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Old 20th August 2019, 02:58 PM   #31
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... resuming that bad gunpowder was not the sole reason for Mexican forces failure but, a set of liabilities that could be avoided with skilled organization, tactics & discipline for one, obviously aggravated by the gunpowder issues; a well called dilemma by Jim which, for a start, if we think that firearms gunpowder was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards and only afterwards the locals started using it in fireworks, how could they forgot the propellant version know how ?
Was it an issue of components quality, rather than pure knowledge ? Mexico was rich in saltpeter, the main 'variable' of powder quality. Furthermore, if i understand correctly, making fireworks is a rather more complex craft.
Indeed when reading the various works on the Peninsular war, it was all about systems, tactics, discipline and such sort of the things that brought Anglo-Portuguese forces to victory over those of Napoleon... only seconded by equipment.
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Old 20th August 2019, 08:23 PM   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Actually Joe was describing how Travis was shot; i also didn't figure it out in the first place, when i read (and transcribed) the article.



Oh.....uh....that's different! oops.
Actually it was my own misunderstanding.....I have read so much Alamo history and should have remembered that description by 'Joe'.
Still the point was that the Mexican powder was so poor that in many cases, the shot did not even penetrate. In the case of the actual final attack, it was pretty much irrelevant as the Mexican forces became almost a virtual mob infiltrating the compound.
As defenders awakened, startled and without time to even load their guns, they had no choice but to try to escape. In their haste to prevent this, the Mexicans simply resorted to their bayonets, which appears to have been the method by which most defenders died. Naturally, we have no way of knowing this unequivocally as (technically) there were no survivors. All we have is Mexican accounts and those of non combatants who did survive.
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Old 20th August 2019, 08:49 PM   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
... resuming that bad gunpowder was not the sole reason for Mexican forces failure but, a set of liabilities that could be avoided with skilled organization, tactics & discipline for one, obviously aggravated by the gunpowder issues; a well called dilemma by Jim which, for a start, if we think that firearms gunpowder was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards and only afterwards the locals started using it in fireworks, how could they forgot the propellant version know how ?
Was it an issue of components quality, rather than pure knowledge ? Mexico was rich in saltpeter, the main 'variable' of powder quality. Furthermore, if i understand correctly, making fireworks is a rather more complex craft.
Indeed when reading the various works on the Peninsular war, it was all about systems, tactics, discipline and such sort of the things that brought Anglo-Portuguese forces to victory over those of Napoleon... only seconded by equipment.


Well put Fernando, the 'dilemma' with powder was but one of the many issues, actually failings, of Santa Anna's forces which ultimately led to his defeat. The Alamo was but what in reality was an inconsequential rout, not a strategic battle, and the lack of viability of Santa Anna's forces would have resulted in a probably different outcome if Texian forces were military and in more conventional tactics and equipment.

Santa Anna, in my perception, was a bit an egotist and narcissist, who was more obsessed with Napoleon and his brilliant military acumen as seen by him. It seemed almost as if he was a 'military wargamer' with a living army to play out his fantasies, all dressed out in the colorful pageantry of the Napoleonic uniforms and tactics. He appears to have obviously been far less concerned with viable supplies of importance, such as gun powder. It does seem possible that corruption in the ranks of his officers might well have caused these issues and were unknown to him....however that too remains unclear.

The outcome of the 'attack' in the darkness that night at the Alamo in what I have understood seems almost as chaotic in the troops attacking outside in approaching the walls and defenses as it was inside once breached.
The 'volley fire' of the Mexican forces turned out to be right at other troops who had deviated from one attack point and flooded into another, and as a result the fire (from the hip rather than normal shoulder rest) lethally struck their own troops. In the darkness, and shooting emptily in the general direction of the 'attack', the shots went low, instead of over the heads of preceding forces as should have been the case.

I am curious about the powder which was discovered on the 'Pelicano' vessel captured (300 barrels) which was said to have been under the proprietorship of a New Orleans dealer and apparently destined for Mexican forces. If this was the case, it begs the question, could this have been valued DuPont powder? If so, could this have been a source for Mexican powder, which might have been later adulterated by unscrupulous Mexican officials in replacing it and reselling etc.?

As you note, Mexico had the necessary resources for saltpeter, as well as sulfur (volcanic) and charcoal so certainly could produce powder as required. True, while fireworks powder is certainly with different properties, it is comprised of the same or similar components, which they seem to have mastered well.
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Old 20th August 2019, 11:27 PM   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... I am curious about the powder which was discovered on the 'Pelicano' vessel captured (300 barrels) which was said to have been under the proprietorship of a New Orleans dealer and apparently destined for Mexican forces. If this was the case, it begs the question, could this have been valued DuPont powder?...

This instead would be a "trilemma" Jim; the contraband powder riddle, not the the shifting of the battle result. What was the men ratio of attackers/defenders ... ten to one ? They say that in these things of sieges, are the defenders who have the odds in their favor, but hardly with these unequal proportions; bad powder, wrong volleys, whatever.
In such circumstances, Mexicans could well bear the luxury of several liabilities, but they also had some assets; their lancers, for one, whom actually slaughtered the last bunch of defenders, as it is well documented.
Speaking of liabilities and still a bit off (gunpowder) topic, did you know that, reportedly, the bayonet of the Baker, used by some Mexican forces, besides being a nuisance due to its weight which prevented aiming accuracy, tended to fall off the rifle as, after intense firing sequence, its holding device deformed ?


