乔治•华盛顿鲜为人知的人生故事(七)

by 钱绛

义不容辞走马上任

1775年7月3日,美国军队聚集在马萨诸塞剑桥市(Cambridge, Massachusetts)的公共广场上,注目乔治•华盛顿元帅骑马出现,拔出他的剑,正式接过大陆军(Continental Army)的指挥权。两周前,华盛顿这个突出的弗吉尼亚种植园主,凭着“法国与印地安战争”(French and Indian War)中的老将资历,被大陆议会(Continental Congress)任命为昨天刚建立的美国正式常备军总司令。在同意效劳美国殖民地为争取独立而战的同时,他拒绝接受任职期间的服务薪酬,除了完成大业后,将来考虑接受应得的费用报销,树立起美利坚廉政的正气风范。 经过八年抗战取得革命胜利之后,华盛顿于1783年12月23日,毅然辞去元帅职务,回到他牵肠挂肚阔别已久的佛农山庄(Mount Vernon)。六年后,他又为公复出,众望所归,以卓越战绩和谦卑性格,高票当选为美国根据宪法公认的第一任总统。

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George Washington taking command of the Army

虽说华盛顿的辉煌成就和表面一帆风顺是他劳苦功高所致,但无可否认,241年前美国13个殖民地基本各自为据,谁也不认谁为老大,甚至《独立宣言》都还没影呢,更谈不上战无不胜的华主席思想。在这种情况下胜出,依本人愚见,跟华帅哥不凡的仪表气质关系很大: 高大魁梧的身材,英俊潇洒的外观,沉稳自信的态度,慷慨大方的风格,以及不声不响主动为议会军委做的多件好人好事,无不打动并不十分了解他的同胞;他们喜欢与这个和颜悦色的南方人打交道,达成新军第一把手的交椅非此人莫属的共识。所以,海水不可斗量,领袖却能貌相。此外,作为美洲殖民源头也是总督府所在地弗吉尼亚的一个政治头目,加上经营佛农山庄的商务经验,这些丰富阅历资本都对华盛顿出类拔萃很有用。

但华帅最可贵的素质在于谦虚谨慎,不骄不躁,而且特别有自知之明的清醒头脑。接受了总司令任命的他认识到,自己其实缺乏管理大型团体所必要的经验和知识,过去的整个军事经验只限于“法印战争”期间的边境战,虽然在攻打杜肯堡(Fort Duquesne)时曾指挥过几个殖民地拼凑成的军旅。至此,他是指挥那样规模阵容的唯一土生土长的美国人。而华盛顿带来的指挥特质和领导才能,最终远远超过弥补其所谓欧洲正规军事经验的缺乏。他遗留给后代的宝贵军事管理财产中,包括了根植于追求美国正义事业的坚定不移的信念、不可动摇的决心和纯洁高尚的目标;超越自我的崇高荣誉感和自觉义务精神;以及激发周遭尊重和信任的威严。由于时刻注意自己的薄弱短处,第一大陆军司令总是愿意在利于进步的实践中不失时机地锻炼成长,并时常停下来与市民交谈,亲自阐明他对于革命期间美国争取自由的前景。

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Gen. George Washington, first of commander of the Continental Army, often stopped and talked with citizens to personally explain his vision for American freedom during the American Revolution.

操练官兵逆流而进

乔治•华盛顿将军7月2日抵达剑桥,把总部安置在哈佛学院的本杰明•沃兹沃思楼(Benjamin Wadsworth House,Harvard College)。翌日,华元帅检阅了邦克山战后已从两万减至约13000名合格作战的民兵队伍。虽然此时其他南方偏远殖民地提供的兵力和物资相继到达,然而,依华将军本人形容,这根本是“一群杂乱无章,无法无天的乌合之众”。接过烂摊子后,华盛顿仿照英军式样,立刻着手整合,开始打造一支有美国特色的规矩像样军队。

