Historical Lecture Required: Grape Shot And Volley Guns

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Glenfilthie

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Since I started hanging around with black powder geeks I have taken quite an interest in historical fiction. I have ripped through all the novels about the Blind Beak Of Bow Street and now I just picked up one of the Richard Sharpe novels and will be storming the fortress at Bajodoz in Spain.

The characters face a hail of 'grape shot' and I think I know what that is...but what is 'canister'? Some kind of canon-fired explosive munition? And did those demented frenchmen load chains into their canons? Dear god...

Anyways, one of the characters has what is called a 'volley gun' and it has seven barrels. I can't find anything about it on the internet. If one of you fellers have a pic I would really appreciate it.

Also, any links or technical info on canon classifications would be appreciated. What is a kestrel? Or a culvern?
 

widget350

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TFoley

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widget350 said:
Yes, cannons often fired chains, typically at a ships mast, and they would eat the mast amazingly fast.
Uh, they did not actually shoot chains at masts. They fired chain shot at rigging.

Chain shot is basically two cannon balls connected by a short length of chain - on firing they tend to whirl around each other like a south American bolas [used by vaqueros to bring down steers] and thus destroy a ship's rigging.

Another variant on this theme is bar shot - two halves of a cannon ball connected by an expanding link - the effect on rigging is the same.

tac
 

mykeal

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Canister rounds are very similar to grapeshot; they consisted of a hard shell packed with round balls - essentially a shotgun round with a cannon caliber. The difference between canister rounds and grapeshot was the latter was composed of balls in a loose container, like a fabric bag. And yes, the French, and many other nations, packed chain in cannons and mortars. Very effective anti-personnel, anti-equestrian and anti-ship rigging round.

Volley gun - there was a thread on this forum some time back, but unfortunately the pictures have been removed from photobucket. Perhaps the member will put them up again. Volley Gun Thread

Actually, I think it's a culverin, a long barreled, smaller caliber cannon. Try using cannon types as a Google search term.

Without a doubt the best naval history novels are those by Patrick O'Brian, available on Amazon.com. He wrote a series of 26 sequential novels on British naval history in the 19th century that has no peers. They are fiction but superbly crafted and highly, if not perfectly, accurate as to the events and even the details of everyday speech; so much so that he published a separate glossary volume so you could look up the terms used. The popular film, Master and Commander, was based on incidents in some of those novels. Excellent writing, very accurate period descriptions, down to the terms and language used. None better. The Hornblower series is also very good, but O'Brian's work is simply superb.
 
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paulvallandigham

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Grapeshot was large lead, but more often iron, balls fired out of a cannon similar to firing shot from a shotgun.

Cannister shot was grapeshot, packed into a lead, typically, " can", and fired from a cannon. The cannister would split open, letting the shot spread out, but at distances further than the muzzle of the barrel. Think of a plastic shotcup in a shotgun, and you see the same idea.

It allows the grapeshot to get down range before spreading out to kill troops. Cannister shot was fired at an elevated angle, so that the can came apart higher off the ground than the height of the muzzle. Grapeshot was used when the enemy was at very close range.

Volley guns were not very popular, although they saw some use. Yes, they consisted of a number of barrels fixed to a frame, and usually to some kind of wheeled carriage. When the fuse was ignited, all the barrels fired off at once. If the volley gun as pointed correctly, the multiple shots could be very deadly. But, if the volley gun was NOT pointed correctly, then NONE of the shots were effective. AND, the more barrels, the longer it took to reload( and clean). Volley guns were even seen in use as late the civil war by some state militias. To my knowledge, they were not in the inventory of any unit in the U.S. Army during our civil war. Unlike cannons, that had crude sights or sighting systems, volley guns had no such sights. The gun was difficult to make, because aligning all the barrels to shoot to the same place based on the outside dimension of the barrel required bores be "Plumb" with these outside flats. Not until the 1850s did industry have the tooling to produce anything close to this kind of uniform barrel. By then, the first breechloading, and rifled barrel parrot cannons were being made, and they were far quicker to load and clean, and could be moved around a battle field just as easily as a volley gun, and proved much more effective, with sights, and cannister shot, than the slow volley guns.

