N-SSA Elections, Whitworth Scam and a New Website

Congratulations are due to the new slate of North-South Skirmish Association (N-SSA) national officers elected at the Fall 2000 Nationals, including Commander Earl J. "Jerry" Coates, Deputy Commander Charles Smithgall, Paymaster Ray Beadling, Adjutant John Robey and Inspector General Dave Booze. The organization faces the 21st century with tried and true management at the helm. Coates, nationally known for his preservationist work as president of the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg and also as an arms and uniform historian, is a former N-SSA commander, as is Robey, who, along with Booze, is serving his second term in his current office.

Like his fellow officers, Deputy Commander Smithgall is an experienced N-SSA leader, who has served for many years as national artillery officer and commander of the association's Mid-Atlantic Region. Charlie, a prominent cannon collector who has served as a consultant to numerous film and television productions, coordinated the artillery for the movie "Gettysburg" and is known far and wide for his ordnance support of "1812 Overture" performances. He owns a pharmacy in Lancaster, PA and is also the town's mayor.

Mayor Smithgall turned detective recently, and his extensive knowledge of antique firearms led to the prompt solution of a crime involving the theft of some valuable guns. In mid-August, he was advised that four historically important Lancaster made firearms, including three flintlock Pennsylvania long rifles and a percussion pistol, were missing from the Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County. Charlie, convinced the thieves would try to sell the guns, immediately advised the Kentucky Rifle Association and Maryland and Pennsylvania gun collector organizations of the theft. Shortly afterward, he was advised via a cell phone call of the location of one gun, a J. Dickert rifle made in Lancaster in 1782, and notified the Lancaster police.

The trail Mayor Smithgall set them on led detectives to Michael John Williams and Sheila Knapp of Lower Paxton Township, PA, both of whom were subsequently arrested, arraigned and jailed. All four guns were recovered, and the story received front-page coverage in the August 23, 2000 Lancaster Journal.

I have two questions. Is there a TV series about a crime-busting mayor in this? Do I get to play Charlie, or does Mel Gibson get that role? Time alone will tell.


Whitworth and Confederate collectors beware! There's a counterfeit Confederate sharpshooter's rifle on the market. The gun is an original Whitworth, serial number B376, and it is equipped with a telescopic sight in what at first glance appears to be, but is not, an original Davidson side mount.

British Whitworth historian William S. Curtis' Whitworth Research Team initially encountered the rifle at the Baltimore gun show in March 2000. According to Curtis, the gun "was then an absolutely typical Military Match in Whitworth's "Best" configuration, confirming to the standard form of all "Best" marked rifles. It did not have either a telescope or the markings for one."

At some time over the next three months, the rifle was altered by having a telescopic sight mounted and the "Best" marking removed from its trigger guard and replaced by the "2nd Quality" marking seen on Whitworths imported by the Confederacy. According to Curtis, "the rifle bears no resemblance whatsoever to Whitworths "2nd Quality" rifles and bears a serial number from well before the first appearance of this series."

The gun, in its original configuration worth about $10,000, has apparently changed hands several times since it was altered, at prices ranging from $17,000 to $25,000. If you should come across it or any other Whitworth you need information on, it is advisable to contact Mr. Curtis at wsc@wscurtis-books.demon.co.uk .


Long range muzzle loading rifle shooters now have their own e-mail mailing list, provided by David Minshall, the British shooter and researcher who has maintained Research Reference Notes, (http://www.rrnotes.co.uk/), one of the best sources of esoteric information on 19th century firearms on the World Wide Web. The list, at http://www.egroups.com/group/lrml, counts many of the top long range muzzle loading shooters on both sides of the Atlantic as subscribers, and is a great place to acquire cutting edge technical, as well as little known historical, knowledge of this growing sport.

David is also involved in a new publishing project, Research Press, which you may visit at http://www.researchpress.co.uk/. The company specializes in reprinting rare 19th century firearms literature. Its first effort is The Small Arms of European Armies, by U.S. Inspector of Ordnance W. W. Kimball, USN. Originally published in 1889, Small Arms provides an illustrated overview of the introduction of the magazine rifle in Europe in the late 19th century. Rifles illustrated and discussed include Mannlicher, Remington-Keene, Hotchkiss, Mauser, Kropatschek, Lee, Vetterli and Franklin. Kimball's writing is informative and amusing, and includes such gems as the following reference to the Martini-Henry single shot rifle. "An English officer informed the writer that the practice [of issuing heavy recoiling rifles] was a great aid to gallantry in battle in South Africa, for 'when a fellow has been so brutally pounded by his own rifle half a hundred times, he don't so much mind having an assegai as big as a shovel stuck through him; it's rather a relief, don't you know.'"

David's three pages of notes supplement the original text, adding valuable historical comment and context, which is rarely offered on a reprint edition. Retail price for the 28-page pamphlet with 15 illustrations is $6 postpaid to America. For further details, including ordering information, check out the Research Press website and/or contact David Minshall at dbm@researchpress.co.uk. Dealer and sutler inquires are welcomed.

2000 by Joe Bilby

return to homepage

go to Tony Beck index

go to Joe Bilby index

go to Tom Kelley index