根据在“法印战争”中与英国常规军打交道时的经验观察,华盛顿写道:“纪律是军队的灵魂,它使少数变得强大; 弱者取胜,也会让所有人获得尊重。” 面对目无法纪吊儿郎当的官兵任意来来往往,进进出出,他与工作人员作出相当大的努力予以制止散漫行为,灌输组织、集体、服从观念;树立三大纪律、八项注意;严厉推行定期点名制度和增强归队措施;随同军事法庭,引进了诸如鞭笞、木马、压上耻辱柱公开批斗、击鼓赶出军营等各种惩罚方式。由于怀疑新英格兰惯有的“行为标准”衡量倾向,担心从一开始就明显冒头的种种民间习俗冲突和地域文化矛盾:南方人怕东北佬一本正经的长老教义;清教徒则对庄园贵族浮夸奢华不以为然,充满憎恶;华盛顿便拿出更严格的官兵区分手段,改成任用高级长官来取代民兵选举自己人的通常做法,并要求官员们穿戴显示不同级别差异的军服,以此建立下属服从上级的风气和环境。

至七月底,华盛顿军营里又增添了约2000名从宾夕法尼亚、马里兰和弗吉尼亚征集来的步枪兵团。在这之前,新英格兰人不了解步枪使用的精确度,大材小用南方长枪大兵,派他们去骚扰围困中的英国部队而已。在整顿风纪的同时,华盛顿面临征兵契约年底即将到期的窘迫,不得不马上采取行动,形成另一支完全直接效劳美国的大陆军。1775年9月,大陆议会派一个委员小组参观了华盛顿的军营,与总司令会晤商议后,产生了这样的一个军队组建计划: 26个步兵团,每团含728名士兵,外加一个步枪兵团和一个炮兵团。总之,到1776年年底,大陆军总数达到20372;大陆议会统一支付他们薪水,并供应和管理;而在整个革命期间,华总恪守诺言,分文不要。

纸上谈兵容易,而且看上去似乎是一张体面的宏伟蓝图,但一旦实行起来,华盛顿很快发现整个是另外一回事;不用说大刀阔斧,付诸实现;真正工作简直就是一筹莫展,步履阑珊,难上加难。首先,官兵双双均抵抗机制重组,因为这关系到个人参军的初衷意愿,也影响到从本地利益出发的自主选择习惯。另外,当时那些男人认为他们的首要义务不是爱国事业,而是家庭责任、料理农活、养家糊口。指望这些丈夫、儿子、兄长重新再登记一年抛家离子、无常莫测的峥嵘革命,未免太勉强。这种纠结,从本尼迪克特•阿诺德(Benedict Arnold)这个美国大革命的矛盾人物案例中,集中鲜明地体现出来。

1775年革命春天,阿诺德获悉他的妻子玛格丽特在老家去世的噩耗。从尚普兰湖一回到康州纽黑纹家,他就直奔坟地看她,三个年幼儿子伴其左右。参加革命前,他经商远航途中常写家书,求她多多写信的柔情寸肠充满字里行间;而对她撒手人寰,他悲恸得几乎痛不欲生。但是,让阿诺德这样不安份的爱国者就这样哭坟哀伤的守下去,根本是难以想象的。“以我目前的无所事事,” 他叹息道,“无非是在慢慢的等死。” 回家奔丧仅三周后,阿诺德就把三个孩子托给家里唯一的亲姐照料,自己启程回剑桥,希望通过所谓的“公共安危”来埋没丧妻痛苦。接下去的三年里,他转战加拿大、尚普兰湖、罗德岛、康州,然后再到纽约,使自己成为对统帅华盛顿和革命事业都不可缺少的红人。即使这样,一个起初可以为独立自由抛头颅洒热血,甚至把一生十分看重的银子,都可以毫不保留倾囊贡献给革命的赤子,1779年春季,由于金钱私利、新娘娇妻、生活作风、人际关系、权利相争和政治迫害等等复杂因素,竟然摇身一变,背叛投敌,改效皇军,差点拱手出卖他为革命屡建战功的提康德罗加堡(Fort Ticonderoga),从深得华盛顿赏识信任的亲密战友,变成了与他作对较量的冤家对头。

