The gun captain watched through the port waiting for that perfect moment when the ship rocked just high enough to see the barrel of the 24 pound cannon line up with the mast of the enemy ship. At that moment he lit the fuse on the cannon from his spot just off to the side of the cannon and leaned back as the fuse burnt down quickly and then a burst of fire spit up out of the fuse hole and left a scorch mark on the wood decking above. The carriage of the 24 pounder heaved back as it fired the 24 pound shot to strike the mast of the enemy ship splintering it into thousands of pieces.

The gun captain immediately examined the vent where the fuse had been, once he seen that it was clear he readied the next. A man near the front right of the cannon grabbed a pole with a wet sponge on it and used it to clear the barrel of burning fragments from the shot that was just fired. Then a young boy of maybe 10 came up with a canvas tube type bag filled with gunpowder and handed it to the man next to the cannon. The man then took the powder cartridge as it was called and pushed it as far as he could reach down into the barrel of the gun. The man on the other side then used another pole to shove the powder cartridge along with some cloth down and to the bottom of the barrel. Then the shot was inserted by the man on the other side along with more cloth and this was rammed down into the barrel. The cloth was inserted to make sure the shot did not roll out with the rocking of the ship or aiming of the cannon. Once this was done the gun captain called “run out!” and the men grabbed various lines and hooks and pulled to move the cannon out to its firing position. The gun captain then ordered the raising of the barrel and the men on the side adjusted it as he ordered. Everyone stepped back from the cannon and the gun captain once again watched and waited.

This time he had no mast in sight to aim at however as the ships rocked and rolled into sight came an even better target. Just as the ship came up on the roll of a wave the other ship rolled down and inward toward them and into sight came the ships wheel and navigator. Just at that moment he lit the fuse and this time did not move as far back to keep sight of his target. The fuse burnt down and up came the burst of flame again this time singing the hair on the side of his face and making him flinch in pain as he received burns to the side of his face. In his mind this was all worth the price to get a good view of what was already in progress. He watched in pain as the 24 pound shot flew across and hit his intended target taking out the enemy ships wheel and sending wood shards and the current navigator flying. He watched as the navigator flew back and into the railing of his ship with several large shards of the wood wheel stuck in him. Even from this distance he was able to see the blood gushing from the shards of wood and knew he just struck a critical blow to the enemy that would win them this battle.

Even injured and in pain this hardy gun captain continued his duty which did not last much longer as without navigation the other ship was quickly overcome and the gun captain rewarded hansomely for his superior gunnery skills all ofcourse after a visit to the doctor aboard to care to his burns.

If you enjoyed this article then you may also enjoy Age of Sail Gun Crew!

Works Cited

Biesty, Stephen, and Richard Platt. Corss-sections Man-of-War. New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc. 1993.

Burney, C.. The Boy’s Manual of Seamanship and Gunnery. London: Trubner & Co. 1871. An ancestry.com

community, 25 April 2009 http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pbtyc/Naval.html


Battle at sea was a dangerous event, not only did you have to face shrapnel from shots hitting the ship but you had to actually fire the guns aboard your own ship. The dangers of firing a gun aboard a ship were numerous but if the crew was well trained they were able to minimize this. A gun crew aboard a ship varied in size from 4 to 14 and could consist of even more on larger guns with available crew.

A well trained gun crew could achieve 7 shots in a 5 minute period. Though this heavily depended on the crews training and size, a 4 member gun crew would only achieve 2-3 shots in the same period. Gun crews did not operate by names but by number. Each member had a number that related to their appointed task. A typical 5 man gun crew had #1 gun captain, #2 who turned and raised the gun barrel, #3 who loaded the gun, #4 who cleared the barrel and damped out any sparks, #5 who moved the gun barrel and passed the shot. There would also be numerous powder monkeys who were often the youngest ranging in age from 10 to 12 years old.

Regardless of the size of the crew the same tasks were performed. Someone had to clear the barrel, then load the powder and shot, then the gun had to be run out into position to fire, this was the most laborous job due to the weight of the guns which could be over 2 tons. The fuse vent had to be cleared and then a fuse inserted and lit. The gun captain would be in charge of the vent and fuse and controlled the firing of the gun working with the roll of the ship to fire. A powder monkey as they were called would run back and forth supplying powder from another deck where a gunner would make the powder cartridges as needed and hand them out through a wet curtain to keep them protected from sparks and flame. The handling chamber for the powder was usually in the center of the ship making it hard to breach.

The dangers faced by a gun crew were numerous, the kick back of the gun when fired could break bones and throw men across the deck, lighting of the fuse was another danger due to the eruption of fire when the powder cartridge ignited. If the barrel was not properly cleaned out prior to loading the new powder cartridge you could have an early ignition when putting it in which could take out several crew. These are just a few of the dangers faced during the operation of the gun. In battle you were faced with the danger of gun fire from the other ship you confronted, shrapnel from the planks of your own ship, and the bones of your fellow crew.

If you enjoyed this article then you may also enjoy Flames of Hell: Firing a 24 Pounder!

Works Cited

Biesty, Stephen, and Richard Platt. Corss-sections Man-of-War. New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc. 1993.

Burney, C.. The Boy’s Manual of Seamanship and Gunnery. London: Trubner & Co. 1871. An ancestry.com community, 25 April 2009


Have you ever wondered where people who write books on pirates find the wealth of information that they have within their books. Below you will find 10 references for online books that go in depth onto pirates, their lives, and adventures.

All the books listed above are found within Google Books and can be read or downloaded from the links provided. There are many other great historical resources that can be found within Google’s great online library and other sources. Do you have any you would like to share? If so leave us a comment.


Walking The Plank!

by Sweetwater

This concept of pirates making people walk the plank into the sea and such is more romance and media originated than historical. Through reading through many pirate resources from history and articles I found that pirates rarely used this method of torture but rather enjoyed longer lasting methods. Only a few recordings were found that referred to this concept and it was mostly related to pirates strapping cannon balls to the prisoner and making them walk off the plank, this was a quick method of death and not nearly as enjoyable as some of the other methods used by pirates during the golden age of piracy.

If you have never read Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates I would highly recommend it if your looking for more information on torture and pirates, he has a great chapter in his book on torture, violence, and marooning. One method used by pirates was to twist slender cords or matches around the head of a prisoner until his eyes burst out of his skull. This is far more cruel and violent than making someone walk the plank and is more along the lines of how pirates actually tortured their prisoners.

The media has promoted this to such an extent that whenever you talk to anyone who likes pirates they always seems to mention that old phrase “Walk the Plank”. This idea began spreading during the golden age of piracy in theatres and continued through history to modern day.