Field Piece Operations, XVII Century

Boleslaw's Orlicki's Light Artillery

(c) 2001 Richard J. Orli





History of the Piece

Standard Maintenance

Set Up for Firing


Crew Positions

Nomenclature and Summaryse

See Also

Commparitive Carriage Design

Drill Summary with Field Operations, incl. Polish commands

dell'Aqua 1500s Polish Artillery Manuele

Siemienovitz 17th C. Polish Artillery Manual




                        An Operator's manual for "KISMET"

which is

A Falconett Two-Pounder,

                                           Model 1698, No. 1, of French Design

          Adapted from Kent Aist’s Cannon Manualfortuns.jpg (53916 bytes)

          (c)1995 Kent Aist  

          other material  (c)2001 Richard Orli


History of the Piece

Image4.gif (24642 bytes) Image5.gif (16605 bytes)                Above, lady Kismet (Fortuna)

‘Kismet’ was manufactured by Cannon Ltd of Coolsville OH in 2000. It (and the carriage) was patterned off the French Novelle Artillery diagrams in Diderot’s Le Encyclopedia Des Armaments, 1730. The specific design originated in 1692, and is typical of mid 17th C. to late 18th C. guns. In 1711 the French standardized on this design in 4, 8, and 12 pounder sizes. Prior to this period a large variety of sizes were cast and placed into service. Cannon Ltd did not follow the pattern exactly, and so this is more of a generic late 17th C. culverin than an exact replica (the term ‘cannon’ was applied only to a class of large guns). A culverin of this period would likely have been more ornamented. While many late 17th C. guns had plain dolphins, usually one or more devices (gun’s name, General of Artillery coat of arms, King’s crest) would have been cast into the barrel. Many plain barrels were, however, made; some have recently been found in a recovered shipwreak in Sweden.

This gun has a 2 1/4 inch bore and weighs 230 pounds. We describe it as two pounder when being honest, but call it a three pounder or a 90% reduced scale 3 pounder if you like. An actual iron ball of this size (2 3/16) weighs 1.6 pounds, and a lead ball (2 1/8) weighs 2 lbs. A two inch steel ball (typical range ammunition - like a scrap ball bearing ) weighs 1.2 lbs). The barrel is large and thick enough to have safely supported a 2 inch bore.

cannonlr.jpg (23004 bytes)

The barrel was cast out of naval gun bronze (copper, tin, zinc; period bronze was 90 copper- 10 tin) and its bore was drilled out. This technique was not used until the mid 1700s, but makes for a stronger, safer gun. Bronze has over twice the ductile strength of Iron, and is stronger than any steel or Iron barrel, will not fragment when burst, and is proof from most damaging corrosion. It is the safest type of barrel. The manufacturer rates the piece for 5 ounces of grade F powder for blanks, and 3 ounces for shot. Standard load is 3 ounce for blanks in re-enactments, 4 oz for demonstrations.

The carriage was designed for a full-scale two pounder, rather than as a scale model. This particular carriage design was chosen because it is of the same general design as Polish horse artillery carriages of the period, and because the specific French design would have been used in America from the French and Indian war through the War of 1812. While most armies used 3 pdr and larger, Polish horse artillery was often 2 pdr, and literally hundreds of 2 pdr barrels from the 17th C. exist today.

The piece’s carriage cheeks were manufactured by Rick Orli of oak laminated to fir, with breast, axle, trail and other blocks of maple, oak and other hardwoods. The hooks, screw, and trunnion caps and fittings were manufactured by Mitch Smith, blacksmith; Rick did the other metalwork, with some sheet-metal cutting by a local metal shop. Robert Gonia helped with the carriage work. The wheels were also manufactured by Cannon Ltd. The wheels were constructed with hoop-tyres, which is achronistic until the 1830s, but are modified to appear strake-constructed. Strake bands may be added at some point, which would have been typical though most of the 17th C.

