Blupete's History Page


GLOSSARY:
In support of ...
BLUEPETE'S HISTORY OF NOVA SCOTIA: 1600-1763.

Guns of the 18th Century:

Bombardier: A bombardier was employed more especially about the mortars and howitzers; whereas a gunner was one whose office it is to work a cannon.

Breech: The back part of a cannon; opposite the muzzle.

Coehorn:
A small
mortar for throwing grenades, introduced by Baron van Coehorn (Coehoorn; 1641-1704), the Dutch military engineer.

Cannon:
During the times under review in these pages, and, indeed, up to 1850, the bombarding gun used by the military was the cannon, a
muzzle loading smooth bore gun which fired a solid ball with a charge gunpowder. The ball could be blasted at a target up to a mile away. In naval battles, we learn from Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea, the preferred distance between ships before firing was at a "half pistol shot" or about 100 yards.
We of read of "42 pounders," or "24 pounders," or "8 pounders": this was a convenient way of describing the size of the cannon: it describes the weight of the ball.

Fusil: A light musket or firelock. The term fusil is also used to describe the "fire steel for a tinder-box."

Grape-Shot: Small cast iron balls, strongly connected together, so as to form a charge for cannon. "Grape-shot is a combination of balls, put into a thick canvas-bag, and corded strongly together, so as to form a sort of cylinder, whose diameter is adapted to the cannon." (Falconer, 1769.)

Howitzer: A short piece of ordnance, usually of light weight, specially designed for the horizontal firing of shells with small charges, and adapted for use in a mountainous country. The OED notes the use of this expression as early as 1703.

Langrage Shot:
"Case-shot loaded with pieces of iron of irregular shape, formerly used in naval warfare to damage the rigging and sails of the enemy." "Langrel, or langrage, a particular kind of shot, formed of bolts, nails, bars, or other pieces of iron tied together, and forming a sort of cylinder, which corresponds with the bore of the cannon." (Falconer's Marine Dictionary, 1780.)

Locks (Gun-locks):
Gun-locks were inventions which, in a timely fashion, fired off a variety of gun which was borne on the shoulder. Basically, there were two kinds of gun-locks: the flint-lock which had a flint screwed to the cock, which, once it was let go by the trigger mechanism, would strike against the hammer, and, through friction, produce a spark which in turn ignited the priming powder in the flash-pan; the other kind is when the spark is produced by a percussion when the cock, holding a small powder-cap which was stuffed in during the loading procedure, came down and smacked against the hammer. Incidentally, it would also be improper, much before 1810 to refer to the English soldier's musket or flintlock by the name "Brown Bess" as that name was only given to the flint-lock
musket beginning with the Peninsular War. None of these shoulder mounted guns, of course, could be compared with the "rifle" as it developed during the nineteenth century with its rifling inside the barrel and its primed cartridges.

Matross: A matross was a soldier next in rank below the gunner in a train of artillery, who acted as a kind of assistant or mate.

Mortar: A mortar, is a short piece of ordnance with a large bore and with trunnions on its breech for throwing shells at high angles so to overthrow the works with the view of breaking through the vaulted roofs of barracks and magazines.

Musket: A hand-gun of the kind with which infantry soldiers are armed. "Originally applied to the matchlock, and in the 18th c. still sometimes distinguished from the firelock or fusee." (See also Powder & Locks.) British troops in North America during the period under review normally carried the .75-calibre, forty-two-inch barrel, Long Land Musket, popularly known as the "Brown Bess." Though there was to be considerable variety, by 1758 the French standard was the .69-calibre musket. [Military Uniforms in Canada, Summers and Chartand (Ottawa: National Museums, pub. No. 16, 1981) pp. 12,44,48.]

Muzzle: That end of a fire-arm from which the shot is discharged; opposite the breech.

Powder (Gun-powder):
An explosive mixture of saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal, chiefly used in discharging projectiles from guns and for blasting. In 1692, according to Captain Smith "Seaman's Guide" gunpowder was made by compounding Saltpetre six parts, and one part each of Brimstone and Charcoal. By 1797 we see that the gunpowder is composed of 70 parts (in weight) of nitre, 18 parts of sulphur, and 16 parts of charcoal. (Saltpetre was either potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate. On account of the property which saltpetre possesses of giving a pleasing redness to beef, it is always an ingredient in the brine with which meat is preserved.) It was the custom for the fine grain or musket powder to contain a larger proportion of saltpetre than that for cannon.
As for Gun-powder's impact on history: "The invention of gunpowder -- or rather its use in war -- appears at first sight a device little calculated to promote the general progress of mankind. But it has been pointed out by some historians that the introduction of gunpowder into Europe brought about the downfall of the feudal system with its attendant evils. In those days every man was practically a soldier: the bow or the sword he inherited from his father made him, ready for the fray. But when cannons, muskets, and mines began to be used, the art of war became more difficult. The simple possession of arms did not render men soldiers, but a long special training was required. The greater cost of the new arms also contributed to change the arrangements of society. Standing armies were established, and war became the calling of only a small part of the inhabitants of a country, while the majority were left free to devote themselves to civil employments. Then the useful arts of life received more attention, inventions were multiplied, commerce began to be considered as honourable an avocation as war, letters were cultivated, and other foundations laid for modern science." [Robert Routledge's Discoveries and Inventions of the Nineteenth Century (Routledge, 1898), p. 132.]

Quick-Match:
"A quick-burning match used for firing cannon, igniting fire-works, shells, etc., consisting of cotton-wick soaked in a composition of gum, spirits, water, and gunpowder." (OED. Where ever I use quotes without attribution, I mean to refer to the OED.) Incidently, the "friction match" was invented in 1827 by John Walker (1781-1859), a chemist who was born Stockton-on-Tees; they were called "Congreves" (alluding to the Congreve's rocket invented in 1808), later named Luicifers, and, eventually, matches.

Swivel:
Short for swivel-gun. A swivel is a pivoted rest for a gun, esp. on the gunwale of a boat, enabling it to turn horizontally in any required direction. What would normally be mounted on the swivel is a small
cannon, often stuff with Langrage Shot.

Tinder-Box:
A box in which tinder, flint and steel were kept by which a fire might be started. (See also
Quick-Match.)

Touch-hole: A small tubular hole in the breech of a fire-arm, through which the charge is ignited; the vent.

Trunnion: Each of a pair of opposite cylindrical pieces of protruded metal (gudgeons or knobs) on the sides of a cannon toward its breech on which it is pivoted upon its carriage.

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Peter Landry
2011