A soldier, writing from one of the camps on the Potomac, thus alluded to the peculiar music made by bullets passing through the air: “It is a very good place to exercise the mind, with the enemys picket rattling close at hand. A musical ear can study the different tones of the bullets as they skim through the air. I caught the pitch of a large-sized Minie yesterday–it was a swell from E flat to F, and as it passed into the distance and lost its velocity, receded to D–a very pretty change. One of the most startling sounds is that produced by the Hotchkiss shell. It comes like the shriek of a demon, and the bravest old soldiers feel like ducking when they hear it. It is no more destructive than some other missiles, but there is a good deal in mere sound to work upon mens fears.
“The tremendous scream is caused by a ragged edge of lead, which is left on the shell. In favorable positions of light, the phenomenon can sometimes be seen, as you stand directly behind a gun, of the clinging of the air to the ball. The ball seems to gather up the atmosphere, and carry it along, as the earth carries its atmosphere through space. Men are frequently killed by the wind of a cannon-shot. There is a law which causes the atmosphere to cling to the earth, or which presses upon it with a force, at the surface, of fifteen pounds to the square inch; does the same law, or a modification, pertain to cannon-balls in flight? I do not remember of meeting with a discussion of the subject in any published work. It is certainly an interesting philosophic question.”
Originally posted 2008-06-14 14:15:56.