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In the days of old sailing war ships, the cannons were on wheels that enabled them to slide it out of the gunport and back for loading. To load the cannon they had to run it inside the ship, place powder bags down the front of the barrel, place a cannon ball in the barrel and take a ramrod and push it all to the back or bottom. There was a hole drilled in the top back of the cannon that led to where the powder bags sat. A fuse was inserted in the hole. When they had run out the cannon to the gunport and they were aimed right, they would light the fuse and BANG!. Then they had to repeat the whole process again. If they were firing a lot of times, each time they ran the cannon back in they had to swab out the inside of the barrel to remove any burning coals from the last firing. Otherwise when they put in the next powder bag they were in for a surprise. BANG! Dangerous occupation.

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14y ago

The most common Civil War cannon was the 12 pound smoothbore Napoleon. There were also some rifled guns, and a few breechloaders.

If the gun has already been fired in the last few minutes the first step is to swab out the barrel. This was done with a spongesatff - a long pole with a sponge attached to one end. The sponge was dipped in a bucket of water to wet it, and run down the barrel all the way. This was to extinguish any sparks or flaming remnants of the previous load still in the barrel, which might cause the next load to explode when it was being inserted in the gun.

A limber was a complete rig - the gun on two wheels and the ammunition chest on two wheels, the gun being hooked to the chest when it was pulled by the horses. A powder charge would be taken from the chest and placed into the muzzle of the gun. Then the rammer - the gun crew member with that title, would take the rammer - the tool with that name, another long pole with a flared end almost the diameter of the bore of the gun and push the powder charge all the way down the barrel, seating it firmly and compressing it slightly. The powder charges were pre-weighed and wrapped in paper. A typical powder charge for the 12 pound Napoleon was two pounds of black powder. This was a different consistency from rifle powder, usually more coarse.

Then the correct type of ammunition would be removed from the chest - round shot (cannon balls), spherical case shot or shells (hollow cannon balls packed with powder, with a wooden fuse screwed into a hole in the shell), or canister (like a big can, packed with 48 one inch iron balls, like a huge shotgun load). These were the most common types of ammunition used by armies in field guns. This too would be placed in the muzzle, and the rammer would shove that down the barrel and seat it firmly in front of and against the paper-wrapped powder charge.

The gun captain would take a small capital-T shaped tool, called a prick, the crossbar of the T being a wooden handle, and the up-and-down part of the T being a wire, and poke this through the touchole vent of the gun to poke a hole in the paper wrapped around the powder charge. Then a friction primer would be inserted in the vent, with a cord attached to the outside end. The aim was checked, the cord attached to the primer pulled which caused the primer to ignite, detonating the powder charge and discharging the round.

There was no recoil-absorbing mechanism on Napoleons so the gun would roll back a few feet when fired. The gun then had to be pushed back "into battery" (proper position) by hand by the gun crew. Then the process was repeated.

In a full gun crew for a Napoleon there were fourteen men, and each had a prescribed role to play in loading the gun. A well-drilled crew could get off several shots per minute.

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you put gun powder in through a hole and then light it

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Q: How do you load a civil war cannon?
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