We talk about guns, or as they were once known great guns, here at Triple P often. Of course, as the Brethren know, a “gun” at sea is what a landsman would call a “cannon”. Any artillery can be referred to as a gun and anyone who works a gun can be referred to as a gunner. Since my ancestors worked the guns on Rodriguez canal 196 years ago today at the Battle of New Orleans, today’s discussion is entirely in celebration of them.
Gunner was a designation aboard any ship carrying cannon and aboard navy ships was a warrant officer. He was in charge of not only the artillery itself but ammunition as well. He was ultimately responsible for the performance of all the ship’s gun crews, which was no mean task in a man-of-war which might ship as many as 120 guns. In such cases a chief gunner (now, I believe, gunner first class) would have quarter gunners under his command, each quarter gunner being in charge of four guns. The gunner’s mate was a petty officer appointed to assist the gunner and a gunner’s tailor was once the man who made bags and filled them with small shot to make cartridges.
Gunnery ships are those specifically designated for training men in gunnery. Here Gunnery Lieutenants could be trained for service aboard the large men-of-war previously spoken of. In general, though, officers learned gunnery on the job and many times midshipmen would be given the task designated to a Gunnery Lieutenant in a larger ship. This duty is beautifully illustrated in battle scenes in the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
A gunner’s handspike is thus named to differentiate it from a marline spike. The gunner’s handspike is shorter and flatter than the marline and it is covered with iron at the point so that it can be used efficiently to dig out the touch hole and move the trucks of the gun. A gunner’s daughter is the gun to which boys and midshipman are “married” i.e. tied in preparation for punishment.
Along those lines, gunners were traditionally the officers in charge of the ship’s boys. Prior to the Victorian era, when women routinely sailed aboard Navy vessels, the gunner’s wife would be a kind of mother to these children, some as young as eight. Men like Horatio Nelson in the Royal Navy and Daniel Tod Patterson in the U.S. Navy remembered with fondness the gunner’s wife who mended their shirts and comforted them in their homesickness.
And that’s enough of gunners and gunnery for today. I’d ask all the Brethren to remember the men who fought and those who died on Chalmette plain 196 years ago today, American and British alike. I will surely raise a glass to my Uncle Renato and his brother Dominique Youx for their heroic efforts at Battery Number Three.
As an aside, and speaking of Commodore Patterson, here is a post about his contribution to the Battle of New Orleans at the Naval History Blog. It is unfortunate that they left out the fact that Patterson’s sailors were by and large the Baratarians we have been speaking of all week. Ah well; we know and we remember.
Happy Saturday one and all. Look for a last little treat to close out Baratarian Week tomorrow.
Header: Baratarian Re-enactors on Chalmette Jan, 2010 via the Times-Picayune