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Firing the anvils

On the day that Texas joined the Confederacy, a dissenting Texas Ranger was forced to fire anvils into the air with gunpowder. He was not the first to do this.

Anvil firing

Rex Hammock from USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes I wonder what people did for fun before the Internet. It turns out that they did things much like what you see on the Internet: blow things up and see what happens. One recreational activity: anvil firing. As in, literally firing heavy blacksmith anvils into the air.

The practice is surprisingly simple:

  1. Balance one anvil on top of another, with a layer of gunpowder between the two.
  2. Light the gunpowder.
  3. Run.

Anvil firing is described as a part of St. Clement’s Day celebrations, because he’s the patron saint of blacksmiths. Although that firing may have involved just one anvil, gunpowder, and a hammer to ignite it (!). But anvil firing was not uncommon in the United States around the time of the Civil War. Again, because they didn’t have the Internet yet.

Thomas Lopton Campbell Jr. was a Texas Ranger and a staunch supporter of the Union. When Texas voted to side with the Confederacy some celebrating louts decided that they would have some fun with Campbell Jr. They accosted him and forced him to fire anvils to celebrate Texas’ secession. In the absence of cannons, anvil firing was apparently the next best – and loudest – thing, a kind of poor man’s fireworks. There are records of anvil firing throughout the 19th century United States, usually as a kind of celebration or commemoration.

Now that we have the Internet, of course, we have much more sophisticated pastimes: 

[Thanks to Duncan G. for suggesting this topic.]

Categories: History Modern history North & Central America Places

The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

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