The Wind of Cannon Balls


An article abstracted in The New England Journal of Medicine[1] concerns what was called the “Wind of Cannon Balls.” This phenomenon was remarked upon in 1780 in a siege near Bombay. A soldier did not duck quickly enough, and a cannon ball knocked off his turban. A doctor was nearby and examined him and found the soldier untouched by the ball. However, his pulse was irregular and so the soldier was sent to the hospital, where he died 48 hours later. When the doctor examined the soldier’s head post-mortem, he found “an extravasation of blood”: the blood had left its normal pathway, perhaps like a large, internal bruise, and the cause was ascribed to the “wind of a ball.”

A Mr. Ellis wrote in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal of similar incidents. The passage of a ball near an individual can cause “the tearing of epaulets and buttons from the clothes, producing extensive lividity of that part of the body near which the ball passed, causing a sudden or gradual blindness, fracturing the  bones to a thousand pieces without tearing the skin.”




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