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Old 21st August 2019, 08:41 AM   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
This instead would be a "trilemma" Jim; the contraband powder riddle, not the the shifting of the battle result. What was the men ratio of attackers/defenders ... ten to one ? They say that in these things of sieges, are the defenders who have the odds in their favor, but hardly with these unequal proportions; bad powder, wrong volleys, whatever.
In such circumstances, Mexicans could well bear the luxury of several liabilities, but they also had some assets; their lancers, for one, whom actually slaughtered the last bunch of defenders, as it is well documented.
Speaking of liabilities and still a bit off (gunpowder) topic, did you know that, reportedly, the bayonet of the Baker, used by some Mexican forces, besides being a nuisance due to its weight which prevented aiming accuracy, tended to fall off the rifle as, after intense firing sequence, its holding device deformed ?


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I think much of the issue historically with the Alamo is the very lack of agreement on so many details. It has never been entirely established as to how many Mexican troops were there, nor for that matter the accurate number of defenders. However, it seems now known that the attack made by Santa Anna was in early pre dawn hours, while most of the defenders were soundly asleep.
As well noted, Santa Anna had fully expected the rout of the defenders, and had strategically placed his lancers at locations where they would likely escape. Actually it was not just the last bunch of defenders, but there were at least two large groups and perhaps several smaller who attempted exiting the compound.
These actions should not be seen negatively as their emplacement was entirely overrun, and without any means of effective defense they had little other choice. They had been exhausted by the relentless artillery pounding by the Mexicans, which was more noise than anything else, but finally had ceased, no doubt part of Santa Annas plan. While the men had actually considered surrender, they could have escaped the day before as a number of open lines of escape were possible with the loosely positioned Mexican forces. If the defenders had been ready with loaded guns there may have been a better chance. Although the Alamo had 21 cannon, there was not only lack of ammunition, poor powder, but totally inadequate manpower for proper gun crews. To add to matters, there was sickness in the ranks (not just Bowie) and many men were in the hospital at the time of attack.

With the Mexican guns, even the accurate estimation of the models is unclear, but it is presumed these were India pattern muskets, which were sold off to the Mexican army after the end of the Napoleonic campaigns.
The Mexican forces termed these guns 'tecerlos' overall, unsure of translation.

While the Brown Bess' was issued at large to the rank and file, they did indeed use buck and ball (the buck was .35 cal) along with smaller than bore ball to account for fouled barrels.
I did reread the account by Joe (Travis' servant) and he was apparently describing his own wound, which was in his side, and from buckshot.

With the Baker rifles, it would appear that these were early models, and as they were with rifled barrels, the more elite cazadores received them and were trained in marksmanship. These were not in large number nor issued in an overall regulation, but those with them were skirmishers and snipers.
The first models (1 and 2) were issued with a huge sword bayonet (24") which added to the weight (over 9 lbs) and made the gun overall awkward.

It does not seem that the bayonet was broadly present with these, but it is noted that the trauma of muzzle blast would consistently weaken the hook and spring causing it to fall off. By the third model of these guns (1815) these bayonets were replaced by the familiar socket type.

These socket bayonets were used by the ranks with Brown Bess' with effect, and essentially in the melee of men trying to either load guns or get out of the chaos to regroup or escape within the compound. I have not found any specific mention of the Baker rifles with these huge sword bayonets thus far, but it seems doubtful there were many.

There is much we will never know about what really happened there, but recent publications have brought forth much very hard truth, though it mostly must be regarded as from reasonably to profoundly plausible.
Regardless, as in any battle, the valor of the men of all sides remains notably recognized in these difficult and terrible circumstances.
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Old 21st August 2019, 12:42 PM   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... However, it seems now known that the attack made by Santa Anna was in early pre dawn hours, while most of the defenders were soundly asleep...

The simplest of tactics .

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... With the Mexican guns, even the accurate estimation of the models is unclear ...

Not taking into account reportedly massive quantities of firearms left by the Spanish after independence, which seems not having been used, the basic equipment would have been British muskets with two different barrel lengths and the Baker.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
...The Mexican forces termed these guns 'tecerlos' overall, unsure of translation...

I see it written 'tercerlos', but the correct (original) term is 'tercerola', as per Spanish dictionaries. This is the name they gave to a short version of the India pattern, which the Brits called 'Sergeants carbine'.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... With the Baker rifles, it would appear that these were early models, and as they were with rifled barrels, the more elite cazadores received them and were trained in marksmanship... The first models (1 and 2) were issued with a huge sword bayonet (24") which added to the weight (over 9 lbs) and made the gun overall awkward....