Dr. Gatling actually took the volley gun idea and improved it with his revolving barreled, " gatling gun, which saw limited service at the end of the Civil war in 1865. The Gatling gun was constantly improved after that, using breechloading, cartridge ammo, in the Crimean War, the Wars in S. Africa, and Asia, and finally in the Spanish American War, where it was being replaced by the first Colt, and later Browning designed machine guns.

Note, all these rapid fire guns, from the volley gun to the Gatling gun, were invented by men who hoped the devastation cause by these firearms would bring an End of War, because no one would resort to war to resolve political disputes knowing how many fine men would be killed so quickly. Dr. Gatling would be both horrified, and perhaps a bit delighted, to see " puff the magic dragon", the electric motor driven high speed gatling guns used on helicopter guns ships, today by our armed forces. He would not wish the level of destruction such a weapon causes, but he would be interested in knowing his idea has actually made a gun that can fire more rapidly than mere single barrel machine guns, with accuracy.The volley guns simply didn't have any accuracy.
 

Trench

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Here's a picture of a volley gun. I believe they were naval weapons used to shoot down sharpshooters out of enemy ship's masts.
I've read all the Sharpe series. It's one reason I got in to traditional muzzleloading. :wink:

 

CoyoteJoe

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Trench has posted a photo of the volley gun described in the "Sharpes novels", which are very interesting even though not always historically accurate. It was a novelty with not much practical utility.
Canister shot is still in use by our military to this day. Grapeshot was normally 1" iron balls enclosed in a cloth sack or sometimes a wire mesh bag. Canister was enclosed in a can and normally used smaller balls to provide a more dense short range pattern just as one may load a shotgun with smaller pellets to improve pattern density. It was canister which devastated Picket's charge.
Shrapnel shells are similar but the casing is more heavily built so that it doesn't burst at the muzzle. It contains a fuse and a small bursting charge to split the shell and scatter the shrapnel at some point down range. Effective shrapnel shells depend on very precise timing of the fuse, something seldom obtained with muzzleloading artillery. Shrapnel was, and still is, highly effective in mortars.
 

paulvallandigham

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I have seen that picture before, and can't help but notice that it shows very little evidence of being fired. Can you imagine how long it would take to clean and load that gun for the next round? And, it has the standard cannon touch hole at the top, so you know that there is only one fuse, and all the barrels either fire, (or misfire) from that one priming charge. If any of the barrel don't fire, who do you get to volunteer to run the ramrod down the barrels to find out which ones are still loaded, and which are not, and how long do you wait before its safe to clean the ones that did fire and reload them? ( OOPS! Sgt, we need another volunteer moron to load that volley gun! :( :youcrazy: :blah: :shocked2: :rotf: And take that ramrod out of the chest of that last dummy!)

This is NOT my idea of an efficient battlefield artillery piece.
 

wtilenw

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paulvallandigham said:
I have seen that picture before, and can't help but notice that it shows very little evidence of being fired. Can you imagine how long it would take to clean and load that gun for the next round? And, it has the standard cannon touch hole at the top, so you know that there is only one fuse, and all the barrels either fire, (or misfire) from that one priming charge. If any of the barrel don't fire, who do you get to volunteer to run the ramrod down the barrels to find out which ones are still loaded, and which are not, and how long do you wait before its safe to clean the ones that did fire and reload them? ( OOPS! Sgt, we need another volunteer moron to load that volley gun! :( :youcrazy: :blah: :shocked2: :rotf: And take that ramrod out of the chest of that last dummy!)

This is NOT my idea of an efficient battlefield artillery piece.
I agree but if they ALL went off, you may not NEED to load again. :rotf:
Idaho PRB
 

RADeO

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Idaho PRB, I believe you have posted a picture of a French "Mitrailleuse", a weapon that was actually a breechloader. Here is a partial description I found on Wikipedia. It makes interesting reading. Hope everyone enjoys it.

