May 16, 2012

The bombs burst in the air

A War of 1812 battlefield was full of danger. Perhaps the most dangerous part of the battlefield came from the deadly projectiles fired by the artillery. A number of different projectiles were used by both the British and American artillery. Below are only some of the different types used on the War of 1812 battlefield.
3-pound field gun
Round Shot

When people think of cannons today the traditional cannon ball often comes to mind. During the War of 1812, the cannon ball, or round shot as it was called, made up about 80 per cent of the ordinances used by artillerists. Round shot was particularly deadly and effective against enemy defences and infantry. When fired at enemy infantry, round shot would bounce through numerous lines causing significant damage. Round shot could also be heated to produce hot shot in order to set fire to enemy ships or wooden defences.  Although, the solid cannon ball was not the only projectile used on the battlefield.
Canister Shot

This type of projectile consisted of a small tin can that disintegrated when fired releasing a deadly spray of small iron balls or scrap iron. Mainly used at close range, this type of shot acted like a shotgun as it tore through enemy infantry.
Spherical case shot, round shot and fragment
Spherical Case Shot

A particularly deadly projectile, spherical case shot was adopted by the British in 1803. This type of shot consisted of a hollowed out cannon ball filled with black powder and numerous projectiles, such as muskets balls, and a timed fuse caped off the bomb. When fired, the bomb would break apart in the air causing a shower of destruction to anyone in its path. Henry Shrapnel of the Royal Artillery created this type of bomb, and after his death this type of projectile was renamed after him. The American national anthem references spherical case shot with "the bombs burst in the air." Francis Scott Key witnessed the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore and penned a poem that later became the American national anthem.

These artillery projectiles are only some of the deadly ordinances that were used during the War of 1812. If you want to see some cannons in action, make sure you visit Old Fort Erie, Fort George or Fort Niagara this summer; although, their guns don’t fire any of these projectiles today.  

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