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Old 27th August 2019, 09:10 PM   #61
Jim McDougall
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
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 !


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.



It appears I have reversed the use of the lance in suggesting the Spaniards learned from the Indians, actually it was the other way around. The Comanches actually acquired horse as well as the use of that weapon from the Spanish.
While the lance was certainly brought to the New World by the Spanish in the early incursions in 16th c. its long standing use was a preference which was maintained in later years over other weapons due to the reasons mentioned.

"..owing to the scarcity of firearms and perennial shortage of lead and gunpowder, the lance remained an important weapon in the Spanish colonies long after it had fallen into disuse elsewhere".
"Spanish Colonial Ironwork"
Frank Turley & Marc Simmons
2007, p.177

In the late 1590s, soldiers in New Mexico were seen with lances with triple bladed lance head (runka), and later inspections of troops in New Mexico (1684) noted lances. So the lance had remained a weapon of choice since the 'conquest' as noted (reminded Fernando and simply remained so despite the advance of firearms in most other contexts.

It would seem this favor reigned mostly in the frontier regions where these shortages prevailed, while firearms supply was abundant to the south in Mexico City and ports.
"...the lance was the favorite weapon of the presidial soldiers in the northern frontiers of New Spain".
"Spanish Military Weapons in Colonial America 1700-1821"
Pierce Chamberlain & Sidney Brinckerhoff, 1972, p.108

The adoption of the lance had nothing to do with the weapons of ancients who had used a projectile weapon called atlatl and kinds of obsidian bladed swords of a kind with pieces of this razor sharp rock imbedded in a shaft.

Returning once again to gunpowder availability and production.

With the science of chemistry only in rudimentary state, the properties of the components of the potassium nitrate were not accurately understood even by early 1800s, and known primarily by the long known element of nitre.
This was typically obtained in natural state from bat guano, which found in caves retained its favored properties for its use as oxidant in gun powder.
It would seem that naturally found nitre (saltpeter) found in other means such as bird droppings or uric composed material were subject to certain deficiencies in cases due to absence or excesses of other natural processes.

Thus it would seem that the physical properties of the saltpeter obtained from natural resources might mitigate the effective outcome of the powder produced. Apparently Europe, specifically France and England, had far more advanced the creation of higher quality powder, and France had Antoine Lavoisier the famed chemist as head of gunpowder organization officially .

While Mexico by the 1830s seems to have been trying to adequately supply its forces, it would seem that inadequate supply of powder as well as the poor result of local production may have come from deficiencies in supply of adequate components. This seems to have been the case in America during the Revolution as well, as recounted in "Arming America", M. Bellesiles, 2000.
It is noted that even with the colonists and the fledgling military, the poor marksmanship and lack of proper training with firearms were due to the same shortages of ammunition and powder restricting practice as Mexico faced.

I would note here that the Bellesiles work is highly controversial due primarily to apparent flaws in mostly statistical and legal records research, but the historical data and overview is in my opinion sound.
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Old 28th August 2019, 05:36 AM   #62
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Default the importance of spears and lances in Spanish service

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall

In the late 1590s, soldiers in New Mexico were seen with lances with triple bladed lance head (runka), and later inspections of troops in New Mexico (1684) noted lances. So the lance had remained a weapon of choice since the 'conquest' as noted (reminded Fernando and simply remained so despite the advance of firearms in most other contexts.


.


We tend to associate late-medieval and Renaissance Spain with the art of the sword, first the broadsword and then the rapier. An interesting 15th cent. series of books by a Spanish professional soldier with literary talents, Pietro Monte, sheds much light on individual combat, horsemanship, military organization, and the martial qualities of men and nations as they were understood in Spain and Italy when Europe was taking its first steps into modernity.

One of his works in particular, Petri Montii exercitorum atque artis militaris collectanea in III libros distincta (Milan, 1509) explains the importance of shaft weapons in the fighting techniques of the era. What we tend to lump into a large category of "lances" are actually a variety of long weapons of specific design and purpose.

The lanza, strictly speaking, was a long spear used on horseback (similar weapons are still used for equestrian boar hunting in Spain). Infantrymen were equipped with an even longer spear, known as a lanzón or pica which is familiar to us as the pike. This weapon, fearsome in the hands of well-drilled Spanish mercenary pikemen, became an essential adjunct to musketeers who were vulnerable while reloading their weapons (prior to the invention of the bayonet). Pikes, due to their length and weight, were best deployed in tight formation to create impenetrable hedges against enemy assaults.

Spears of medium length, jinetas, were ideal for individual combat since their size and lighter weight made them far more maneuverable. These were the counterpart to the Roman hasta, designed for use in the hand as opposed to the javelin or pilum which was intended to be a missile.

The runka which you mention was known as the spetum in Southern Europe, and Monte attaches considerable importance to it. Its design and usage can be best stated in a short quote from the Collectanea:

"The spetum usually attacks with the point, although it has a pair of sharp ears, each curving forward like a half-bow, and able to slice with a reverse or a cut. It is a strong weapon, for it can parry any long or short weapon with the ears, both high and low, and to the side. The spetum should sit in the hands such that one ear stands upward and the other downward, so that a small rotation brings it crosswise to trap the opponent's weapon...The spetum can easily fight against any weapon. In opposing it we should wear mail gauntlets...since the ears can slice..."
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Old 28th August 2019, 12:45 PM   #63
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Not quite relevant to the use of the lance in mid 19th century Mexico but I was issued a lance for formal guards whilst in the British army in the 1970's and my local gun shop in France has a small line in modern boar spears in shiny stainless steel with synthetic shafts and handles which are used by the more athletic members of some local chasses but on foot.
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Old 28th August 2019, 03:29 PM   #64
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... "..owing to the scarcity of firearms and perennial shortage of lead and gunpowder, the lance remained an important weapon in the Spanish colonies long after it had fallen into disuse elsewhere".
"Spanish Colonial Ironwork"
Frank Turley & Marc Simmons
2007, p.177.,.