Heavy, ma non troppo, Jim ;
"Following the German style the Baker Rifle was designed to accept a sword-bayonet of some 24 inches long. Therefore the first bayonet for the Baker Rifle was a single-edged flat sword of 23 inches length. It was brass handled with a knuckle bow and clipped onto a muzzle bar. It weighed 2 pounds and, as later reports confirmed, created difficulties for firing when it was attached to the rifle muzzle".

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... I have not found any specific mention of the Baker rifles with these huge sword bayonets thus far, but it seems doubtful there were many...

Yet they existed ... but in fact not all rifles were equipped with them .

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... Regardless, as in any battle, the valor of the men of all sides remains notably recognized in these difficult and terrible circumstances...

Yes, a tribute to those who are the pawns in such games.

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Three of the few cannons that were left back in the Alamo site.


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Old 21st August 2019, 06:06 PM   #37
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Fernando, if I may say so, absolutely excellent research and constructive support as well as defining modifications to observations! Thank you, and I very much appreciate the itemized attention to particular details.

This is exactly the kind of interaction that is so helpful in discussions and helps so much in developing threads. I think that often people misperceive varying kinds of modifications as corrections but in fact they are essential additions in true fact finding discourse and not personally oriented.

Actually your additions are entirely helpful in adding important dimension to my findings, and key information I may have overlooked or inadvertently omitted.
Thank you so much, really learning far more than I had thought.....the material is so much deeper than I have realized, and your insights outstanding.

Teamwork in investigative research and discussion. Excellente' !!!

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Old 23rd August 2019, 08:51 AM   #38
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Moving on, I think I have found some interesting perspective on the situation with back powder and the supply to the Mexican army in this time.
Apparently at the time of the 'Texas Revolution', the United States was actually in a pretty much 'business as usual' state as far as commerce in the Gulf of Mexico. This appears to have included supplies to the Mexican army of Santa Anna and through his appointed agents in New Orleans.
The Texians had a small navy of several ships that were patrolling and blockading movement of such supplies in the gulf, and it appears that Yucatan and Maramoros were key port locations for the Mexican trade.

One ship that was captured was Mexican, but owned by Americans (the Pelicano) and apparently had supplies including 300 barrels of powder mingled in with flour and other commodities. Two other American ships were taken also carrying arms, ammunition and powder for the Mexican Army. One ship, a brig from Boston, also had a contract to transport Mexican soldiers to Texas.

While this sounds provocative, it must be remembered that the United States was not at war with Mexico, it was a revolt of the Texians against Mexico. In fact there was considerable uproar of the 'commerce' in the Gulf being disturbed by these nautical situations, and the Texians even accused of piracy!

It would seem that the campaigns in Texas had Santa Anna with a notable shortage of supplies, which apparently included powder. That being the case, perhaps the powder on hand was 'cut' or altered to go farther?
Had the powder being used by Mexico been supplied through New Orleans?, as noted that regular commerce through that major port had been well established.

It would seem that Mexico may have been obtaining powder through New Orleans with Santa Anna through a firm he had business with, and through purchase orders via his worldwide agent for provisions and materials such as ammunition etc.
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Old 23rd August 2019, 01:28 PM   #39
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Default To be or not to be ... a dilemma

Still some missing links may be found out there, to be brought in for connection or, if preferred, a consolidation of all loose episodes in a solid timeline. Poor gunpowder, yes but, basically due to weak components, lack of know how, or adulterated by one of two reasons; economic interests based on bad faith, or 'cut' to extend its stocks due to contextual shortage ... hardly a measure, due to its technical naivety. And then, which of those motives motivated Mexicans to acquire extra gunpowder from abroad ? And from when have they realized they needed such supplements ? Why thinking that the Pelicano was the first ship to transport gunpowder for Santa Ana forces? I wouldn't call it contraband, as that would be one sided point of view. Wouldn't it be interesting to spot a publication narrating the gunpowder saga, viewed from inside by a Mexican (documented) author ? Forgetting that is the historian that makes the history, as real or according to his taste. No, just a politically naked synopsis on the subject.


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Old 23rd August 2019, 01:50 PM   #40
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This all reinforces the idea that Mexican powder was not of a firearm quality and they sought to remedy that by imports as the Mexican producers were unwilling or unable to source and suitably process the necessary quality of ingredients for firearm quality powder. All gun powder uses the same basic ingredients but there are major differences in the purity of them, type of wood and charring processes and how they are incorporated and then processed. There is little that can be done to bring firework powder up to firearm standards . I could go into tedious detail but gun powder making is far more complex than just chucking together the 3 basic ingredients and making the best of it is a very subtle affair which is, even now, not fully understood.
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Old 23rd August 2019, 07:57 PM   #41
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Thank you for the responses guys!!!
Fernando, as always very well observed. There are indeed many missing links, but after lengthy research trying to find more after the Pelicano matter was brought in, what I found was under a very different heading than specifically gun powder.
The information I found had to do with espionage which was also carried out via these 'trade' arrangements, and the mention of powder was almost an aside included with descriptions of materials and commodities being carried.

