When rockets are designed for signal purposes, they are usually furnished with a load to be set off as the flight comes to an end. The garniture may be of serpents, stars, or petards, The serpents are commonly produced by rolling playing cards, in the direction of their length, upon a former three lines in diameter, which are afterward covered with three coats of paper, the last coat being pasted. Such cases are choked at one end, and in the opening of each choke is placed a strand of tow, primed with meal powder moistened in brandy. The loading is done, by the use of a rod as rammer, until they are three-quarters full of the composition. They are again choked at one-half their height. The remainder is filled with powder to make a report. If a serpent with stars is desired, only half the case is filled with the serpent composition, while the remainder is equipped with the necessary material for production of the stars. It should be noted that serpents are to be set upright in the pot, having a priming at the lower end.
An excellent composition for serpents to be used in signal rockets is as follows:
For stars, the proper composition is fashioned into balls, or perhaps cubes, within a casing of paper, filled with gunpowder. They are wrapped about with two layers of strong thread, drawn tight in every direction. The stars are then dipped in tar, in order to give them a firmer consistency, and they are pierced and coated with quick match.
At the time when the foregoing description concerning rocket construction was written, experiments were made to determine the extent of flight. Especially powerful rockets were manufactured and fired. The average height attained was about 400 yards. One reached an altitude of almost 2,000 feet.
A hundred years ago, the enthusiasm over the rocket as a war weapon was marked by many curiosities of construction, for which their inventors hoped great efficacy in battle. Thus, there was a sanguinary, or murdering rocket. This imposing name was given to a special form of firework that had neither head nor pot. In place of these, such rockets were equipped simply with a cone of iron. The destructive effect was to be wrought by the pointed metal. It was expected that a rain of such projectiles on an enemy's troops would wreak havoc; particularly since ordinary earthworks would be powerless to shield from the attack. Further great advantage claimed for this species of weapon was based on the fact that the rocket itself could be set in flight from cover. Finally, it was asserted that the superiority included a length of flight double that of the ordinary rocket and far beyond the range of musketry.
Another variety of the war rocket was the fougette. It was this form that was used by the native soldiery of India. The fougette was employed against the British very effectively at the siege of Seringapatam. Iron was used in the construction of these rockets, the metal cap being lashed to a cylinder of bamboo. They had a weight of nearly 2 pounds. The action of the fougette was to drive forward with great violence. It was sharply pointed, so as to penetrate any object with which it might come in contact. Moreover, it was capable of inflicting serious wounds by reason also of the formation given to its sides. These were lined with small pipes, so charged as to be readily combustible, and to gush fire at all points. The weapon was thus distinctly effective as an incendiary agent. Its capacity in this direction was increased by the fact that it would hold firmly to whatever it encountered.
French military writers of the time expressed keen appreciation of the value of this war weapon. They pointed out that it could be made applicable to a great variety of uses. One suggestion was that it would serve as a means of defense against the ships of an enemy at the mouth of a harbor. It was maintained that the fougette would render a better defense against a hostile fleet than could the projection of red-hot iron balls. A further advantage, it was argued, lay in the fact that the rockets would require so few hands for their operation, since they needed nothing beyond the mere lighting and throwing forth.
This rocket, devised in India, was also called by the French the baguette a feu.
Almost contemporaneous with the baguette, rockets were employed to a considerable extent in warfare by the British. The most successful form was the invention of Sir William Congreve. This was 30 inches long and 3 1/2 inches in diameter. It was designed primarily as an incendiary weapon, and as such it was used successfully by the British troops in their attack on Copenhagen. This rocket was again used by the British for incendiary purposes in their conflict with the Americans at various places, notably the Chesapeake. As a spectacular display, the rain of rockets at first aroused trepidation among our troops, but dismay from the novelty of such an attack soon passed, as it was found that the effects were inconsiderable. Indeed, our own first-hand experience with the rocket as a war weapon showed the effects of it to be so trifling that we may well receive with suspicion the accounts given of its efficiency in various European campaigns. There existed a strong prejudice in favor of the weapon at the time of its introduction, as will be shown a little later on in this chapter, and it is probable that enthusiasm led to involuntary exaggeration.
Another form of war rocket was named the carcasse. This was first used during an attack on Boulogne, in 1805. About 200 of the projectiles were discharged, with the result that the town was set in flames, and the conflagration continued with the utmost violence for two days.
The various operations with war rockets aroused great enthusiasm at this period on the part of military observers. It is not to be doubted that the weapon proved its efficiency in many cases. But it may be suspected that the enthusiasm in behalf of this device was exaggerated by reason of the novelty attached to it. A French officer, who witnessed the use of the carcasse at both Boulogne and Copenhagen, declared with emphasis that the contrivance offered a powerful auxiliary to the military system.
Success marked the use of such rockets at the siege of Flushing. Indeed, the havoc wrought by them in the town was such that a remonstrance was addressed to Lord Chatham against the employment of such devices in bombardment. The Crown Prince of Sweden resorted to the carcasse during his assaults on various cities, and issued a formal report in praise of this means of warfare. Similar rockets were used, with a considerable measure of success, at the memorable battle of Leipsic. When Wellington's army crossed the Adour, a rocket corps contributed valuable aid against the enemy. This occurred just after such a corps had been formed as a regular branch of the British military establishment.