可想而知,大部分壮丁毕竟不具备华帅的无后顾之忧条件,或高风亮节素质,也没有阿诺德将军那样的思想觉悟,再要求他们适应陌生的编制和约束,不免造成老子洗手不干卸甲归田打道回府之类的消极反应。与此同时,华盛顿必须维持对波士顿的围攻。这些日子英军一直在紧张补充增援,七月初他到来时,波士顿城的英国人口已超过一万,敌人突围的可能恐怕迫在眉睫。此外,领导还得马上克服军需供应不足的补救问题。在这方面他做的非常出色,断定邦克山战斗已经严重耗尽了原有的军火储量,他设法从费城运来火药,最终缓解了库存之急。另外,大陆议会和各个殖民地赞助的远洋航运,使到方便法国人和荷兰人出口大批战争物资的西印度群岛去采办军火大获成功。

更英明的是,九月初,华盛顿别出心裁,在未征得大陆议会的同意批准下,果断自作主张,利用当地鱼船加以组织装备,载上新英格兰沿海地区来的部队,凑成一支叫作“华盛顿海军”的临时舰队 (Washington’s Fleet),授权去收集情报和堵截英国补给舰。结果,第一艘武装快船–纵帆船“汉纳”号(Hannah)出航后,很快就捕到一条英国船;以后的短时间内,又接连捕获38条敌舰。至10月,华盛顿海军已有56艘船活跃在附近水域上。这样一来,以简陋的海军兵力,夺取大量丰富供给,既缓解己方物资缺乏,壮大了美军军威,又折损了敌军底气,给对方嚣张气焰当头大泼冷水。这是在马萨诸塞的爱国港口镇法尔茅斯(Falmouth,Massachusetts,今缅因州波特兰市),10月18日遭到英国皇家海军报复性袭击并烧毁之后,成立大陆海军(Continental Navy) 的先驱行动,至此,康涅狄格和罗得岛各省议会,也都纷纷效仿,开始授权武装船只和盗掠敌船。

九月初,华盛顿开始盘算做两个大动作。他从英国逃兵和美国间谍提供的情报中获知,英军在没得到增援前,暂时不打算从波士顿突围,或发动大型攻势。华盛顿觉得他能利用这个空当,抽出些兵力向北进军加拿大,借机练兵;另外,华盛顿认为当下也是趁虚攻打波士顿的良机,为此召开军事委员会,阐述其全力两栖攻击的方案,即用可载50人的平底小船,送部队跨越后背湾(Back Bay),并强调冬季到来后,就非常难以将心不在焉的士兵团在一起了。可是委员们一致拒绝,作出 “起码眼下不打” 的决定。

1775 年秋,华盛顿发动的魁北克入侵(Invasion of Quebec),是新成立的大陆军在独立战争初期首次重大军事行动,目的是获得英属魁北克省(今加拿大)的军事控制,并说服讲法语的当地居民加入革命,站到十三个殖民地一边。于是,理查德•蒙哥马利(Richard Montgomery)率领的远征军,八月下旬从提康德罗加堡出发;九月中旬开始围攻蒙特利尔(Montreal)以南的防御要塞圣约翰堡(Fort St. Johns);11月拿下圣约翰炮台,继而又在攻打蒙特利尔期间,差点活捉英国将军盖伊•卡利顿(British General Guy Carleton),使卡利顿弃城逃往魁北克市(Quebec City)。与此同时,华盛顿派遣另一支远征队伍,由本尼迪克特•阿诺德(Benedict Arnold)带领1100名波士顿士兵,于9月11日离开马萨诸塞剑桥,在极其艰难困苦的情况下,越过缅因州(Maine)旷野,向魁北克市挺进,两股力量最终在那里会师。

