& Chemical Projectiles
Incendiary missiles, such as buckets or barrels
filled with a fiercely burning composition, had been used from earliest
times, long before cannon. These crude incendiaries survived through the
1700's as, for instance, the flaming cargoes of fire ships that were
sent amidst the enemy fleet. But in the year 1672 there appeared an iron
shell called a carcass (fig. 41), filled with pitch and other materials
that burned at intense heat for about 8 minutes. The flame escaped
through vents, three to five in number, around the fuze hole of the
shell. The carcass was standard ammunition until smoothbores went out of
use. The United States ordnance manual of 1861 lists carcasses for 12-,
18-, 24-, 32-, and 42-pounder guns as well as 8-, 10-, and 13-inch
During the late 1500's, the heating of iron cannon
balls to serve as incendiaries was suggested, but not for another 200
years was the idea successfully carried out. Hot shot was nothing but
round shot, heated to a red glow over a grate or in a furnace. It was
fired from cannon at such inflammable targets as wooden ships or powder
magazines. During the siege of Gibraltar in 1782, the British fired and
destroyed a part of Spain's fleet with hot shot; and in United States
seacoast forts shot furnaces were standard equipment during the first
half of the 1800's. The little shot furnace at Castillo de San Marcos
National Monument was built during the 1840's; a giant furnace of the
mid-1860's still remains at Fort Jefferson National Monument.
Loading hot shot was not particularly dangerous.
After the powder charge was in the gun with a dry wad in front of it,
another wad of wet straw, or clay, was put into the barrel. When the
cherry-red shot was rammed home, the wet wad prevented a premature
explosion of the charge. According to the Ordnance Manual, the
shot could cool in the gun without setting off the charge! Hot shot was
superseded, about 1850, by Martin's shell, filled with molten iron.
The smoke shell appeared in 1681, but was never
extensively used. Similarly, a form of gas projectile, called a "stink
shell," was invented by a Confederate officer during the Civil War.
Because of its "inhumanity," and probably because it was not thought
valuable enough to offset its propaganda value to the enemy, it was not
popular. These were the beginnings of the modem chemical shells.
In connection with chemical warfare, it is of
interest to review the Hussite siege of Castle Karlstein, near Prague,
in the first quarter of the fifteenth century. The Hussites emplaced 46
small cannon, 5 large cannon, and 5 catapults. The big guns would shoot
once or twice a day, and the little ones from six to a dozen rounds.
Marble pillars from Prague churches furnished the
cannonballs. Many projectiles for the catapults, however, were rotting
carcasses and other filth, hurled over the castle walls to cause disease
and break the morale of the besieged. But the intrepid defenders
neutralized these "chemical bursts" with lime and arsenic. After firing
10,930 cannonballs, 932 stone fragments, 13 fire barrels, and 1,822 tons
of filth, the Hussites gave up.
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