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Having a (cannon) ball

June 25, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

"Artillery hell."

That's what Confederate Col. Stephen D. Lee called Antietam Battlefield, according to Antietam National Battlefield's Web site.

While most of the men who died from the Sept. 17, 1862, battle did so as a result of musket and rifle fire, one cannon shot could do far more damage than a single musket ball, Antietam Park Ranger Christie Stanczak said.

Five hundred to 600 cannons were used by Union and Confederate forces during the battle.

Visitors to the battlefield this Saturday will get to see an artillery demonstration, as will visitors to Fort Frederick State Park near Big Pool this Saturday and Sunday.

Several state and federal parks in the area have occasional artillery demonstrations in which replicas of historic cannons fire blanks.

Fort Frederick uses a replica of a six-pound British cannon, the type that would have been used by the British Army during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War, park historian Steve Robertson said.

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Fort Frederick was never attacked during the French and Indian War. But Robertson said soldiers at the fort probably drilled with cannons, just in case of attack.

Antietam uses replicas of 12-pound Napoleon cannons, one of which is occasionally borrowed from South Mountain State Battlefield, Stanczak said. The actual cannons fired during the Battle of Antietam are museum pieces used to mark artillery locations during the battle.

Both rifled cannons and smoothbore cannons, like the Napoleon, were used during the Battle of Antietam.

Smoothbore cannons tended to be made of bronze and had smooth barrels. They could fire various ammunition, including round projectiles and canisters, which were big tin cans containing golfball-sized iron balls packed in sawdust.

"(Canisters) turned the cannon into a giant shotgun," Stanczak said.

Rifled cannons had spiral grooves cut into their barrels that put a spin on the projectile, like a football being thrown, providing better accuracy, Stanczak said. They fired large bullet-shaped projectile.

Rifled cannons tended to be made of iron because firing projectiles through the barrel tended to smooth or wear out bronze, whereas iron would hold the grooves better, said Robert Bailey, park ranger at South Mountain State Battlefield. However, iron is more brittle. So after much use, rifled cannons could fail - they blew up and killed the detachment firing it, he said.

Starting this year, Antietam added its own artillery group, which drilled during the winter. It will present artillery programs the last Saturday of the month through the summer, Stanczak said. These are in addition to Antietam's artillery weekends, which involve cannon firing demos by other groups.

During the Battle of Antietam, a cannon could be reloaded in 30 to 45 seconds, Stanczak said. It would take longer to aim the cannon than to reload it, though both would be done simultaneously.

To learn more about artillery at Antietam, go to www.nps.gov/anti/historyculture/arty.htm .




SCHEDULE



Upcoming artillery demos include:

Saturday, June 27, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., behind the visitors center at Antietam National Battlefield north of Sharpsburg. Park entrance fee is $4 per person or $6 per family. Call 301-432-5124.

Saturday, June 27, and Sunday, June 28, at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. at Fort Frederick State Park, 11100 Fort Frederick Road, Big Pool. Program fee is $3 for ages 13 and older; $2 for ages 6 to 12; and free for ages 5 and younger. Call 301-842-2155.

Saturday, July 18, and Sunday, July 19, at noon, 2 and 3 p.m. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, across U.S. 340 from the park visitors center, Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Park entrance fee is $6 per vehicle for a three-day pass. Call 304-535-6029.

Saturday, July 25, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Antietam.

Saturday, July 25, and Sunday, July 26, at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. at Fort Frederick.

Saturday, Aug. 8, and Sunday, Aug. 9, at noon, 2 and 3 p.m. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Saturday, Aug. 29, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Antietam.

During Battle Anniversary Weekend, which is Friday, Sept. 11, to Monday, Sept. 14, at Antietam and Washington Monument State Park off Alternate U.S. 40, east of Boonsboro. Call 301-432-5124 or 301-432-8065.

Saturday, Sept. 26, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Antietam.

Saturday, Sept. 26, and Sunday, Sept. 27, at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. at Fort Frederick.

Saturday, Oct. 31, and Sunday, Nov. 1, at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. at Fort Frederick.

Saturday, Oct. 31, and Sunday, Nov. 1, at noon, 2 and 3 p.m. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

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