Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London

    According to Bellani, the English army used cannon at the Battle of Crecy in the year 1346. The correctness of this report has been doubted since English and French writers in their description of the battle do not mention the use of cannon. However this may be, it is certain, that from the middle of the 14th century the application of powder to the purposes of the art of war became more and more general, until towards the close of the Middle Ages heavy ordnance was used by all European armies. The effect of this new application of gunpowder upon the civilisation of our race is usually considered to have been of the same importance as the invention of the art of printing or the discovery of America. And, although 536 years have passed away since the Battle of Crecy was fought, we have to this day no satisfactory account of the chemical reactions which occur during the combustion of gunpowder, no theory to enable us to determine the quantitative relations of the products of combustion à priori from the composition of the powder. The attempts, which have been made from time to time by eminent men to supply solutions of the problems indicated, have been, as is well known, unsuccessful. In the following pages I propose to describe a theory which explains in a satisfactory manner the chemical reactions which occur during and after the explosion, not only of a powder of normal composition, but, generally, of a mixture of x molecules of saltpetre, y atoms of carbon, and z atoms of sulphur.

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