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June 4, 2015 History, Sailing, York River

Hot Shot in History

Charon burn 4Early during the Siege of Yorktown in October 1781 the French got the bold idea of heating a solid cannonball red hot and firing it at a ship. They succeeded by arcing the ball a mile away toward the Charon, the 44-gun lead ship of Lord Cornwallis, anchored in front of what is now the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. It miraculously hit the wooden deck and burned a hole through successive floors to reach the bilge where they kept the powder dry. Sparks set the boat ablaze into a spectacular explosion. Thus came into the lexicon the term “hot shot,” though it was rarely used because of the inherent danger of blowing up the cannon before it could launch. No such surprise awaits the Hermione, the Marquis de Lafayette’s replica frigate that is due Friday morning at Yorktown. Thousands are expected to tour the ship over the weekend.

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