The carriage varies from the design primarily in having a wood axle, instead of an all-metal axle. We believe that the all-metal axle came into use after 1700. The quoin elevation screw is probably also a post 1650 invention - an alternate quoin platform and wooden quoins (wedges) will be available to switch in for prior-to 1650 impressions. All other aspects of the carriage, including the alternate traveler position, trunnion hardware, etc. is accurate for at least 1630 through to the Napoleonic era. The carriage is painted blue, because my research at the time lead me to believe that was the color of French artillery (who usually picked blue to go with Bourbon white), and it would work well enough for a Swedish or Polish or American Rev War militia gun. I have since learned that French artillery was painted bright red in the late 17th C., but they likely were varied colors prior to 1680, or even in 1690 the red color may have applied only to the larger ordinance. (Spanish guns were painted all black).

‘Kismet’ is one of those ancient Indo-European words, re-imported from the east, but that survives in English from ancient times as the word 'magic'. Kismet means something like 'fate'. It's an appropriate name for a Polish cannon; Poles were fascinated by the opposing Islamic culture, and might be much amused that it would be the kismet of more than a few Turks to earn their place in paradise via our KISMET.


Standard Maintenance

Before use, the bore should be inspected for any residue buildup or pitting. The vent should be checked as well. The bore of the tube may be scrubbed with a circular brass wire brush.

At the end of firing, the piece should be double searched, and double sponged using the commands and methods described. Additional clean sponges (old socks) and water could be used and the piece then dried out. To close the piece down, a lightly oiled sponge or rag (using any non-salted oil) should be run down the piece, and around the muzzle and vent. The tampion and vent cover should be oiled and put on the piece. Since bronze does not (unlike iron) require oil per se, it should be applied with a very light touch. The carriage unpainted Iron parts should, however, be cleaned, dried, and carefully greased. In particular, the screw and quoin hinge require attention. The screw assembly should be removed, cleaned and greased. The powder must be put in a safe place.

The piece should be kept highly polished. Active field guns were never allowed to grow a greenish patina.

Once or twice a year, the wheels should be pulled off and additional grease put on the cones.

The sponges are sheep skin strips, about three inches wide and ten inches long, they are tied on, and tacked down with brass or copper brads. Brass is used to reduce the risk of bore damage; and because they hold up better in the wet, caustic condition; and because they are easier to remove when replacing the cover. For a fine seam, the two edges can be stitched with heavy thread and leather needles. The wet sponge will not last more than about two separate weekends of firing and will need to be replaced frequently. The dry sponges last longer or get turned into wet sponges. A rinse of the sponges is recommended before allowing them to dry.

The trunnion cap design allows field removal of the barrel, by unlatching the pin, and the barrel may be placed in the rear position in horse-transport mode.

The gun can be disassembled as follows:

1. The wheels come off with removal of the pins.

The axle comes off the cheeks by removing screws attaching the two metal retaining bars, and unscrewing the pinning lag bolt ring.

3. The cheeks are attached through the blocks by bolts. (The quoin screw block is held in place by gravity, and needs to be removed first).




Powder Charge/Preparation

The standard charge for the piece should be 3 ounces of black powder, 2.5 for shot. The gun is rated by the manufacture for a maximum 5 oz black powder for blanks, 3 oz for shot. Blanks and live shooting should only use grade F or Cannon powder. Cannons historically used prepared cloth cartridges (larger ones often used loose powder during this period). Because loose powder and powder dust is dangerous, the powder should only be introduced into the piece in triple layer aluminum foil cartridges. An internal plastic baggy is recommended to lower powder dust and to prevent powder from settling into folds in the aluminum foil where it might not ignite.

