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History Channel shoots footage, cannons at fort

April 19, 2005

BIG POOL - The History Channel filmed at Fort Frederick State Park on Monday.

A film production company that works for the History Channel's "Battlefield Detectives" has been working with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., over the past year on a number of projects involving ballistics.

Museum Executive Director George Wunderlich has been working with the Maryland Park Service, arranging for a cannon and a location to perform the actual live fire.

The TV production crew is working on a project which involves a naval battle during the War of 1812. The TV episode will show on film what a cannonball does when it strikes wood. The simulation shows how the splintering of the hull caused significant injuries to the ships' crews, and caused tremendous damage to the wooden ships.

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According to the Maryland State Park Service, a black powder-trained artillery crew from South Mountain State Park, under strict Maryland Park Service black powder safety guidelines, fired the park's 12-pound Napoleon Cannon at the Fort Frederick State Park Range.

Several firings, with real cannon shells, boomed during the day. All filming took place on Monday, and captured the force that cannons had from that historic period.

Shells pulverized through the thick wooden targets, and penetrated more than six feet into the firing range's dirt berm.

Each "Battlefield Detectives" episode uses scientific and technological lines of enquiry to forensically analyze a particular battle.

The battle being featured by the TV show took place off Boston in June 1813. Two frigates, the USS Chesapeake and the HMS Shannon, fought bravely and ferociously for a mere 11 minutes. In that time, 103 men died and another 100 were injured, including both captains. After five U.S. frigate victories in the previous year, this battle provided a victory for the British ship. What the American captain, James Lawrence, almost certainly didn't know was that his opponent, Captain Philip Broke, had spent seven years perfecting his gunnery techniques and training his gunnery crews to a point at which he was quite possibly the most advanced gunnery commander in any navy. Broke has left a number of sketches and drawings of his innovative techniques for posterity.

The Maryland Park Service is providing assistance with gunnery experts who can analyze and interpret these drawings, and demonstrate Broke's ideas using live fire. Broke adapted his gun carriages to compensate for the raking of the deck; he introduced novel ways of aiming precisely at a target; he drew lines on the deck to allow several gunners to aim at the same target. He even worked out a way of allowing his gunners to fire accurately during darkness and in blinding smoke.

The British TV production crew, working on behalf of The History Channel, came to Fort Frederick especially to film the cannon ballistics episode. The filming on Monday was under ideal sunny conditions, and the TV crew had great praise for the assistance provided by Wunderlich, and the Maryland State Park Service cannon crew, led by South Mountain Battlefield's Al Preston. The State Park Service cannon crew were in authentic uniforms, and performed with military precision.

Tom Riford of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau was at the firing range. "The force of the sound of the cannon was amazing. It was interesting to see the large targets punched clear through, with the shell sinking deeply into the high dirt barrier. It's terrific to have a TV crew film in Washington County, and we're glad to help make The History Channel welcome," Riford said.

For more information about Fort Frederick State Park, see: www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/western/fortfrederick.html on the Web.

Fort Frederick State Park is 18 miles west of Hagerstown and one mile south of I-70 near Big Pool (Md. 56, Exit 12). It was built by the Colony of Maryland in 1756 to protect its western boundaries and as a base to attack French claims to the Ohio River Valley. In 1922, the fort became the first state park in Maryland. Currently Fort Frederick is an educational center for the study of the French and Indian War.

Fort Frederick has been called "Maryland's First Homeland Security." The 11th Annual Market Fair is set for April 21-24.

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