The point is that there does not seem to have been more than casual mention of Mexican gun powder aside from that kind of cursory reference or the derisive regard toward its quality and inefficiency. What I wonder is, if the Mexican powder was so poor and ineffective...….then why was it so?
Its poor character is mentioned repeatedly in historical works and accounts of the Alamo and other campaigns.

It is mentioned that in the departure of the expedition of Texians who left the Alamo prior to the siege (the Matamoros expedition) they 'took most of the good powder'. That would have been the Dupont that apparently was the premium powder brought in by the volunteers.
That left the defenders with the amount of powder which was left behind by the Mexicans in the Alamo along with the cannons after General Cos surrendered to the Texians in December.
Narratives record that Cos, allowed to leave to return to Mexico with a limited supply of powder and arms (for protection) took , again, the 'good' powder, leaving that deemed inadequate.

We know he spiked cannon, as may be expected not wishing materials to fall into the hands of his enemies. Could he have somehow adulterated the powder in deliberate sabotage?
If the powder being used by the Mexicans was already poor as per the accounts of other battles, then why worry about it?
Susanna Dickinson, wife of one of the gunners at the Alamo who was there and survived spoke of the 'damaged' powder held in the magazine there.
I suppose her husband, artillery being his specialty, may have grumbled about it to her.

Returning to the Pelicano, and the associated captures mentioned, 'contraband' was the term used in the material I read, and while not regarded as such to the trading companies involved from the US, it certainly was deemed as such by the Texian vessels 'interfering' with its transport to their enemies, the Mexican army.

In all the material and bibliographies I have researched through (over many years and numerous visits to the Alamo and resources there) I have never found any specific reference focused on Mexican gunpowder. That is NOT to say it does not exist, but that I, personally, have not found it. Hence, the reason for this thread.

It is very true that these matters and topics as dealt with by each historian or narrator reflect their own views and perspective. That is why it is incumbent on researchers to always dig deeper, corroborate and cross reference all available material. Only then can a reasonably plausible outcome or resolution be determined, based on the preponderance of evidence which favors a specific result.

As Yulzari has well noted, the ingredients for the varying grades of powder (black powder) are gauged according to the intended use. The powder for firearms is of finer grained, while that for artillery is 'corned' or much coarser, these variables tuned for the explosive or 'burn' properties required.
Fireworks would seem to be more for pyrotechnic effect of visual character rather than for propelling projectiles, so clearly with much different mixture.

In analogy, toward the producing of gun powder, it does seem to require a certain measure of adept ability, and I think of the situation in the Sudan prior to Omdurman (1898). Khartoum had been taken by Mahdist forces, and the arsenal and the abundant materials were being put to use to supply the building forces of the Caliph. While, as at the Alamo, there were many arms on hand, but as always, the difficulty was powder.

In similar character as the ranks of peasant soldiers in the Mexican army, relatively untrained, the Ansar warriors fired 'from the hip', and again, their powder (produced ineffectively in the arsenal at Omdurman) was poor in quality. There were accounts of British soldiers hit numerous times by Sudanese bullets which only superficially wounded them, if at all.
The same description came from Texians in confrontations with Mexican forces.

It seems I had read of the difficulty in transporting powder with Santa Annas forces in their long march through inclement weather to get to the Alamo. The powder I believe had to be stabilized (?) and did that entail either dampening it, or making it less volatile? Perhaps ineffective adjustment of its properties by that or weather itself rendered it less effective?

As a matter of note, the kegs of gunpowder on the Pelican were found 'mingled' with bags of flour, and this was presented as if the powder (contraband) was intended hidden? Could this have been meant to somehow preserve or stabilize the powder? unconventional though it seems...or was the agent (Zacharie) indeed unaware of the powder hidden away in the flour?

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Old 23rd August 2019, 09:54 PM   #42
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I find "firing from the hip" of interest. Frederic the Great's (der Alte Fritze) troops fired from the hip, to speed up the delivery of volly's, and the same was done by Prussian troops in 1870. (Gas escape from early breach loaders)Having had an eye nearly taken out by side blast in a re-enactment, the Mexican troops have my sympathy.
There is a reason for the term "Fog of War"
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Old 23rd August 2019, 11:24 PM   #43
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David R
I find "firing from the hip" of interest. Frederic the Great's (der Alte Fritze) troops fired from the hip, to speed up the delivery of volly's, and the same was done by Prussian troops in 1870. (Gas escape from early breach loaders)Having had an eye nearly taken out by side blast in a re-enactment, the Mexican troops have my sympathy.
There is a reason for the term "Fog of War"


Thanks David! Interesting notes on firing from the hip to speed up volleys.
It does seem like the dynamics of the ignition of the powder would have pretty negative possibility to a persons face. While not having much (any) experience in firing these kinds of guns, I did once fire a muzzle loader, and smoke and sparks were pretty disconcerting.

The smoke alone made me wonder, in the discharge of a single gun, the acrid smoke was unbelievable. Multiply by hundreds, even thousands and 'fog' would be an understatement.

