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David Black Mastro




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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 9:02 am    Post subject: The Zen of black powder guns--what's real, and what's not?         Reply with quote

I love Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis, and I've always been intrigued by how shooting with the Pennsylvania rifle was portrayed almost more as an art than as a science (maybe it was?). I was curious as to how accurate this film really is. For example, what about when Nathaniel is lending fire support to the courier making the run to Fort Edward. He patches the bullet with a piece of silk (as opposed to the usual greased leather), claiming that it will give him "an extra 40 yards"--is this true?
"Why meddle with us--you are not strong enough to break us--you know that you have won the battle and slaughtered our army--be content with your honor, and leave us alone, for by God's good will only have we escaped from this business" --unknown Spanish captain to the Chevalier Bayard, at the Battle of Ravenna, 1512
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 10:11 am    Post subject: Re: The Zen of black powder guns--what's real, and what's no         Reply with quote

David Black Mastro wrote:
I love Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis, and I've always been intrigued by how shooting with the Pennsylvania rifle was portrayed almost more as an art than as a science (maybe it was?). I was curious as to how accurate this film really is. For example, what about when Nathaniel is lending fire support to the courier making the run to Fort Edward. He patches the bullet with a piece of silk (as opposed to the usual greased leather), claiming that it will give him "an extra 40 yards"--is this true?


David;

Hollywood fantasy, as usual. While a good Long Rifle in the hands of an expert could make life quite interesting for a target at up to 400 yards (Major George Hanger and Banastre Tarleton noticed a rifleman making his way towards them at about 400 yards, and shortly thereafter the horse of the bugler, which was faced crossways behind them, was hit by said rifleman's rifle ball...) such things as using silk patches making that much difference is flat silly.

Round-ball ballistics are indeed more art than science (mostly since science hasn't studied it much since Major Mordecai of the US Ordnance Department did so in the 1840's), so there is more opinion than fact for the most part. However, what is known concretely is that a round ball has a horrible ballistic coefficient. It starts out with very high velocity (a .45 caliber round ball rifle with 100 grains of 2Fg black powder should push it's 135 grain bullet out at around 1800+ feet per second) but by the time it reaches 100 yards out, it's lost more than a third of that velocity. And it gets worse. The physics of the round ball projectile is that it forms a vacuum behind it, which slows it down considerably, thus the problem.

The biggest difference between the "American Rifle" in it's various forms ("Kentucky", "Pennsylvania", "Southern Mountain", "Virginia", "Tennessee" etc.) and it's Germanic ancestors was the speed of the rifling. Germanic rifles of the "Jaeger" type commonly had a rather rapid twist to the spiral grooves cut into a fairly short (30"-40") barrel, which made for accuracy being dependent upon a fairly narrow band of velocities (i.e. powder charge/bullet weight combination). They also often as not used an oversized ball driven into the rifling by an iron rammer and a mallet. Long range accuracy was quite possible with these, but required very careful estimation of distance, and therefore sighting. On the other hand, the American rifles had a very slow twist (usually in the area of one complete turn in 66+ inches, out of a 44" barrel), and used the afore said patching (generally linen sheeting) around an undersized ball (say a .440" ball, with a thin patch in a .45" bore). This made for a much broader range of velocities (powder charges) that would shoot accurately. If a man wanted to shoot at close range, he could use a fairly low charge, say 50-70 grains of powder. If he wanted longer range, he could kick it up to 100 or more. For VERY long range, rather than using silk patching, he'd use a greater powder charge (some later Plains Rifles, with the same basic barrels, were known to be used with 200 grains of powder for long shots). You get slightly less accuracy from the higher velocity, but also a much flatter-shooting round, since as it starts off faster, it keeps a higher velocity as it goes down range. With the faster-twist rifling, were you to increase the velocity that much, you would "strip" the ball from the rifling, and it would lack the spin necessary to give it the gyroscopic stability that rifling imparts. There is still some drift, requiring "Kentucky Windage", but an experienced man can take that into account and change his point of aim as a result.