"Mitrailleuse (literally "Grapeshot shooter") is the French word for "machine gun". Historically, the mitrailleuse was invented in 1851 by the Belgian Army Captain Fafschamps, 10 years before the advent of the Gatling gun. It was followed by the Belgian Montigny mitrailleuse in 1863. Then the French 13mm X 25 barrels "Canon a Balles", better known as the Reffye mitrailleuse, was adopted in great secrecy in 1866. It became the first rapid-firing weapon to be deployed as standard equipment by any army in a major conflict. This happened during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The objective of the Reffye mitrailleuse was to extend the lethal effects of heavy 13mm ( 50 caliber ) cylindrical bullets at very long distances, far beyond the reach of the infantry rifles of that period . A perforated steel block containing 25 center fire cartridges was pressed against the breech before firing. With the rotation of a crank, the 25 rounds were fired in rapid succession. The normal firing rate of the Reffye mitrailleuse was 75 rounds per minute and the effective battlefield reach of its bullets extended to about 2500 yards. Reffye mitrailleuses were always deployed in 6 gun batteries and were manned by artillery personnel. They were not infantry support weapons but rather a form of special artillery."

Also, here is a link to Military History online that will give you more information that you probably every wanted to know about the Mitrailleuse.

Link
 

wtilenw

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Very interesting, Thanks. You can buy that one on Gun Broker for about 20 sum odd thousand if you need one. :hmm:
Idaho PRB
 

RADeO

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Does it come with a bunch of cleaning rods, brushes, and patches for that price? :grin: It should, cuz if it is ever fired, they will be needed!
 

Tkendrick

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Dig up a copy of The Alamo. The John Wayne production.

In it, the actor portraying Jim Bowie (Richard Widmarck) is carrying a Nock Volley Gun.

It was the first time I recall ever seeing one, when I saw that movie at the drive in when I was about 8 or 9.

That was the movie what got me into muzzleloaders. :grin:
 

Rod Lassey

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Nock volley guns were in vogue for awhile in the Royal Navy as anti-personell deck sweepers.

Grape shot is used more in naval guns than land guns, which tended more to canister. Bear in mind that grape is, for the most part, much larger than the shot in canister, and could destroy rigging and materiel as well as crew. Canister was alot of smaller balls (1870s US load was a can filled with .58 round ball) strictly for anti-personell. With canister, the shot tended to be aimed just in front of the formation of men, so as be sure the can opened, and kill with the ricochet--that also spread the shot out more, even if the can had already opened.

The exploding cannon ball, refined from the mortar round, was developed by a British officer with the last name of Shrapnel, oddly enough.

Spherical case shot was a hollow cast iron round ball, with a fuse (early drive-in type fuses, common in the CW war, or the later Bormann fuse used in the 1870s), and a charge of explosive surrounded by lead balls. The most effective way to use case shot was to time the fuse to explode directly over the heads of infantry formations.

Rod
 

widget350

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Uh, they did not actually shoot chains at masts. They fired chain shot at rigging.
"In artillery, chain-shot is an obsolete type of naval ammunition formed of two sub-calibre balls, or half-balls, chained together. Bar shot is similar, but joined by a solid bar. They were used in naval warfare in the age of sailing ships and black powder cannons to shoot down yards, masts, or to cut the shrouds and any other rigging of a target ship." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chain_shot

I've never fired chain at masts, but I've seen the effect on trees and read accounts which would indicate it was indeed used to take down more than just rigging.
 
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jbg

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Any chance you might post a picture? Please understand I am not questioning your statement. it would just be really cool to see what kind of damage chain shot would do to a tree.
 
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From what I have read the recoil of the Nock Volley gun was too severe for the slight British
sailors. If they fired them while in the riggings,
they would remove their target and themselves from the rigging. Sgt. Harper was big enough to handle the recoil! Over the last few years some of the people on this forum have posted pictures
from Auctions of later versions of the Nock Volley
gun that were sold as cased hunting guns! Very fancy indeed! A multi barreled punt gun!
I was discussing the Nock Volley gun with a good Friend last month. He came up with an interesting question, when you pull the trigger on a volley gun.....How do you know all of the barrels went off? How would you check this in the field? How the hell would you clean this thing in the 19th century? ( sorry, 3 questions! )
Despite this....I still want one!!!!!
 
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