Brunswick Rifle and New Books

I would like to offer an apology to the New Jersey Civil War Historical Association (NJCWHA) and any readers familiar with the organization confused by my reference to the NJCWHA Annual Meeting in last month's column. I wrote the column in January and mis-typed the date of the meeting as March 18. It was actually held on March 28. In order to reconcile the contradictions in my text referring to it as a future date with the incorrect date I typed, Civil War News staff apparently edited the tense of the event to past. Any errors were entirely my own. I would also like to note that the information number for the organization has been changed to 1-888-303-0722. You can visit the NJCWHA website at

The meeting was, by the way, quite fruitful. The fledgling organization elected its first permanent board of trustees, of which I am privileged to be a member, received reports from its various committees and donations of $1,000 from the 15th New Jersey Volunteers, $100 from the Trenton Elks and $500 from the Sons of Union Veterans (SUV).

The SUV donation, presented by SUV Department of New Jersey Commander Michael R. Horgan Jr., will serve as seed money for the publication of a full color New Jersey flag poster similar to that issued as a fund raiser the Michigan Civil War battle flags project. It is anticipated that the poster will be available for purchase as the summer reenactment season gets into full swing.

A representative sampling of ersatz Irishmen from my N-SSA unit, the 69th New York, traveled down to Fort Shenandoah, outside Winchester, VA for the 25th annual "Snowball Skirmish." Although it didn't snow, the skies sprinkled a bit, but not enough to ruin a splendid shoot. The Snowball provides a winter weary N-SSA member an opportunity to meet old friends for a laid back shoot which contrasts with the frenetic activity evident at the Spring Nationals.

The opportunity to shoot an original Brunswick rifle provided a personal highlight of the skirmish for me. Imported in small numbers in the first year of the Civil War, the .70 caliber Brunswick, issued to British riflemen prior to the advent of the P53 Enfield, is a relative rarity in this country.

The Brunswick I fired was even rarer than the usual version of that rifle. The gun in question was manufactured in Belgium in the 1850s for the Russian government. Although replete with tsarist markings, this Belgian Brunswick is a virtual clone of the original British gun, save for its rear sight, which is, oddly enough, a Colt design. The Colt sight is also seen on old American flintlock smoothbore muskets converted to percussion, rifled and sold to the Russians as the Colt Model 1854 rifled musket.

The sight was patented by Colt in England in 1856, but the Model 1854 guns were apparently converted in Hartford in 1855. Details on the Colt Russian contract and the sight are provided in Herbert G. Houze's excellent Colt Rifles & Muskets from 1847 to 1870 (Iola WI: Krause Publications, 1996). It appears that the Russians liked the sight and had the Belgians use it on the Brunswick.

The Brunswick was the property of John Jenkins of the 69th New York, who resides in Britain. John, who has a fine collection of original British percussion rifles and muskets, brought his Brunswick over to shoot at the Snowball as an experiment in navigating the increasingly ponderous British firearms bureaucracy. Although things got a bit sticky on the British end when John was leaving home, all worked out well. We in the 69th hope to see John and his collection over here permanently soon, however!

Like most Brunswicks, the Belgian made gun has a two groove barrel, with the muzzle notched to accept a unique "belted" round ball. For easier loading and shooting, however, John used a minie ball adapted from a modified Rapine .69 caliber wadcutter bullet, loaded ahead of 70 grains of GOEX FFG. As long as we held well, the rifle shot well. I had three bullet holes cutting each other at 50 yards on my individual target before flinching the last two rounds out of the group -- the Brunswick speaks with authority on both ends! If you're planning to have a stake event at your Mid-Atlantic shoot this summer -- beware the Brunswick!

There are several new gun books of interest to the Civil War community available this spring, one of which is actually an old classic. William B. Edwards' Civil War Guns has been out of print for many years and original copies command a premium price at Civil War and gun shows. Civil War Guns is a pioneering work and I treasure my 1962 dated first edition. Reading Edwards' book as a kid fostered my interest in Civil War firearms and planted a seed which led to the eventual publication of my own work, Civil War Firearms.

So it is with great pleasure that I report that Civil War Guns is back in print from Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, PA .

Bill Edwards has had a fascinating firearms oriented career. During the 1950s he was involved in the importation of surplus military arms, served as editor of Gun Digest, technical editor of Guns magazine and authored both The Story of Colt's Revolver and Civil War Guns.

We in the reenactment and skirmishing communities owe Bill Edwards for more than his excellent editorial, research and writing skills, however. Edwards was one of the prime movers in the effort to produce and sell reproduction Civil War era firearms. His association with the Belgian arms trade in Liege in the 1950s resulted in, among other products, the Centennial Arms Colts, some of the finest reproduction revolvers ever made. Bill is still alive and well and living in Virginia. If you see him at a Civil War or gun show autographing copies of Civil War Guns, don't hesitate to get yourself an autographed copy of the book that started it all -- from the man who started it all!

George A. Layman is out with yet another book on black powder breech loaders. This time Layman has turned his attention to the Ballard in his A Guide to the Ballard Breech loader, recently published by Pioneer Press.

The Ballard was designed by Charles H. Ballard of Worcester, Massachusetts, patented in November, 1861, and first manufactured in 1862. Over 15,000 Ballards, over half the number ever made, were produced by Ball and Williams of Worcester (some were also made by R. Ball & Co. of Worcester and Dwight, Chapin & Co. of Bridgeport, CT) between 1862 and 1865 and marketed by the Merwin and Bray Company of New York City. Of these, about half went to the civilian market and half to state military contracts, particularly the state of Kentucky.

Ballards were made in .38, .44 and .46 rimfire. In 1864, buyers were offered an optional breechblock with a percussion nipple, enabling the gun to be used as a muzzle loader in a pinch. Some shooters have converted their rimfire breechblocks to centerfire and the .45 Colt cartridge. Success with these conversion has varied, and one I have fired produced indifferent accuracy.

The Ballard, with its rimfire cartridges and manual ejector to remove empty cases, was a technically advanced breech loading arm when compared with capping breech loaders like the Sharps or Burnside. Not everyone was happy with the gun, however, and Lieutenant Granville C. West of the 4th Kentucky Mounted Infantry complained of the "utter worthlessness" of his men's Ballards on August 19, 1864. West went on to declare that, "A great many became entirely useless during the action; some bursted from firing, others becane useless by the springs, which threw out the old cartridge, getting out of fix."

Be that as it may, the Ballard survived the war, became a popular hunting and target rifle and, in more sophisticated calibers, endured into the 1890s, a record no other Civil War breech loader could boast. George Layman's book, the first ever, to my knowledge, on this famed gun, provides the whole story of the Ballard and is amply illustrated with photos of actual guns and excerpts from period catalogs.

Another publication of interest to skirmishers, reenactors and historians alike is the reprint of Major Calhoun Benham's A System for Conducting Musketry Instruction Prepared and Printed by Order of General Bragg for the army of Tennessee, originally printed in Richmond in 1863. Benham was an officer on General Patrick Cleburne's staff, and the manual details the training methods Cleburne used to develop his command into the best shooting division in either army during the Civil War. A System for Conducting Musketry Practice..., with an informative introduction by yours truly, is available for $5.95 plus $1.00 shipping and handling from J. W. Henry Publishing, PO Box 1501, Ashburn, VA 20146-1501. J. W. Henry is the publisher of the Si Klegg reprint.

1998 by Joe Bilby

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