All of this being said, a good man, on a good windless day, over flat ground with dry powder and a fine rifle that he's shot a LOT and knows very, very well, then phenomenal shots such as that made by Timothy O'Sullivan, killing General Frazer at Freeman's Farm (something like 200 yard one-shot kill) become possible. Natty Bumpo was supposed to be such a man, so his outrageous shooting isn't beyond reason. But using silk patching wasn't it.

I hope this isn't too much of a technical tome for your rather simple question! But hopefully it does answer it.

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
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David Black Mastro




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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 10:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gordon,

Thanks so much for the input and information! Happy

Now, I have another question on an issue I've never been clear on--how does the whole patching deal actually work? I mean, if the ball is small enough to require a patch in the first place, how does it "take" the rifling?

Thanks Again,

David

"Why meddle with us--you are not strong enough to break us--you know that you have won the battle and slaughtered our army--be content with your honor, and leave us alone, for by God's good will only have we escaped from this business" --unknown Spanish captain to the Chevalier Bayard, at the Battle of Ravenna, 1512
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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 10:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

interesting thread!

Thank you very much for this info, Gordon! Happy
I've seen the Last of the Mohicans at least 10 times and I really like it. But there are more unrealistic scenes in it, for example when Lewis shoots with two rifles while running - greetings from John Woo Big Grin

Early fire-weapons are quite fascinating.
How was the accuracy of the early Arcebuses around 1525 at Pavia? I heard that that you could consider yourself lucky when you hit a target and that it was much more dangerous behind the rifle than in front of it. Can anyone confirm this?
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 10:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with everything Gordon said.

I have a mid-range quality rifle that I've hunted with over the years: a Perdersoli longrifle in .50 caliber. Flintlock of course, none of that sissy percussion stuff thank you very much. Shooting of any kind is as much an art as a science but especially shooting early types like the blackpowder designs. It's really all about the shooter knbowing the equipment and the environment.

The patch helps the ball engage the rifling and also helps as a gas seal. The fit is actually pretty tight so it's not as if you can just drop the ball down the barrel without a patch, at least not on most of the rifled muskets, etc. that I've shot.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 10:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wolfgang wrote:
Thank you very much for this info, Gordon!
I've seen the Last of the Mohicans at least 10 times and I really like it. But there are more unrealistic scenes in it, for example when Lewis shoots with two rifles while running - greetings from John Woo


The only thing more impressive than shooting two rifles on the run is loading them on the run. Big Grin

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 10:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David;

Pure brute force. Big Grin The patching is actually thick enough to make the entire package of ball and patch "oversized" for the bore. Say our .440" round ball, with a .013" linen patch around it. Makes for a .453" projectile to cram down a bore of .450", with shallow groves of say .002"-.004". With the aid of what is known as a "short starter" (a palm-sized maple ball with a short dowel of perhaps 3") after charging the bore with powder, you place a piece of lubricated (usually spit) linen patching material over the muzzle. Then placing the ball on it, to rest into the top of the bore, you "start" the ball and patch with a sharp whack of you palm. This forces the ball at patching into the barrel, with the top of the ball at approximately the same level as the muzzle of the barrel. The exess patching material is then cut away with an aptly named "patch knife" (unless pre-cut patches are used). Then the dowel end of the short starter is used by placing the end of the dowel over the ball, and giving the starter another sharp whack with your palm. This allows you to A.) get the patched ball "started" on it's way, and properly crammed into the bore so that the patching actually goes into the rifling grooves (while the threads are also imbedded into the lead ball) and B.) lets you keep stress off of your loading rod so you don't break it while trying to force the ball down in the first place. You then (hopefully) smoothly push the patched ball down to seat it firmly on top of the powder charge resting at the breech.

As noted, the patching material both forces it's way into the grooves of the rifling, AND digs it's threads into the lead ball, thus imparting spin to the projectile as it courses it's way down the barrel.

Anyway, some of my details may be amiss here, but I think I've got it... been a while since I've looked this stuff up!

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 11:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well Gordon shoots with matchlocks a lot so a flintlock is advanced next generation technology to him. Razz Laughing Out Loud

Nice wheelocks and snaphaunce also ! Then he jumps in time to .45 auto I believe. Eek!