Jim, was i a documented historian and would question the "long after it had fallen into disuse elsewhere" statement .

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
...In the late 1590s, soldiers in New Mexico were seen with lances with triple bladed lance head (runka)...

Yes indeed; an Iberian resource ... for one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
...The adoption of the lance had nothing to do with the weapons of ancients who had used a projectile weapon called atlatl and kinds of obsidian bladed swords of a kind with pieces of this razor sharp rock imbedded in a shaft.

I hope it was not my mentioning 'ancient' inheritances that went misunderstood; i was surely meaning by ancient, early Spanish with their gear. Surely no atlatls .



Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
.. 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...
With the science of chemistry only in rudimentary state, the properties of the components of the potassium nitrate were not accurately understood even by early 1800s... Apparently Europe, specifically France and England, had far more advanced the creation of higher quality powder, and France had Antoine Lavoisier the famed chemist as head of gunpowder organization officially ...

Ah, the academic perspective. What bout empirics ? Lavoisier was not even thinking of being brought to this world and bunches of dudes were engaging into battle stirruped on the gunpowder as a vital resource. If you have a strong willing to win and the laboratories were yet not invented, you test and test different mixtures and different 'cooking' times until you achieve something capable. You don't go to war without knowing how reliable is your powder; neither you surrender to the fact that your ingredients are not satisfactory. For some reason XVI century King João II imported reliable saltpeter from Venice, or in the XVIII the century the Portuguese set up saltpeter mines in colonized Brazil. Indeed the French were good at making gunpowder; nevertheless when they invaded Portugal they chased local University researchers who were highly skilled in the gunpowder field.
And speaking of how to make it, guano and all, there are 'many ways to kill a flee', meaning that there are various processes to make, or 'grow', saltpeter.
However too exhaustive to translate and not vital for the discussion.
But let me cite three passages of "Memorias de la Revolucion Mexicana, including a report of the expedition by General Xavier Mina, when about the siege of the Los Remedios fortress; re-translated to Spanish by William Robinson ... and now tre-translated by my humble self:

"Despite the vigilance made by the enemy, some brave peasants entered the fortress almost daily with gunpowder and other articles; the provision of ammunition was abundant, meat abounded and the best fresh bread was served daily. On the contrary the situation of the Royalist forces presented a strong contrast".

Again:

"the ammunition provision was also considerable, added that we counted with enough nitrate, sulphur, iron and lead"

Later as things seemed to worsen:

"We have previously mentioned the considerable amounts of saltpeter, sulphur and coal existed in the fortress, whith which the necessary gunpowder could be elaborated but, be it the bad administration of those in command or for depending on the supplies from Juajill, as only as one person was employed in the fabrication of this indispensable article. The operation was realized by the patriots in a rather tedious manner, using metates (mealing stones). The ingredients are milled in these stones and are after granulated by passing through them cedazos (sieves). This process is so slow that a man elaborates in a day what an official specialist can do in a hour. When preparing without ability or scientific knowledge the necessary proportions, its grain is bad, frequently not sustained and rarely you can rely on it. Hence bad, as it was, the gunpowder quality, in any case a sufficient quantity could have been made if the opportune precautions had taken place".

So Jim, i would not view the whole Mexican 'bad' powder saga as properly a dilemma per se, but a circumstance like many that occur here and there; only that this one, in the context, is more publicized than (many ?) others.

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Old 28th August 2019, 05:32 PM   #65
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Default Jim's Runka ...

As a matter of fact a few days ago i was compelled to figure out what kind of pole arm those guys in the Benin bronze plaques (last picture my post #64 ) was holding. I have consulted my micro resources and none of the findings satisfied me. Interesting that, for two 'basic' styles shown in books, there are 'at least' four different names (Runka, Ranseur, Corseque, Spetum), with respective descriptions tangled between both, depending on the author. It seems as in one case the wings curve towards the butt and in the other towards the tip. But my dissatisfaction goes for the fact that in both cases the blades are rather long, specially the middle one, whereas the weapon of the soldiers in the plaques have a head composed of short blades, in a trident posture, which in my fantasy is more in consonance with the weapons used at that stage (XV-XVI centuries) by both Spanish and Portuguese. But of course, only in my imagination, as i wouldn't know the name of these things in my lingo, to allow me to search into period chronicles.


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Old 28th August 2019, 06:54 PM   #66
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Philip, thank you so much for the excellent insights and references on the use of shafted weapons in Spain and Italy in 15th century. As you well note it seems that Italy and Spain were indeed the leaders in the development of weapons and their use in these times, but the sword is first thought of.
Horsemanship and the use of shafted weapons often seem overshadowed by the profound attention to the sword.

The attention to the character and terminology of these varied forms and their use is extremely helpful and important, and helps understand the use of such weapons in the colonies which were better suited for the kinds of situations the forces faced. Brilliantly written and detailed as is your hallmark, and much appreciated here as the thread develops deeply in the broad scope of factors surrounding the topic at hand.

Yulzari thank you for the note on use of the lance in the British army, while of course not directly associated with Mexico is interesting perspective which has its own pertinence here. Also interesting on the boar spears. Here in Texas and the southwest wild boars are hunted, but these days of course with high power rifles.

Fernando, as always very much appreciate your elucidation and qualification of my ramblings. Using that quote from the writers of the book I cited regarding the use of the lance in the colonies of course was perhaps in need of closer scrutiny. Your skills at critique always lend to better understanding of these kinds of statements and prevent broad assumptions, which I clearly failed to elaborate in my inclusion. Well done.

Good information and use of cited resources toward the gunpowder situations in Mexico, which indicate that the circumstances of poor grade powder was more incidental than chronically present. You really have done your homework and really appreciate you sharing these details .
As you remind, the 'empirical' (that was a word I overlooked) application of making and testing components of powder would benefit its quality accordingly. However the production was only as good as the skill of those making it, clearly, so as noted, much of it turned out badly.
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Old 28th August 2019, 07:29 PM   #67
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Wink Just by the way ...

