Friday 13 May 2022

Minié killié

I've mentioned evidence to suggest that conscripts are reluctant point a gun at The Other side and pull the trigger. It is based on analysis by Dave Grossman of unfired, loaded rifles picked up after the slaughter at Gettsburg. It gives a certain hope for the world that individuals will have agency for good deeds even when The Man is trying to dehumanize both parties - killer and killee: “a bayonet is a weapon with a worker at both endsas John MacLean has it.

I am currently on a spellbound [L: list words >4 letters including the middle letter] jag. It takes longer than worldle. I think the original idea for spellbound was launched as Spelling Bee by the NYT but I heard about it as a MetaFilter project. It is a teeny bit frustrating that perfectly good words - achene, tarn, filo - are rejected by the game editors but I'm not going to threaten to eat their first-born about undaunted. The other day I had a spellbound punt with MINIE having a vague idea that it was some sort rifle. tbh, I can't remember whether this was allowable to the wordlist editor or not, but it hooshed me off down a rabbit-hole . . .

Claude-Etienne Minié (13 Feb 1804 – 14 Dec 1879) was a french army officer who solved an intractable battlefield problem: how to fire bullets quickly and accurately at the enemy. It had been discovered earlier in the 19thC that accuracy could be enhanced by imparting a spin to the ball as it left the barrel; and that this could be achieved by 'rifling' the inside of the barrel with helical grooves. Furthermore, it was cclear that a tight fit between ball and barrel would impart more whoomph to the bullet. Breech-loading was in the future, so gunpowder charge and bullet had to be forced down the cylindrical orifice with an, appropriately named ram-rod.  The ram rod became another piece of kit which could be lost, bent out of shape or inadvertently fired at the enemy in a fog of terror.

Minié's insight was to replace a roughly spherical ball with a slightly smaller cylinder which could be dropped, rather than tamped, down the barrel. The front-end of the Minié ball was streamlined but the back-end was hollow. When the powder ignited, the ridged skirt of this pocket splayed out to engage with the rifling and capture the full impelling force. The Minié ball combined more shots an hour with accuracy and a devastating 1oz = 30g crump when it made contact with the target.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed by Minié balls, first in the Crimean War where Minié rifles were available to the British/French allies but not to their Russian opponents. The damage was considerably greater in the American Civil War where the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts turned out more than 1 million Springfield 1861 Minié rifles. The Confederates relied on then British for Enfield Pattern 1853 rifle-musket.

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