Hope this thread becomes popular or similar threads: Although there are specialised sites dealing with early firearms I don't see why we can't bring more of this to this site. Ancien firearms are well on topic for this site, we just end to forget about it and we do have some people like Gordon who are very much experts on the subject. Cool

I may have just made Gordon blush here though. Exclamation Blush Blush Blush

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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 11:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wolfgang Armbruster wrote:
interesting thread!
Early fire-weapons are quite fascinating.
How was the accuracy of the early Arcebuses around 1525 at Pavia? I heard that that you could consider yourself lucky when you hit a target and that it was much more dangerous behind the rifle than in front of it. Can anyone confirm this?


With a smooth-bore weapon, be it an arquebus at Pavia, or a musket at Waterloo, or even a modern shotgun with slugs, you're accuracy is pretty much limited to around 100 yards... assuming that the bore is straight and true, and the ball actually round with no flaws in it! Of course, the major caveat here is having a quality weapon... I'm sure that there were plenty of cheap, poorly made weapons at Pavia etc. that were definitely more dangerous to the user than the target, as with arms from any century. But with decent stuff, a modicum of accuracy was definitely possible. I've shot silhouette targets with a Brown Bess at 100 yards with no problem, but under combat conditions is another thing entirely!

Per multiple rifles on the run? As Patrick says... try loading them, LOL! Oh, and Patrick: Good man! I have to sell these "In-Line" abominations to yahoo hunters, and it absolutely galls me to do so.. UGH! Luckily, the state of Washington forbids the use of modern primers as an igniter for hunting, and the breech still has to be exposed. But rumour has it that they're going to push it to a "Flintlock and Earlier" season right after Bows, and then the "modern muzzleloaders" and then modern stuff. Thank goodness!

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 11:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
I may have just made Gordon blush here though. Exclamation Blush Blush Blush


You're right! Eek! But thank you for the kind words!

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 11:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gordon Frye wrote:
Wolfgang Armbruster wrote:
interesting thread!
Early fire-weapons are quite fascinating.
How was the accuracy of the early Arcebuses around 1525 at Pavia? I heard that that you could consider yourself lucky when you hit a target and that it was much more dangerous behind the rifle than in front of it. Can anyone confirm this?


With a smooth-bore weapon, be it an arquebus at Pavia, or a musket at Waterloo, or even a modern shotgun with slugs, you're accuracy is pretty much limited to around 100 yards... assuming that the bore is straight and true, and the ball actually round with no flaws in it! Of course, the major caveat here is having a quality weapon... I'm sure that there were plenty of cheap, poorly made weapons at Pavia etc. that were definitely more dangerous to the user than the target, as with arms from any century. But with decent stuff, a modicum of accuracy was definitely possible. I've shot silhouette targets with a Brown Bess at 100 yards with no problem, but under combat conditions is another thing entirely!


Cheers!

Gordon



Thx for the info!
Well, I guess with the battle-tactics back then it was sufficient to aim in the enemy's direction. Hitting a phalanx of 3000 men wasn't that hard Wink
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Glen A Cleeton




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PostPosted: Sat 26 Nov, 2005 12:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To me, the Zen of flintlocks is not unlike a Japanese Tea ceremony.

I've not played with them for years but there is something quite surrealistic, yet satisfying, about the whole sequence of firing. It all still happens pretty quickly but the chain of events unleashed with a trigger pull is its own mini symphony.

Cheers

GC
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Chris Goerner




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PostPosted: Sun 27 Nov, 2005 3:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Patrick Kelly wrote:
Wolfgang wrote:
Thank you very much for this info, Gordon!
I've seen the Last of the Mohicans at least 10 times and I really like it. But there are more unrealistic scenes in it, for example when Lewis shoots with two rifles while running - greetings from John Woo


The only thing more impressive than shooting two rifles on the run is loading them on the run. Big Grin


Loading a flintlock rifle on the run was a rare ability among frontiersmen. There are accounts of individuals like Simon Kenton and Lewis Wetzel having mastered this skill. I remember reading an account of a rifle frolic that Wetzel participated in. He tied another individual at the event, and the tie-breaker was a race that involved shooting a series of targets, reloading on the run between them. He didn't only use this skill for sport, though. I remember reading at least one account of him having shot multiple Indian pursuers on the run, thus achieving his escape.

