A Treatise on Ordnance and Armor,with an Appendix relating to Gun- Cotton, Hooped Guns, etc.
By Van Nostrand., B. P. New York :
KING JAMES I. is reported to have said of iron armor, that it was an excellent thing : one could get no harm in it, nor do any. Yet armor has had but a brief respite from service ; banished temporarily from human backs, it is being restored for more wholesale service : it is extended over ships and fortifications, and so thickened as to resist shot and shell. The very title of this book marks the progress in the history of war. Hereafter ordnance and armor are two correlatives, never to be considered apart. The progress in offensive and defensive improvements keeps the balance of fighting humanity pretty nearly even thus far; as in the development of a young lobster the claws and cuirass grow simultaneously.
Will ships or guns prove the stronger at last ? No one can foresee. A single fifteeninch ball from the Monitor Weehawken disabled the iron-clad Atlanta at three hundred yards, where eleven-inch balls had fallen powerless from the armor. A similar missile shattered the sides of the Tennessee, penetrating five inches of iron and two feet of oak, against which all other shot had failed. What can resist such balls ? A mere pile of sand can resist them, if there are spades enough to carve it into a fort; but as sand cannot be carved into a ship, we must resort to new devices there. The larger the ship, the greater the danger ; so suppose we try making it smaller. Let us concentrate our ordnance and our armor: put thicker plating on our Monitor of eight hundred tons than the Warrior of six thousand can support, and place near the centre of motion of the little vessel two heavier guns than the weighty one can carry in broadside out upon her capacious ribs. This game of giants is growing formidable ; and with such a concentration of skill and power, the fate of nations may be determined by a single blow.
Other novel questions come up, as we carry our researches farther. Try your strength by throwing a small cannon - ball at a thin board-partition; you will find that the missile will split or crush the board, but not penetrate it. Fire a bullet at the same target, and it will penetrate, but neither crush nor split. Balance a plank on its edge, so that a pistol-ball thrown from the hand will knock it down ; you may yet riddle it through and through by the same balls from a revolver, and leave it standing. Bring this commonplace fact to bear upon the question, how to destroy an iron-clad ; shall we destroy it by punching holes through it, or by splitting and crushing? It is a difficult problem, and many pages of Mr. Holley’s book are devoted to the discussion of the light-shot and the heavy-shot systems.
For these problems, and such as these, we need a new military literature, embodying the vast results which a few years of foreign experiment and home experience have furnished. We need a scientific treatise on the whole subject of ordnance, regarding, for instance, the strains of different charges and projectiles in large and small bores, and the work done by projectiles and by cannon-metals having different properties, under statical and sudden strains. This want Mr. Holley’s book does not undertake to fill, being in its structure somewhat diffuse, and, as it were, of unequal expansion: the object being rather to furnish the maximum of material for a systematic treatise, than to write the treatise itself.
It has therefore the inestimable merits, and also some of the defects, of a pioneer compilation. On many subordinate points, the details are multiplied almost to weariness, while on some points more important there are hardly any details at all. But this is simply because the author could obtain the one class of facts and not the other. It is a faithful registration, and the only one, of a vast multitude of experiments and observations, which were absolutely inaccessible in any other form. It is said to cause much wonder in England how its English facts and statistics were obtained at all; and it is certain that Mr. Holley must have used his opportunities of personal observation in a manner worthy of the curiosity attributed to his race. We have in this book the substantial results of the vast and costly English experiments; while the more momentous results of our own practice, so familiar to us, seem still unfamiliar across the water. This gives our nation a great advantage, and renders it impossible to produce, at present, in Europe, a work so encyclopædic as this. It is not merely the best book, but the only book, on the theme it treats : there is no other account of the structure and results of modern standard ordnance, That it is the work of a civil engineer, and not of a military or naval man, gives it an additional interest ; and the author may have owed to his position some foreign opportunities which would have been refused to an officer. The book is printed in the usual superb style of Van Nostrand, and is in all respects an honor to the literature of the country.