Cannon Fire

May 31, 2013

We spent last weekend in Richmond to do some sightseeing with some family who joined us there. One place we visited on Saturday was Historic Tredegar, a Civil War museum and historic site. As the place where numerous Civil War cannons were produced, the Tredegar stood as a crucial site for the Confederacy. We went to hear a talk called "From Foundry to Fire!" during which we learned about the making of cannons and ammunition. It ended with a boom as they fired a cannon (the photo is one I took of that). The description of the various types of ammunition gave more meaning to the phrase "war is hell." When a battle started, the cannoneers would generally start with the traditional cannonball, a solid iron ball that flew a great distance and then knocked apart whatever - or whomever - in its path. Then, as the opposing army neared, the crew would switch to explosive cannonballs that would either blow up when they hit something or would be timed to blow up over the opposing army. Although these cannonballs could not fly as far as the solid ones, the explosiveness made them much deadlier. After telling about these two types of cannonballs and showing examples, our presenter then made the comment that once the opposing army got even closer, the cannoneers would switch to the really deadly weapons. His comment startled me because I thought we had already heard about the deadly ones! The last type of ammunition basically transformed the cannon into a large shotgun as they fired a canister with a bunch of smaller balls in it that spread out upon firing. Our presenter quoted reports from witnesses that this type of blast was so devastating that as it tore through the opposing army the shattering of bones sounded like breaking glass and when the smoke cleared the field was empty except for a pile of bodies and a pink mist in the air. If only we could use such innovative minds for good. As the presentation continued, my mind wandered back to historic reports of church bells being melted down to make cannonballs (I told a story about this during my most recent sermon). How tragic to see an instrument designed to sing glory to God instead hissing hellishly across a battlefield.