Wile i take the opportunity to show a third plaque with a soldier holding a weapon (now) admittedly called a Trident, as per description in a Catalog of the ENCOMPASSING THE GLOBE, Portugal and the World in the 16th & 17th centuries, an exhibition held in the Smithsonian Museum, i concur with the idea that the sword is the 'star', while in fact was the 'humble' lance the weapon that prevailed in statistic terms. Have a look to the famous Pastrana tapestries, picturing the fall of Tangier by the Portuguese (1471), and watch how many lances are there for a sword.

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Old 28th August 2019, 07:54 PM   #68
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A western Runka is less a trident and more a side bladed weapon... Unable to load a picture, which is annoying.
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Old 28th August 2019, 08:45 PM   #69
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I agree with David, the trident is more a shorter hafted stabbing weapon, mindful of course of its use with gladiators (and recalling its symbolism with mythical figures like Poseidon)…..while these versions (runka) tri bladed polearms are variations of multi bladed weapons on long shafts.

Fernando, I often reread these posts and just realized in the reference to 'ancients' toward the use of older types of weapons, including the lance, I had been thinking the Indians were what was meant. I honestly had not even thought of the Conquistadors as 'ancients', and turned to the early indigenous inhabitants of these regions.....thinking of the atlatl.

Pretty far down the rabbit hole from gunpowder mea culpa.

In again returning to the Mexican gunpowder 'dilemma', which I believe was in fact a proper term given the consistent reports of the terrible nature of the Mexican gunpowder in most of the resources I have consulted, it is most interesting to see less negative reports as you have entered here.

I would point out that the period described here was much earlier than the time of Santa Annas campaigns against the Texians, and for that matter the later development of the Mexican war. Much as the circumstances in the American Revolution I previously mentioned, there were considerable quantities of materials necessary for mixing gunpowder left over from the regular supplies of the previously dominant nations.

With Mexico, after independence, and after these battles such as Los Remedios, over time these 'abundant' supplies began to dwindle and the now independent Mexicans needed to rely on their own resources to produce renewable supplies. While these forts (in 1817) were well supplied at first, Fuerto del Sombereo was abandoned by the peasantry after lack of provisions rendered the position untenable. Martin Javier Mina y Larrea (1789-1817) went to defend Fuerto de los Remedios after the fall of Sombrero but that too fell, and he was executed Nov. 11, 1817.
I knew an archaeologist who has long worked regions in Mexico, and who believed he had found the site of the execution. Mina was a brilliant officer and revolutionary who was also a lawyer and was known as el Mozo (the student).


Naturally there are many processes to produce the essential saltpeter which is the key ingredient in gunpowder (comprising 75% of the mixture) however most of these are somewhat time consuming and often less effective. In essence, there is far more room for failure or inadequately functioning compound.
That was why I was focused on the availability of 'natural' resources , primarily bat guano, which provided an already combined source which was typically inherently ready to be included in gunpowder after relatively simple processing.

What my thoughts were toward the use of these natural sources of saltpeter was that there surely must have been quantities of this resource which were perhaps inadequately leached or improperly prepared for mixing. With this, possibly that was the cause of the poor powder the Mexicans had apparently become burdened with.

The wonderful wealth of supply enjoyed at the time of Los Remedios had in effect, petered out (no pun intended) by the time of the 1830s campaigns, and the notorious 'terrible' powder of the Mexican forces had become well known. In many resources I checked, it was noted that it had too much charcoal and sulfur, not enough saltpeter. In one reference, one writer described it as 'charcoal' derisively.

That there must have been 'some' good powder was illustrated by a note that General Cos, when marched out of the Alamo after surrender, took the 'good' powder in supplying his men (though only limited quantity was allowed).
This falls in place with the comments of Susana Dickinson (the wife of Texian gunner) who survived and noted the powder left by Mexicans was 'damaged'.
Perhaps he deliberately adulterated the powder just as he spiked and disables cannon left there.

There are of course many possibilities, but the recurrent theme of most of the many accounts I have read, describe 'poor quality Mexican powder'.
With that critical assessment being so prevalent......it WAS a dilemma.

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Old 28th August 2019, 10:00 PM   #70
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
...the trident is more a shorter hafted stabbing weapon, mindful of course of its use with gladiators (and recalling its symbolism with mythical figures like Poseidon)…..while these versions (runka) tri bladed polearms are variations of multi bladed weapons on long shafts...

You are pulling leg, Jim ...and Poseidon is wondering whether his trident is what we are talking about. There are tridents and tridents ... even non weapon tridents .

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... With Mexico, after independence, and after these battles such as Los Remedios, over time these 'abundant' supplies began to dwindle and the now independent Mexicans needed to rely on their own resources to produce renewable supplies...

You got it right from my previous short synopsis

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... was a brilliant officer and revolutionary who was also a lawyer and was known as el Mozo (the student)...

In a way he had it coming. He could as well remain as a lawyer; instead, and not satisfied to have fought the French in the Peninsular war, he later went to Mexico looking for glory ... or failure. Options ! and by the way Jim; El Mozo means the young, not the student .

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... Naturally there are many processes to produce the essential saltpeter which is the key ingredient in gunpowder (comprising 75% of the mixture) however most of these are somewhat time consuming and often less effective...That was why I was focused on the availability of 'natural' resources , primarily bat guano, which provided an already combined source which was typically inherently ready to be included in gunpowder after relatively simple processing...

I guess that no way is simple, Jim. When you have time, you may feel like submitting THIS ARTICLE to your translating engine

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
...There are of course many possibilities, but the recurrent theme of most of the many accounts I have read, describe 'poor quality Mexican powder'.
With that critical assessment being so prevalent......it WAS a dilemma.

You know i am not a schooled character Jim, but i dare propose that, perhaps one of us has a less objective interpretation of the term dilemma. Back to the dictionaries .

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Old 28th August 2019, 10:05 PM   #71
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Default Runkas and tridents

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Originally Posted by David R
A western Runka is less a trident and more a side bladed weapon....