These are made by placing a trimmed plastic baggy on a 2 1/8 2 1/4 inch diameter form such as the rammer, or the special wooden form, and taking several lengths (ten inches plus) of foil and wrapping them around. After completing one rotation on the form, the additional 3+ inches of foil extending below the form should be folded over and rolled in with the remainder of that square. This creates a flat bottom to the cartridge. Repeat this step with one or two more layers and remove the foil cup from the form. Fill the cartridge with the measured amount of correct grade powder (don't guess) and twist close the end of the charge tightly, forming a "pig tail". If the form was 2 1/4 inches in diameter, the cartridge should be rolled between the hands to compress it so that it will fit easily into the bore. Store the cartridges in a dry, moisture proof, cool and secure container, preferably in a plastic container within the ammo box. The powder should not be kept in unlined aluminum foil for more than six months since black powder will attack the foil.

Priming powder should be FFFF. Since it is placed in the touch hole which could contain a spark, only a limited quantity should be used in the priming operation. Either use a very small charger, or half lengths of drinking straws prepared with priming powder as follows: dip one end of the straw in melted wax and let cool to seal that end; then fill the straw with priming powder and seal the other end with tape. In use, the wax can be bitten or popped off the straw. If too much powder is going down the touch hole, check to make sure that the main charge was seated properly.




Wads are not needed for blanks. For live fire, a medium to heavy weight wool patch four inches square will suffice to seal the windage and hold the shot in place. Shot not in contact with the powder bag can cause the barrel to burst.

The shot should not weigh more than two pounds. It should not be larger than 2 1/8 inches around. A proper size hole gage or tube should be used to ensure that the shot is not too big. Note that 12 gauge shot (.72 inch) takes 24 balls to make two pounds.


Set Up for Firing

The gun is brought onto the firing line or battery position with the implements arrayed as follows:

1. The Tampion (bore plug) and vent cover should be removed and stored away. Chocks are optional since the recoil of the piece is not major (5-6 inches with a 5 oz. Blank load), but might be needed on slopes.

2. The bucket, at least half filled with water is placed directly below the muzzle of the gun.

3. The worm, wet and dry sponges, and rammer are placed handily to the muzzle area, either resting on the axle or on the ground near the wheels. They should be placed on the side of the piece from which they will be used, which is dependent on the number of gun servers. (See below.)

4. The gimlets and priming powder should be near the breach, or worn by the person tending the vent. A thumb stall could be used by this person in place of a heavy leather glove.

5. The coffret (powder box) should be thirty feet or more behind the gun. It should be kept closed at all times except for the short moment it takes to get the next charge. It should not be near any source of flame including weapons firing, and should be tended, observed or locked to keep the public out of the box. Keep the powder supply to a minimum to reduce risks. Twenty Five shots is about the max for the active box. Scissors to cut match and other accessories can be stored in the box, but be careful in their handling to reduce the risk of sparks. The lid’s freedom of movement should be limited to allow it to open only the distance necessary to insert a hand and retrieve the cartridge.

6. leather cartridge carrying pouch or the budge box (wooden box for carrying charges) can be at the powder box or carried by the powder runner.

7. The linstock with lit match should be placed on the opposite side of the piece from the Loader and powder path. It should be kept slightly behind the breach and fifteen or more feet to the side.



Crew Positions

As a general rule, the Gunner, if doing more than one task, should only serve as the Vent Tender or the Bombardier, but could be the Sponger/Rammer if desired. They should not be the Powder Handler or the Searcher/Loader. The person serving as Sponger/Rammer should be strong and very familiar with the hazards of gun operations. It is desired that the person retrieving the charge from the coffret should not be exposed to flying sparks or lit match, to reduce the risk of carrying a live spark to the coffret. The left panel of Figure 1 shows crew arrangements for a large crew serving a 12 Pounder. The team of montross men (cannon crew; square shapes, plus the triangle shaped gunner and bombardier) is supported by a squad of infantry or dragoons (diamond shapes). In addition to helping haul the gun, the infantry provides line security and, if needed, replacement crew. wpe1.jpg (13448 bytes)

Crew of One

The piece can be safely operated by a single well trained Gunner FOR A SINGLE SHOT ONLY. Since a single operator is not capable of stalling the vent and running the other implements at the same time, the piece should not be re-loaded after fire. After 10 minutes has past, the piece can be throughly cleaned and cooled. Then, the gun may be re-loaded.