而旗开得胜捷报频传的后面,却藏着致命的隐患。蒙哥马利攻下蒙特利尔城后,交给大卫•伍斯特将军(General David Wooster)接管蒙特利尔政府工作,再去魁北克市与阿诺德汇合。此时,其部队人数因年底兵约过期而大减,艰难跋涉也使阿诺德的幸存人马饥寒交迫,用品和设备都严重缺乏。十二月底,这些部队在魁北克市外拥抱汇合后,决定在暴风雪中当年最后一天袭击该城。结果,蒙哥马利战亡,阿诺德负伤,美军在魁北克战役(Battle of Quebec)中惨败,而城内的守军伤亡损失很小。

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The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775

接着,阿诺德对魁北克市进行了无效的围城;在此期间,效忠份子(Loyalist)的情绪被成功的宣传运动大大调动起来;而伍斯特主持的蒙特利尔政府却笨拙粗率,既惹恼了美国支持者,也得罪了批评反对人士。至1776年五月,英国上下越来越感觉北美形势不妙,调兵遣将数千军队去魁北克省增援救急,其中包括约翰•伯戈因(General John Burgoyne)和黑森雇佣盟军(Hessian allies)。卡利顿将军随后发起了反攻,终于把天花缠身、奄奄一息、慌张混乱的美军赶回到提康德罗加堡。在那儿,阿诺德领导之下的边防军,设法充分抑制住了英军的反攻,致使后者未能在1776年攻打提康德罗加堡。

不舍不弃坚持到底

随着冬季的临近,英美双方都面临各自的棘手问题。华盛顿发愁火药如此短缺,以至于发给士兵长矛来以防万一;另外也一直欠着好多军饷尚未支付。更糟糕的是,由于从农村来的士兵曾接触到天花(smallpox ),病毒迅速在军营中蔓延。在当时普遍反对接种防疫的无知偏见下,华盛顿唯一的应付手段,是把感染部队送到一个单独医院隔离。以上一切,在多数士兵征募期限即将到达之际,可谓雪上加霜。而英军方面,十月取代盖奇(Maj. Gen. Thomas Gage)的北美总司令豪将军(Maj. Gen. William Howe),却为城中木材奇缺、无法生火取暖而焦头烂额,开始要大家砍伐树木,拆毁木制建筑,包括老北方议政楼(Old North Meeting House)。捉襟见肘青黄不接之下,冬季风暴使整个城市供应情形越来越坏,强行私自掠夺盗抢现象日趋上升,饿昏了的英国士兵动不动就开溜。此外,坏血病(scurvy) 和天花瘟疫已在城中爆发开来。

十月,华盛顿再次提出进攻波士顿,但他的官员们还是认为,最好等到港口冻结后再动手。11月上旬,被困的英军有些穷凶极恶,为获得一些牲畜,派出一支400名士兵组成的远征部队,到一个叫 Lechmere’s Point的地方抢走10头牛,却在与前来捍卫牛场的殖民军交火过程中,丢了两个兵的命,得不偿失。 11月29日,殖民军上尉约翰•曼利(Colonial Captain John Manley)指挥的李号多桅帆船 (Schooner Lee),在波士顿港(Boston Harbor)外,夺取了围攻期间最有价值的奖杯之一–英国双桅帆船南希号(British Brigantine Nancy),船上满载着给波士顿城中驻守英军运去的大批武器弹药和军用物资。第二年一月中旬,在伦敦命令下,英国少将亨利•克林顿(British Major General Henry Clinton)率领一支载有1500人的小型舰队,启航前往卡罗来纳一带(Carolinas),试图加入从欧洲到来的增援部队,并占领南方殖民地的一个港口,以期采取进一步军事行动。

2月初,当罗克斯伯里(Roxbury)与波士顿中央公园 (Boston Common) 之间的水域结冻后,英军派出一个突击队越过冰面,放火烧了多切斯特的几间农舍。华盛顿觉得,尽管他的军队火药短缺,他能尝试越冰攻击;可是他手下参谋依然反对。华盛顿打波士顿的强烈欲望,来自于担心其军队会在留不住人的冬季不辞而散,而且他知道,若豪这时打过来的话,以大陆军目前的状况,冲破防线太轻而易举。对于豪一直没有大动作,华盛顿虽捉摸不透,但随时要军队保持警惕,严阵以待;绝不掉以轻心,等闲视之。