With the Mexican forces, I think the big problem was firing in total darkness and with the low elevation of guns actually shooting into the forward ranks instead of over them.
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Old 24th August 2019, 12:32 PM   #44
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If the powder had to be 'stabilised' that would suggest it was firework meal powder and not corned so the ingredients would separate in transit. Gun powder is a mechanical mixture not a compound. That would involve the powder being removed from the keg and remixed. Probably by hand. There would no reason to mix any other (i.e. flour) into the gun powder. Occasionally sawdust used to be mixed in for blasting purposes to slow the production of gasses to give a longer 'heave' rather than sharp cracking effect but that is irrelevant to firearms use.

Gun powder manufacturers will only make firearms good quality powder if there is a regular demand. If Mexico had only a small hunting firearms use the only other demand could come from the military. Otherwise that small demand would be best met by import. If the military are not demanding good powder from ignorance, lassitude or outright corruption (buying cheap powder and pocketing the difference from good) and there is no state manufacturer that can be directed, then industry will only make powder they can sell and firework powder needs far less capital to set up and is far cheaper to run.

The fault comes down to Mexican government and military culture of the time which itself is a manifestation of Mexican period culture and it's preceding history.
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Old 24th August 2019, 05:04 PM   #45
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What I meant about the flour in the Pelican 'incident' was that the powder kegs were 'mingled' (i.e. partially hidden by) BAGS of flour, as if deliberately loaded (i.e. placed in the hold) in such a manner. The agent who shipped the materials from New Orleans, claimed he had NO knowledge of the gun powder among the shipment and it was no included in the manifest. I did not mean the flour was mixed into the powder.

I understand that black powder is not a chemical mixture, but 'mechanical' therefore simply mixed ingredients which maintain their own individual properties. It does seem that there was some mention of remixing powder but details I am not certain of. I believe it was after being transported from Mexico into Texas, which is why I wondered if some special means were in place to make it less volatile.

Interesting notes on the corning of powder, in which I had the impression that powder for artillery was heavier grained for the type of explosive needed in projecting the heavy shot etc. I admit as is obvious not fully comprehending the differences in forms of powder used for firearms, artillery and the related topic of fireworks.

The point I have been trying to get to is discovering where Mexico was obtaining their powder for the military, since there was considerable military activity with Santa Annas army at the time. I had not imagined that the military would be acquiring powder from suppliers furnishing hunting needs, so of course importing would be necessary for the types of powder and quantities required for military action.

It does not seem there was a time, particularly the wars of the 18th into the 19th etc etc that there was not a demand for good firearms powder, as well as artillery grade powder as military action was always in place at one place or another. Clearly export and import were necessary to move those commodities as well as saltpeter, a key ingredient, to these places.

As England had some of the best powder of the times, if I understood correctly, and they had been disposing of massive quantities of firearms at the close of the Napoleonic campaigns (as in the sale of over 400,000 muskets and rifles to Mexico in 1820s)..I thought possibly they might also sell powder.
If the evidence of powder being shipped out of New Orleans is correct, then that location might be Mexico's source. Whether it was British in origin, or the high grade Dupont...the point was that it had to be GOOD powder and would beg the question ...WHY was Mexican gun powder so bad?
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Old 24th August 2019, 06:53 PM   #46
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
...WHY was Mexican gun powder so bad?

Specially taking into account that the invention was brought there by the Spanish Cortez early in the XVI century; and the joy shown in his letters to the Spanish King, due to the abundance of the necessary ingredients in local lands. I would take it as implicit that "cousin" fireworks was a tradition also brought by the Spaniards. It is not hard to realize that gunpowder takes more care to fabricate, but i would hardly digest the fact that preparing fireworks powder is a simple thing to achieve. One does not wake up in the morning and go to basement to fix some pyrotechnics only by reading the users manual; and eventually the risk to kick the bucket by mishandling the components appears to be the same in both cases.
Picture 1; an extract of Hernan Cortez report.
Picture 2 & 3; courtesy American Museum of Natural History.
Picture 4; How Goya saw the Spaniards performing the making of gunpowder.
Picture 5; The XVI century flour mill Molino del Rey in Mexico city, where next to it was the "old gunpowder mill".
Picture 6; a detail of the pavement in the pateo of the old (now museum) Portuguese black powder mill of Barcarena, where the bricks are positioned in "cleaver" and "spine", to avoid the risk of sparks by friction.


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Old 24th August 2019, 10:04 PM   #47
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Thank you Fernando, very well illustrated.
I agree, it must not have been a simple thing to do in making gunpowder, or why would there be such a struggle to import or obtain it from sources other than their own homemade concoctions.

Throughout the Mexican campaigns from the Texian revolt to the Mexican American war descriptions of the inadequacy of Mexican powder prevail. This was in artillery as well as firearms. In colonial New Spain, it was made clear that the use of the lance prevailed due to either shortages of or inadequacy of gunpowder. The reason Mexicans became so adept with lances was because they used them for hunting as well as for military purposes.

Interesting to see the example of a flour mill next to a gunpowder mill I guess two incredibly important commodities.