I agree, a trident's lateral tines extend forward more, their tips are not far to the rear of the central spike. The images in Fernando's post above depict several examples of weapons that fit this description -- the one with sheathed tips is Siamese, and the assemblage of tridents in outdoor display reminds me of a votive array at a Hindu temple. The trident has a long symbolic history in the East (called a trisula in Sanskrit, it is the emblem of mendicant holy men or sadhus and is also a part of Buddhist iconography as well. We in the West know it as the symbol of Neptune.

Monte's description of the runka / spetum which I quoted in my prior post matches the examples to be seen in the Real Armeria in Madrid, the Metropolitan Museum, and elsewhere. The crescentic ears do not extend forward nearly as far as the tines of a trident. Furthermore, the spetum is edged on all its contours and is thus capable of cutting in a number of directions in addition to stabbing and grappling. This is not the rule on a typical trident.
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Old 28th August 2019, 10:27 PM   #72
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Interesting that, for two 'basic' styles shown in books, there are 'at least' four different names (Runka, Ranseur, Corseque, Spetum), with respective descriptions tangled between both, depending on the author. It seems as in one case the wings curve towards the butt and in the other towards the tip. But my dissatisfaction goes for the fact that in both cases the blades are rather long, specially the middle one,


.


Nando, the problem is that in the literature, a weapon can be called different things depending on the language of the writer. Back when these things were in current use, there must have been numerous regional names, and even what we would call slang terms for objects (what would arms historians of the 22nd cent. think of the Italian term mazzagatto (cat beater) applied to a pocket pistol?)

Just for fun I looked up the terms you mentioned in Stone's Glossary... keeping in mind that his understanding was based on the writings of those late-Victorian kernoozers of antique arms such as Dean, ffoulkes, et al). Be that as it may, runka / rhonca / ranson / ranseur are listed as variant terms for the spetum described by Monte; the five illustrated examples all corroborate this (one has straight narrow ears, another has tiny subsidiary earlets pointing backwards under the main ones but the rest are of "classic" form).

The corseque / corsesca has a wider, markedly tapering central blade, and the ears are correspondingly wider at their bases, and straight, and taper to triangular tips. There is a beautiful Italian variant called the corsesca a pipistrello, on which the ears have the contour of bat wings, hence the name.

Linguistic differences may cause confusion as far as the term rhonca, above. It's not to be confused with the Italian term ronca or roncone which derived from a pruning knife with hook, with a spear point attached -- what the English called a "bill" .

For any fans of polearms, who wants to get a firmer grasp on the subject AND who reads Italian, I can recommend a book by Mario Troso, Le Armi in Asta delle Fanterie Europee 1000-1500. He classifies all the various types with numerous profile diagrams and photos.
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Old 28th August 2019, 10:46 PM   #73
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"Dilemma" (definition) : A difficult situation or problem.

In the thesis (if I am using the right term) of this thread, the objective was to determine the accuracy and possible causes for the apparent extremely poor quality and effectiveness of Mexican gunpowder. This question was brought about by repeated references to the extremely inadequate quality of the gunpowder of Mexican forces in the time of the Texas Revolution and into the campaigns of the Mexican War (1846).

The fact that the powder was of such poor quality had a dramatic effect on the circumstances and many aspects of battles and conflicts as described in many accounts of these.

With the efforts to obtain better quality powder, as seen in the supplies confiscated in the vessel Pelican, it would seem that the Mexicans were aware of the deficiencies of their powder, however it was obtained, and were trying to resolve the matter. This appears the case as powder from New Orleans was likely either the premium Dupont powder much favored in America or perhaps even French powder traded there. Which is unclear.

Whatever the case, the issue with faulty powder was certainly a dilemma which needed resolution. In campaign this problem may result in completely ineffectual fire to even the unfortunate explosion of weapons and wounding or fatally injuring troops using them.
It is noted that the Mexican artillery pounding the Alamo was more of a nuisance than effective bombardment, as the shot barely even made the walls. Most of the damage done to the Alamo structure was done by the Texian bombardment when the Mexicans were besieged there the previous December.

The Mexican soldiers in the 'ranks' were poorly trained in the use of their muskets, presumably due to lack of ammunition and powder rather than oversight of officers, however that is perhaps simply a gratuitous perspective.
Whatever the case, the troops were often issued incorrect ammunition by ordnance officers, and the poor powder quickly fouled the barrels, so smaller ball with added buck were employed.
Also, the additional charge of powder to compensate for the poor quality powder forced the men to lower the guns and fire from the hip due to the inevitable flash and sparks (not to mention possible explosion) .
This resulted in firing low into the darkness and decimating their own forces ahead.

Most of the Mexican casualties (perhaps as many as 90%) were caused by friendly fire, in turn caused by poor powder and resultant poor shooting.

All of these issues would likely have had notably catastrophic effect had the defenders been military and of more significant number properly emplaced, and the Mexican forces would have faced possible defeat due to these powder related circumstances.

So, with these considerations, I would submit that the word dilemma does accurately describe the Mexican gunpowder issues.
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Old 29th August 2019, 01:13 PM   #74
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
"Dilemma" (definition) : A difficult situation or problem....

Definitely Jim, our dictionaries are in conflict over such term and/or its pretended attribution to the exposed topic; i will sow you by PM what mine says:
But i resist no more; i throw in the towel over this one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
...With the efforts to obtain better quality powder, as seen in the supplies confiscated in the vessel Pelican, it would seem that the Mexicans were aware of the deficiencies of their powder, however it was obtained, and were trying to resolve the matter. This appears the case as powder from New Orleans was likely either the premium Dupont powder much favored in America or perhaps even French powder traded there. Which is unclear...

Judging by the enormous difference in distances, specially in the sailing era, it appears more plausible that the powder came from Delaware ... whether the story of this cargo was indeed what it is presumed to have been.
But speaking of gunpowder setbacks, also Du Pont does not escape 'clean' from such episodes; they have a record of 288 explosions between 1802 and 1921, leading to the deaths of 228 people.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
...This resulted in firing low into the darkness and decimating their own forces ahead....Most of the Mexican casualties (perhaps as many as 90%) were caused by friendly fire, in turn caused by poor powder and resultant poor shooting...