随着年底人员危机的到来,华盛顿推出了不少征募激励政策和措施,因而保住了足以维持波士顿围攻的军队规模,尽管当时兵力比被困中的敌军仍然较小。极不情愿放弃越冰攻击波士顿计划之后,华将军换成了比较谨慎小心的妥善方案,采取用大炮来坚固多切斯特高地。11月,他派后来成为其炮兵指挥官的亨利•诺克斯上校(Col. Henry Knox),去执行一项诺克斯亲自设计的宏伟工程:到提康德罗加堡,把当年春天缴获来的大炮搬到波士顿地区。这样,在寒冬腊月、冰封雪地、道路荡然无存的东北劣境下,诺克斯硬是用自己的“贵重军车”,于次年一月给华盛顿捎来50多门大炮作为新年贺礼。有了这批武器壮胆,开春后,尽管大陆军兵员数量短缺,华盛顿已作好了攻打波士顿的准备。

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Henry Knox bringing his “noble train” of artillery to Cambridge

1776年3月5日,诺克斯不久前从提康德罗加堡搬到剑桥的火炮,一夜之间被架上波士顿以南的多切斯特高地(Dorchester Heights),威风凛凛俯瞰英军阵地。由于天寒地冻,挖掘战壕不切实际,华盛顿的人便利用木头、树枝等任何方便可得的东西,快捷有效地加固战略地位。据说豪司令发现后惊呼,“天啊,这些家伙一宿完成的工,多过我能让自己军队在三个月内做的事。”这下,波士顿湾里的英国舰队全部暴露在多切斯特高地上美军大炮的射程之内,城中英军危在旦夕。英军知道自己快站不住脚了。

英国部队的直接反应是往高地上连续两小时大炮轰击,但这无济于事,因为英国大炮无法打到高高在上的美国大炮。这招失败后,豪及其军官们决定,若想守住波士顿,就必须把高地上的叛匪给除掉,夺回制高点,于是策划攻击。然而,由于暴风雪阻碍,袭击企图最终没能得逞。3月8日,一些波士顿的头面人士致信华盛顿,声称如果英国人离开不受阻碍,他们就不会破坏城市。华盛顿接到此信后,予以正式回绝,因为信并没注明收信人的名称或头衔。然而,此信却达到了预期的效果:后来疏散开始后,美军没放一枪一弹。 3月9日,华盛顿的部队上多切斯特高地的努克山(Nook’s Hill)加强工事,更往前挪近,咄咄逼人。英军觉察动静之后,报以整夜炮弹密集轰击,虽然有颗炮弹击中四人,但这是对殖民军造成的唯一损害。次日,殖民军出动,回收了700颗向他们发射的铁弹球*。

至此,豪只得承认:波士顿早已是一毛不拔的贫困之地,不值得守下去了。3月10日,豪司令发布公告,命令居民舍弃所有可能被殖民军用来继续战争的棉布和毛织品,授权一位名叫克林•布儒施(Crean Brush)的忠臣份子,负责接收这些物品;作为回报,发给他一张其实毫无价值的证书。接下来的一周内,停泊在波士顿港口的英国舰队,一边等待有利航行的顺风,一边让保皇党和英军士兵上船。此间,港外活跃的华盛顿海军,又成功抓获几艘英国补给舰,神气地把它们引进殖民军占领下的港口。3月15日,风变顺了,但船还没开,风向又不好了。 两天后,风向终于再度转顺,那些受命若撤离和上船途中受阻就要放火焚城的驻军,临晨4点出城,到上午9点,所有船只都上路了。从波士顿出发的船队包括120条船,载有11000多人;其中,9906名英军、667名妇女以及553名儿童;航行目的地是新斯科舍省哈利法克斯(Halifax, Nova Scotia)的临时避难所;英军指望到那里重整旗鼓,等待增援。这天,3月17日,至今仍被当作“疏散日”庆祝。