Interesting too seeing the bricks placed in a manner to avoid sparks, sounds like very prudent engineers.
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Old 25th August 2019, 12:25 PM   #48
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I must have put it wrong in trying to establish the relation between 'fireworks powder' and 'gun powder'. In that between one and the other there isn't such an interval of knowledge. I wonder whether a gun powder craftsman is able to prepare fireworks powder just by his experience without any new learning.
On the other hand, i have now learnt that, while gun powder was brought to Mexico as early as in the era of conquistadors, fireworks also went from Europe but as late as in the XIX century.

I gather that the use of the lance, such an ancient reliable weapon as it is, was not an alternative weapon for Mexicans specifically caused by bad gunpowder issues. It has been a long way before firearms were so reliable as to convince armies to abandon lances and other white arms ... all over the globe. A humid 'good' gunpowder or a 'soaked' flint (or even a percussion) musket/rifle would let you down in the more critical of occasions; something you Jim have often approached.

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Old 25th August 2019, 12:41 PM   #49
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Just to emphasise, the making of firework powder is comparatively easy. Good firearms powder is another matter.

Ordinary charcoal is hardwood charred in a covered pit or chamber at a high temperature. Good firearms powder requires lightweight woods, charred in a temperature controlled sealed burn at a low temperature with the other products of combustion removed during the process but retaining the fouling softening creosotes. Then ball milled to an impalpable dust and it can then be used. Termed a meal powder.

Delivered sulphur contains assorted contaminants and good performance requires it to be melted and the light contaminants skimmed off or left and the heavy ones left behind as the middle liquid is drawn off, cooled, broken and ball milled as above.

The saltpetre is even more contaminated and needs to be put into solution and crystallised. Perhaps several times to get a near pure result. Then again ball milled etc.

After the same mixing as firework powder it is put into expensive powered rolling mills (weighing tons) under careful controls and mechanically incorporated under these many tons of pressure for several hours. The longer the better. Then it is dampened and pressed at high pressure until it forms a hard cake. Once dried out the cake is broken up and then milled into chosen size grains. Said grains aresubject to being rolled loose to glaze the grains. All the the dust is removed and returned to be used in the next batch. Only them is it fit to be used as dense smooth grains. There are variations in wood, temperature of burn, length of milling time, density of the cake pressing, the size of the grains and general variations in the quality of the ingredients including the water used to dampen the powder for milling and for caking. Today one can buy firearms powder of a period 'musket' standard, 'rifle' powder and rarely a true 'sporting' powder to match rifle standards as in the late 19th century. Even in those days they could be tailored to give burning at chosen temperature. In one case a proportion of the fine charcoal was mixed with 30% charred peas so as to reduce the temperature of the burn to prevent the fouling being too hard in certain cases. The modern Aubonne works uses more saltpetre in their powder than normal which reduces the gas production slightly but increases the adiabatic expansion of those hot gases to give a better and more constant burn.

I mention all of this to show how hard it is to make a good firearm powder of even 'musket' powder standard and needs a customer willing to pay a far higher price than the minimum and an industry willing and able to invest in the capital and skilled staff to achieve it. The British experience of their suppliers in the ARW led them to demand higher standards and to invest heavily in the means to make it thus. French powder, at that time, was far better and made in government mills built to make good powder. If it took Britain until the Napoleonic wars to make the change and I doubt if Mexico had either the means, the will or the government culture to do the same only 20 yers later.

I will mention that meal powder can be corned, badly, with lighter pressure and little milling, even in a stamp mill by simply grating of the lightly pressed, or just dried, cake and passing the gratings through chosen sieves but the result is soft and prone to crumble in storage and transport. In which case the powder will need to be remixed or good grains separated from the crumbled dust. Gun powder is a very complex substance from which to get the best results. By the end of the use of gun powder in small arms it was moving into solid rods with assorted shaped holes to adjust the rate of burn so there was a collective sigh of relief when smokeless nitro powders were introduced.
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Old 25th August 2019, 05:52 PM   #50
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Red face Sorry Jim; not Mexican ... but still gunpowder

Yulzari, let me bow to your knowledge. Being that i am only playing by ear, just to give a fight to Jim , i don't stand a chance to mess with your expertise. The thing is that we find a zillion works out there on the problematics of powder but never a comparison (technical or not) between the various powder products, in what touches their difficulty degree of preparation. All i can reach is that, the mill that makes powder for guns is able to make it for all less demanding purposes; such is the case of the main Portuguese powder factory. Previously the Royal armoury smithy, started making black powder in 1729, with four limestone galgas (mills), later replaced by wooden ones, with bronze hoops, containing in their interior metallic spheres to add weight to the setups, still making them more maneuverable; an invention with a replica now exhibited in the factory museum. Powered by the nearby water stream; modified to steam power in 1879, to electricity in 1920, diesel in 1924 and finally a hydro-electric group. It is to believe that the Portuguese could make a decent gunpowder since early days, judging by period chronicles. Yet in these facilities they produced powder ('pólvora') for hunting, mining, quarry, cannon, signals, and artifice fire (fireworks). Even when the factory started producing chemical powder in the 1940 decade, they maintained the fabrication of foguetes (firecrackers) and luminous artifices.


