quote
  #36  
Old 12-09-2000, 04:02 AM
SSgtBaloo SSgtBaloo is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 1999
Quote:
Originally posted by spoke-
...I have one nit-pick. The type of chain shot used by the aforementioned double-barreled cannon was an experimental round. It was two cannonballs connected by a long chain, designed to mow down rows of enemy troops. The experiment failed, because of the difficulty in synchronizing the firing of the two barrels, as noted in my previous post.
Pick all the nits you want. I wasn't saying there wasn't experimentation, but that the type of chain shot normally used was intended to damage rigging. As far as experimental types of cannon (and other firearms) during the age of black powder, there were many experimental devices proposed by designers both ingenious and suicidally ignorant of the unintended consequences of a malfunction. It's all good, clean fun until someone gets killed. The survivors can laugh if they still feel up to it.

~~Baloo
Reply With Quote
  #37  
Old 12-09-2000, 10:40 AM
Stellablue Stellablue is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2000
My man has BIG balls!

I learned about Civil War artillery from my husband who collects such things. There is a 300 pound cannon ball and a parrot shell by the fireplace. The only problem I have is that I can't move them to clean! There are others in the garage.
Yes some do explode. My man drills out the fuse and thereby they are disarmed. Not recomended for amatures, people have been killed. Those with fuses and powder can be dangerous. But if you have one Crafter Man, do not call the local police. They will just blow it up. These things can be worth a lot of money. Some are very expensive depending on condition and rarity. We live in costal South Carolina. There are relic hunters digging them up all the time, like my husband. Sometimes they are in bad shape because of the salt water that does a number on iron. They have to be put through a long process of restoration that stabilises the metal.
I do wish he would collect something smaller and lighter but he is a rare man and it could be worse!
Reply With Quote
  #38  
Old 12-09-2000, 11:55 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
Mod Rocker
Moderator
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: N E Ohio
Posts: 36,544
Quote:
The cannons you see in movies are wrong for many reasons. One is that shells are generally not fired out of regular cannons with the flat trajectories. Shells are only fired out of howitzers, a cannon with a very short barrel with a trajectory like a modern day mortar.
True. . . for wars prior to the U.S. Civil War.

The French Admiral Paixhans suggested firing shells in flat trajectories in an 1822 treatise, Nouvelle Force Maritime, and worked until he finally got a working model that was first used by the Russians against the Turks in the battle of Sinope, 1853.

The technology was immediately adapted by everyone who could do it and shells were common in the Civil War. Two names associated with improvements in fuse design are General Bormann of Belgium (whoses fuses are mentioned in both of the Civil War artillery sites linked, above), and the German Colonel Breithaupt. (Information on the net on these two gentlemen is hard to come by.)
Reply With Quote
  #39  
Old 12-10-2000, 01:32 AM
beergeek279 beergeek279 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
On one of the DVD featurettes for The Patriot , it showed how they managed to do the scene where the man's head is ripped off by the cannonball. After the extensive research they did for that movie, they determined that cannonballs (perhaps at least of the Revolutionary War) were not explosive. Basically, they were designed to roll and fly and take off body parts, and hopefully break the line so that the cavalry could advance and wipe the remaints out (the final battle of the Patriot shows this effectively)......to get a metal ball with that much mass at a significant velocity......it's going to do quite a bit of damage......more than enough to rip several limbs off!
Reply With Quote
  #40  
Old 12-10-2000, 02:36 AM
wastelands wastelands is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Need sleep so have to skip to response before reading all posts.

Key wrote of the bombs bursting in air while a POW in a Reb camp. he was referring to the ships sending flares
Reply With Quote
  #41  
Old 12-10-2000, 05:34 AM
Danielinthewolvesden Danielinthewolvesden is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Santa Clara, CA
Posts: 3,535
Actually, Leonidas has one of the best & most comlete answers here, excellent for a newbie. Welcome Leonidas! And may all your posts ring as true.
Reply With Quote
  #42  
Old 12-10-2000, 12:38 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: 847 mi. from Cecil
Posts: 28,927
Quote:
Originally posted by jumblemind
Thanks, Guy. What were the skyrockets used for?
That would be for the red glare, of course.
Reply With Quote
  #43  
Old 12-10-2000, 03:12 PM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
Mod Rocker
Moderator
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: N E Ohio
Posts: 36,544
wastelands, I hope you got your sleep.

Key was held aboard a British ship during the assault. (There were no "reb"s involved in the action since our "secession" had been completed successfully over 30 years previous and the CSA was still almost 40 years away from its secession.)

