Civil War artillery came in as motley an array of sizes and designs as all other equipment. Cannon ranged from the little "robinet" weighing 1201bs., firing a 3Alb. ball of I'Ain. calibre, to the 4 ton, 8in. calibre "cannon royal" firing a 631b. ball with a 401b. powder charge. Artillery was of central importance in the many sieges around which the regional campaigns of the field armies often revolved. Trains of artillery were dragged laboriously around the country by large horse teams over bad dirt roads, which they ploughed into dusty, brick-hard ruts in dry weather and impassable quagmires in the rain; and ultimately decided the outcome of sieges by battering down city walls and castle towers. Large calibre, short range mortars dropped explosive shells into towns with devastating effect, often starting serious fires.

In pitched battles cannon were less effective, being generally too unwieldy for movement around the battlefield. Artillery was very frightening; was widely hated as a devilish, inhuman weapon; and could cause hideous local casualties amongst formed-up infantry; but it seldom seriously affected, and never decided, the outcome of battles of manoeuvre.

At Naseby, June 1645, the King fielded 12 guns: two "demi cannon" weighing 6,0001bs., firing 271b. shot of 6in. calibre, and needing a nine-man crew; two "demi-culverin" (3,6001bs., 4 '/2 in. calibre, 91bs., six crew); and eight "sakers" (about 2,5001bs., 3 !/2 in. calibre, 5-61b. shot, six crew). A saker's flat-trajectory range was around 300 yards, its maximum carrying range about 1,500 yards.

Guns were slow to load: five to six minutes for the middle-range sakers and demi-cannon. The muzzle-loaded barrel had to be carefully scoured and swabbed of debris or sparks from the last shot, and the touch-hole

(Above) Second Newbury, SK: 4in. guns manned by Edward Montague, Earl of Manchester's Regiment fire in battery. Some re-enactment units are purely artillery; others are companies within foot regiments, with one or more guns. SK gunners, like their Civil War originals, tend to be independent spirits and something of a law unto themselves.

cleaned. Powder was then ladled down the bore from an open "budge barrel" brought up to the muzzle, and tamped with a wad of straw or dry grass; the ball was rolled in, and secured with a second wad. The touch-hole was filled with fine priming powder from the gunner's flask; and the gun was fired with smouldering slowmatch held in a linstock. Throughout Civil War armies the accidental meeting of exposed powder with sparks or naked flame was commonplace, and lethal; when it involved the large stocks found in artillery lines or ammunition wagons it could be disastrous enough to affect the course of a battle.

In an age when the mathematical skills needed for gunnery were extremely rare, experienced gunners were respected as the masters of a scientific mystery. In high demand, they were highly paid; often Dutch or German mercenaries, they would be offered incentives to change sides if captured.

The greatest number of reproduction guns used at any re-enactment muster was 26, at Second Newbury in 1989. Several times this number of guns are owned by various units, but many are incomplete or unserviceable at any given time. Most are of small size, for economic and practical reasons, and are classed as robinets. All guns must comply with legal proofing requirements, and are tested by the Birmingham Proof House; some are proofed for shot, others for powder and wad only.

(Left) A 3in. gun of an SK Parliamentary unit ready to move, with its tools and powder box in position. The sliding escutcheon plate covering the touch-hole is not authentic, but a safety feature. Most guns tend not to be exact replicas of 17th century designs, but give a reasonable impression from a distance. Guns are made by group members, taking wooden patterns from 18th or 19th century barrels and casting in iron or brass (the latter easier to cast, but more expensive). The cost of casting a 4in. barrel 8-9ft. long was about £1,100 in 1991. The King's Lifeguard have a gun made from high tensile steel tube covered in fibreglass, which is fully proofed but very light. There is a school of thought in the SK that larger bores should be reduced by sleeving, for economy of powder and (supposedly) increased safety; but this is far from a generally held view.