Crew of Two

You will need one person serving the muzzle as the Searcher, Sponger, Powder Handler, Loader and Rammer.

The other will be Vent Tender. Either can be Gunner or Bombardier.


Crew of Three

One will normally run the front, serving as Searcher, Sponger, and Rammer. They may also be the Loader if desired.

One will serve as Vent Tender, usually functioning as the Gunner as well. This person can be the Bombardier.

The third will be the Powder Handler and usually the Loader as well. They can optionally be the Searcher and/or the Bombardier.


Crew of Four

One will serve as (Searcher), Sponger and Rammer.

One will serve as (Searcher), Powder Handler and Loader.

One will serve as Vent Tender and usually Gunner

One will serve as the Bombardier and optionally the Gunner.


Additional Crew

As additional crew are made available you can end up with the following distribution of tasks:

1 Gunner who also could do one other task

1 Sponger - Rammer

1 Searcher - Loader

1 Vent Tender

1 Bombardier

2+ Powder Handlers - one at the box and runners

Advancing and retreating the piece.

The piece’s carriage is equipped with hooks for rope harnesses and slots for maneuvering handspikes on the side and rear, as illustrated in Figure 1 (showing crew for a much larger 12 Pounder).

On Advance. With a crew of five, two pull on harnesses attached to the front hooks, one is on the side handspike, one is on the rear handspike. The rear and/or side handspike can also be used to help quickly aim or re-orient the piece.

On Retreat. With a crew of five, two pull on harnesses (short) attached to the trail hooks, two are on the side handspikes on opposite sides.

The fifth carries the implements; the coffret and bucket are attached to the piece. With a sixth, the coffret can be carried separately.

With only four, the implements except linstock can be attached to the piece as well, and only one harness can be used. Or the implements and coffret can be positioned in advance.



Firing Operations

After falling in on the piece, the Gunner will run the crew through the operations that follow. Although each operation must be carefully thought out while being performed, familiarity is important.

THE GUN IS ASSUMED TO BE CAPABLE OF FIRING AT ALL TIMES THE TAMPION AND VENT PLUG IS REMOVED. Even when just fired it is possible a substantial charge of powder would remain unburned, either because it was wet or because trapped in a pocket of foil. Also, in the heat of battle, it is possible to get confused about the step or not realize the gun had not fired, and to try to sponge a loaded piece or to load a second round. For this reason all steps of the drill assume the piece may be loaded.


This is only needed if firing through an embrasure and room is needed at the muzzle end for the loading operation. One or two people would move the piece back using the trail with handspikes or with additional assistance at the wheels.


On this command the Vent Tender will check to see if the vent is clear by running the gimlet down the vent. Then they will cover the vent with their left thumb while wearing either a heavy leather glove or a thumb stall. The vent is to be kept covered and sealed in this way until ready for priming in an effort to reduce the risk of an ember flaring up by having air pumped through the piece during loading. All other servers take up their positions and implements.


The Searcher will take a position entirely behind the muzzle, either between the wheel and the tube, or outside of the wheels. While keeping an eye on the vent to ensure that it is properly stalled, the worm is introduced into the tube and slid to the breach with one hand only. The hand is kept under the shaft, and will be wearing a heavy leather glove. The thumb will be kept pointing away from the gun at all times to reduce potential hand damage if the worm is ejected out of the gun. Firmly rotate the worm in the direction of the prongs to bite into whatever material was left in the tube. This is then drawn out and dumped into the water bucket. If a counter-rotated worm is available, repeat with it. If it is felt that more material is still in the tube, repeat the operation.


