BIG BANG: Cannon Loading in the 18th Century

Modern shooters have it good. Load a cartridge, pull trigger, bang, and the case is easy to remove. Our older brethren did not have it so easy. Traditional black-powder cannons are quite a bit more involved, requiring multiple steps to clean, load, and ultimately fire.

  1. The loading sequence starts with the Worm or Wad-Screw, which is similar to a wine uncorker, used to remove any remaining bag or wadding.
  2. Then a large sponge is inserted into the bore to clean out any remaining powder or smoldering debris that the wad-screw missed.
  3. Then, the charge is loaded into the bore and pushed back to the rear.
  4. A “pricker” is inserted through the bag while held to the rear and the ram-rod is removed from the bore.
  5. If loading for real, the projectile is loaded in, rammed to the rear, and held in place with rope wadding.
  6. A “quick-match” is inserted into the hole created by the pricker.
  7. Now ready-to-fire, a slow match is lit attached to a “linstock” (wooden dowell that holds the flammable rope slow-match.
  8. The slow-match then lights the quick-match and the cannon detonates.

Of course, while all the loading is going on, the crew chief holds his thumb over the the touch-hole using a leather thumb-stall to keep any drafts from enter the bore and pre-igniting the charge.

With all of this and a good crew, time between shots was about 90 seconds. Impressive.


Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • PK

    “Of course, while all the loading is going on, the crew chief holds his thumb over the the touch-hole using a leather thumb-stall to keep any drafts from enter the bore and pre-igniting the charge.”

    The thumbstall is used by the gunner and placed over the vent when the barrel is being swabbed out. That stops smoldering debris and hot ashes from moving up into the vent, which would prematurely ignite the next powder load.

  • datimes

    I saw this beautiful bronze Confederate 12 pounder from the War Between the States last weekend at Fort Bennings National Museum of the infantry. Cast in Macon Georgia 1864.

    • Billy bob

      Sorry, did you mean the War of Northern Aggression?

      • Bucho4Prez


        • Matt Wilder

          No, I think he meant The Civil War, aka,
          the war where we sent you dirty traitors packing….

          Best Regards,
          A DAMN YANKEE living in Florida… 😉

          • datimes

            A civil war is where two sides compete to rule. The South succeeded and just wanted to be left alone. They never intended upon taking DC and imposing their will on the North. Lincoln invaded. And I am also a damn Yankee living in south FL and loving it.

          • ostiariusalpha

            The South was perfectly happy to crap on states rights when it suited them, they deserve no sympathy. And Lincoln didn’t invade without provocation, the Southerners rather stupidly resorted to violence in seizing Ft. Sumter, which was federal property, which any nation has the right to respond to. If the Cubans were so dumb as to seize Guantanimo Bay, they’d get what they deserve too.

          • pieslapper

            Not with Barry in the rainbow house.

          • LG

            Ft. Sumter was no longer union territory. Ft. Sumter was in a sovereign state whose allegiance was to the Confederate States of America. Lincoln forced a confrontation by attempting resupply thereof against The South’s wishes.

          • retfed

            I thought the article was about artillery, but I’ll throw in my two cents:
            Ft. Sumter was U.S. territory, regardless of the sovereignty of the area surrounding it. Just like Guantanamo Bay is U.S. territory today.

          • DaveP

            Nonsense. The South fired on American flagged property, forts and ships. After that it was on like Donkey Kong. You’re welcome to your own opinion but not your own facts.

          • Dan

            ” You’re welcome to your own opinion but not your own facts”
            Pfft….someone clearly doesn’t understand the internet. Jk

          • LG

            No. Lincoln was calling up troops to invade the South. Lincoln was well warned that Ft. Sumter was NOT to be reinforced or resupplied, least violence commence. Lincoln and Sec. of War Stanton decided to resupply Ft. Sumter, which was in a sovereign state no longer in the union, and employ open aggression if the South did not aquesence to his excellency Lincoln.

          • DaveP.

            Sorry, straight-up BS. Sumter belonged to the USA unless and until the USA recognized the South AND agreed to hand it over (see Guantanamo Bay). American national shipping can go anywhere it damn well pleases, and has an absolute right to travel to American ports or bases, and firing upon it is an act of war no matter who you are. The governor of South Carolina “demanded” that President Buchanan (note: the guy BEFORE Lincoln, before Lincoln was even inaugurated) “surrender” the fort, with the threat of violence creating a defacto act of war… and high treason.

            The Democratic Party Southern delegation declared, in its 1860 convention, that NOT ONLY would it secede if Lincoln was elected… but if ANY NON-SLAVEOWNING DEMOCRAT was elected. For those of you who can’t add, that’s BEFORE the election itself- much less Lincoln’s oath of office. Premeditated treason, not “self-defense”…. and once that first cannon was fired, it was impossible to restrain the fire-eaters in the North (of which Lincoln was NOT one) from demanding military action. Congrats Rebs, you did it all to yourselves.
            The ‘Libertarian’ South practiced forced induction into its armed forces, complete with bayonets and armed guards… over a year before Lincoln signed a bill authorizing a Draft in the north; and the North’s law was a lot more generous with bonuses and a lot less brutal with those who didn’t want to serve. The Draft in the South was so unpopular there was a minirebellion in the Virginia and North Carolina mountains, ending in a bitter guerrilla war by the free-living mountain peoples who didn’t want to be forced to fight a war to enrich wealthy slave-owning lowlanders.
            Scratch a Revisionist, find historical ignorance running about a mile deep.