One thing to note, I have never been able to find an account of Wetzel, using a patch or short starter while on the run. My assumption is, loading on the run was done without patching the ball, making it easier to seat the ball, but compromising accuracy. But then, if you are in a situation to load on the run, I doubt accuracy was your chief concern.

Still, from way the accounts I've seen are written, it appears that reloading on the run was as much revered as a nearly impossible feat then, as it seems to us today.

Chris

Sic Semper Tyranus
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Sun 27 Nov, 2005 5:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Reloading on the run doesn't seem nearly impossible to me but doing it in about five seconds, ala Daniel Day Lewis, does.
"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 27 Nov, 2005 8:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I find it hard to believe that individuals could commonly reload black powder weapons, in a component by component manner in seconds. It is difficult to keep most modern "home use" automatic shot shell reloaders working much faster than 1 shell every 10 seconds without experiencing spills, misaligned components, and other problems resulting in jams or incorrect loads. Additionally, at least with a reproduction Remington New Army revolver, my .38" caliber accuracy is pretty poor after about 50 feet no matter how much assistance or rest support I use.

About 15 years ago I worked with a semi-retired aerodynamiscist (close to age 70, would be around 85 if alive now.) I enquired about a photo he had of a Civil war reenactment. He explained that his wife was the great grand daughter of General Hood, and that he was an avid fan of Civil war tactics and reenactment. He performed marksmanship "practice drills" for crowds during the 1970's and early 80's. One of his drills (rapid reloading) he claimed had been handed down by an actual war veteran. Below is his account of how rapid reloading was performed by some of the "crack rifle" units.

The Civil War solution to rapid reloading was that the reloads were actually made up of cloth or paper "cones". These cones contained the powder, patch and ball all pre-arranged. A few reloads could be carried pre-prepared to a battle. Powder charge weights were fairly high (generally greater than 150 grains.) These reloads could be placed into the mouth of a barrel and tamped down in a single stroke with the ram rod.

At least accordidng to this account, part of the historical qualification (reload speed) for a "marksman" unit required that an individual could fire a mini ball into a 6" to 8" bullseye (say 150mm to 205mm diameter) at ranges equal or greater than 100 feet (say 30 meters) six times in a minute. This was claimed to be a "training qualification", not a typical combat feat. Those who could perform it were reportedly considered exceptional.

The above explanation and the ballistics claimed seem believable to me if the load recipe and rifling were well matched.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 27 Nov, 2005 10:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If I can get the link posted correctly, this should show a reenactment group with a simulated wounded soldier on the ground, handing one of the "pre-packaged" reloads to a fellow soldier. http://www.taphilo.com/history/US-Civil-War/w...-fight.jpg

I live in a town in middle Tennessee (Tullahoma) which was a major winter camp and hospital site for Confederates during the last 1.5 years of the war. Earth work barricades remain in home back yards less than 0.5 miles from my home. A lot of citizens here have found civil war bullets. Smooth round balls between .38" to .58" caliber were the norm for the Confederates (about two to three thousand graves are here at the older middle school which used to be the war hospital camp.) A few "conic" black powder bullets have been found, but these are rare exceptions. No cartridge type bullets have been found that I know of.

Lever action and repeating cartridge weapons existed, but these were more common among Union troops and officers.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sun 27 Nov, 2005 11:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared;

In general, military firearms used "cartridges", which up until around 1860 or so meant a rolled paper tube filled with powder and ball, and either glued or tied at the bullet end, and folded over on the powder end. These came into use sometime in the mid-16th Century or so (generally for pistols, since if you think it's a trick to load a rifle on the run, then try loading a pistol on a galloping horse! Eek! ) By 1700 they were standard for all militaries in the Western World, and in conjuction with the flintlock ignition system and the socket bayonet pretty much ruled the world for the next 150 years or so. With such a combination, it was quite within the realm of possibility for the common soldier to fire off four rounds per minute (I've done it myself) and the REALLY good troops, like the Prussians, were reputed to be able to fire off six. Darned fast moving, but then they had rather brutal sergeants to enforce such practice to make perfect. At any rate, with paper cartridges in a box on the right hip, with a flintlock musket and a bayonet, the "Regiment of Foote" in conjunction with Linear Tactics became quite an impressive machine for belching out lead at a rapid rate.

