Guns through the Centuriesby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Describe how guns have evolved over the centuries and the impact they have had on warfare.
History has turned on the use of superior weapons. The archer and chariot gave victory to the ancient Assyrians. The longbow ended Europe’s Hundred Year War. Battles have been won due to small modifications in swords. The race to collect arms to maintain national détente is not new (2 Chr. 17:10). The harsh reality of man’s wicked nature necessitates the bearing of arms by those who do “not bear the sword in vain” (Rom13:4). Jesus said, "Let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Would Jesus have told his disciples to sell their suit and buy a gun today? Although an interesting question, this essay is constrained to an overview of the development of the gun. Whether for offense or self-defense, ingenious inventions have given guns a fascinating history.
Although firearms began as primitive popguns in the Middle Ages, they changed through the centuries to eventually develop into the complicated weaponry of today. Beginning with gunpowder, projectile firing weapons eventually were invented. Starting off as small, weak cannons, guns were cumbersome and ineffective. However, as guns improved, they made castles no longer safe strongholds for the nobility, thus abolishing the Dark Ages. (Pope, 8) As the Dark Ages ended, the Renaissance began. With the Renaissance came the Reformation of the Church. Thus, some suggest the gun indirectly helped bring about the Reformation.
Traditionally, gunpowder was invented by the Chinese in about the ninth century. (encyclopedia.com) However, the Chinese supposedly only used the gunpowder for firecrackers. Another theory about the invention of gunpowder is that Robert Bacon discovered it, since a recipe for gunpowder was found among his chemical formulas. (silcom.com) Regardless of who invented gunpowder, a possibly mythical German monk named Schwarz is credited with the idea of propelling a projectile with gunpowder in the early 1300s. (Tunis, 67) Anyhow, the Arabs invented the very first cannon. Named the madfaa, this primitive cannon was a deep wooden bowl holding gunpowder. The “cannonball” was balanced on the rim of the bowl. The madfaa was soon followed by the pot de fer, the first metal cannon. Its name, pot of fire, literally described how this iron bottle held gunpowder. The gunpowder was ignited using a small “touchhole” near the bottom of the bottle. A narrow neck held an iron arrow. Modern cannons developed from the pot de fer. (Tunis, 67)
The following cannons were simple pipes, closed at one end, which fired small stone or lead balls. Some cannon were wooden tubes, bound with iron. Lacking a carriage for support, they were simply laid on the ground and propped up with a small mound of dirt. Although the thunderous noises made by these early cannons were quite intimidating, their force was questionable. In fact, if a cannonball hit a knight in full armor, it bounced off his heavy armor, hardly making a dent. Because of its “popgun” qualities, the cannon was enlarged to give it more potency as a weapon. The larger version of the cannon was named the bombard. For lack of cast iron balls, the early bombard shot huge stone balls, measuring about twenty to twenty-five inches in diameter. (Tunis, 68)
The “slow-match”, a rope boiled in lye and gunpowder, smoldered continuously. A gun was fired when a gunner applied the slow-match to the touchhole, an opening in the barrel where the gunpowder was exposed. (Pope, 55) This slow-match allowed the huge cannons to develop into the first handgun in the late fourteenth century. A small cannon tied to a stake and operated by two men, the culverin was the precursor to the hand gonne. Wielded by one man, the hand gonne was actually a small handheld cannon with a touchhole. Small lead balls, the first bullets, were fired by the hand gonne. (Tunis, 69)
During the last half of the sixteenth century, the culverin began to replace the crossbow because of its strength and improved accuracy. The invention of the priming pan, or flash pan made firing easier. Used until the nineteenth century, the priming pan contained the gunpowder in a small metal dish fastened to the gun barrel.
