Monday, March 3, 2014

Travelogue: Civil War Re-Enactment, Part 2


Event: Civil War Re-Enactment
Date: Sunday, February 16, 2014
Location: Calico Ghost Town

I like old weapons.  Even the ones that aren't shiny.


The Springfield model musket-riffles are made of polished walnut and sit together in a line on a rack.  No glass separates me from these guns--I can reach out and take one and cradle it in my arm.  I consider it.  Will anyone actually stop me if I do?  Maybe not, but I decide to get permission from the man or the woman running the table, just in case.

So far my strategy of buzzing around the table like a fly has not been paying off.  No one's noticed me.  Boldly, I decide to approach one of the people and ask.  The man finishes his conversation, so I walk over to him.

"How do you load one of these guns?" I ask.

I ask because I really want to know; I was researching the weapons earlier, looking at pictures of cartridges and caps, with no idea how to fit them together.  I also ask because apparently I am not yet brave enough to say I want to hold the gun.

The man takes one of the riffles off the display.  "It's a six step process," he says, but neglects to number his actions, leaving me to guess which step is which.  This is what I've come up with:

1.  Take a paper cartridge, tear it open with your teeth, and pour it down the barrel.  (He doesn't actually break the packet, but mimes the action.  He tells me the cartridge holds a 60-grain black powder.  Soldiers liked to store extra ones in their pockets.)

  2. Stick in a ball or minie ball. * (I'd heard of these minie balls but had never seen one until now. The man holds up what looks more or less like a bullet.  Well, that's disappointingly common.)

3. Take a ramrod and push the gunpowder and bullet deep into the muzzle.  (Now I'm really paying attention because one of the things I never could figure out was where the soldiers hid the ramrod. The man pulls it out of the underside of the barrel.  I hadn't even noticed the thin unassuming pole. The man loads his gun with one clean push.)

4.  Take the ramrod out of the gun.  (Now things become confusing, as the man veers off topic in order to tell an anecdote about how soldiers would forget to take their ramrod out of the barrel and end up shooting it at the enemy.)

Exploded Percussion Cap
5.  Stick on a percussion cap to ignite the charge.  (Here's another mystery solved.  I'd seen these little golden caps--which remind me of thumbtacks--in my book, but I didn't know what they were used for.  Apparently, the gun's hammer crushes the copper cap, creating a spark that makes the gunpowder explode.)

6.  Ready, aim, fire.  (I assume.)

"Most soldiers could fire 3 shots a minute," the man tells me.

I wonder how the men protected themselves during that awkward 20-second loading phase.  The man explains that soldiers lined up in rows of two, one in front, one in the back.  To demonstrate, he gives me one of the guns.

(Yes!  I get to hold it!  Sometimes the subtle approach works!)

I'm in the front.  I get to fire first.  Boom.

While I'm pretending to fire, the man behind me is loading his riffle.  His commander gives him the order, so he sets the barrel of the gun onto my shoulder and shoots.  I feel the gun uncomfortably close to my head.

"Did anyone ever get their ear blown off?" I ask.

"Oh yes," he replies.  "And many of them went deaf."

I hand back the gun and go on my merry way.

In the Union Army now.

* Other sources suggest that gunpowder and bullet alike were wrapped in the same paper cartridge. If this is the case, I can't fathom what the second step would be.

* * *

To Be Continued...

Disclaimer: All quotes are approximate.

Additional Sources:

Grant, R. G.  Warrior: A Visual History of the Fighting Man.  DK Publishing: New York, 2010.

Harding, David (editor).  Weapons: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to 2000 A.D.  Diagram Visual: New York, 1990.

No comments:

Post a Comment