With the adoption of the percussion system, and shortly there after rifled muskets, the rate of fire for the individual went down (probably to three rounds per minute), but the actual rate of rife for the regiment probably went up due to fewer misfires. With the rifling, the effective range went from 100 yards to 500 yards, making Linear Tactics rather more messy (re. American Civil War).

Rifles, by the way, weren't adopted in large numbers due to the general difficulty noted above in loading quickly. The extra range wasn't enough to make up for rate of fire. But in the 19th Century the development of the hollow-based bullet (aka "Minnie Ball" after one of the inventors, Captain Claude Minnie' of the French Ordnance Dept.) the problem of having a bullet "take the rifling" without having to be pounded in one way or another was solved. The undersized cylindro-conical, hollow-based bullet was inserted into the muzzle and rammed down to seat on the powder charge. When the powder exploded, the shock wave deformed the lead "skirt" of the hollow base into the rifling, allowing the bullet to take the rifling as it went down the bore. The result was not only much faster to load than the old round ball, but the ballistic coefficent of the bullet is MUCH higher, and thus greater range and accuracy was achieved.

Per loading on the run: I'm certain that Lewis Wetze, Simon Kenton (and Simon Girty, for that matter) used naked balls while loading on the run. The need for speed (as with the Infantry musket) was greater than the need for extreme accuracy, thus getting a shot off into your enemy's guts at 20 yards was of greater import than hitting someone at 100! Eek! So Chris, I agree completely!

And Patrick, you're dead on the money: Shooting fast is one thing, doing the Hollywood stunts of D D Lewis is another thing entirely!

Cheers!

Gordon

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Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
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http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 27 Nov, 2005 11:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Gordan.

No challenges to the above points. They do not seem to get much emphasis in texts about the weapons and tactics, despite being significant. This type of thing is also not often depicted in movies or documentarys.

What amazes me, is that the actual ammunition collected points to the use of weapons spanning an obvious range from the older and smaller caliber "squirrel gun" to the state of the art .58 calibers. True brass cartridge weapons pretty much emerged "from the war", but were exceptions during the majority of it.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sun 27 Nov, 2005 3:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared;

Indeed, you are very right on that. Although there were a number of self-contained cartridges in use during "The War" 1861-1865, the earlier models, i.e. muzzle-loaders of various types far, far outnumbered them. The humble .22 rimfire of the Smith & Wesson pocket pistols, and their slightly larger .32 rimfire siblings, and then the .44 Henry and .56 Spencers were becoming available in some quantities by 1865, but still nothing compared to the separately-primed ammunition. One thing that is very ignored from that war though is the amount of pin-fire ammunition used by both North and South. Large numbers of perfectly serviceable French and Belgian-made revolvers firing breech-loading, pin-fire ammunition in 12mm were imported and issued, and according to the reports, rather well liked. But obtaining ammunition was, needless to say, somewhat problematical, especially for Southern soldiers, so they eventually were dropped from use. But they were good solid, effective and reliable guns never the less. Sort of like the old Beta videos...

But by 1866 the US Army had definitely seen the light and was madly converting the old Springfield .58 Rifled Muskets into .50-70 breechloaders by the Allen system, just in time for the Indian Wars. Eek!

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Sun 27 Nov, 2005 3:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Back to the original purpose of this thread..............................

I will say that while most of what you see in movies like Last of the Mohicans and The Patriot is nothing more than Hollywood fancy these rifles can be more accurate than you might think, nor do they take all day to reload once you're practiced at it.

My full-stock longrifle will put every shot into a cluster at 100 yards all day long as long as I swab out the bore after every shot. This is after I spent time filing down the sights to the proper range and worked up an appropriate load. Like I said, it's all about knowing the equipment and the environment in which it's used.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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