Smoothbores, Sporting Guns, Sixshooters

More on smoothbores! Regular readers know I have an avid interest in smoothbore muskets, probably the most overlooked of Civil War small arms. As reported (for the first time, anywhere) in this column last fall, Dixie Gun Works planned to introduce a fully authentic reproduction of the US Model 1816 .69 caliber flintlock smoothbore musket. As of this writing (April, 1992) Dixie has received a prototype from Pedersoli; production models should be on the market by early summer. Approximate price of the 1816 will be $650

It looks like we may see yet another 1816 in production within the forthcoming year. In 1986, Ron Goodrich thought about building reproduction percussion conversions of the Model 1816 to enhance the early war impression of his renactment unit, the 42nd Virginia.

In 1989, Ron, who also shoots with the North-South Skirmish Association's (N-SSA) 13th Confederate Infantry, conferred with Colonel Bill Laybourn of Ordnance Park Corporation, who was planning to produce a reproduction 1816 in original flintlock configuration. Since the only difference between the two guns was their ignition methods, Goodrich and Laybourn decided to share their research and development efforts.

The project has moved forward slowly but surely over the past several years. Laybourn is currently producing bayonets, flashpans, triggers and tang screws, and is working on molds for lockplates, buttplates and other parts. Goodrich has secured a source for barrels and stocks and is now seeking quality internal lock parts.

Although the flintlock version (correct for many early war Confederate impressions) of the Goodrich/Laybourn 1816 will be first off the line, Ron hopes to have a percussion conversion available down the road. The easiest conversion method would most likely be the drum and nipple style, although the much more common "Belgian" conversion, with the nipple screwed directly into the top of the barrel, would, I believe, also be feasible.

When friends suggested that Goodrich should also tackle a reproduction of the US Model 1842 smoothbore musket, the first percussion ignition standard infantry weapon issued to the American army, he took on that challenge as well. Ron is currently investigating sources for barrels, stocks and other 1842 parts, and hopes parts kits for both the 1816 and 1842 will be available towards the end of the year, with finished guns to follow.

It is impossible at this juncture for Ron to give an exact price for either musket, but those interested in further information shold write him at 14905 Claude Lane, Silver Springs, MD 20905.

The smoothbore musket market, currently limited to reenactors and those who, like myself, use them for live fire historical arms research, hunting or simply potting tin cans, may soon expand. Deputy Commander Jerry Coates' motion to institute N-SSA smoothbore competition was formally introduced at the organization's January board meeting.

Although temporarily tabled, the motion is alive and well. It was reintroduced to the rules committee for appropriate recommendations and will again be presented to the board at its August 1992 meeting. If you are a skirmisher and favor smoothbore competition, as I do, make your regional commander and other board members aware of your support.

Although smoothbore muskets were much more common than Springfield and Enfield rifle muskets during the first year of the Civil War, they were not the only older-style muzzle loading guns shouldered by Union and Confederate volunteers. Rebel soldiers involved in a November 1861 skirmish at Ivy Mountain, Kentucky, were armed almost entirely with shotguns and squirrel rifles.

Confederate Indian recruits, east and west of the Mississippi, showed up for service carrying their hunting guns, generally small bore "Kentucky" or "Tennessee" style long-barreled rifles. Among these weapons were guns crafted by Squirrel, a North Carolina Cherokee backwoods gunsmithing genius. As late as 1864, one Creek Confederate was still carrying a flintlock long rifle.

Federal Indian soldiers were initially issued round ball trade rifles, and Union militia volunteers who defended the town of New Ulm, Minnesota, against attacking Sioux warriors in 1862 brought their own target and hunting rifles to the fight.

Throughout the war, the Federal government bought heavy telescope-sighted civilian target rifles for sharpshooter use. These guns were especially in demand for siege work, and were used during the long investment of Charleston as well as at other locations.

If you're interested in other than strictly military guns from the Civil War era and earlier, consider attending the Dixon Muzzleloading Shop's tenth annual Gunmaker's Fair, set for July 25 & 26, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Dixon's Kempton, PA store. The fair will be an exposition of the work of modern muzzleloading gunmakers, who will display handmade firearms from the matchlock through the percussion eras.

Both professional and amateur makers will enter their work in a judged contest. The Fair will also feature barrel forging, flint knapping and knife and tomahawk throwing demonstrations. A live fire range will provide beginners with the opportunity to learn gun safety and shoot a muzzleloader.

Revolutionary War, Civil War and Buckskinner encampments will provide historical ambiance. Dixon's is also a full-service black powder gun store, stocking a large variety of muzzle and breech loading guns, accessories and books.

To reach Dixon's take I 78/US 22 to exit #12. After leaving the interstate, take Rte. 737 north through Krumsville for two miles. Dixon's is on the right side of the road. Admission is free.