Washington VII-5
Engraving depicting the British evacuation of Boston

一旦英国舰队扬帆而去,美国人便开始收复波士顿和查尔斯顿。起初,他们以为邦克山上还有英国人,但后来发现是敌人弄虚作假。大举进入波士顿前,由于天花的危险,起初只让阿提马斯•沃德(Artemas Ward)指挥下的一帮人,冒着疾病传染的风险先进城试探;一旦险情被断定较低,殖民大军于3月20日入城。虽然华盛顿在英军放火的威胁面前基本妥协,并没妨碍他们的撤离,但却在敌人从外港逃脱时有意刁难。他指示曼利队长骚扰出发的英国舰队,捕获的战利品中,包括一艘载有布儒施的船及其抢夺来的物资。

舰队离开外港后,豪将军倒是长了个心眼,留下一支应急小型船队,其主要目的是拦截任何准备抵达的英国船只。因此,多数运载大批英军原本开往波士顿的船只被成功改道转向哈利法克斯,但还是有些不知情的英国兵船没头没脑停靠波士顿,懵里懵懂落入美国人手中。

英军撤离结束了位于新英格兰殖民地的重大军事行动,之后,当地民兵解散。4月初,估计英军随时可能卷土重来,而且下次目标会对准纽约城,华盛顿准备将大部分人马,安排来巩固纽约市,于是4月4日带军队去曼哈顿(Manhattan),从而拉开了纽约和新泽西战事 (New York and New Jersey campaign),以及1777年反抗伯戈因争取控制哈得逊河谷地(Hudson River valley)的大革命战争帷幕。毋庸置疑,华盛顿的早期军事行动,打破相持整整11个月的围困僵局,加速了英军溜之大吉,致使美英较量,风向突变。重新占领波士顿对于美国人也是一个心理上的重要转折点,平衡了大家对加拿大进攻的失望。另外,英国人被迫留下的火炮弹药大受欢迎,正好补充了美军微薄的军需库存,大大有助于革命取得最后胜利。

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Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, by John Trumbull

从参与波士顿围困的大陆军中,衍生出六个后来属于美国陆军部(Department of the Army) 国民警卫队(Army National Guard)之下的光荣历史单位(Lineage and Honors):第101工兵营(101st Engineer Battalion);第125军需司(125th Quartermaster Company);第181步兵营(181st Infantry);第182步兵营(182nd Infantry);第172和第197野战炮兵团 (172nd Field Artillery & 197th Field Artillery)。至今,美国陆军现有部队仍保存着三十个可追溯到殖民时代谱系的分支。

–未完待续–

注释:

During the U.S. Revolutionary War and later Civil War, Cannonballs were primarily (or exclusively) effective as Projectiles (killing and maiming personnel and cavalry in their path); or, Explosives (throwing a radius of deadly shrapnel and/or earth) wherever they landed.

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However, not all projectiles fired from cannons are equal. For that matter, not all cannons are equal. At Marignano in 1515, the French devastated the Swiss pike formations with roundshot, which at the time was considered an innovative use of artillery, because prior to that, cannons were mainly used as siege weapons. From then on, until the advent of breach-loaded, quick-firing artillery loaded with shells using modern fuzes in the late 19th century, cannonballs, or roundshots, were some of the best anti-personnel weapons in the world, and the only ones that were effective beyond a few dozen yards’ range. Reasons:

Roundshots are smooth, solid iron spheres flying at high speed, packing an incredible amount of energy into a small little projectile that bulldozes its way through everything it hits. A cannonball flying through the side of a ship meant razor-sharp wooden splinters shooting in every direction; a cannonball hitting a man sent pieces of his bones and equipment flying with enough energy to kill nearby soldiers. It does not take a lot of imagination to see what sort of effect even one or two of these impacts can have on the morale of the men on the receiving end.