This order can be broken into two parts, as WET SPONGE THE PIECE, and DRY THE PIECE. The Sponger, wearing heavy gloves will dip the end of the wet sponge in the bucket and fling off excess water. The Sponger will take a position entirely behind the muzzle, either between the wheel and the tube, or outside the wheel. While keeping an eye on the vent to ensure it is properly stalled, the sponge is introduced into the tube using one hand only, which is kept under the shaft with the thumb pointing away from the gun at all times to reduce the potential hand damage in case the sponge is ejected from the piece. The sponge is taken to the breach of the tube and rotated one half turn and withdrawn. If excess water is suspected to be in the tube, the breach shall be raised and the water drained out. Then the operation is repeated with the dry sponge using all of the same safety precautions.


All Powder Handlers and the Loader should be wearing heavy leather gloves. One charge is taken from the ready box and placed into the budge box and/or leather carrying case. It is carried to the muzzle by a path that will take it on the opposite side of the piece from the linstock. This path should also be clear of any other source of flame. The charge is brought up beside the front of the piece and given to the Loader. It should then be rolled between the hands to ensure it is small enough for the tube. It should be held up for the Gunner to see, so that all can be reassured that a proper charge has been advanced. The charge is kept away from the muzzle at this time.


While standing behind the muzzle, either between the wheel and tube, or from outside the wheel, and while observing the vent to ensure that it is properly stalled, the loader places the right hand on top of the muzzle for stability and to neutralize static electricity, and the charge is swiftly introduced into the muzzle with the "pig tail" out and the flat side toward the breach. This is done using one hand (usually the left) placed under the charge with the thumb pointing away from the gun.


The Rammer stands behind the muzzle, either between the wheel and the tube, or outside the wheel, wearing heavy leather gloves. Keeping an eye on the vent to ensure that it is properly stalled, the charge is pulled to the breach using one hand which is placed under the rammer shaft with the thumb pointing away from the gun to reduce potential hand damage if the rammer is ejected from the tube. The powder should be firmly seated but does not need to be "packed" so minimal motions are used. The advantage of having the charge slightly undersize from the hand rolling operation should now be made obvious. To ensure that the charge has been properly seated, the Rammer should observe the mark on the rammer shaft which shows its relative position to the breach. The rammer is then withdrawn. (If the rammer shaft does not advance far enough into the barrel, this may indicate that a dangerous air-space has been left behind the charge, or that a still more dangerous residue from a previous shot remains in the barrel, or that the piece has been double loaded by accident.)

The next group marked in parenthesis are for live fire or demonstration drills only.


The type of shot could be specified such as round shot, grape, case, chain, or lagrange (scrap metal and nails). The shot would be brought up by a Powder Handler the same as the powder was.


The shot would be held up for the Gunner to see, and examined by the Loader for dirt or damage. It might need to be checked if it was thought to be too big. The wad, a piece of medium to heavy weight wool four inches square would then be placed around the breach end of the shot which would be placed into the muzzle in the same manner as the powder charge.


The Rammer stands behind the muzzle, either between the wheel and the tube, or outside the wheel, wearing heavy leather gloves. Keeping an eye on the vent to ensure that it is properly stalled, the shot is pulled to the breach using one hand which is placed under the rammer shaft with the thumb pointing away from the gun to reduce potential hand damage if the rammer is ejected from the tube. The shot does not need to be "packed" so minimal motions are used. To ensure that the shot has been properly seated, the Rammer should observe the mark on the rammer shaft which shows its relative position to the breach. The rammer is then withdrawn.


With undersize shot being used (then as now) there is a possibility that the shot could move forward if the barrel is pointed down, or while running the gun out the embrasure. To keep this from happening a final wad would be placed on top of the shot by the Rammer, using all of the previous precautions and steps. This is not needed and not recommended for loading this piece.


The piece would be run out the embrasure and/or aimed. The Vent Tender should still keep the vent stalled. The Gunner can change the elevation by adjusting the screw or moving the quoin block.