One of the few things you probably won't find for sale at Dixon's, or anywhere else, for that matter, is a box of combustible cartridges for your cap and ball revolver. You wouldn't have had that problem 130 years ago. Although some soldiers may have occasionally loaded their revolvers with a powder flask and others with prepared cartridges made from paper which was discarded in he loading process, most Civil War sixgun cartridges purchased from commercial contractors were combustible. Nitrated paper, skin and collodian were among the materials used to contain the bullet and powder charge in these rounds, which were entirely consumed on firing. A handgun shooter using combustible ammuition simply inserted cartridges in his revolver's chambers, rammed them home and capped the gun's nipples. It was the fastest method ever devised to load a percussion sixgun, and reloading speed could mean the difference between life and death in the turbulent 1860s.

Today, the chief virtue of this type of ammunition is convenience. To craft such cartridges, a paper sheet of the correct thickness and type must be soaked in a proper nitrate solution to insure complete combustion. When dry, individual cartidge papers are cut from the sheet, rolled, glued and loaded.

If you want to shoot combustible cartridges without the hassle of starting from scratch, the answer is in one of the cartridge kits marketed by Tom Berwinkle (C.S. Arsenal Works, Rt. 1, Box 418, Clarksburg, WV 26301). Berwinkle is a seasoned black powder shooter and a reenactor with the 31st Virginia. He competes with Wheat's Special Batalion (Louisiana Tigers) in the N-SSA.

Tom examined original cartidges, researched arsenal and contractor records and experimented with different types of paper and nitrate solution before marketing his cartridge kit. The kit, which sells for $9.50 postpaid, is available in .36 and .44 calibers, and includes a tapered cartridge former, a cartridge pattern, a glue stick, enough nitrated paper to make 100 cartridges and an instruction manual.

The informative manual details cartridge making so that even a relative klutz like myself can turn out a respectable product. Although original cartridges were loaded with pointed bullets, I had none available and used round balls to make up a couple of dozen .44s.

Cartridge making with the C. S. Arsenal Works kit is a relatively straightforward affair. First, lay the pattern provided on the nitrated paper, trace it and then cut out individual cartridge papers. If you're lazy and have cooperative children, you can detail the tracing and cutting to them. (Note to authentic reenactors: children often worked making cartridges during the Civil War.)

Second, roll the cartridge paper around the wooden mandrel; third, apply glue to the overlapping seam and smooth down; fourth, apply glue to base, fold over and set aside to dry for 15 minutes; fifth, drop a measured powder charge in the paper cartridge cylinder and insert a ball.

A bit of glue around the ball's midsection makes it adhere to the paper and helps hold the round together. The whole proess is easier than it sounds. Although the finished cartridges are, like originals, somewhat fragile, they are sturdy enough for normal handling.

Tom recommends tearing the base of the cartridge before loading to insure ignition, and smearing grease over the loaded rounds to prevent chain firing (there will be more on this subject in a future column on revolvers.) I tried to insert Wonder Wads, which are a good substitute for grease, in the cartridges I loaded, but they didn't fit.

Berwinkle's manual also provides plans for making wads out of common toilet paper to use in rolling blanks. According to Tom, combustible cartridge blanks made with these wads go off with a satisying, realistic, loud bang, and are recommended for reenactors who use revolvers.

I tested the ball ammo in my Colt .44 First Model Dragoon, made during the Colt "reissue" program a few years back, and my old reliable Navy Arms .44 Remington reproduction. Ignition was flawless and accuracy up to usual standards with the first dozen rounds I fired from each gun. I was able, as promised, to reload more rapidly than with any other method I have tried.

The C. S. Arsenal Works combustible cartridge kit makes revolver shooting a lot easier and is, coincidentally, the most authentic way to go afield with a cap and ball sixgun.

If you own an original Enfield rifle musket, rifle or musketoon and, like myself, are bewildered by the wide variety of proof, assembly and miltiary markings found on these and other British guns, you can ease your confusion by contacting Geoff Walden, 2723 Sanders Ridge Road, Columbia, KY 42728. (1998 Note: Mr. Walden is no longer at this address. He is, at this writing, on active duty with the army in Germany). If you send Geoff a self addressed, stamped envelope, he will return a form on which to detail your Civil War era Enfield's characteristics.

After you mail back the form, Geoff, who has examined over 300 Enfields, will interpret and explain your musket's markings and history. Except for the cost of a stamp, the service is free.

By the time you read this, the N-SSA's 85th Nationals will be history, and another skirmish season will be underway. Good luck to those of you who are skirmishers. I'll see you on the line this summer.

1992, 1998 by Joe Bilby

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