(Right) Pendennis Castle, SK: gunners of Sir Bcvil Grcnvile's Regiment, distinguished by hooped black sleeves, with their No.2 gun, a brass fawconet named "Caesar's Due". It was made by Harry Stocker (third left), Battery Commander of the Parliamentary Army, SK, and Powder Master West of England.

Powick Bridge

(Right) Edgehill, SK: a very small robinet on an A-frame carriage. At left, note the head of the linstock used for firing cannon: it holds a length of match lit at both ends, and sometimes has a blade which could be used in hand-to-hand fighting.

At re-enactments the classic arrangement for a gun position is a triangle, with the linstock stuck in the ground down-wind, and the powder box holding measured, bagged charges upwind of the gun. For legal reasons the gun captain in each crew, who is responsible at all times for the powder, must hold a Black Powder Certificate; and one crew member, a Shotgun Certificate (if the bore is less than 2in.) or Firearm Certificate (if it is larger).

(Left) Round way Down, SK: robinet of Sir Marmaduke Rawdon's Regiment. One of the crew protects the touch-hole with her hand, so the piece is presumably loaded. Women are often seen in today's gun crews, despite the fairly heavy physical work involved with the larger pieces, and Ballard's Regiment has an all-female crew.

(Right) Helmsley Castle, Yorks, ECWS: the two most authentic reproduction guns seen at today's re-enactments. Foreground is "Barak", owned by the Roundhead Association, a "bastard culverin" made by Ken Fisher, with a bore of about 3 3/4ins. and a barrel about three feet shorter than a comparable Civil War piece. In the background is "Raven", a reproduction saker owned by the Royal Armouries, HM Tower of London, made by Austin Colin Carpenter using an original barrel of the 1630s as a model. It was cast by Iron Bros, of Tavistock, with a steel sleeve reducing the bore to 3 inches. The carriage is based on plans dating from the Marlburian period and Civil War specifications. (Photo by Magic Lantern, courtesy English Heritage Special Events Unit)

(Left) Pendennis Castle, SK: Royalist fawconet of Sir Nicholas Slanning's Regiment. There are usually about six crew for a medium-size gun. Like Civil War ordnance, reproduction guns are often individually named -"Phoenix", "Sweet Lips", "Magog", etc.; this piece is "Charity". Note the tools at right: a mop and a screw-headed "searcher" or scourer. The bucket holds water for damping the swabbing mop; the hessian sack, wadding material - paper, straw, hay, or grass (cut, not pulled up, to prevent pebbles being rammed in with the wad). At one time small rolls of carpet felt were also used; the tape holding them was supposed to be cut at the last moment so that the roll opened out on firing and did not form a projectile, but forgetfulness over this safety measure led to the use of felt being stopped.

(Left) Weston Super Mare, SK: the priming ignites in the touch-hole of a robinet of Sir Thomas Ballard's Regiment.

Powder is purchased centrally by re-enactment societies (at about £3.50 a pound) and sold on to the Muster Master for a particular event; over a whole season the Sealed Knot might use about 3 '/2 tons. It is issued to the legally licensed gun captains, who make up charges of sizes to suit their gun - anything from '/2oz. for a robinet to 41bs. for a saker -in plastic bags. These are kept in the powder box, and passed to the gunner at need by the "powder monkey". The gunner puts the bag in the muzzle, then a wad, which is rammed home - the bag itself is never rammed, to prevent it splitting. A pricker is thrust down the touch-hole to pierce the bag; the touch-hole must then be covered by a gloved hand until primed, from a separate flask, and fired with match in a linstock.

(Right) Gosport, ECWS: battery of robinets coming under attack at point of pike. The placing of guns at a muster is at the choice of the commander of the Tercio (brigade). Artillery will fight mixed among other troops - as here - when they are permitted, but are most often placed on the flanks. Historically, it would be more authentic for them to fight more closely with their units under the protection of regimental infantry.

Safety regulations state that troops must not approach a loaded gun; a gun captain can order pikernen away, and in keeping troops clear of loaded ordnance he may overrule any other commander - the ultimate responsibility for safety is his alone.

