Musket Updates: Lorenz & Whitworth

Have you ever had an urge to add a first model Brown Bess with a 1728 dated Dublin Castle lockplate to your collection of reproduction shooting arms? How about shouldering a 17th century English doglock of the type used in King Phillip's War, or a 1750s Catalan style miquelet lock escopeta used by 18th century Spanish settlers in the southwest? Perhaps a wheel lock or a Model 1713 Prussian flintlock musket will satisfy your desire for something different in a muzzle loader, or maybe you have an unrequited desire a Baker rifle after watching the recent PBS series Sharpe's Rifles?

The parts to create all of these rare and exotic arms, and many more, are available from "The Rifle Shoppe." (18420 East Hefner Road, Jones, OK 73049 405-396-8450, FAX 405-396-8450).

The Rifle Shoppe has been catering to the European Napoleonic reenactor and shooter as well as the American and Canadian 18th century frontier, French and Indian War and Revolutionary War aficionado for some time. Perhaps most interesting, for the Civil War arms fancier, whether he be skirmisher, reenactor, or both, however, is the company's new Lorenz rifle parts kit. The Austrian Model 1854 Lorenz was the third most common type of Civil War long arm issued to Union soldiers. Large numbers were purchased by the Confederacy as well, and in the spring of 1864, fully one third of the soldiers in the Army of Tennessee carried Lorenz rifles. The original caliber of the Lorenz was .54, but many Federal guns were bored out, with more or less success, to approximations of the standard US .58 caliber.

The Lorenz was well regarded by some troops to whom it was issued. including those of the 5th New Jersey and 104th Pennsylvania. Private Alfred Bellard of the 5th praised his .54 caliber Lorenz for being "short, light and very easily cleaned," while Quartermaster James D. Hendrie of the 104th Pennsylvania believed his outfit's Austrian guns to be "very superior weapons, although not so well finished as the American arms." Leander Stillwell of the 61st Illinois considered his .54 Lorenz a "wicked shooter." Other soldiers were not so enthusiastic. The 100th Illinois reported that its rebored .58 caliber Lorenzes were "not worth much," and the 120th Illinois classified its .54 caliber guns as "worthless." Lorenz quality seems to have varied according to where in the Hapsburg lands the guns were made.

There has been a recent reawakening of interest in the Lorenz, since many of the more "authentic" or "hard core" reenactors and practitioners of living history want to emulate the units they represent as closely as possible. Since, to date, there is no mass market Lorenz reproduction, if an original regiment carried Lorenzes, there was no way to duplicate that aspect of the unit without purchasing original Lorenz rifles. Although these are available, usually a bit more reasonably priced that original Enfields or Springfields, they would, of course, not be in "as issued" 1860s condition.

The Rifle Shoppe's parts kit will make it a lot easier to restore an original Lorenz missing a barrel band or ramrod, or, with a stock from Wayne Dunlap, make up a brand new Lorenz. The Rifle Shoppe is working on a breech and breech plug which will be compatible with Bobby Hoyt's barrel making operation. Greg Edington, who represents Rifle Shoppe products to the N-SSA, hopes to work with Hoyt to get an N-SSA approved barrel as soon as possible.

Most Rifle Shoppe parts are unfinished, and need some skilled amateur or professional gunsmithing work to polish, fit and, where necessary, harden them. The company provides a list of gunsmiths who are prepared to do lock and component assembly work on its parts. Even parts used for restoration on an original Lorenz have to be hand fitted, as the guns were, like Birmingham Enfields, "hand made" arms without interchangeable parts. Unlike a London Armory Enfield or a US Springfield, it was never possible to just pop a part in on a Lorenz.

Other Civil War era offerings from the Rifle Shoppe include some parts for the 1853-1874 Sharps rifles and the Burnside and Starr carbines, and Greg Edington informs me that more are planned for the future.

Tom Neigebauer is still hard at work making his new Gibbs reproduction Whitworth shoot to its true potential, and I recently received a communication from Tom with his latest update. His most recent experiments involve three bullet molds; the Lee .45-70 hollow base (copy of the original .45-70 bullet) sized to .459 and then swaged in the hexagonal swage available from Gibbs, the Rapine 451500 sized to .451 and the Rapine 460510, also swaged. Tom is casting his slugs from roof vent flashing, which is quite soft. His bullets are lubed with SPG and fired ahead of charges of 75 and 100 grains of FFG and 100 grains of FG powder. The results have been quite interesting and Tom says he would like to share the information rather than "sit on it," so I am passing it on.

The Lee bullet hits point of impact at 100 yards with a dead on hold and gets three inch groups at that range. At 200 yards, however, this projectile, which Tom finds the easiest to swage, opens up groups to twelve inches.

The Rapine 451500, sized and lubed to .451 but not swaged, proved the easiest slug to load and shoots "about a 5 to 6 inch group" at 100 yards, but is very erratic at 200 yards. This is most likely due to poor bullet obturation, as only the bullet base expands when the gun is fired and the rest of the bullet "floats" down the barrel, not engaging the bore. Accuracy at 100 yards improved dramatically with a harder alloy and two .50 caliber Wonder Wads between the bullet base and a 100 grain charge of FFG, which resulted in a 3 to 4 inch group.

Tom had his best luck with Rapine 460500, swaged to hexagonal shape. This Rapine bullet has a longer bearing surface on the bore than the others, a critical factor in long range accuracy. Although Neigebauer did not shoot for group with this load, he easily hit a 12 inch steel plate at 200 yards with every shot.

Tom, who is working with Rapine in hopes of developing a bullet mold which will exploit the Whitworth's accuracy to its fullest, planned to try out his gun at ranges of 300 and 500 yards in late November. He had hollowed out the bases of some Rapine 460500 bullets with a Dremel tool and was eager to try them out. In his last communication to me he stated that he is "100% sure that a 2 inch group at 200 yards is possible." With such an assiduous shooter and experimenter on the case, I'm sure it is too. When he arrives at perfection, I will let you know.

1998 by Joe Bilby

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