Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Sounds of War: What It Was Like to be Shelled By Artillery

We've all seen the cannons blank firing at reenactments. You cover your ears, you feel the shock wave of the explosion that punches you in the chest, you see a puff of smoke, maybe a smoke ring and that's it.  Well, keep in mind that these 1-pound powder loads are only half of what was considered full military power. So the noise we hear is only half as loud. We also don't hear the shells whistling downrange and the jarring impacts when they hit, a frightening experience that traumatized countless Civil War soldiers. While it is difficult to imagine getting shelled by over a hundred cannon at once during the battle of Gettysburg, some highly trained reenactors get to reproduce it on a small scale by live firing artillery pieces.

I have collected some videos here with examples of live firing explosive shells from Civil War cannons, using full military powder loads, and with cameras placed near the impact site. Also included is an attempt to simulate digitally what being shelled by 150 cannons on July 3, 1863 may have sounded like.

This is a more visceral experience than you will never get at a reenactment.

Live firing full military powder loads from parrot guns at the annual Historic Artillery Match, Camp Grayling Michigan National Guard Base:

Downrange shell bursts by 5th Massachusetts Battery at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin in 1990:


Special live fire target shooting against 55 gallon drums at Antietam battlefield:


A computer simulation of what Pickett's Charge artillery may have sounded like (best heard on a home theater system):











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