Rockets

Today's rocket projectiles are not exactly new inventions. About the time of artillery's beginning, the military fireworker came into the business of providing pyrotechnic engines of war; later, his job included the spectacular fireworks that were set off in celebration of victory or peace.

Artillery manuals of very early date include chapters on the manufacture and use of fireworks. But in making war rockets there was no marked progress until the late eighteenth century. About 1780, the British Army in India watched the Orientals use them; and within the next quarter century William Congreve, who set about the task of producing a rocket that would carry an incendiary or explosive charge as far as 2 miles, had achieved such promising results that English boats fired rocket salvos against Boulogne in 1806. The British Field Rocket Brigade used rockets effectively at Leipzig in 1812—the first time they appeared in European land warfare. They were used again 2 years later at Waterloo. The warheads of such rockets were cast iron, filled with black powder and fitted with percussion fuzes. They were fired from trough-like launching stands, which were adjustable for elevation.

Rockets seem to have had a demoralizing effect upon untrained troops, and perhaps their use by the British against raw American levies at Bladenburg, in 1814, contributed to the rout of the United States forces and the capture of Washington. They also helped to inspire Francis Scott Key. Whether or not he understands the technical characteristics of the rocket, every schoolboy remembers the "rocket's red glare" of the National Anthem, wherein Key recorded his eyewitness account of the bombardment of Fort McHenry. The U.S. Army in Mexico (1846-48) included a rocket battery, and, indeed, war rockets were an important part of artillery resources until the rapid progress of gunnery in the latter 1800's made them obsolescent.


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