Sodium/Potassium Ratio and Hygroscopicity of Civil War Era Black Powder

K.L. and B.J Kosanke

Several years ago a sample of Black Powder, which had previously been recovered from US Civil War era cannon balls (ca. 1865), was made available for analysis. This made possible a brief comparative study of the Civil War era sample and one representing currently produced Black Powder. That study found the performance of the Civil War era powder sample to be roughly comparable to current production Black Powder.[1] Following that initial study, a very brief study was conducted regarding the purity of the potassium nitrate used in the Civil War era powder sample. Specifically, the molar percentage of sodium to potassium was determined, and those results were compared with the results from two more recently produced powders. This was of interest because it was speculated that the potassium nitrate in the Civil War era Black Powder might have been of lower purity with regard to the amount of sodium present (potentially as sodium nitrate). If that were the case, it might contribute to the susceptibility of the powder to absorb moisture, potentially leading to its degraded performance under battle field conditions.

Ref: Selected Pyrotechnic Publication of K.L. and B.J Kosanke, Part 6, (2001-2002), pp 82-84

© Journal of Pyrotechnics and CarnDu Ltd

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