Roundshots, fired by smoothbore guns, bounce. Off of the packed earth of a field, the smooth glacis of a fort, the surface of a body of water… they bounce and skip and rip their way through everything they touch until at last they run out of kinetic energy. This contrasts with the elongated, conical shells of rifled guns, which, though more accurate and longer-ranged, tended to burrow into the ground. So a rifled gun battery had to precisely hit an advancing battalion, whereas a smoothbore battery could simply aim in the general direction of the enemy, knowing that, by one fashion or another, the payload would likely inflict some damage.

The rate of fire for an artillery piece was roughly the same as that for an individual man’s weapon. During the American Civil War, an experienced, well-rested gun crew could send up to 4 rounds of 12-lb ammunition downrange each minute—48 lbs per gun, times 6 guns for a federal battery or 4 for a rebel one—or anywhere from 200-300 lb of iron shot. That is a lot of destructive firepower. And whereas small arms were effective only out to about 50 yards (for a smoothbore musket) or several hundred (for a rifle), artillery pieces were effective out to about 1,800 yards. The rule of thumb during the Civil War held that an enemy attacking from 1,500 yards could expect to receive 4,200 lbs of iron in the time it took to reach the cannons–and that just from a single battery!

The effectiveness of shell and case shot depended on fuzes, which were notoriously unreliable in the late 18th and early 19th century. This was as much due to the varying quality of the fuzes themselves as it was to the difficulty of estimating distance to target, which until the invention of the coincidence rangefinder was always a bit of a guessing game anyway. Andrew Warinner notes in this awesome answer that case shot were credited with breaking up some French assaults at Waterloo, but generally speaking the most common ammunition for anti-personnel use was roundshot, and then, as the enemy drew nearer, crews would switch to canister.

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Mons Meg cannon on display at Edinburgh Castle. It fired 20 inch, 400 pounds, balls (front) a distance of 2 miles. It was used for sieges not against personnel.

Large cannonballs (roundshots), when hitting infantry, would be devastating. You wouldn’t find much of the unfortunate soldier after he got hit. The problem is that one large cannonball is an expensive way to kill just a small number of soldiers – and what if you missed. Cannonballs cost a lot to make and the gunpowder to fire them wasn’t cheap either.

Cannons typically used other kinds of rounds against people. They kept the heavy cannon balls for siege work, knocking holes in walls. For wiping out infantry or cavalry, they might use one of these:

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Grapeshot – a stack of cannon balls held together by cloth, rope, wood or metal bracing. When fired form a cannon, the grapeshot balls would spread. This means that the area of destruction would be larger, though the inertia carried by each ball would be less. Grape shot was large enough to cut through the side of a ship and the multiple projectiles would do more damage to the crew than a single ball. On land, grape shot could cut a line of solders even at range.

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Canister shot – the same again but even smaller, musket-ball sized shot. The small size means that you lose range, accuracy and penetrating ability. However, at short ranges, this shot was devastating to approaching troops. For example, the Russian guns used case and canister shot against the British at Balaclava (1854) to decimate the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. Think of canister shot like a massive shotgun cartridge.

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Case shot – advancing on the canister shell and combining with the explosive shell (below), case shot would explode in mid flight, scattering its contents of balls over the target. These were used in significant numbers during the American Civil War.

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Shrapnel shell – developed in 1784 by an English officer, Lieutenant Shrapnel who gave the shot his name. The shrapnel shell was similar to canister or case shot. However, when fired, the canister did not break apart. Instead a timed fuse would ignite a charge within the shell, pushing out the small balls or bullets out of the front of the shell. The advantage was a considerable increase in range and accuracy of over canister shot while achieving similar devastation to the enemy troops. The British used shrapnel shells in high numbers up to and during the First World War. However, after the war, this form of shell fell out of favor.

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Explosive shells – going back to early times, people fired fused explosive shells from cannons. They looked much like the bombs of cartoons. In modern times, these advanced with the introduction of high explosives and improved fuses that allowed for air bursts for maximum damage. High explosive shells (HE) remain in use by artillery and tanks today for use against unmoored targets and more.