I have read about episodes of friendly fire; i have been myself directly involved in such things but, 'perhaps as many as 90%', is worth a mention in the Guinness book of records .

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... So, with these considerations, I would submit that the word dilemma does accurately describe the Mexican gunpowder issues...

As said above; the towel is on the canvas floor.


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Old 29th August 2019, 02:11 PM   #75
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Thanks for the comprehensive input, Filipe. My issues were more towards the identification of the weapon those guys carry in the Benin plaques. Being (at least)three of a kind, this must not be only artist's imagination. And if it exists, by association, would also be used by our neighbor Spaniards.
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Old 29th August 2019, 06:16 PM   #76
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Fernando, no towel throwing allowed The term use is in this case simply a matter of perspective, and relatively moot it would seem if it brought such consternation.It would seem the word was unnecessary in the title but I used it to suggest the issues resulting from the notoriously poor powder, and the point of trying to find out why it was so.

Agreed that the Dupont was more likely the powder being sought, which ironically was that which the defenders had originally at the Alamo.In their case, their supply of that powder was depleted when the number of the contingent left there on the Matamoros expedition prior to the siege. They took most of this 'good' powder, leaving the unfortunate defenders with what remained, and the store of Mexican powder left by Cos in December.

With the Dupont powder, which was indeed from Delaware, it had been notably sold and traded throughout the states, which certainly included the New Orleans entrepot, where the barrels of powder on the Pelican had originated.

The production of gunpowder of course, must be regarded as appropriately volatile, and in volume production such as was carried out at Dupont, the inevitability of explosion must have been a constant threat.

The Mexican powder left in the Alamo, in further reading, I found was seriously damaged even to add to its poor quality, by the effects of what is known as 'creeping damp'. This natural situation is something well known in Texas and in which the dampness permeates relentlessly regardless of precautions attempted.

This same circumstance was why the men left at the Alamo were caught as they slept with guns unloaded, the same dampness would have effected powder left in the pans. By the time they reacted, the compound was overrun, and they had little to do but try to flee. These defenders were not the seasoned veterans and frontiersmen who indeed comprised the less predominant faction of the contingent, and those fewer do seem to have tried to stand as the others fled.
It does seem that historians are often not entirely correct on many aspects of this tragic event, and the true number of defenders are not accurately known, but simply estimated.

It is the same with the numbers of Mexican forces, typically largely exaggerated by those emphasizing the more heroic perspectives of the siege itself. However, this same embellishment seems to concern the numbers of Mexican casualties.

As with much of the research I have done here, my primary source has been "Exodus from the Alamo", Philip Thomas Tucker, 2010, where it notes the accounts of Santa Anna's 2nd in command Gen. Vincente Filisola, who regarded the Alamo engagement as 'useless'.

Tucker notes on p.3, "... while historians have grossly inflated the number of Mexican losses, the Filisola document shows that most of the attackers losses were due to fratricide. In all truth the Mexicans lost fewer men than traditional documents have claimed : in all less than three hundred casualties.
The large percentage of fratricide casualties means that the entire Alamo garrison may have killed or wounded barely a hundred of their opponents.".

My comment on the percentage of such Mexican casualties being as much as 90% was admittedly far beyond what numbers here reveal, and probably from my initial reaction of surprise at this clearly remarkable revelation.

While clearly the gunpowder issues of the thread topic, while playing a key role in many dynamics of this historic and tragic event, the true 'dilemma', at least for me, has been trying to better understand it.
While the tragedy was as put by Gen. Filisola, a useless engagement, the heroism of the forces on both sides was indisputable.
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Old 29th August 2019, 10:33 PM   #77
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If Mexican powder was prone to suffer from dampness it could point to using guano derived sodium nitrate instead of potassium nitrate as the saltpetre portion of the gun powder.

Sodium nitrate is a workable alternative to potassium nitrate saltpetre but is less effective and is notably hygroscopic so goes soggy when exposed after a while. It needs to be kept sealed until used. Often turned to as a cheaper ingredient or when the better is not accessible. OK as long as you use it up fast but goes soggy in storage and definitely in a weapon, especially the pan of a firelock, overnight. OK-ish for blasting or fireworks where the buyer uses it soon after purchase but firearm powder is stored until used in the future so not a good choice.

Not conclusive evidence but makes it valid to examine the possibility seriously and is at least consistent with the reports made here.

There is a process to convert sodium nitrate to potassium nitrate but that is chemistry knowledge out of period and beyond the Mexican technology of the day. A less direct route is to use the guano in 'nitre beds' but I am not aware of any being created in Mexico and is a slower and more wasteful method. Not to mention unpleasant.
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Old 29th August 2019, 10:54 PM   #78
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Originally Posted by yulzari
If Mexican powder was prone to suffer from dampness it could point to using guano derived sodium nitrate instead of potassium nitrate as the saltpetre portion of the gun powder.

Sodium nitrate is a workable alternative to potassium nitrate saltpetre but is less effective and is notably hygroscopic so goes soggy when exposed after a while. It needs to be kept sealed until used. Often turned to as a cheaper ingredient or when the better is not accessible. OK as long as you use it up fast but goes soggy in storage and definitely in a weapon, especially the pan of a firelock, overnight. OK-ish for blasting or fireworks where the buyer uses it soon after purchase but firearm powder is stored until used in the future so not a good choice.

Not conclusive evidence but makes it valid to examine the possibility seriously and is at least consistent with the reports made here.

There is a process to convert sodium nitrate to potassium nitrate but that is chemistry knowledge out of period and beyond the Mexican technology of the day. A less direct route is to use the guano in 'nitre beds' but I am not aware of any being created in Mexico and is a slower and more wasteful method. Not to mention unpleasant.



