Carron-made Langridge Shot from the Siege of Yorktown

John Kerzaya has kindly brought to my attention the fact that during archaeological excavations in 1972-5 at Yorktown in Virginia, USA, Norman Barka and his team found several small iron objects which had the name “Carron” cast onto them.  These were identified as Langridge shot from the 1781 siege.  Three had been fired at the French along the mid-section of the Second Siege line at relatively close range.  A fourth had previously been found in the town in 1935.

They are described thus in the report:

“Each artefact measures 7½ inches long and weighs c.3 pounds.  The exterior surface is convex or rounded toward the interior and is 17/8 inches wide.  A shallow (¼ inch) horizontal groove (1 inch wide) is present at each end and a narrow (½ inch) groove runs vertically through the horizontal groove.  The opposite or interior surface is narrower (13/16 inches), as the side walls slope inward to the interior.  The artefact is 7/8 inch thick.  Both ends of the device slope inward to form wedge-shaped points.  The word CARRON is present on the interior surface in raised letters.  One side of the piece has a ¾ inch wide notch which is 1/16 inch deep.  The opposite side has a raised tab which would fit into the notch of another similar artefact.  It appears that separate but identical pieces were manufactured to interlock with one another, in which case eight of these artefacts laid flush to one another would form a cylinder c.5 ½ inches in diameter.”

Langridge shot is often identified as a type of case shot – that is to say a cylindrical tin canister filled with an assortment of iron scrap, nails, and such, used as an anti-personnel shell.  In fact, those manufactured by ordnance foundries usually consisted of a number of iron bars enclosed in
the same type of tin case as used for case shot (Wilkinson-Latham 1973).  These heavy canisters tended to be for use at sea where they were used for clearing the decks of enemy ships and damaging the rigging.

It is known that Langridge shot was made by Carron Company.  On his return to Scotland in 1775 John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore, lobbied the British government to have carronades put onto its warships.  Murray had been the governor of New York from 1769 to 1770, and then of Virginia until 1775.  He was able to persuade the King to order a trial of a carronade at Woolwich (Caruana 1997, 164; Blackmore 1976, 145).  The trial took place on 13 March 1779, but the results were not good.  Despite this, more trials were held on 6 and 7 July comparing the performances of a 12-pdr carronade with a 12-pdr gun using round shot, case, grape and Langridge.  The case consisted of 23 shot of 8oz, the grape of 9 shot of 1lb each, and the Langridge of 15 pieces of iron one inch square and three inches long.  On the basis of the firing it was shown that the carronade was the ultimate deck sweeper at 25-50 yards.  At that close a range it could not miss, its spread of projectiles was excellent, and the calibre was large enough to produce a hail of shot with multiple loads which could clear any enemy deck with a few rounds.  Charles Middleton, the Controller of the Navy, was present and was enthusiastic and both Carron-made carronades and Longridge shot entered service.

Illus: Replica of the Carron shot found at Yorktown, made by John Kerzaya.

John Kerzaya has pointed out that in addition to the 8 interlocking outer pieces of cast iron, four of which were found at Yorktown, there would have been a set of 8-12 inner pieces of equilateral triangles (4½ins long), some of which were also recovered during the excavation.  The outer pieces and prisms would have fitted together to form a cylindrical shell of about 16 pieces in total.  They were probably tightly bound with cordage or rope at the notches at either end which, when fired from a gun, would disintegrate and scatter the cast iron sections like a shotgun.

Not only did Carron Company make the carronades but it also manufactured the wooden carriages, gunpowder cartridges and projectiles.  Joiners were employed for the carriages and tinsmiths would have been required for the case shot – the latter were also employed making pots and pans.  An advert in the Edinburgh Evening Courant for 5 February 1780 states:

The flannel cartridges and primers of all sorts, for great guns and small arms, are made at Carron, and forwarded with the guns; also shell-shot, carcasses, and hand-grenades, are charged and primed ready for use.” 

The following year John Spottiswood at his Carron Warehouse in Edinburgh informed his customers (which included privateers) that he supplied :

ball, chain, canister, long rig’d shot and hand grenados; primers and cast iron ballast.” 

The canister would have been made of iron with joints soldered together like a tin can; galvanized with a coating of tin to prevent rust.  The bottom end was made of a wooden disc which would have disintegrated on discharge.

At Yorktown in 1781 the British army under Cornwallis used whatever it had available and reports show that guns and carronades were unloaded from their ships anchored in the York River for the defence of the town.  In the end Cornwallis was forced to surrender and the guns fell into American hands.

In its design of projectiles Carron Company was helped by the leading theorists of the time – professors Anderson of Glasgow and Robison of Edinburgh, as well as Henry Shrapnel and John Smeaton.  It was at the forefront of development in this aspect of munitions and sought to introduce radical new designs, so the form of the bars at Yorkton is of considerable interest, especially as their early date is not in doubt.  Kerzaya’s observation that the external notches might have been placed there to house binding material seems highly probable.  Had they been for attaching the satchel containing the powder charge they would surely have been narrower and less rounded and only one notch would have been necessary (the method of interlocking obviating the pieces being assembled upside down).  Thus bound, it would have been easier to slip them into the containers.  However, there is also the possibility that they were designed to function without such an expensive container in the manner of the later wire cage or cartridge.  If the segments of the Carron Company’s Langridge shot had been bound at top and bottom by wire tied over the additional vertical notch they could have been used with wadding in much the same way as round shot.  In this case the Yorktown shot would have been 4¾ins in diameter, designed for an 18-pounder gun.

The Carron Company continued to experiment with larger calibre carronades and with the different forms of shot and shell.  On 1 October 1781 it held a demonstration at Leith of a 100-pounder carronade alongside a conventional 24-pounder cannon.  The results were recorded:

“10311lb45This shot fired into the sea & from observation made at the pier head went about 3000 yds. 
There was at the same time fired from the Battery a Shot from the government’s 24 pounder.
89 shell149 Cwt charged also with 11 pounds of powder & fell short of the other 20 yards.
82 shell11lb12.45Plunged into the water at a great distance supposed about 2500 yards but did not burst.
shell11lb12.30Burst in the air at a great height & splinters spread about 1500 yards from the Battery.
100 shot7 lb12.30Plunged into the water about a mile distance.
Cannister7 lbPointed upon the Cask 600 yards distant – the bulk of the shot fell 400 yards distant.
10011lb41At the time this shot was fired another shot was fired from the 24 pounder at the same elevation
and with 9lbs of powder.
N.B. It was conjectured that the 100lb ball went 1600 yards and the 24 pound Ball 1900 yards.”

There were a number of spectators upon this occasion, amongst whom were the Duke of Buccleuch, the Lord Advocate, and Captain James Ferguson of the navy, who all seemed much satisfied with the performance of the gun.

Bibliography

Barka, N.1976Archaeology of the Yorktown Battlefield. Yorktown, Virginia.
Blackmore, H.L1976The Armouries of the Tower of London, I: Ordnance.
Caruana, A.B. 1997The History of English Sea Ordnance 1523-1875. Vol. 2: 1715-1815, The Age of the System.
Wilkinson-Latham, R.1973British Artillery on Land and Sea, 1790-1820.

G.B. Bailey, 2022