Many reenactors and ceremonial artillerists will never experience firing live ammunition, but organizations, such as the North-South Skirmish Association and the Loyal Train of Artillery Chapter of the United States Field Artillery Association (LTAC-USFAA), do hold regular competitions where live ammunition is fired. The article discusses some of the differences to the Muzzle-Loading Artillery Drill and to the safety procedures when firing live ammunition.
1. IN BATTERY. When a cannon fires live sig sauer 6.5 creedmoor rifle ammunition, there is a recoil that rarely occurs when the cannon is only firing blank powder charges. The cannon must be repositioned on the gun line after it is fired. After the command FIRE is given, and after the cannon has successfully fired, the command IN BATTERY is given. The cannon crew will immediately move onto the carriage to roll the cannon back into its original position. Number 1 & 2 will grasp the wheel above the hub, Number 3 & 4 will grasp the wheel from the rear, and either the Gunner or Number 5 will come forward and lift the trail spike so that the cannon can be moved forward. Once the Gunner is satisfied that the cannon is back in its original position, the cannoneers will begin the Service the Piece (which, when firing blank charges, is automatically done immediately after the cannon is successful fired). The Gunner may or may not give the command to SERVICE THE
Note: Many artillery crews at live fire events will set up markers to help return the cannon to the same position each time after firing. This can be accomplished by staking small wood planks across the front and sides of the wheels to act as guides for moving the cannon back into position.
2. Sighting the Gun. The sighting of the gun so that the projectile hits the intended target is of critical importance. Because three (3) minutes must elapse between when the cannon is fired and when the next round is introduced into the muzzle of the cannon, this is the best time to do the primary sighting and aiming of the cannon. This is the safest time to do the sighting since there is a danger to the Number 3 cannoneer who still has their thumb covering the vent after the live round has been rammed. The Gunner may make one final sighting before the READY command is given to prick and prime the powder charge, but most of the aiming should be done between the IN BATTERY command and the LOAD command.
3. Loading Live Ammunition. Some cannoneers have their live rounds constructed as they were during the War Between the States, meaning that the powder charge the sabot and the projectile are all attached together into a single package. If this is done, there is no variation to the drill for loading and ramming the ammunition. However, many cannoneers have the powder change separate from the sabot and projectile. This means that the ammunition must be loaded and rammed in a two step process.
The first step is as stated in the drill. Number 2 will rest the worm on the axle (or hook it onto the side of the carriage cheek), and turn toward the wheel the receive the powder charge. Number 5 will bring the powder charge to Number 2, who will then introduce the powder charge to the end of the muzzle and then step out of the inside of the wheel and return to POST position, leaving the worm behind. Number 5 will then return to the Limber to obtain the projectile. The projectile is brought up just like the powder charge to the Gunner, who will then instruct Number 5 when to bring up the projectile to Number 2. Once the powder charge has been rammed by Number 1, Number 2 will step back into the wheel well, hugging the edge of the wheel carefully (similar to the Misfire Drill) and, facing the wheel, prepare to receive the projectile. Number 2 will take the projectile from Number 5 just like the powder charge and place it just into the muzzle. Number 2 will then take the worm, step out of the wheel well, and return to POST position. Number 1 will ram the projectile just like the powder charge. The rest of the drill proceeds as normal.