          • LG

            Besides the draft riots in the heart of yankee land, New York, it was not a civil war. The Confederacy did not want to dominate yankee land. The south had seceded from the union. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia had fought as STATES in the American Revolution. Texas had been a republic. The Confederacy was right. Chew on it with the president you elected who is taking away your few rights left.

          • DaveP.

            I give you actual, black-letter history… you give me babble.
            I love it when my chewtoys give up and start to whine.

          • ostiariusalpha

            What’s ironic is that when New England threatened to secede from the Union in 1814 over the Democrats gross mismanagement of the War of 1812, all those Southern Democrats characterized them as traitors and claimed that secession was completely illegitimate.

          • Cannoneer No. 4

            Seceded not succeeded.

          • datimes


          • Tom

            True on so many levels.

          • Longhaired Redneck

            Yay for historical facts!

      • datimes

        Depending on your allegence there are several ways of defining that conflict. You and I both know what it was.

      • CrankyFool

        I assumed he meant the war where the South sacrificed thousands of lives to insist on its right to keep thousands of other lives enslaved, right?

        • Longhaired Redneck

          Slavery was already on its way out. Becoming unpopular and a habit of the wealthy. Slavery was a very small plank in an otherwise large Southern platform. Lincoln did a fair amount of trampling the Constitution in his struggle to save the “Union”.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Slavery was the South’s one and only plank, man. Absolutely everything else was just putting lipstick on the pig.

          • LG

            No. I suggest that you read the Constitution of the Confederate States of America and the book “The Civil War 1823-1865. remember, there NEVER has been a treaty between The Confederate States of America and the union. Lee could only surrender the Army of Northern Virginia and not the confederacy . Good old General Kirby Smith still was fighting in the trans-Mississippi.

          • ostiariusalpha

            I have read the C.S.A.’s constitution, and it is pretty explicit that slavery trumps state’s rights:

            Article IV Section 2(1)
            The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.

          • LG

            It has NEVER been tested in court as to the legality of a state exiting the union. Texas was NEVER bought or a territory. Texas was an independent republic, The Republic of Texas, and entered the union on a treaty. The South would NEVER have signed the Constitution over The Articles of Confederation if the facts be known beforehand of union perfidy and aggression.

      • Edeco

        The Late Unpleasantness

      • Longhaired Redneck

        Well said sir! I admire your lack of political correctness in favor of historical fact. A trait sadly lacking in our country and in the world.

  • Ryan

    Mmmmmm Pith helmets.

  • DaveP.

    By the 1790s folks had started to mount flint locks onto (Naval that I know of not sure about land or fortress) cannon. This gave a shorter lock time and a more reliable ignition. I don’t know how long it took for that to enter general use or if it ever did. I’ve also heard tell of pull-igniters made from goose quills, filled with primer and something to flash it, sealed with wax and with a string pull to set it off.
    “Fire on the roll, boys!”

    • LG

      By the time of The War of Northern Aggression, friction primers were the norm. Remember The Gallant Pelham.


    I want a cannon because deer meat tastes better when it’s pre-shredded when you pick it off the ground.

  • Mario AK


  • Alex Agius

    I’ve been to that fort, that 100 tonne gun is huge, they used to let you shoot a martini henry idk if they still do

  • smartacus

    the move and dress like The Coneheads 🙂

  • nick

    We have a French iron 6 pounder with garrison mount on our range
    6 Oz of single F gets the ball moving quite well
    Important safety note , we bag our powder charge in tin foil, the original fabric bags have a habit of leaving embers

  • Devil_Doc

    Lindybeige is awesome… lol. I highly recommend looking through his youtube channel.

  • Phil Hsueh

    First Knyght Errant and now LIndybeige, can’t wait for Matt Easton/Scholagladiatoria video to make an appearance here.

    • LG

      I hope not for the guns section. Matt Easton is superb with edged weapons but his knowledge of guns appears quite limited. He states many times of the lack of effectiveness of black powder weapons in the mid and late 19th century. He has evidently not read the works of the wounds from minnie balls and buck and ball from the surgeons and soldiers in The War of Northern Aggression. I know of no one knowledgable who would not have faith in the lethality of a good Colt Walker or dragoon. Lindybeige doesn’t even know the proper designations of individual and crew served machine guns.

      • Tom

        Its always struck me as bizarre that the Americans basically abandoned melee weapons (IIRC there were very few bayonet charges during the Civil War and few sabre charges) whilst the Europeans were positively enthusiastic about melee weapons in the 19th century.

        I can not think of any reason why American firearms would be more effective than European ones so its curious that the Europeans (who had much larger military budgets than the Americans) still saw the sword and lance as an effective weapon in spite of having firearms which were the equal of anything the American had. Perhaps it comes down to the scale of engagement post Civil War the US did not face large forces of melee armed enemies like the Europeans did. Whilst six shots from a revolver would be great in a skirmish against Indians out west if facing thousands of enemies as the Europeans did in Africa and Asia one might take comfort in having a sabre as well as those six shots.

        As for your last statement I am assuming you are referring to his video on the MG34/MG42 Vs the BREN in which he was quite clear why he was using the term he was using.

        • retfed

          I read that the U.S. didn’t have many traditional cavalry charges because the countryside didn’t favor them. Too wooded and broken up. Since the majority of cavalry actions were on the Western plains and not in the East (very few real cavalry actions in the Civil War), I think it might be true. But I’m not a military historian or a tactician, so I don’t know.

  • Madcap_Magician

    Well, they’re wearing pith helmets, which automatically makes them faster at artillery drill. Handlebar mustaches also improve speed.

  • adverse4

    Should have kept thumb over the political touch hole.