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At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:
5.34 Identify which country is usually given credit for inventing the rocket.
5.35 Discuss the contributions to rocketry made by William Congreve.
5.36 Know when the United States first used rockets in warfare.
5.37 Discuss the use of rockets during the American Civil War.
Although it cannot be substantiated, credit is usually given to the ancient Chinese as the inventors of the rocket. It is documented, however, that the Chinese were probably the first to use rockets as weapons of war. The Chinese used rockets against the Mongols and Arabs, and it was through these two groups of people that knowledge of rockets was spread throughout Europe. Probably the first European targets of rockets were the French in 1248, when rockets were used by the Arabs near the Nile River.
|A Chinese soldier launches a fire-arrow.|
By the sixteenth century, many Europeans were writing about the use of rockets for
military and nonmilitary purposes. However, it was not until the eighteenth century was
almost over that Europeans became seriously interested in the military aspect of rockets.
In 1792 and 1799, rockets were used against British troops in India. William Congreve read about the use of the rockets and believed they would make good weapons, but they needed improvements. He increased the range of rockets from 600 feet to well over 8,000 feet and improved their accuracy. His improved rockets were first used on October 8, 1806, when 2,000 were launched in 30 minutes against the French town of Boulogne. The town caught on fire and the defenders were so dazed that they did not fire back at the British. These rockets were also used in the War of 1812 (1812-1815) and were referred to by Francis Scott Key in "The Star Spangled Banner."
The United States first used rockets on March 24, 1847, during the Mexican War (1846-1848). Rockets were also used by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War (1861-1865). The war brought about the development of rifled barrels for cannons. These cannons and improved projectiles forced rockets into the background where they stayed until their reemergence as powerful weapons in World War II (1939-1945).
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Updated: 23 March, 2004