The matchlock, also called the musket, the arquebus, and various other names, was invented in the fifteenth century. The matchlock had an improved stock, was better balanced, and above all, had an innovative means of firing with a device called the serpentine. (Tunis, 78) This name, snakelike, literally described the S shaped mechanical device which lowered the slow-match into the priming pan when the trigger was pressed. (Pope, 55) The serpentine’s invention modernized gunnery, allowing gunners to aim and shoot with both hands. The musket was about five to six feet long, and weighed about twenty pounds. When fired, the musket was supported by a forked stick. (geocities.com) People who operated the musket were called musketeers. The matchlock was widely used in Europe, influencing wars such as The English Civil Wars and the Thirty Years War. Explorers also used the musket to conquer the New World. (silcom.com)
Even after the invention of the serpentine made firing easier, lighting the slow-match was still an annoyance. It had to stay alight, which in damp weather posed quite a problem. Thus, a means of starting a fire inside the gun was invented around 1515. Called the “Monk’s Gun”, this unwieldy weapon contained the first wheel lock. (Tunis, 81) The wheel lock was a mechanism, a small wheel, which when spun by the finger produced sparks by rubbing against a flint. These sparks reached the touch hole, igniting the gunpowder. (Pope, 72) The wheel lock gave birth to the pistol. About two feet long and only slightly curved for an alternate use as a club, the pistol became the maneuverable gun of the cavalry. (Tunis, 82) However, the wheel lock was quite expensive, so armies were outfitted with the cheaper matchlock. Only sportsmen and other wealthy men could afford the wheel lock. (Pope, 74) Thus the wheel lock did not replace the matchlock as a weapon for the common man. (Tunis, 82)
In the early 1600s, the flintlock was born! Basically, the flintlock combined the best features of the matchlock and the wheel lock, and added a new way of distributing sparks over the powder. When the trigger was pulled, the pan cover drew back, uncovering the powder. The flint on the tip of the cock striking steel created a spark which ignited the exposed powder. (Tunis, 93) The flintlock, called the fusil by the French and “Brown Bess” by the English, was quite inaccurate in her shooting, and frequently misfired. However, the fighting of that period called not for accuracy but for “volume of fire”. (Tunis, 74) Another famous flintlock was the English blunderbuss, which fired slugs chopped from sheet lead. This menacing gun was short and thick with a trumpet-like muzzle. (Tunis, 74) The American version of the flintlock was the “Kentucky rifle”, which gave the frontiersmen the advantage over the Indians. (Tunis, 101) This rifle was also used to procure food for pioneer families.
Breech loading rifles came along in the 1800s, but the real change came with the percussion cap. In 1805, Reverend Forsyth of Aberdeenshire invented the percussion cap, a priming pan that looked like a scent bottle. (Tunis, 110) A screw in the middle of the “scent bottle” dispensed gunpowder in the appropriate quantities. The “scent bottle” could hold enough powder for about twenty shots. (Tunis, 110)
Eventually, repeating weapons were invented. The Mitrailleuse, the first real machine gun, was used by the French in the later 1800s. However, it was kept secret so long that it was not used correctly on the battlefield. (Tunis, 125) The first time machine guns were used in great numbers was in World War I. With the invention of “aeroplanes”, machine guns were tilted up to shoot at the planes. Soon these weapons were named antiaircraft guns. (Tunis, 130) Guns continued to improve, being mounted on submarines, airplanes, tanks, ships and even on trains. Nowadays, high-tech guns use radar to locate their targets and laser sights to assure accuracy. Handguns are popular weapons of both criminals and homeowners protecting their family. Starting primitively, as bowls holding gunpowder, guns have changed into the sophisticated weapons of today, able to accurately shoot up to several miles.
Should guns be restricted to only law enforcement officers? Pacifists point to Matthew 5:38-39. “I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also". Although this calls for another essay (http://www.gac.20m.com/self-def.htm), suffice it to say, Jesus told Peter to put his sword in its place because the King of kings could protect Himself. Whereas, Jesus could fend for himself (e.g., clearing the temple of money changers with a whip), Peter may have kept that sword to provide protection (1 Timothy 5:8) for his wife against thieves that might break in (Exodus 22: 2). Through the years, wicked men have used guns for evil, as Hitler did when he established the Third Reich. However, godly men have used guns for righteous purposes, such as when the Allied forces eradicated Hitler’s vile dictatorship. Thus, guns have been used for protecting freedom, honoring God through self defense of his gift of life, and providing food for families.
Tunis, Edwin. Weapons, a pictorial history. Cleveland: World Pub. Co. © 1954
Pope, Dudley. Guns; From the Invention of Gunpowder to the 20th Century. New York: Delacorte Press ©1965
Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. "Firearm." World History. October 16, 2003. http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/f1/firearm.asp
Ricketts, Howard. "Period firearms." World History. October 18, 2003. http://www.silcom.com/~vikman/isles/scriptorium/firearm/firearm.html
Quest, J.E. "A Brief History of the Matchlock Musket." World History. October 18, 2003.
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