Learning to Fire a Swivel Gun

No doubt your first question, as was mine, is what the heck is a swivel gun?

swivel gun usually refers to a small cannon, mounted on a swiveling stand or fork which allows a very wide arc of movement. Swivel guns are among the smallest types of cannon, typically measuring less than 1 m (3 ft) in length and with a bore diameter of up to 3.5 cm (1¼ in). Swivel guns were used principally aboard sailing ships, serving as short-range anti-personnel ordnance. They were not ship-sinking weapons, due to their small caliber and short range, but could do considerable damage to anyone caught in their line of fire.

swivel gun Moore's Creek Battlefield

My encounter with a swivel gun took place at Moore’s Creek National Battlefield when I reported for

Selfie de jour

Selfie de jour

duty on Saturday, January 31, 2015. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived, but was quickly escorted to the trailer filled with period clothing…suit up was the command.  Let me just say, putting on clothes worn by God only knows who to do God only know what, is well, disconcerting! Especially, for this OCD chick….but I found pants, and a tunic. I was fortunate my feet are big (and wide) and the shoes provided wouldn’t fit on my feet….so I kept my own socks and shoes – whew! When I left home I swore I wouldn’t don a ‘silly’ tri-cornered hat….but I ended up in this three cornered job (I’ve been told it’s not a tricorne). The other options were tam-like or when we in the south call toboggans (for you yanks that’s a knit monstrosity).

There was a lot to learn:

  • about the gun.
  • Procedure.
  • Black Powder.
  • and working as a team (we all trained on all positions).

My plan had been to leave at lunch. There were other things I needed (and wanted) to do that day. But I was having fun. The weather was enjoyable. I had settled into the strange clothing (mostly) and most important, we were not firing the gun until after lunch!

Once the three man team takes command of the piece, the first thing done is to search the piece (ie to be sure there is no debris from previous firings). This is accomplished by using a worm ( a corkscrew type tool) down the muzzle of the gun and twisting.

Swivel Gun-worm

 Once the piece has been searched, a sponge is rammed down the muzzle to ensure any possible embers are extinguished.  This is done while the person on the right of the gun is ‘tending the vent’ which means holding his/her thumb over the vent hole to ensure no oxygen can remain in the muzzle.

Once the muzzle is clear, then a charge (pr cartridge) is placed in the muzzle and rammed to the back of the muzzle (pictured)

Swivel Gun-field command firing ramming

Once the charge is in place the command to prime is given. This means to pierce the charge by placing a pick through the vent hold. Then a quill is placed into the powder via the vent hole as well.  The quill is a small amount of black powder rolled in some flammable material (like paper).

At this point the piece is ready to fire and the command to aim is given. Those manning the gun are told to make ready (pictured) and a lintstock (smoldering rope) is touched to the quill.

Swivel Gun field command firing 2

Swivel Gun-fire

Swivel Gun-fire 2
The sound is loud. However, everyone is wearing ear protection… so it is almost impossible to know real how loud. The neatest part to me was to be able to see the fire shoot from the muzzle! Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Swivel Gun-field command firing

Swivel Gun-swivel gun training crew

I had a great time and met some really nice people! I can’t wait for my next training….perhaps a cannon or muskets!

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