Again, I join Fernando in very much appreciating your valuable insight and expertise here!! The differences in the chemical properties of these two compounds in the 'nitre' is profoundly explanatory in the circumstances they clearly faced here. Absolutely fascinating Yulzari, thank you!!
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Old 30th August 2019, 07:43 AM   #79
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Reading further in "Exodus from the Alamo", Philip Thomas Tucker, 2010,
on p.123 there is more saying that the Texians were , "...not desiring to utilize the Mexican black powder which was all but useless".

The Alamo's defenders could rely only on the limited supply of "..high grade black powder from the Dupont factory in Delaware". It is noted that Dupont supplied the American forces in the war of 1812 as well, so clearly there had been precedent for Dupont powder in New Orleans for some time.

However, the contingent of volunteers who left the Alamo prior to the siege took the bulk of the Dupont powder, probably as they were to attack Matamoros and expected action. They had no idea that reinforcements and supplies would not be forthcoming to the Alamo.
In the meantime they assumed the Mexican powder would be sufficient in the interim. Unfortunately its integrity had been compromised by the following noted in this reference (p.123)...due to the lengthy transport FROM MEXICO; the high humidity of the Texas central plains; lengthy storage in the limestone rooms and the rising damp complicated by the extreme cold wet winters of these Texas regions.

It sounds as if the Mexican powder was indeed produced in Mexico, and by the description given by Yulzari this suggests very likely production using bat guano. This making the powder more susceptible to moisture.

This begs the question of the Dupont powder, which is regarded as 'high quality' and apparently less prone to these problems? Would this powder have been produced using the 'French method' for niter, as devised by Turgot and Lavosier with niter beds using manure, mortar or wood ashes, earth and straw moistened with urine and after period (up to year) leached with water and filtered through potash.

As the barrels of powder which were destined for Mexico had come from New Orleans and were captured from the vessel Pelican, it sounds as if Santa Anna was aware of the issues with powder and was trying to resolve it. As noted, very likely that powder from New Orleans would have been the much desired Dupont product.
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Old 30th August 2019, 09:50 AM   #80
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I do have to qualify my post above in that I am drawing upon the use of saltpetre from Chile and that bat guano was used in US gun powder production.

My post was about the possibility that sodium nitrate was used in Mexican gun powder production. The reports are consistent with that but the source of Mexican saltpetre is unknown to me as is it's chemical composition.

http://www.themeister.co.uk/hindley...d_saltpetre.htm gives a brief overview of saltpetre over history for gun powder. Chilean saltpetre was actually used for gun powder but not good powder and was being converted to normal saltpetre in some quantity late in the 19th century industrially but black powder firearms powder demand dropped drastically with new nitro smokeless powder but remains important for the ignition of artillery shells today. The sporting use is only a small fraction of the military demand these days.

From the Mexican perspective it was the cheapest source of a saltpetre, direct from Chile by ship, compared with buying ready made gun powder from the USA or Europe. I can see it being a possible commercial choice for the core firework and blasting powder production in Mexico. Again I know little of what they actually did in Mexico other than that they did make gun powders in some form or forms.
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Old 30th August 2019, 02:49 PM   #81
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The earliest references of gunpowder mills in Mexico date from circa 1550, a unit built West from Mexico City, profiting from the canal running from Chaputelpe to supply water to the city. Soon after the Real Fábrica de Pólvora de Nueva Espana was expanded, adding three new mills and a lustration engine. This factory exploded in 1784. In 1780 another factory was built near Santa Fé, three leagues from the capital, which pestle engines were powered by hydraulic wheels. Eighty mestizos were employed to move the granizators.
If i were a person well within the gunpowder science, i would not discard the historic evidence of the 'several' manners of how saltpeter may obtained.
In the extreme, the Portuguese Castle of Moura had its medieval taipa (a mud/lime/stone mix) wall panes destroyed (1809/1826) for the digging of raw material to produce saltpeter.
Much prior to this were the needs during discoveries, where demands of powder were highly demanded, where saltpeter sailed from India played by far the largest role.
Whether dampness was a key factor in the Mexican gunpowder mediocrity by the presently discussed period, one might ask; how is it consistent that such setback did not sporadically affected a determined number of kegs and kept being viral in continuity?
Perhaps a more consistent explanation is the lack of skill of their gunpowder makers. Although the basics were no secret, making it good or bad depends more in the criteria put up to prepare it. To what i have recently read, you may have the best ingredients (and reasonable machinery) at hand but, if you don't follow highly methodical rules you achieve as good as powder for carnival crackers. There is no decent powder mill without a competent gunpowder master. We also had quality setbacks over here by the same period; but the government did not relax until good stuff was again well manufactured ... leaders were sacked in 1832 and again later, systems were double inspected and in 1833 it was concluded that powders tested were not inferior to those from France and Switzerland...
One thing never discussed here is the other two (three when also counting with the air) gunpowder components; saltpeter is the star but, one can not make omelets without eggs. There is a lot to consider about sulphur ... and (coal) wood, the 'poor/rich' parent, which the practicals sustain that the ideal type (and harvest) is (also) responsible for a good powder. Maybe the Mexicans of this period did not pay much attention to such part. My ignorant perspective is that these discussed issues did not only reside in a period encompassing such episodes but since actual Mexican gunpowder factories probably ceased to exist (Santa Fé ?) and were replaced by artisanal resources. Hitchhiking Yulzari's wise considerations, where did they have the means to measure the true output what they were doing ?

All in all ...
Anyone can make chicken curry; but i wouldn’t swap the one made by wife for any of those bought in take out spots .

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Old 30th August 2019, 08:39 PM   #82
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Fernando, perfectly written and well illustrated as always and I always enjoy your analogies!! good points on the 'omelette' making as in gun powder making and right, the other two components were quite necessary as well.

On the dampness issue, I thought to look into how in the world powder was dealt with in the days of 'fighting sail'. Obviously at sea, there was a 'bit' of dampness around
Apparently there were individuals assigned to keep powder viable. One source says the men in these areas wore special footwear and there were curtains kept moist to avoid sparks. Surprisingly it is noted the magazine was usually below water line, so further puzzling how it could be kept dry.
In any case, the keepers of the powder apparently were charged with sifting it and remixing it for distribution to the 'powder monkey's (young boys carrying it to gunners).