All other crew step back while the Vent Tender prepares the vent for firing. First the cartridge is opened by pushing a brass gimlet or a small vent prick down the vent. This should be done with a gloved hand. The Vent Tender should note whether the gimlet did in fact enter the powder charge by noting the texture change. The gimlet should not be driven into the bottom of the tube, which would eventually create a pit on the tube floor. Then, using either a very small priming charger, or the prepared straws, the vent should be filled with fine (grade FFFF) black powder. Pyrodex will not work for this. It should be noted how much powder is going down the vent, since if a large quantity is going down, you are filling the void where the charge was not seated. This can overcharge the piece, or give a bad ignition from not have the powder charge open to the touch hole. The Vent Tender should always keep their head away from the vent. Once the vent is primed, the Vent Tender should cover the vent with their gloved left hand, especially on damp or windy days.


All gunners step back from the piece, look away, and protect their ears.


On GIVE, or during GUNNERS HAVE A CARE, the Bombardier flourishes the linstock to ensure the coal is burning well. On FIRE, the linstock is brought down to the vent using the full extension of the linstock. The arms of the linstock should be flat so only the end of match being used is over the vent. If the arms are upright, then additional sections of the match can be ignited by the cannon.

If all goes well, the gun would have fired, and the process could be run through again. If the piece did not fire from the ignition of the priming charge, the following procedure should be followed:

1. The Gunner calls out MISS FIRE, and will keep all people clear of the piece. After at least one full minute, the steps outlined above from PRIME THE PIECE will be followed.

It is possible that the priming powder ejected the cartridge. If the vent pick does not make

contact with the cartridge, after another 3 minutes the barrel may be searched to ensure it is clear.

The cartridge may have burned going through the barrel or just outside, but the downrange

should be checked.

2. If the gun has not fired on the third try, the Gunner will say HANGFIRE DRILL. All people except the one dealing with the hangfire will quit the piece and move to a safe distance, taking the linstock with them. Allow at least five (5) minutes to pass, but guard a safe zone in front of the muzzle.

3. A carbon dioxide fire-extinguisher will be used through the vent to eject the powder, or, the vent will have water poured into it, as will the tube, all of which shall be done with as little exposure to the vent/muzzle as possible.

4. If water is used, after waiting at least five minutes, and again with as little exposure as possible, the charge will be pulled from the tube using the worm, and dumped into water.

5. Flush the tube again. Then the tube should be searched and sponged and dried in the usual manner.

6. The piece should then be examined to determine the cause of the problem. Note that excess water left in the tube could be one cause of this kind of problem.

This situation is extremely dangerous, since the flooding operation will not penetrate much of the powder, leaving it still active and potentially explosive.



The Carriage is illustrated in Figure 2. The main change in the design shown is that the metal axle, which came into use in the early 1700's, was replaced with a wood axle.


a. Cheek

b. Trail

c. Quoin Board, Quoin Screw (elevating screw)

d. Breast Hook

e. Trail Hook

f. Lateral maneuvering handle and shaft socket

g. Trail maneuvering shaft socket

h. Trunnion Cap (with head and foot)

i. Coffret (ammo box)




A. Muzzle

B. Tampion (Muzzle Plug)

C. Dolphin

D. Trun

E. Vent or Touch hole and Vent Plug


Implements.gif (71705 bytes)


A. Powder shovel (lanterne)

B. Linestock (Boutefeu)

C&D. Quoins  - elevation wedges (coins de mire)

E. Rammer (refouloir)

F. Worm (tireboutte)

G, I Sponges (e'couvillons)

H. Scour. Cleaning/scouring implement of brass wire

K. (chapiteau dont on fe fert pour couvrir la lumiere)

L. (fronteau de mire)

M. Vent prick (regorgeoir)

Below, manovering harness-lines (man-powered)

ArtilleryHarness.gif (48708 bytes)





wpe2.jpg (18396 bytes)

The Carriage Design, appropriate for Horse Artillery use.



Commparitive Carriage Design

Drill Summary with Field Operations, incl. Polish commands