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October 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Friday, October 18, 1861.


Sir William Armstrong on Implements of Destruction.

Sir William Armstrong addressed an annual meeting of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, held at Sheffield, England, on Wednesday, July 31. Sir William said:

It is said, and I believe with truth, that in America the manufacture of cast iron ordnance had been so far improved by applying water to cool the casting from the interior, as to enable serviceable guns of this material to be produced of much larger bore than have been made in England. But it appears that these guns have not been rifled, and are only intended to be used with hollow projectiles. This success, therefore, affords no reason for coming to a different conclusion as to the unfitness of cast iron for construction of rifled guns, designed to project solid shot, especially when the dimensions are large. Even when strengthened with wrought iron hoops, the tendency of cast iron in a gun is to become weaker by every succeeding discharge. This is owing to minute fractures occurring in the bore, generally in the vicinity of the vent, and gradually extending until they terminate in the rupture of the gun. If, therefore, cast iron guns are to be utilized at all as rifled ordnance, it can only be by confining their use to hollow projectiles and light charges; but, if the same indulgence were extended to wrought iron guns, equal efficiency would be obtained with half the weight of metal, and on this ground alone the superior of the latter is decisive.

With regard to the great question of the ultimate effect of artillery against ships protected by defensive armor, I believe that whatever thickness of iron may be adopted, guns will be constructed capable of destroying it. At the same time, I am of the opinion that iron-plated ships will be infinitely more secure against artillery than timber ships. The former will effectively resist every species of explosive or incendiary projectile, as well as solid shot from all but the heaviest guns, which can never be used in large numbers against them. In short, it appears to be a question between plated ships and none at all, at any rate, so far as line-of-battle ships are concerned. With respect to the quality of the material best adapted to resist the impact of shot, this subject is engaging much attention in the town of Sheffield, and the iron districts generally. So far as my own observation and experience go, I may say that hardness and lamination are the conditions most essential to avoid. In striking a plate the tendency of the shot is to fracture rather than pierce the material. When penetration is effected, the hole is of a broken character, and not such as would be made by the cutting action of a punch. The softer, therefore, the iron, the less injury it will sustain, and I apprehend that steel, in every form, will from its greater hardness, be found less effective than wrought iron, while its cost would be very much greater.

I am tempted to advert, before I conclude, to a subject intimately connected with mechanical progress, but upon which much difference of opinion may exist. Under our present patent laws we are borne down with an excess of protection. We are obstructed in every direction by patented inventions which will not be reduced to practice by those who hold them, but which embrace ideas capable of useful application if freed from monopoly. The merit of invention seldom lies in the fundamental conception, but is to be found in the subsequent elaboration, and in the successful struggle with difficulties, unknown to the mere theorist, and often requiring years of labor, blended with disappointment, for their removal. Nothing can be more irrational, therefore, than to give equal privileges to the mere schemer, and to the man who gives actual effect to an invention.

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