During the American Civil War and other military engagements of that era, the battlefield would be clouded in billowing smoke from the "black powder" (and later guncotton¹) gunpowder of the simple rifles and artillery of the time. It was often difficult to see, certainly near impossible for the officers to give orders. To get an idea of the effect, I recommend The Red Badge of Courage which describes the chaos and darkness of the Civil War battlefield.

In the late 1880s a French munitions maker invented "Poudre (Powder) B," which was revolutionary in that it made almost no smoke when fired, and was more propulsive than the gunpowder of the time.

It was, in turn, quickly supplanted by the cordite powder invented by Alfred Nobel (yes, him).

It's nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose. The infamous Anarchist's Cookbook will tell you how to make it. Or write to Timothy McVeigh.

1. Frater_219 correctly pointed out that "black powder" and guncotton are two different things. Indeed, guncotton sometimes called nitrocellulose, and is a more stable and more powerful explosive than "black powder." I stand corrected.

Smoke"less pow"der.

A high-explosive gunpowder whose explosion produces little, if any, smoke.

 

© Webster 1913

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