Primary Sources, & An Old/New Bullet.

This month's installment in our irregular series on sources of Civil War firearm information will deal with extracting primary source data from a printed secondary source. It will also lift us out of our usual eastern geographic haunts and drop us down astride the Santa Fe Trail, between the town of the same name and Fort Union, in early 1862 a beleaguered Yankee bastion in northeastern New Mexico.

Our sleuthing has its origins in a new account of the climactic battle of Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley's invasion of the Yankee Southwest. Sibley, designer of the famous tipi style tent of the same name, was a mercurial officer with delusions of grandeur. In an attempt to realize those flights of fancy, he organized and led a brigade of Texans into New Mexico in late 1861, hoping, it appears, to eventually conquer the Colorado gold fields and then California. Afflicted by illness, alcoholism or both, however, Sibley largely abandoned command of the force to his subordinates early in the campaign.

After eking out a marginal victory at Valverde on February 21, 1862, Sibley's Texans bypassed the still dangerous Federal garrison at Fort Craig, then occupied Albuquerque and the territorial capital, Santa Fe. While the Confederate commander remained in Albuquerque, part of his force, led by Lieutenant Colonel William R. Scurry of the 4th Texas Mounted Volunteers, pushed north on the Santa Fe Trail towards Fort Union. Scurry's force of over 1,200 men encountered 800 Federal regulars and Colorado Volunteers marching towards Santa Fe. After a preliminary skirmish at Apache Canyon, the two sides clashed in Glorietta Pass at Pigeon's Ranch on March 28.

Since camping in the vicinity of the Glorietta battlefield in the early 1970s, I have been an aficionado of the quixotically improbable Sibley expedition, and have several edited memoirs of participants in my library. I recently acquired Don Albert's book The Battle of Glorietta: Union Victory in the West (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 1998), which will stand as the definitive account of the fight at Pigeon's Ranch for the foreseeable future. In completing his study, Alberts used a large number of primary sources, as well as on the ground research and archeological techniques to establish Union and Confederate positions during the course of the battle.

Firearms research material in Glorietta comes from both documentary and archeological sources. In the former category is an interesting Federal account of the arms confiscated from captured members of the irregular Confederate "Brigands" or "Santa Fe Gamblers" scout company. The scouts were heavily armed. One Colorado "Pike's Peaker" wrote, "We took from the four men nine good Colts revolvers and four splendid Maynard rifles."

Other Texans carried multiple handguns as well. A Colorado private looted two ivory stocked Colt handguns from the body of Major John S. Shropshire of the 5th Texas, who was killed in the attack on "Artillery Hill" on the Union left during the battle. Thanks to archeology, we are sure they were Navy models. When Confederate bodies were disinterred for reburial in 1987, Alberts found the disintegrated remains of a box of .36 caliber Colt cartridges in Shropshire's shirt pocket.

There are a number of other interesting ordnance tidbits in the book, including information that some of the Texans were armed with Bowie knives and actually used them in a hand to hand fight with the men of Company C of the 1st Colorado Volunteers. Aside from providing these fascinating ordnance insights, and establishing the importance of ordnance archeology in determining the course of a battle, Mr. Alberts' book is a great read, and well worth your attention.


Greg Edington, who has had a number of supplier ups and downs getting his Lorenz rifle kit project off the ground over the past year or so, is still working to get the final details correct. Another part of Greg's "Lorenz Project" is, however, completed and ready for shipping. Greg has .54 caliber Wilkinson bullet molds in stock. They cast a .540 diameter original style slug for the Austrian rifle musket. Unlike the Minie ball, the Wilkinson bullet, initially designed by a British Army officer of the same name, does not have a hollow base to aid in expansion, even thought it is under bore diameter. The solid base (and easier to cast) Wilkinson depends on its deep grooves for expansion, almost like an accordion. Thumping the seated bullet with a ramrod initiates this process and can expand the bullet up to .005. The explosion of the powder charge completes it. Although original Austrian bullets were lubricated with a paper patch, the grooves also serve admirably as grease grooves. Early reports from the field indicate that the bullet works best with a soft lube mixture, which does not hinder expansion.

Greg promised me some samples to try, but I lack a .54 caliber military gun. He sized some bullets down to .533 so that I could use them in my old Pennsylvania rifle, which generally takes a patched .530 round ball. Thus armed, I went off to the range. On the surface, everything seemed to conspire against the Wilkinson balls performing well. The Bill Large barrel on my rifle has deep cut rifling, which mitigates against the effectiveness of any elongated expanding bullet, and the gun's wooden ramrod doesn't have the heft to provide any significant expansion through ramming.

Nonetheless, results were rather interesting. Out of five rounds fired, using a 50-grain charge of Goex FFFG at 50 yards on a standard N-SSA target, two were in the 10x ring, one in the 9 ring and two keyholed outside the scoring rings. This performance indicated to me that when the Wilkinson slug was able to engrave and stabilize even slightly on the deep round ball 1:48 twist rifling, it shot very well indeed.

Original Wilkinson molds may be found (especially in Britain) in every imaginable sporting and military caliber, as they were popular projectiles in the 1850s and 1860s. Greg's easily sized .54 Wilkinson should prove effective in the new Dixie Gun Works Lorenz Jaeger rifle and Wuerttemburg rifle-musket as well as original Austrian .54 caliber guns. To purchase one, send a check or money order for $44.95 payable to Greg Edington to Bridesburg Armoury, C/O Greg Edington, 3165 Maplewood Avenue, Springfield Township, Ohio, 45505-1511. Greg may be contacted by email at gedington@prodigy.net