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Key Words and Concepts
Tell students that the gun itself weighed roughly 230 pounds per pound of ball. Have them compute the weights of the different caliber, or size, guns and enter the numbers on their tables. Then ask the class to compute the total weight of all the cannon on Constitution. Ask students what piece of information is missing in order to make this calculation? They will need to know how many of each caliber gun Constitution had. She started out with 30 24-pounders, 16 18-pounders, and 14 12-pounders. Have them enter these numbers in their tables and multiply by the weight per gun to get the total pounds of each caliber gun. To find the weight of all cannon on board, they must add the three totals together.
How many cannon of all sizes did Constitution have? She was designed to carry a minimum of 44 guns and she carried 60. Now have students convert their grand total of pounds to tons (2,000 pounds per ton). Tell students that Constitution settled one inch in the water for each 10 tons of weight aboard her. This is called her immersion factor. How many inches did she settle from the weight of her big guns? (About 13 1/2 inches, a far cry from sinking!)
How far do students think they could hurl objects that approximate the weight of a cannon ball? A 24-pounder could send its shot a forceful 1,200 yards. To give students a notion of this distance, you might have them measure how far they can throw a baseball. The distance from home plate to first base, for example, is 30 yards. How did these big guns send their heavy shot such impressive distances? By a chemical reaction from the burning of gun powder inside the cannon. Ignited powder produces a gas which expands almost instantaneously to 300 times the volume, or space, of the powder.
The rapid expansion of gas creates the pressure that hurled the shot out the barrel of the cannon. Students may wonder why the pressure did not blow up the gun itself. Explain that the guns were extremely strong, because they were cast of solid iron, then bored out. The distance the shot traveled depended in part on the amount of powder used. There were three sizes of powder cartridge for close-, moderate- and long-range shooting.
To damage enemy ships, what besides a single ball could be fired from the guns? There were many kinds of shot, including small grape shot wrapped and tied together and chain shot, a split ball connected by a chain made to damage rigging and masts. None of these exploded on impact. They tore holes by pummeling and splintering. Sailors feared the flying splinters of wood more than the shot itself, because these fragments wounded and maimed far more men.