Perhaps failure to properly sift and remix powder supplies were key in the poor quality of the Mexican powder?
If the Dupont powder was so great, would it not be susceptible to moisture damage?

Yulzari thank you again for these further insights, and the note that Chile was a source for the saltpeter used in Mexico. It was cheap and there was of course notable volume of its production. The constant maritime activity from there seems well understood so inclusion of the saltpeter would be expected.

I admit I am still unclear on the differences in saltpeter, between sodium and potassium nitrates. It seems that both of these compounds are derived from bat guano. The only notable difference seems to be that the 'potassium' version is less 'hygroscopic' (susceptible to moisture effects) if I have understood correctly.

Returning to the Alamo for a moment, in a touch of irony, one defender was killed as he ran toward the powder magazine with a torch. The miserably inadequate powder he hoped would take out as many attacking Mexicans as possible.

On the US powder production, it does appear that guano was indeed used broadly for saltpeter up to and including the Civil War, however I have wondered if the Dupont powder of such noted high quality was in fact using the 'French' process. The Confederate forces had many mills and all seem to have used either guano or other means of saltpeter production. There is some mention of use of urine, but unclear how much used that instead of guano etc.
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Old 31st August 2019, 11:13 AM   #83
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Default Saltpeter ... other than bat guano

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... I admit I am still unclear on the differences in saltpeter, between sodium and potassium nitrates. It seems that both of these compounds are derived from bat guano. The only notable difference seems to be that the 'potassium' version is less 'hygroscopic' (susceptible to moisture effects) if I have understood correctly...

Hopefuly Yulzari doesn't find all this a senseless bunch of words ...

Saltpetre refers to the combinations which form the multi-base nitrogenous acid, in particular the potassium and sodium hydroxides. More narrowly, the name saltpeter refers to potassium nitrate (KN03), and is reserved for sodium or saltpeter nitrate from Chile or Peru. Saltpeter was first cited by Geber in the 8th century, who called it salt petrae and the alchemists used the designation salt niter. This salt results from the decomposition of plant and animal organic matter and may, under favorable conditions, form efflorescences in certain soils, which should have attracted human attention in ancient times. Such efflorescences appear, in particular, in geographical areas characterized by abundant deposits of organic matter and where the climate is warm and with a prolonged and regular dry season, during which it is possible for such matter to decompose without being carried by water. the rains. The areas where the largest saltpeter deposits appear are India, Ceylon, Syria, Egypt, the Maghreb, South Africa, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, among others.
From the mid-nineteenth century a new method of saltpeter production was imposed: the conversion of nitro, that is, the production of potassium nitrate from sodium nitrate or saltpeter from Chile, imported mainly from that country. and from Peru. In this method, sodium nitrate and potassium chloride are reacted in aqueous solution at 90 ° C: NaN03 + KCI NaCl + KN03

THE NATURAL SALTPETER ...
This would be basically the following. We began by accommodating in casks layers of the earth from which the saltpeter was to extracted, alternated with those of ash, and sometimes with layers of straw added to facilitate the passage of water. A pit is dug into the upper part of this arrangement, where potash (our potassium carbonate) was added, and then water. After a while, the salt-laden water was allowed to flow (through taps or previously sealed holes) and evaporated in boilers. During the evaporation process, the mass of common salt (our sodium chloride) that was formed was removed with a slotted spoon until it had only the liquid. It was continued until complete evaporation, when finally there was the “raw or unclean” saltpeter, which would later be refined.

THE ARTIFICIAL SALTPETER ...
Saltpeter can also be obtained artificially through methods that humans have long mastered, as evidenced by Cristobal Rojas's in 1607. A traditional way of artificially obtaining potassium nitrate is to mix decomposing organic matter, such as nitrogen-rich stable waste, with plant ash (which contains a high percentage of potassium salts) and limestone. he difference would be that artificial saltirs were built by “the hands of men, and nitrate [was] ahi produced at the expense of human industry” 30. Equating the two ways of saltpeter formation, it would only be appropriate to decide on the most appropriate one. Couto, however, considers that the best way to “form” the saltpeter would be in the artificial salitaria, which, according to the author, “is no other thing but a palhaça house, under which certain amounts of land are gathered, that managed in a way are abundantly impregnated with potassium nitrate, or saltpeter. ”Couto goes on to explain how to build the salad boxes, in a wealth of detail that would make this article very extensive if we wanted to reproduce them. In any case, tanks should be built where the “salitifiable” materials should be deposited, which, properly treated, after a certain period would give the precious salt. But before moving on to the “recipe” itself, Couto says it is important for the “salitreiro” to know that: “potassium nitrate, this salt whose production and harvest is the object of its readings, is made up of three principles, oxygeneo, nitrogen, and potash: the combination of the first two constitutes nitric acid, and this later with potash said nitrate or saltpeter. Nitrogen could be obtained, as we have long known, from materials of animal and plant origin in which it could be found in large quantities. That is: “Generally all the lands called dung, […] the dark lands that are taken from the dark places, as under the houses, and above all there are livestock, wineries, horsemen […] are also good the dark lands underneath the treetops, […] the lands of the cemeteries, the farms, especially the sheep, the hens, doves, the corn fields, […] the mud of the villages, latrines, ponds, and alagoas…
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Old 31st August 2019, 12:32 PM   #84
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... Returning to the Alamo for a moment, in a touch of irony, one defender was killed as he ran toward the powder magazine with a torch. The miserably inadequate powder he hoped would take out as many attacking Mexicans as possible.

Do you believe in such story Jim ? In which of the versions ventilated; entering the magazine with a torch in hand, deliberately committed for suicide or, light a lengthy fuse that would reach the powder kegs ... or only a history spice, like so many .

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... There is some mention of use of urine ...

