Books and Grenades

I've recently become aware of a remarkable set of books of deep interest to all students of the history and performance of antique arms. I became aware of the series while talking to John Jenkins, resident token Englishman in my N-SSA unit, the 69th New York. John, as previously reported in these pages, is, among other things, an avid Brunswick rifle buff. The Brunswick, a percussion gun that replaced the flintlock Baker rifle in British regular service in 1840, and subsequently in the East India Company's private army, was issued in both back action and conventional lock style. It was also made in Belgium for the Russian and, no doubt, other armies. Surviving records indicate that some Brunswicks were imported and used, to a limited extent, in the Civil War.

The Brunswick rifle's most notable characteristic is, to American eyes at least, its rather odd, two grooved rifling, designed for a belted round ball. Some Brunswicks, most notably those of Russian issue, fired a heavy "winged" bullet style projectile. This style of rifling and projectile was not unique to the Brunswick, and is seen in a number of sporting rifles of the period, including monster 4 bore guns favored by the likes of African hunter and explorer Sir Samuel Baker. Although they are not designed for it, John has gotten reasonable accuracy out of his Brunswicks using a conventional minie ball design.

But I digress. Our conversation shifted from Brunswicks to smoothbore musket accuracy and John advised me of David Harding's four volume "Smallarms of the East India Company, 1600-1856." I know John to be an astute scholar of 19th century arms, and his enthusiasm convinced me I had to have Harding's work, a lack I soon satisfied.

The first two volume set includes "Procurement and Design" and "Catalog of Patterns" and the second "Ammunition and Performance" and "The Users and their Smallarms," totaling over 2,000 pages. To be brief, I have never seen such a comprehensive and readable treatment of historical firearms and their ammunition of interest on so many levels -- to collectors, shooters and historians. My favorite volume is "Ammunition and Performance," which provides comprehensive and solid information on actual weapons performance based on period tests. One of Harding's most interesting conclusions is that the smoothbore musket, when properly loaded using the British method of pouring the powder down the muzzle before ramming the ball and cartridge paper atop it, created what was essentially a sabot. This method increased the accuracy of the smoothbore enough so that it was effective on mass formations up to 200 yards away.

David Harding's readable style, clear graphs and comprehensive command of the firearm literature and records of the period make for an outstanding work, which is an absolute must for any student of the era. De Witt Bailey, no mean scholar of British arms himself, praised Harding's work as "unsurpassed."

"Smallarms of the East India Company" isn't cheap, (Vols. I & II are $244, Vols. III and IV are $255) but if you're as curious about guns of the past as I am, you simply have to have it. For more information contact Foresight Books, PO Box 15061, London, N10, 2WF, UK (email david.harding@virgin.net)


Those interested in the offbeat in reproduction ordnance will probably want to take a look at the new Ketchum grenades offered by Arcy's Civil War Goods (6105 Hunter's Glen Drive, Plainsboro, NJ 08536. 609-936-0406 email arcy47@aol.com). According to Arcy proprietor Rick Cromwell, his replica "collector grade" Ketchums come packaged in an instant dark cherry display box with felt lining and schematic/info card under the lid. "Reenactor grade" grenades are available in an amber shellacked basswood copy of the original factory box with a Carhart, Needham and Co. replica manufacturer's label. Cromwell made his replicas from direct measurements and soft clay impressions taken form original grenades loaned to him by collectors and personal inspection visits to the US Army Aberdeen Proving Ground Museum.

Each Arcy replica comes with a reprint of the original arming directions, a flier on Civil War grenades and a copy of the Ketchum patent drawings. All of Arcy's grenades are solid aluminum sand castings, complete with wooden sticks, fins, detonator bushings and a plunger assembly. They are inert, and incapable of being used as real grenades. Parts are also available to "restore" original Ketchums. All parts are clearly marked (c) 1999 ARCY'S to protect collectors.

These reproduction grenades, which are, buy the way, all US made, are available directly from Mr. Cromwell or from several sutlers, including The Regimental Quartermaster.