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Old 25th August 2019, 07:02 PM   #51
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Indeed the technology existed for the Mexicans to make good powder had they decided to do so but the performance of the Mexican small arms and artillery as described in the Alamo and later war demonstrates that they did not choose to do so. Possibly they imported some good powder for their rifles. I have noted no rifle references in the commentaries.

The behaviour of the Mexican arms displays all the signs of poor powder. The Portuguese government mills shows how it could have been done. The Portuguese army had become accustomed to British powder in the Peninsula campaign with the extensive material support from Britain and was regarded as a very competent and reliable ally.

Tultepc by Mexico City has been a firework manufacturing centre for th past 200 years since Mexican independence and the end of the Spanish Royal gunpowder monopoly so Mexico did indeed make it's own gun powder in the relevant period, both for fireworks and blasting powder for mining.

BTW I notice that period Mexican gun flints found in Tucson were old French ones.
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Old 25th August 2019, 08:08 PM   #52
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Portuguese were accustomed to gunpowder over four centuries before the Peninsular war, whether learnt from the British or whomever. Such is evidenced in history, based on countless artillery contacts. I don't think they would go as far as they did with low ratio gunpowder.

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Old 26th August 2019, 06:05 PM   #53
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Default A bit more than raining in the wet ...

Hoping not to be boring but, this is the first time i read of Mexican gunpowder grade being put in concrete terms, rather than just bad, poor or mediocre.
I have extracted a couple of (hopefuly) interesting paragraphs from the work "Finding A Face: El Soldado Mexicano 1835-1848" by Kevin R. Young, Historian (San Antonio, Texas).
I hope the PDF i have created is amenable.

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Old 26th August 2019, 07:57 PM   #54
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Yulzari, I want to thank you for some of the most informative and detailed perspective and insight into the dynamics of the varied types of black powder I have seen. It is clear you have expertise in this topic far beyond what is typically found in most resources concerning the differences and production of gun powder. I think in most cases these presume that readers already have some knowledge on these details and do not get far enough into particulars.

Fernando modestly suggests he is 'playing by ear' however I know he has far more knowledge than I do regarding firearms and ordnance, where I am very much the novice. Your well written explanations are excellent and most helpful.

From what I have found on the circumstances with Mexico and the powder 'dilemma' as I have described here, the poor results of the powder issued may add 'incompetence' to the 'mixture' of the situation over years.

It does seem that along with the poor military administration which had been pretty much the hallmark of New Spain through the 18th c into 19th, that firearms were indeed in considerable paucity in the frontiers in particular.
Apparently the few guns which were obtained were misused and not properly maintained by the soldiers, and armorers did not have proper tools, parts no expertise to repair them.
The lack of proper training and marksmanship was primarily due to lack of powder and ammunition to permit such drill.

It seems that by the time Santa Anna took over, the arsenals overall had been largely dismantled, probably for more centralized control as he became dictator. As has been suggested, the proper mixing of gunpowder does take specific skill, and while the necessary ingredients for it were certainly well available in Mexico, the skills for producing it were apparently not
In the campaigns discussed, one of the unfortunate circumstances was the incompetence of ordnance officers issuing incorrect ammunition to the soldiers for their weapons, which were Brown Bess while many were Baker rifles.

Here I would say that I imagine that the gun powder captured from New Orleans destined for Santa Anna was sorely needed.
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Old 26th August 2019, 08:22 PM   #55
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Hoping not to be boring but, this is the first time i read of Mexican gunpowder grade being put in concrete terms, rather than just bad, poor or mediocre.
I have extracted a couple of (hopefuly) interesting paragraphs from the work "Finding A Face: El Soldado Mexicano 1835-1848" by Kevin R. Young, Historian (San Antonio, Texas).
I hope the PDF i have created is amenable.

.


Fernando...………..not boring!!! This is the exact topic we are trying to examine, and this is an absolutely excellent excerpt with key information. This is actually a source I had not seen, so thank you.

With regard to the Cazadores, these were actually of the more elite forces in the Mexican army, and as such they were better trained, excellent marksmen and were typically issued the Baker rifles. These are, as per their description, rifled and thus capable of accurate fire.

I would add here, digressing from the powder issue but to the use of lances by Mexican cavalry, the resounding defeat of US dragoons by Mexican lancers in the first skirmish of the Mexican War (1846) was at San Pascual in California. This was noted to describe the skill of Mexican lancers over the supposedly well armed dragoons.
Actually, the US forces were well worn after one of the longest marches of the time, and were on blown horses and mules, armed with new type percussion rifles. It was extremely cold, and literally the middle of the night in early morning hours.

It as been claimed they were overtaken by Mexican lancers because the powder in their guns was wet from earlier rain, however the real reason was the cold fingers in total darkness could not secure the necessary firing caps on the guns. These were 'improved' M1833 Hall carbines which had a percussion system but flawed breech which often gapped over time, and the paper cartridges were loaded OK, but the priming caps were the bigger issue.
The paper cartridges, contrary to popular belief, were not truly dampened as they were held in cartridge cases which were treated to be moisture resistant.
After sunrise, fighting continued in degree with the guns of the dragoons firing as designed.