While I doubt that the Brits had a bomb-ketch among their fleet, they were assaulting by land, as well. I suspect that the "bombs bursting in air" truly were bombs (using early 19th century terminology) fired from mortars and exploding prematurely (for the purpose of destroying the fort) or correctly (for the purpose of killing defenders on the ramparts).
Reply With Quote
  #44  
Old 12-11-2000, 03:15 AM
EvilGhandi EvilGhandi is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 1999
RE; Chained Rounds

There is yet another type of chained munition not discussed in the thread. This is a grapeshot type round chained together to prevent it from spreading and used on packed infantry charges. Picture a beaded chain or a wire rope with lead balls fused on it like a dogtag chain.

I have seen modern shotgun shells and M-203 rounds loaded with such a projectile but have no idea if they were manufactured or employed during The Civil War.
Reply With Quote
  #45  
Old 12-12-2000, 10:57 AM
No Fear No Fear is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Dec 2000
Posts: 13
Quote:
Originally posted by jumblemind
Thanks, Guy. What were the skyrockets used for?
Like skyrockets today on4th of July, they set fires. Lots of thatch roofs in colonial times. Limber was hard to come by because there were few saw mills.
__________________
I'm a sock AND a troll!
Reply With Quote
  #46  
Old 12-12-2000, 12:16 PM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
Mod Rocker
Moderator
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: N E Ohio
Posts: 36,544
Quote:
What were the skyrockets used for?
I can't get a direct link because of the way the site is set up, but if you go to
http://www.napoleonic-literature.com/
Select the Site Search Engine icon
then, at the string to search for Enter
HISTORY OF THE ROCKET 1804 TO 1815 as the search argument,
you will get a page that describes the development and use of military rockets (especially by the British) during the period including the War of 1812.

Expanding on comments in the link, the British had had a good measure of success using rockets as a barrage weapon against cities with wood-frame buildings. (I'm not sure that thatch was used as roofing that often, although I have no citation against it, but a rocket exploding against wood siding would certainly cause it to ignite.)

In the attack on the fort, (one of the first uses against a fortified position, apparently), the British discovered that the rockets did not carry enough explosive power to damage actual fortifications.
Reply With Quote
  #47  
Old 01-15-2001, 10:05 AM
Gyrate Gyrate is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
So now I'm confused (and admittedly "ignert" on the subject): what, then, is a "mortar"? Pictures I've seen of them show them as having handles...
__________________
"I always forget to carry the kitten when doing the math." - Folly
"Most smart people aren't very smart when when they are on fire." - Der Trihs
"Well, if she's already gone to Yahoo! Answers, I don't know what more we can hope to add to the discussion." - DrFidelius
Reply With Quote
  #48  
Old 01-15-2001, 10:58 AM
Sleepy Weasel Sleepy Weasel is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Quote:
Originally posted by EvilGhandi
RE; Chained Rounds

There is yet another type of chained munition not discussed in the thread. This is a grapeshot type round chained together to prevent it from spreading and used on packed infantry charges. Picture a beaded chain or a wire rope with lead balls fused on it like a dogtag chain.

I have seen modern shotgun shells and M-203 rounds loaded with such a projectile but have no idea if they were manufactured or employed during The Civil War.
Don't be ridiculous! They didn't even have the M203 during the Civil War...
Reply With Quote
  #49  
Old 01-15-2001, 04:44 PM
Weirddave Weirddave is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Republic of Marylandistan
Posts: 9,900
A morter is a type of artillery that fires it's shells in a high trajectory. If you picture throwing a ball over a tall fence to someone on the other side, you've got the right idea. Modern morters are small tubes that point upwards. A shell is dropped into the tube, and the firing pin ignites the charge in the base of the shell, sending it arching towards it's target. They are suprisingly accurate. Tables tell you what combination of angle and elevation will cause the shell to land "X" distance downrange, though I suppose computers are used now.

Civil War morters were much the same in effect, but rather than being tubes, they were much shorter and fatter. The idea here is that if an enemy has defenses erected between you and he, you can use a morter to go over them and strike him. ( think ball and fence again)
__________________
"A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have."

~Barry Goldwater
Reply With Quote
  #50  
Old 01-15-2001, 05:14 PM
Weirddave Weirddave is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Republic of Marylandistan
Posts: 9,900
PICTURES!

Civil War Era Mortars

WWI Mortar

Modern Mortar
__________________
"A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have."

~Barry Goldwater
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 05:14 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.