Posted April 9, 2020
B is for Bomb
This artillery bomb was recovered at Fort Meigs, a War of 1812 fort on the Maumee River in Perrysburg, Ohio.
Artillery bombs were hollow iron spheres with walls up to an inch or more thick, filled with gunpowder and often musket balls just to make it interesting. These were designed as anti-personnel weapons to be shot from mortars and timed by fuse to explode in mid-air, sending hot iron down at a couple hundred miles an hour. It’s what the phrase “the bombs bursting in air” in the National Anthem is all about except at Ft McHenry the mortars that shot such thing were much larger.
In early May 1813 the British and American forces engaged in a week long cannonade across the Maumee, ultimately for control of the Northwest. It created such a racket that it could be clearly heard 40 miles upriver at present day Defiance Ohio. Lewis Cass, the soon-to-be governor of the Michigan Territory reported hearing cannon fire at Harrison’s base camp near Upper Sandusky more than 60 miles distant. The 8” artillery bomb was recovered from about four feet deep on the site of the new visitor’s center. Apparently it buried itself in muck before exploding and most if not all of the fragments were recovered. As far as I know finding the shattered parts that refit so completely is possibly a unique find for any battlefield of that era.
Numerous other fragments have been found around Ft. Meigs including one that weighed nearly 18 pounds. Col. Alexander Bourne of the Ohio Militia estimated that the British fired at least 2,000 rounds at the Americans that week including round shot, grape shot, solid round shot heated to a dull red and then fired into the fort hoping to find a powder magazine, canister or grape shot and carcasses. Carcasses are strange arrangements that have more history than I first thought and go back to the 1600s. Carcasses were incendiary projectiles built of cast iron rings that when finished made a sphere. They thought that the connected rings looked like a rib cage – like a human carcass – thus the name. They were filled with a concoction of rosin, turpentine, tallow, sulfur, nitre, gunpowder, antimony salts, camphor and about anything else that would burn, often topped off with a measure of lead musket shot. The finished projectile had ports to fill it and to mount outside fuses. It was made undersized but coated with pitch and gunpowder paste and a layer of tow. This was allowed to dry and the process was repeated until it reached bore size. When fired from mortars the muzzle flash would light the fuses and the carcass would burst on impact and spread fire that was all but inextinguishable, not unlike the infamous Greek Fire of ancient times.