Beyond this, the Mexicans were not regular line cavalry, but vaqueros (ranchers) of militia armed with the lances they used for hunting and as previously mentioned, notably without firearms.
They were on familiar terrain, and excellent horsemen, well mounted .
Members of the American force were unable to adequately defend themselves.

The dramatized painting is of course compelling but as often the case, embellished. It is not clear whether the red pennons, or any were on the lances. The red is of course the 'no quarter' warning later described in the accounts of the Alamo and the deguello.
The image of the battle area reveals to rugged terrain they were in.
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Old 26th August 2019, 09:15 PM   #56
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... It as been claimed they were overtaken by Mexican lancers because the powder in their guns was wet from earlier rain, however the real reason was the cold fingers in total darkness could not secure the necessary firing caps on the guns...

... And what did i remind you the other day ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
...I gather that the use of the lance, such an ancient reliable weapon as it is, was not an alternative weapon for Mexicans specifically caused by bad gunpowder issues. It has been a long way before firearms were so reliable as to convince armies to abandon lances and other white arms ... all over the globe. A humid 'good' gunpowder or a 'soaked' flint (or even a percussion) musket/rifle would let you down in the more critical of occasions; something you Jim have often approached...
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Old 26th August 2019, 10:46 PM   #57
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Yeah yeah! OK dad!!! I know, you did

Surprisingly though, the lance continued its use in many contexts even into the 20th c in WWI. German uhlans had incredibly long steel lances, and there were numerous contingents of Bengal and other lancers with Great Britain in a number of campaigns.

Most of what I have read on New Spain did note that the lance was favored over the use of guns as a primary weapon in the frontiers. As noted, the lack of powder and paucity of firearms themselves were key in that preference.
In the more metropolitan areas and cities this was not so much the case.

While one of the most intriguing conditions in New Spain was that remarkably obsolete arms and armor continued in use long after they were no longer in use in Europe. However, the use of the lance was not related to this proclivity of obsolete arms forms, such as the lance, but was actually more toward the notable use of the lance by American Indian warriors which revived the usefulness of them with the Spaniards.

Toward the unreliability of firearms, the advent of the use of the tomahawk by colonials was presented by the Indian tribes who learned that they had a window of attack using these as the colonists reloaded. Clearly this was not as opportune with soldiers using volley fire, but with loosely formed groups firing independently it was of course used as noted.
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Old 26th August 2019, 11:19 PM   #58
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Slightly off subject,but a reminder of how late lancers were used in the field. Indian Lancers in Mesopotamia WWI.
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Old 27th August 2019, 07:10 AM   #59
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Default Back to the gunpowder dilemma

The situation with Mexico and their gunpowder issues does not seem to have an isolated matter, apparently America had their own problems during the Revolutionary War. It seems that in colonial America, there had been sources of gunpowder production, but over time the mills had been left to decay and the reliance was on England for powder. By the time of the Revolution, there were supplies of British powder remaining, but obviously the colonists needed their own supply now.
There were incentives offered by the state governments, and there were even instruction booklets offered. However, much of what was produced was terrible to the point investigations were even set toward one well known producer.
Had France not come to the rescue with their superior powder, America might have lost.
In one reference it was noted that France had a poor return on production (1774) when they had purchased cheap saltpeter from India (British controlled), but returned to regular quality after that ceased.

That was the key, saltpeter. In that time, it was known that gunpowder was a mixture of sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate (saltpeter), however the compound of potassium nitrate was not chemically understood. Chemistry itself was only a rudimentary science then with that compound not properly identified.

It has been noted that in the Mexican powder, it was with too much sulfur and charcoal and inadequate saltpeter. That would seem to have been the common denominator in most gunpowder deemed inferior, just as in the American colonies and as noted, Mexico.

Having identified what appears to be a key factor in the gunpowder issues with Mexico, I would include kind of a lighter note found regarding the 'flour' situation in previous posts. I discovered that flour can actually become explosive when it is suspended as 'dust' in air.
It takes only 1 or 2 grams of dust per cubic foot of air (50 or more grams per cubic meter) to become volatile enough to explode. The flour grains are so minute they burn instantly if ignited.
With that interesting discovery I was thinking that perhaps hiding the gunpowder on the 'Pelican' under bags of flour might not have been such a good idea
Whether viable or not, it just seemed interesting.

Still hoping to discover any reference to actual gunpowder making (or attempts at it) in the periods of the Texas Revolution or Mexican War (1830s to 1840s).
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Old 27th August 2019, 07:01 PM   #60
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... Most of what I have read on New Spain did note that the lance was favored over the use of guns as a primary weapon in the frontiers. As noted, the lack of powder and paucity of firearms themselves were key in that preference...

How many of the following reasons were valid; education on its use inherited from ancients, simplicity (no need to resource other components to make it functional); the cost of firearms acquisition and continuous ammunition maintenance) ... and reliability !

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... While one of the most intriguing conditions in New Spain was that remarkably obsolete arms and armor continued in use long after they were no longer in use in Europe...

As also occurred (and still occur) in other continents; in a certain extent, colonized locals were not allowed to possess firearms above a determined grade.
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