Heritage, 2011, Volume 3 Page: 36
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THE BIG GUNS
By Tom Power
The cannon is the earliest
form of the gun, dating back to
11th-century China or perhaps
even earlier. The first cannon
had tubes made with wood
staves bound together by iron
straps, the same way that a
wooden wine barrel is made.
The earliest metal gun barrels
were made of cast iron and
were later composed of bronze
or "gunmetal," an alloy of cop-
per, tin, and zinc. p -
Centuries of trial and error
went in to the development of
what today is known as artil- ji "
lery, which is a collective term
describing a group of different
types of cannon. When a cannon barrel is mounted on a
carriage, then it is considered a "piece of ordnance." A can-
non can be mounted in many ways depending on the
intended use-a field piece was drawn by a team of horses
and used on the battlefield; a naval piece was secured on
board a ship; a garrison piece was placed on a fort wall, and
the large, heavy siege piece was used to batter down the
walls of a fort. The carriage (or support structure ) for each
This drawing by Edwin Forbes shows Union field artillery in action on Little
Round Top on July 2, 1863. Guns were brought into action by a six horse
team with three riders. Many horses were casualties of these actions.
A 12-pounder Mountain Howitzer on
the wall of Fort Sumter, South Caro-
lina, circa 1865. Photo by George Bar-
nard. Library of Congress.
i of these big guns was designed
to accommodate these differ-
There are three basic types
of artillery; the gun, the how-
itzer, and the mortar. All are
considered to be cannon, but
the difference between them is
'* :the trajectory of the shot fired.
s T The gun is designed for
"direct" fire at a very low ele-
vation. It fires on a more or
less level plane and works well
for battering defenses and breaking infantry formations at
long range. The howitzer is engineered to yield a higher
trajectory "indirect" fire. It is positioned at a closer range to
"lob" exploding shells over enemy locations. Finally, the
mortar is constructed to produce a very high indirect trajec-
tory capable of firing shells over walls and other defensive
positions at close range.
Four different types of artillery projectiles have been used
since very early times: battering projectiles or solid shot,
exploding shells, scatter shot, and incendiary shot. Round
stones were one of the first types of solid shot and were used
in an early type of Spanish gun called a "Pedrero," one of
which was present at the Battle of the Alamo. Around 1400
A.D., solid cast iron shot was almost universally used in
long-range guns. Bronze was also a material for solid shot,
especially in New Spain. Solid shot was not often used for
howitzers or mortars.
Explosive shells were hollow iron balls with a fused charge
of powder inside. The fuse was ignited by the blast of the
charge in the cannon barrel. Detonation was timed to occur
in the air over infantry and rain down a hail of deadly iron.
Howitzers and mortars effectively fired shells, but they
could also be loaded into guns for closer range work.
Case, canister, grape, and shrapnel are different types of
multi-projectile (scatter) shot that essentially turned big
guns and howitzers into large shotguns. Incendiary shells
36 TEXASHERITAGE I Volume 3 2011
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 3, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254222/m1/36/: accessed April 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.