Napoleon Series Archive 2009

Re: Quote from De Scheel (1800)

Dear Stephen,

Sorry it took me so long to respond, but the end of the school year is quite busy.

If you don't mind, I'm going to respond to a few of your postings here, not just this one. First, I do not agree with you that the entire canister, intact, came out of the gun tube when the piece was fired. That just didn't happen. I have found no reference to support that contention, either primary or secondary. The following is some of the material that I have found and put together for the discussion. The material is from a variety of source material either from artillery manuals or from noted authorities in the field.

‘An inert anti-personnel projectile which consists of a large number of balls, slugs, or pellets inside a simple metal casing. The canister is loaded into the gun and fired, and splits open inside the bore so that the remains of the canister and the contents are ejected from the muzzle in the manner of a charge of shot from a shotgun.’
Ian Hogg, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ammunition, 164.

‘One of the earliest kinds of scatter projectiles was case shot, or canister, used at Constantinople in 1453. The name comes from its case, or can, usually metal, which was filled with scrap, musket balls, or slugs.’
Albert Manucy, Artillery Through the Ages, 68-69.

‘Another anti-personnel scatter projectile called case or canister shot was also known. In this round the shot were packed in a tinned iron cylinder or can fastened on a wooden base. It also disintegrated upon firing and scattered its contents like a modern shotgun shell.’
Harold Peterson, The Book of the Continental Soldier, 136.

‘The envelope [for canister] is a tin cylinder, closed at the bottom by a thick cast-iron plate, and at the top by one of sheet-iron. The plates are kept in place by cutting the edges of the cylinder into strips about .5 inch long, and lapping them over the plates. To give more solidity to the mass, and prevent the balls from crowding upon eaqch other when the piece is fired, the interstices are closely packed with sawdust.’
James Benton, Ordnance and Gunnery, p. 81.

‘In grape and canister firing, the apex of the cone of dispersion is situated in the muzzle of the piece, and the destructive effect is confined to short distances…The most suitable distance for field canister-shot is from 350-500 yards; if the ground be hard and the surface be uniform, the effect may extend as far as 800 yards. In cases of great emergency a double charge of canister, fired with a single cartridge, may be used for distances under 150-200 yards.’
Benton, p. 468.

‘In firing against masses of troops at short distances, the advantages of a divided projectile, such as to strike a number of points at the same time, was early seen. The first used consisted of a box filled with old scrap iron, which soon gave place to small iron balls, which of course carried further, and had many other advantages. Gibbon mentions the use of such canisters at the siege of Constantinople in 1453; and the grapeshot, canister, and spherical case or shrapnel, of the present day are all modifications of them.’
John Gibbon, The Artillerist’s Manual, 139.

‘Grape and canister shot leave the piece diverging from each other, in the form of a cone, the greater part of the battles being in the center, and the extreme ones separating about one-tenth of the range. When fired at too short a distance, the balls occupy too small a space to produce the proper effect; and at too great a distance they diverge too much, and strike on too extended a surface. Good results can be obtained at from 300-600 yards, but the maximum effect is produced at from 300-450 yards.’
Gibbon, 249.

Interestingly, US canister during the Civil War period was constructed very similarly to, if not exactly as, the canister round described in both DeScheel and Tousard, which was the issue round of the Napoleonic period. They acted in the same way when fired as has been shown. They were constructed of sheet tin, which is thin something along the line of the old soda cans which could be crushed by hand. It is easy to understand, I think, how the canister round would rupture upon being fired and its contents acting like a shotgun round on a larger scale immediately after leaving the muzzle of the piece.

‘…case shot…consisted of a tin case containing a number of loose bullets and of a size to fit the bore. The case merely held the bullets together during their passage up the bore. When it emerged at the muzzle, the bullets were released to continue their deadly passage over the immediate frontage of the gun position…The bullets if case shot spread out somewhat rapidly at the muzzle, Muller having recorded a spread to a cirlcce whose diameter was 32 feet per 100 yards of range. As many of the bullets drove harmlessly into the ground or passed above man-height, case shot could not be regarded as a very efficient form of projectile. But though there was a waste of effort that increased with range, there is little doubt that it was a damaging projectile at short range. It was particularly effective against the large target presented by cavalry; and at very short range it was possible to fire two rounds of case, or one of case and one of round shot simultaneously.’
BP Hughes, Firepower, 34-35.