In the centre background, note the small, colourful guidon: this is a commanding officer's personal heraldic flag.

(Above) Siege of Carew Castle, SK: an idyllic setting for an authentic historical camp, where a "camp follower" prepares plausible 17th century food using period-style utensils and methods.

Most re-enactors live on a campsite for the duration of a muster. The organisers provide a suitable area out of sight of the battleground, with latrine, drinking water and washing facilities. Here tents of all colours and sizes blossom among the parked camper vans and caravans. Depending on local regulations camp fires may be lit for outdoor cooking; if not, those who cannot be bothered to brew up on camping stoves will inevitably follow the smell of hot grease to the mobile kitchens of the registered caterers who haunt the re-enactment trail.

As evening falls the troops converge on the light and noise of the one utterly reliable landmark: the beer tent, which forms the social focus of the muster.With access to the campsite restricted to members and their families, re-enactors can relax in the beer tent, often listening to a live band or folk group, and swapping pints and lies with friends and rivals old and new.

Here 20-year veterans can be heard declaring that in the early days costumed members caught in headlights while walking the nightime lanes in search of pubs were often reported as ghosts...And Les retells the one about the Italian tourist in Scotland who came across a uniformed crew dragging a cannon, and told the local police he had spotted bandits in the hills,..And Dave recalls putting his armour on under his coat to avoid

(Above) Siege of Carew Castle, SK: an idyllic setting for an authentic historical camp, where a "camp follower" prepares plausible 17th century food using period-style utensils and methods.

paying excess baggage at an airport check-in, and the Customs officer's face when he found what had set off the metal detector...

Quite separate from this site is sometimes found an authentic historical camp set up by the host unit or some other group. The public are allowed into this area, which is usually near the field of battle and which forms part of the actual re-enactment. All modern features are banished from the authentic camp, where the keener "living history" re-enactors may live throughout the muster, showing visitors round and explaining the realities of 17th century life.

(Left) Weston Super Mare,SK: the wife and children of a soldier of the King's Lifeguard of Foot act out their roles in the authentic camp.

In fact. Civil War camps on the march had tents for officers only; letters and memoirs often speak of the misery of sleeping in the open, even though most campaigns were conducted between April and October. During winter armies went into permanent quarters in towns, usually living quite comfortably and being well fed. During the campaign season passing 'troops were billeted where possible on local householders, who also had to provide food. Sometimes the army issued promissory notes, though they frequently went unpaid; sometimes civilians were simply ordered to provide "free quarter". This was a ruinous system even when not abused, as it often was; the fear of pillage by passing armies of both sides far outweighed political loyalties for most civilians.

(Right) Round way Down, SK: a pikeman of Barl Rivers' Regiment busies himself with domestic chores, and his little son, during quiet hours in camp. Often whole families will attend a muster, treating it like any other camping holiday. Re-enactment groups encourage family memberships with concessionary subscription rates. Children may join, but are not usually allowed on the battlefield if under 16 years of age.

(Far right) Weston Super Mare, Vk. a "'camp'follower* in t'ne authentic camp. Women may join any fighting unit as full members, but some prefer the camp followers' role; the care they bring to their historical costumes is noticeable. They perform more or less the same roles as their 17th century originals: they care for their men and children in camp; and during battle re-enactments carry water to the combatants, and later search for their menfolk among the slain.

(Right) A soldier of Samuel Jones's Parliamentarian regiment in the authentic campsite at the SK siege of Carew Castle. Re-enactors of any historical period will know how gratefully these troops and their families must welcome this sunny day in a good site: for those caught by heavy rain 011 a badly drained site the horrors of campaigning can become all too convincing.

Sieges were in fact the most deadly episodes for Civil War troops and civilians. Large camps, static for months, were lethal breeding-grounds of typhoid and bubonic plague - far greater killers than blade or ball; and even in open field campaigning losses from a combination of fatigue, exposure, scanty rations and disease could be enormous.

Was this article helpful?

0 -1

Post a comment