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U.S. History/Arms of the war of 1812


Tell me about the "rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air".

There were rockets? Rockets w/war heads?

There were bombs?  Shot from a cannon?  Why'd they burst in the air vs on impact?  Were they fused?  How?  I thought cannon balls were just solid iron.

Thank you.


The Congrave rockets used by the British during the War of 1812 were fairly new weapons adapted from rockets used by Indian forces fighting the British.  They were made out of iron and came in various sizes.  The ones used against Fort McHenry were ship launched and weighed about 30 pounds.

Some rockets carried an explosive charge.  When the fuel burned toward the top of the rocket, it would light a fuse which then exploded a black power charge.  This caused an explosion that sent shrapnel at anyone nearby.  Other rockets were designed to start fires.  They did not explode but burned hot for a longer time.  They were designed to set fire to enemy ships or buildings.

The advantage of rockets over artillery were that they did not require launch from rather large heavy canon that had to be moved from place to place.  Rockets could be carried by a soldier and launched from a stick.  The disadvantage was that they were relatively inaccurate.  They rarely hit a target and sometimes turned around and hit the same people who launched them.

The British also used traditional cannon.  Some were solid shot designed to knock down walls or start fires (the balls were so hot they could start a wooden structure burning).  But the British also had exploding shot, known as bombs.  These were developed by a British Artillery officers named Lt. Henry Shrapnel in 1784.  His name became familiar with the metal that was released from these bombs.  Essentially it was a large iron ball with a fuse.  The ball contained an explosive charge as well as smaller pieces of metal.  When fired, the ball would fly toward the enemy while a fuse burned.  At some point the fuse would ignite a charge, causing the bomb to explode and send shrapnel at anyone within range of the explosion.  These bombs were usually launched from mortars or howitzers so that they would be thrown high into the air, explode and then reign down shrapnel on the enemy from above.

I hope this helps!
- Mike  

U.S. History

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.


I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.


J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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