Nantwich Museum

Nantwich Museum

27 Pillory Street, Nantwich, CW5 5BQ ~ Tel: 01270 627104

English Civil War – Cannons and Mortar: an Overview

This piece was written by Adam Harwood, a 16 year old student at Cheshire College – South and West during his work experience at Nantwich Museum.

Cannon

The English Civil War cannon was not very effective in battle. Its main use was to strike fear into the enemy (which it did well), rather than causing large amounts of damage. The cannons were heavy, hard to manoeuvre and particularly hard to aim. For this reason, the cannons were positioned before the battle began.

The English Civil War cannon was not very effective in battle. Its main use was to strike fear into the enemy (which it did well), rather than causing large amounts of damage. The cannons were heavy, hard to manoeuvre and particularly hard to aim. For this reason, the cannons were positioned before the battle began.

Even the smallest cannons were hard to move and required at least 4 strong men to move them; the largest required around 16 horses to shift them and for this reason the small cannons were used more commonly. In addition, the cannons were expensive; if being pulled by horses, the horses would require feed, a lot of gunpowder was required for each volley, and gun crews were also large although they only had a couple of skilled gunners each.

Missiles

The missiles fired from the cannon were most commonly balls of iron, however stones were often used as a cheap alternative instead, or if they run out of iron balls. Their main use was to break up large amounts of infantry to limit the effectiveness of their attack.

After one round had been fired the soldiers were required to complete a strict procedure before they can fire the next round which involved cleaning, loading the missile and gunpowder before it could be fired again.

Types of cannon

There were 3 main types of cannon:

  1. Siege guns (Cannon Royal, demi-cannon 63- 15 pounders)
  2. Heavy Field pieces (Culverin, demi-Culverin)
  3. Light Field pieces (Saker, Drake, Minion, Falonet, Robinet)

The light pieces were the most tactically interesting in battle due to its mobility.

The heaviest artillery was used for breaking down walls in sieges. They were positioned as close as possible to the enemy position without exposing the gunners to enemy fire.

Saker –

The Saker was a medium cannon, smaller than the culverin.

Falconet –

Light cannon often decorated with birds and beasts depending upon its size. These were common in the English Civil War because they were cheaper than culverins, sakers and minions. They were often used by nobility to protect their property.

Culverin – 

This weapon was used to bombard a target from a distance. The long barrel meant it could fire a round shot at high velocity from afar. A round shot refers to a typical spherical cannonball.

Newburn Ford – 28th August 1640

One key battle where artillery played a significant role was at Newburn Ford during the 2nd Bishops’ wars. 4500 English troops had been sent to cover the Ford at Newburn and they occupied the South side of the river. The Scots took a more dominant position to the North which had high ground. The Scots then proceeded to bombard the English forts and supporting Cavalry. Their swift attack quickly defeated the poorly equipped English troops. This was a significant battle because 2 days later the city of Newcastle surrendered to the Scots. This forced Charles to recall parliament to fund the war.

Mortar

An alternative to the cannon was the mortar.

This device was easier to manoeuvre than the cannon as it could be handled by one man alone.

It worked by firing a highly explosive shell high into the air and enemy which exploded on impact. Although, like the cannon it was hard to aim, it was the most destructive weapon used during the civil war.