‘…the gerbe, which the former shot forms, will contain fewer balls than the gerbe of the new: and as only a certain portion of the shot in these gerbes reaches the enemy, this portion, which would be a segment of the base of the gerbe or of this cone, will not be furnished with more shot, in proportion, than the whole base. On the contrary, the smaller the cone is…the greater will be its effect…’*

*Gerbe: This word is here employed to signify the conical display of the balls, when bursting from the tin canister, on quitting the gun. The French significance of gerbe, in English, is a sheaf, une grebe de bled, a sheaf of wheat: they say also, in fire works, une grebe de feu, and whenever anything displays in the form of a sheaf the word gerbe is used…’
Louis de Tousard, American Artillerist’s Companion, Volume II, 248.

‘One of the most considerable advantages which these new canister shot have been found to produce is their effect at a distance…’
Tousard, Volume II, 248.

‘Canister shot, made in this manner, will carry very far and produce great effect.’
Tousard, Volume II, 248.

‘When the [field piece] fired, the [canister] cylinders ruptured and the iron base ‘chased’ the balls out of the gun’s barrel, producing the effect of the giant shotgun.’
John R. Elting, Swords Around A Throne, 485.

Some of the statements you have made in the last week were somewhat puzzling.

'Obviously it operated in a different form as the older cannister and carried twice as far. If the cannister split in the barrel it would have the same wide distribution as explained for the older form of cannister.'

Yes, the range was increased because the round was greatly improved and the balls were layered in the canister. No, the distribution was different because of the greater efficiency of the new canister round. It did rupture in the gun tube per the manuals and evidence provided.

'5. There are reports that the cannister did not split even when they struck the ground.'

Do you have copies of them or could you provide something of what they actually said? I have seen nothing that supports this contention. A complete canister round that hit the ground would have no effect on target. There would be little or no force to the balls if that happened. There is only one reason that I can think of that a canister round would exit the tube and travel down range intact-that there was a misfire and the charge did not fire as it should have and the round was defective. It was not designed to travel down range intact. The balls had to be released from the canister when fired for the round to be effective.

'The concept of rupture is to punch a hole in the top of the canister.'

No it isn't. Please see the references that I have supplied.

'It has been concluded that canister of thick tin plate...can did not burst in the gun tube but split in flight or less likey upon hitting the ground.'

It hasn't been concluded by the practitioners or the authorities on the subject as cited above. You have concluded that is the way the round acted buy you have not supplied any evidence that it did so. What hit the ground and then richeted further if the ground was solid enough were the individual balls not the canister. This is explained in detail in both Tousard and DeScheel.

'When the canister leaves the gun tube, it starts to tumble.'

Where is the evidence of this? None of the artillery manuals support this idea and the testing of the rounds confirm that the balls exited the gun tube in a cone that began at the piece's muzzle. The canister did not leave the gun tube intact.

'The Gribeauval Cannister was constructed so it did not burst in the tube and the manner of operation has been explained as the cannister rotating in the air distributing the contents or upon striking the ground. Also the first strike for shot which will always be longer than a poor ballistic shape will be much shorter. Also cannister was always fire with a reduced charge so the cannister was not destroyed in the tube.'

Again, that is incorrect. Where is the evidence of this happening? If the canister did exit the gun tube intact, the round would not act as intended or constructed. Again, please see the evidence provided.

Your theories on how the canister round acted when fired are not correct. If you have any evidence that it did, please cite it and let us know. Those who employed and fired these rounds have accurately relayed how the round functioned as shown above. The purpose of the round was to kill people in large numbers. Gribeauval's new canister round did quite well (William Muller writing in 1811 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars stated that French canister was very effective, 70% effective at 500 yards for an 8-pounder and 80% at 875 yards. And that was from a round made of sheet tin with an iron top and base that ruptured in the bore, the canister cone of the balls forming at the muzzle of the piece.

Sincerely,
Kevin

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