Pedersoli musket, Nessler Balls and RCBS Dies.

There was a little flurry of excitement this past summer, on the Internet and elsewhere, regarding a new Pedersoli rifle-musket and its possible application to Civil War shooting and reenacting. The Pedersoli gun, which is illustrated on the company's website (http://www.davide-pedersoli.com/), is a reproduction of the .54 caliber Wuerttemburgische Model 1857 rifle musket. The original version of the musket was issued to the troops of the German principalities of Wuerttemburg and Baden, prior to their rearmament with the Dreyse needle gun in the late 1860s.

Before its unification in 1870, Germany was divided into a number of small states, including Wuerttemburg and Baden, which were tugged back in forth into alliances with Prussia and Austria, as both of those countries struggled for control and influence in the German speaking world. A decisive Prussian victory over Austria in 1866 settled the issue, and Prussia's subsequent defeat of France in 1870 resulted in the absorption of the German mini-states into a Prussian dominated German Empire.

Paralleling Germanic politics of the 1850s and 1860s, the Wuerttemburg gun displays Prussian influence in its overall heavy duty construction yet is bored in the Austrian .54 caliber, which is probably why some people initially believed that Pedersoli had produced a new Lorenz.

I was not aware that any of the Wuerttemburg rifle-muskets, first line infantry weapons in their home country during the American Civil War, were imported for use by either side in the conflict. Brannan Sanders of the N-SSA's "Coastal Rifles," advises me, however, that at least some modified guns apparently reached these shores. Brannan quotes Frederick P. Todd's Military Equipage, vol. I, p. 140: "Wurtemberg Rifle Musket, Model 1857, variant. Similar to the Wurtemberg Model 1857 Rifle Musket, but the 39.4 in. barrel is rifled with 3 grooves in cal .58 and is mounted with an Enfield pattern long range rear sight. Overall length 55.25 inches. All furniture bright; the trigger guard shaped into a grip behind the bow. Lock plate is marked forward of the cock with letters 'VCS.' Buttplate marked with the serial number; various inspection marks. Socket bayonet attached to stud under barrel." The number actually imported appears to be minimal.

Unless another source appears, this information would bar the Pedersoli reproductions from use in either N-SSA shoots or reenactments without the noted modifications, although they should prove popular with target shooters and hunters in their as issued configuration. One of the most appealing features of the new Pedersoli for today's rifle-musket shooter is the fact that it is the only reproduction military arm with a rear sight which is adjustable for both elevation and windage.

Although it appears that the gun was initially manufactured with the European target shooting market in mind, there is at least one of these interesting muskets currently in the United States, and it belongs to Stephen W. Davis of Oklahoma. According to Mr. Davis, the Wuerttemburg rifle-musket "is just the thing for those times when you want something a little out of the ordinary." He noted that the repro "is very well done," which it should be for a list price of $975, and passed on an interesting bit of historical trivia. The original Wuerttemburg Royal Armory was located in Oberndorf am Neckar, and became part of the better-known Mauser factory in later years. In fact, Franz Andreas Mauser and his sons Paul and Wilhelm worked at the Royal Armory as gunsmiths when the factory was cranking out rifle muskets. It was there that Paul developed his first plans for a bolt action rifle. So, although it's stretching a point a bit, I guess you could call the Wuerttemburg rifle-musket the father of the Mauser.

Since we're on things European, I'd like to share some information on another topic of interest, the Nessler bullet, or Balle Nessler. This projectile was in wide use in Continental Europe during the 1850s as a stopgap measure to increase the range and accuracy of smoothbore muskets during the ongoing development of the rifle musket and its Minie style bullets.

A French and Belgian development, the Nessler was a short conical paper patched hollow base slug which made the smoothbore effective on large formations at ranges up to and beyond 200 yards. It was used extensively by the Russians in the Crimean War, and was also employed by the French and Piedmontese armies in that conflict.

Shooters from the British Crimean War Research Society recently tested Nessler bullets in original guns and gave a preliminary report on their results in the Society's Journal, The War Correspondent. According to the report, Nessler balls "behaved superbly and amazed the experts with their accuracy." A more comprehensive study will apparently be forthcoming from the Society in the future.

Why, you might ask, did not the Union or Confederacy adopt the Nessler projectile for the thousands of smoothbore muskets in the hands of their troops in 1861 and 1862, and even into 1863? Although it may have been considered, and some imported ammunition might have been acquired along with surplus foreign muskets, I have not come across any reference to the use of this ammunition during the Civil War.

It appears that there may have been an American version of the Nessler, proposed, however. In late 1861, an inventor named W. B. Chace approached Abraham Lincoln with what he claimed was a new bullet designed to extend the effective range of the smoothbore musket. During a demonstration firing over the Potomac, the president witnessed "the [Chace] projectile…fired alternately, with the ordinary round ball cartridges, from the same smooth-bore musket, at the same elevation, and the projectile carried a full third, or more, farther upon the water than the round ball." Lincoln recommended further testing, but the bullet was never adopted.

The rationale for this lack of interest may well have been that the rifle-musket was the desired standard for the Union army and that contracts had been awarded for many thousands of them. Upon delivery of the contract arms, supplemented with imported rifled arms, Union ordnance chief Brigadier General James W. Ripley intended to retire the smoothbores in Federal ranks as fast as possible. He probably thought further development and production of the Chace bullet would have been pointless.

RCBS, the renowned cartridge loading equipment company, has introduced some new reloading dies and bullet molds which, although designed for the rapidly growing sport of "Cowboy Action Shooting," are of interest to Civil War era metallic cartridge gun shooters as well.

Most modern reloading dies are designed to load jacketed bullets. Since the lead bullets loaded by Cowboy Action Shooters requite different expanding, seating, crimping and expander capabilities, "modern" dies often do not work as well as they should. The new dies are, according to RCBS, "optimized" to load flat nosed lead bullets, essential for shooting the Henry rifle, which is used in N-SSA competition in both .44-40 and .45 Colt calibers. The new dies feature an "old timey" case-hardened coloring with brass lock rings and are available in 13 calibers from .25-20 Winchester to .45 Colt.

The new RCBS bullet molds cast slugs with beveled crimping grooves to set proper overall cartridge length and deep lubrication grooves for use with black powder. They are available in eight sizes, from .25 to .45 caliber.

For further information, contact RCBS, 605 Oro Dam Blvd., Oroville, CA 95965 or phone 1-800-533-5000.

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© 1999 by Joe Bilby

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