How to Fire a Civil War Cannon

byron ed

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Just an aside, a for instance, ask a reenacting artillerist how they justify their unit's #4 at-ready stance.
You'll get: facing forward, or facing backward, or standing forward and twisted backward, then with lanyard arm fully-extended ready to employ a body weight fall away, or lanyard arm cocked and ready to "snap" the lanyard, or lanyard arm fixed behind the back ready to twist or fall away, or lanyard hand held to pants ready for a knee buckle.​
Some want #4 facing forward to help verify muzzle flash and battlefield dynamic; some want #4 facing backward to visually verify the command to fire.​
Though nobody will tell them, newbys eventually learn that any one of those variations may be equally valid. It's understanding what the current drill is --whatever it is -- that matters most.​
 

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byron ed

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Of course all this is precisely WHY #3 is supposed to wear a thumbstall!
This isn't exactly an (of course !) type revelation.

Depends on your setting, your experience with it. For instance my unit wouldn't consider un-stopping the vent during ram home, yet to go by other posters here their units specifically un-stop the vent during ram home.

You know, it's quite likely that each of these units have a flawless safety record after a dozen years or more, so I won't call it. It's just not an inherently obvious (!) thing after all, imho.
 
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byron ed

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The NPS drill requires unstopping the vent during ramming.
Actually, that's not specified in the NPS drill book (sec.1:21), which directs that during the command "load," while No. 1 "Rams the round after No. 2 is outside the wheel," No.3 is left with his last directive: "Covers the vent with the thumbstall on the left thumb."

It is not until No. 3's next specified action; "Turns clockwise and goes to the handspike after No. 1 has cleared the wheel;" that it's expected the vent is uncovered.

That's not to deny what you may have seen in NPS drills, and anyway as we both know, the NPS drill is its own critter. It's not to be considered the "end-all" of reenacted artillery practice.

Here's what's really ironic: those units who stop the vent during ramming don't want indication of air escaping (or they call "stop vent" and re-seat the thumb-stall). That's the exact opposite imperative of units leaving the vent unstopped during ramming, who want indication of air escaping during ramming.

From a safety and physics standpoint, both can't be right, right?
 
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Virginia Dave

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Waynesboro, Virginia
Part II - Gun Drill
View attachment 116917

At the command by the Gunner (or Sergeant or officer conducting the drill) Take Implements, the crew faces inward toward the piece (gun); at Load, No. 1 places the sponge head of the rammer to block the bore from any sparks or other impedimenta that may be blowing about; No. 2 steps between the tube and the wheel, taking care to stand behind the muzzle face as a precaution lest the gun discharge prematurely; unseen in this picture, No. 3 has stepped to the breech (back end of the gun tube) and placed his thumb over the vent hole to prevent a draft and seal off any excess air in the bottom of the bore; No. 4 has taken a friction primer from the brown tube pouch worn on his waist belt and attached it to a hook on the end of the lanyard and is standing with the primer in one hand and the lanyard handle in the other; meanwhile the Gunner is beginning to lay or aim the piece in the general direction he wishes to fire. In the background No. 6 and No. 7 have opened the limber box and are preparing the charge. (In practice, for safety the box is ONLY opened when the charges are being readied and never simply left standing open!)

View attachment 116918

No. 5 has received the charge from the limber attendants and after showing it to the Gunner to make sure it's what he wants has brought it forward to hand it off to No. 2; note how he takes it over the wheel in order to stay behind the plane of the muzzle. All other cannoneers maintain their positions, observing always what is being done; this is because in the heat of battle in a noisy artillery battery consisting of up to six guns there are always sounds and for safety everyone needs to know exactly what's going on within their own gun crew!

View attachment 116919

No. 1 now rams home the charge, taking care to see it seats entirely all the way to the bottom of the bore; since this is a drill, No. 5 has returned to his normal position halfway between the gun and limber. (If this were a combat situation instead, he might've returned to the limber for the next charge.) The Gunner oversees what's going on while everyone else maintains their positions.

View attachment 116920

At the Gunner's command Prime, No. 3 removes his thumb from the vent, taking a long brass rod called a vent pick and inserts it down the vent to punch a hole in the (usually) linen bag containing the powder charge.

View attachment 116921

The piece is now loaded and primed; the Gunner now completes the aiming, often using a pendulum hausse (not pictured here) to sight in the target; No. 3's thumbing being over, he drops back to the handspike, a short but stout wooden dowel fastened onto the trail of the carriage. At the Gunner's pats on the trail, No. 3 moves it to the right or left as indicated using the handspike. Once satisfied, the Gunner nods to No. 4 who steps to the breech, inserts the friction primer, and stretches out the lanyard - not taught, though, lest he stumble and jerk it accidentally! At the command Ready No.'s 1 and 2 lean away from the muzzle, still watching to make sure their piece discharges; No. 3 steps out of the way of the wheel to avoid its recoil; and No. 4 stands ready, also out of the line of recoil, to pull the lanyard and fire the piece; one hand raised as a signal.

View attachment 116922

Following the discharge of the gun, the gunners resume their post position, except for No. 1 who uses the wet sponge end of the rammer to sponge - never SWAB! - the bore to quench any remaining sparks or embers and remove any remnants of the linen powder bag while No. 3 resumes his thumbing of the vent; should he fail for any reason someone is to jar his memory or get his attention by calling out Stop Vent! In a combat situation, this would likely flow immediately into loading the next round; for drill everyone returns to the post position until the crew is rotated for the next session or dismissed, in which case a command Return Implements causes them to replace all tools.
Great demonstration and explanation. Thank you for posting. Not being familiar with canon procedures this was very informative. Thanks again.
 


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