Preferably that of drunkards, they say !
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Old 31st August 2019, 12:57 PM   #85
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Do you believe in such story Jim ? In which of the versions ventilated; entering the magazine with a torch in hand, deliberately committed for suicide or, light a lengthy fuse that would reach the powder kegs ... or only a history spice, like so many


The famous Times reporter William Russell mentions visiting a Union battery in the ACW and observing a sergeant upbraiding a private for going to go into the magazine with a lit pipe in his mouth. There is no limit to human foolishness and nothing is completely soldier proof.........
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Old 31st August 2019, 01:14 PM   #86
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
...On the dampness issue, I thought to look into how in the world powder was dealt with in the days of 'fighting sail'. Obviously at sea, there was a 'bit' of dampness around

Ah, that would be another deal, worthy of a couple shots of Drambuie .
For your consolation, i will gift you with a couple rustic Chinese pots for the hanging storage of Portuguese artillery gunpowder, to prevent from dampness and watering.

... And by the way; powder must not be too humid ... neither too dry: i will tell you one day why .


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Old 31st August 2019, 02:32 PM   #87
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Do you believe in such story Jim ? In which of the versions ventilated; entering the magazine with a torch in hand, deliberately committed for suicide or, light a lengthy fuse that would reach the powder kegs ... or only a history spice, like so many .


Preferably that of drunkards, they say !



Actually it is a documented event which apparently did take place. While the commonly held beliefs of the Alamo myths believe there were no survivors, there actually were, including Susanna Dickinson, wife of one of the gunnery crew. The well researched book, "Exodus from the Alamo" by Philip Thomas Tucker, also at last carefully uses many accounts from the Mexican records.

The last desperate act of Maj. Robert Evans in the chaos that engulfed the Alamo in those early morning hours Mar. 6, 1836 was to try to take out the remaining reserves of powder. Obviously in a reasonable situation he would have certainly used the sensible method of igniting a trail of powder to the bulk. After all he was in charge of the care and maintenance of the artillery there. However, they were completely overrun, and the Mexican forces were wantonly killing every Texian in sight. In this darkened madness, realizing all was lost, such a suicidal act was not at all unseemly.

As always, with Hollywood, these kinds of events are often seized upon and embellished, and the 1960 John Wayne movie "The Alamo" was no exception.
In the final scenes John Wayne, as Davy Crockett, mortally wounded dashes toward the powder magazine with torch and carries out the defiant act.
This, along with virtually most of the rest of the movie, had nothing to do with the true events at the Alamo, however this act, though clearly distorted, was 'based' on a factual event.

Maj. Evans was apparently from Ireland, then New York, and finally New Orleans, so likely was one of the famed New Orleans Greys who were key to the military members of the defense. He was apparently a most zealous officer, and an outstanding leader, and this action actually seems quite in character for him given the circumstances they had reached.

The irony of course, was that these stores of powder, otherwise mostly useless in conventional use, were in that moment seen as a possible solution for desperate and defiant final response to the Mexican attack, and by the officer charged in its use.

This action also recalls another similar situation historically with the pirate Blackbeard in his end in 1718. On his ship, the 'Adventure', as he was attacked by Lt. Maynard's forces, he ordered one of his men, a black slave (?) named Caesar to stand near the powder magazine. If they were overtaken, his orders were to 'explode the powder', in apparently much the manner of the Alamo event being discussed. He was however captured and did not carry out the order.

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Old 31st August 2019, 02:51 PM   #88
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Ah, that would be another deal, worthy of a couple shots of Drambuie .
For your consolation, i will gift you with a couple rustic Chinese pots for the hanging storage of Portuguese artillery gunpowder, to prevent from dampness and watering.

... And by the way; powder must not be too humid ... neither too dry: i will tell you one day why .


.



"...trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry"
- Oliver Cromwell, Edgehill, 1642
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Old 31st August 2019, 03:37 PM   #89
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Lightbulb Not to humid not to dry ... to be precise

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"...trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry"
- Oliver Cromwell, Edgehill, 1642

Isn't that a metaphor that someone decided to put in Cromwell's mouth almost two centuries later than the battle of Edgehill took place ? .

Causes of gunpowder spoilage...
Joseph Fernandes Pinto Alpoim (1700-1765) warns the reader about two gunpowder enemies, excess moisture and its opposite, extreme dryness. In the first case, if the gunpowder is stored in a humid place, the charcoal absorbs moisture and the saltpeter dissolves, causing the unit to break with sulfur, which gives rise to what he calls a viscous tartar. On the other hand, if the gunpowder is stored for a long time in a very dry place or outdoors, the charcoal will detach from the composition, separating as a fine powder, making the gunpowder less active. He exemplifies how this phenomenon can be verified, which consists of taking gunpowder samples from the top and bottom of a barrel: the first one "weighs less than the bottom", that is, has lower density.
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Old 31st August 2019, 04:05 PM   #90
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Modern (ie. Dupont) black powder granules are tumbled in fine graphite powder for 12 hrs. after granulation to coat them, this not only provides protection against electrostatic friction sparking but aids in prevention of absorbing water (or excessive drying). Not sure when they started doing this.

Brooklyn Navy Yard saw a number of catastrophic fires in the 20th C. from refuelling with oil, the rushing oil set up a static charge between the hose nozzle and the ship which would spark and ignite the fuel oil in the mostly empty oxygen filled tanks when it reached the appropriate air/fuel ratio and kaboom. they learned to ground strap the nozzle to the ship. Moving dry powders can have the same effect and gunpowder of course is not your friend when it happens. When I was stationed in New Orleans, I remember someone pointing out a bare area next to the Mississippi in the docks area, appears they once were the site of a trio of flour silos. Until one particularly dry day, a cloud of dry flour dust and air managed to spark itself and another Kaboom blew the rest of the flour into the equation and - no more silos. and a few less workers. In an odd twist, they found that a CO2 fire extinguisher being discharged can also cause an electrostatic spark that can set off an explosive air/fuel mixture. (they tried blanketing fuel tanks with a layer of CO2 - bad idea - more kabooms)
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