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Beehive rounds – during the Vietnam War, the US developed advancement on the shrapnel shell known as the Beehive. This shell contained about 8,000 flechettes (darts) – rather than balls. These were used with good effect against formations of advancing enemy. Later in the war, they developed variations known as the Killer Junior and Killer Senior which different form Beehives in being fired on a high trajectory, rather than nearly flat, making the rounds more effective against targets that have gone to ground or other cover.

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Area Denial Artillery Munition – a modern round that contains anti-personnel mines. When fired, the shell scatters its mines over an area, preventing enemy troops form crossing that land.

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Chain shot – this round was principally designed for naval warfare where the spinning balls and chain would rip through the enemy ships masts and rigging, leaving them dead in the water. However, there is some account of them being used on land. One such case is in the defense of Magdeburg in May 1631. You can imagine the 6 feet of chain spinning through a line of infantry would leave a messy gap in said line.

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Ultima Ratio Regum

The term ‘gun’ in artillery parlance has a specific meaning, and that is as a direct-fire weapon with a flat shaped trajectory. There are three specific types of cannon: the gun, the howitzer, and the mortar.

The difference between the three is basically trajectory of fire. Guns have flat, or flat-ish, trajectories. Howitzers have low-angle (though certainly not flat) trajectories. Mortars have high-angle trajectories.

Your typical gun firing the stereotypical ‘cannonball’ does not in fact fire an explosive projectile. Roundshot, as it’s more properly known, is basically the world’s most evil bowling ball. A gun is generally named after the weight of the roundshot it fires, so you have the dinky little 3-pounders, the generalist 9-pounders, and the heavier pieces only seen on either ships of the line or in sieges – 24-pdrs, 36-pdrs, even 42-pdr guns.

The effectiveness of roundshot stems from the formations in use of the day. A musket just isn’t any good on its own, and if you try and use it to shoot someone beyond fifty yards, you may as well aim at the moon for all the good you’ll do. So instead you mass up a good and solid infantry line so you can be sure you’re sending down as much lead as possible in a tight enough concentration. Of course, this also means that your men make a tempting target for artillery. Trust me; nobody looks good after taking a nine-pounder roundshot in the chest, and what about the man behind him?

Of course, roundshot isn’t the only thing a gun fires. When gunners feel threatened by unfriendliness being too close, they have another option for that: Canister shot, or case shot. This is what happens when you take a cylinder and then cram it with as many musket balls as you can get your hands on – or failing that, stuff it full of nails, scrap iron, bits of wire, and other small evil hurting things. This turns the gun into a ridiculously large and hideous shotgun; range is short, that if you’re in the field of fire of a gun loaded with canister, your mates will have a hard time finding enough of you to bury.

Oh, and sometimes, when gunners are feeling double-extra evil, they may well double-shot their gun – a roundshot is loaded first, and then a canister is added on top just to spite you.

Now, there is one minor downside to roundshot – it requires a flat trajectory to really do its work. At the angles howitzers and mortars provide, a roundshot is going to just bury itself into the ground where it hits. Hence, roundshot will only be used by howitzers in exceptional circumstances, and mortars not at all.

Instead, they fire shell, which is more familiar to us – a metal shell filled with explosive and coupled with a fuse. The gunner cuts the fuses so that the shell detonates either on impact or moments before impact. Cut a fuse too long, and there’s the possibility – remote, but non-zero – of a supremely brave, lucky, or stupid person managing to defuse the shell before it explodes.

Shrapnel in fact has a slightly different meaning, in the older days. See, the thing with canister is, the discharge effect instantly obliterates the canister and hence makes it short-ranged. But one British officer managed to combine canister with shell, to produce what he called ‘spherical case shot’. It’s basically a standard shell with just enough gunpowder inside to shatter the shell, and the expected load of balls. Properly fused and discharged, each shell basically becomes a shotgun of its own.

Oh, the British officer’s name? Henry Shrapnel. In 1852 the British formally designated his design of shell as ‘shrapnel shell’, and continued to use it thereafter, even into the First World War.

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2017-06-02 09:17:08