Strolling Down Sutler's Row

I write these lines after returning from the N-SSA's 84th National Skirmish at Fort Shenandoah, near Winchester, Virginia. This year's Fall National was more satisfying than usual for my own unit, the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry, which took second place in Division III competition. The medals we won were the first National awards the team captured since it was founded fourteen years ago.

You can get in all the shooting you want at a National, but socializing with people you haven't seen for months and checking out new shooting products is an important part of the overall Fort Shenandoah experience. A stroller down sutler's row sees many familiar reenactment vendors, with prints, books, uniforms, leather goods, accessories and "Emasculate A Developer" T shirts for sale, but it is the dealers in antique and reproduction firearms and parts that provide a Civil War gun buff's dream.

I always make a quick socializing run through Sutler's Row before settling down to the business of seriously surveying the new gun offerings. After picking up some percussion caps from Regimental Quartermaster George Lomas, I stopped to see Hank and Janet Kluin, proprietors of F. Burgess & Co (200 Pine Place, Red Bank, N.J. 07701 Catalog - $3). Back on Sutler's Row after a brief absence, Burgess offers a line of impeccably high quality reproduction Civil and Indian War cavalry leather goods as well as a wide variety of insignia, accessories and the best damn campaign hats in the business. (They shed water like the proverbial duck.) Hank has several new items this year, including a museum quality 1858 forage cap from the shop of master military hatter Paul Smith.

Amenities concluded, it was time to check out firearms and related equipment. My first stop was the Winchester Sutler. Proprietors Tom and Alice Hunger, (Dept. CWN, Box 1000, Winchester, Virginia 22601. Catalog $3) profiled in this publication several issues back, maintain a permanent edifice at Fort Shenandoah. The Winchester Sutler retails all types of Civil War gear, including uniforms, belt buckles, uniforms, haversacks, and cartridge boxes. The Hungers also sell reproduction guns and parts, as well as ramrods, sight paint, cleaning rods, patches and brushes, cartridge tubes for muskets and pistols, bullet moulds and sizing dies. Sometimes it is advisable to experiment with several different weights, diameters and styles of minie balls before buying a mold. If you want to try this, check out the Winchester Sutler for a variety of cast minie balls.

Nick Brevoort and Larry C. Gollahon stock original and reproduction parts for muskets and carbines in the "Gator Den." Nick's specialty is muskets (Dept CWN 607 Eversole Road, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45230. List - SASE.) and he catalogs almost every part shooters need to assemble custom guns. Brevoort's inventory includes a number of esoteric items, including U.S. Model 1855 and Mississippi rifle "long range" sights, reproduction Model 1855 tape primer doors, C.S. Richmond and Fayetteville locks, brass bands for Palmetto rifles and assorted butt plates, springs, sears, stocks and forestocks for a variety of guns, the latter useful for restoring "sporterized" muskets. Larry (5725 Wayside Aveune, Cincinnati, Ohio 45230 List - SASE) specializes in reproduction Smith and Maynard carbine parts, all of which are machined to original specifications.

Rapine Bullet Mould Mfg. Co. (RD 1 Box 1119, Landis Lane, East Greenville, PA 18041. Catalog - $2.) now offers almost a hundred different designs for modern and antique military and civilian cartridges, as well as Civil War rounds. If you a need a bullet for your Spencer, Burnside, Sharps, Smith, Maynard, or Gallagher, Rapine has a mould for you. The company offers six styles of .58 caliber minie balls in a wide variety of diameters as well as a .69 caliber wadcutter minie. Rapine also sells a twenty pound capacity electric lead pot, sizing dies and a unique bullet press sizer.

Steve Jensco's (Jensco Restorations Inc., 1611 Granger Rd., Garfield Heights, Ohio 44125. No catalog)) table is always blanketed with interesting original and reproduction parts, stocks, cleaning rods and barrels. Several years ago I bought a shot out original 1861 rifle musket barrel from Jensco. Relined, it has proved an excellent shooter. Steve's specialty is replacement barrels for original Smith and Maynard carbines. Jensco eight land and groove barrels with a 1-72 twist are N-SSA approved, and Steve will fit his tube to a customer's original carbine. Jensco also sells N-SSA approved thirty three inch long rifle barrels and replacement stocks for rifles, muskets and Smith carbines.

S&S Firearms (74-11 Myrtle Ave., Glendale, NY 11385. Catalog - $3) brings what appears to be a whole gun parts store to the National. S&S, headquartered in a permanent structure, displays a browser's delight of tray upon tray filled with antique gun parts, most of them original, as well as books, gunstocks, brass ramrods and other goodies from their catalog

Perhaps most exciting news at the National for me was the potential offering of a .69 caliber Model 1842 musket barrel by famed barrel maker Dan Whiteacre. (Whiteacre's Machine Shop, Box 209, MT. Falls RTE., Winchester, VA. 22601 List - SASE). Dan had a prototype on display, and told me that he will produce the barrel in both rifled and smoothbore versions, with a price in the $250 to $300 range, if enough shooters and/or reenactors express interest. Model 1842s were widely used, in their original form and converted to rifled muskets, during the Civil War. The barrels of many surviving muskets are heavily pitted inside and out, a condition which makes them inaccurate and even unsafe to shoot. Modern, well made barrels could breath some new life in the old warriors.

Availability of new barrels also opens the possibility of building new 1842 muskets, as there are a number of sawed off "junker" 1842s around which can be rebuilt. S&S has most of the parts needed to reconstruct an 1842, including original locks and reproduction walnut stocks. If you think you might be interested in a Model 1842 barrel, drop Steve Whiteacre a line. He'd like to hear from you. I've already put my name on his list.

There is other exciting news on the smoothbore musket front. Butch Winter of Dixie Gun Works advised me that Dixie will be introducing an exact reproduction of the .69 caliber U.S. Model 1816 musket. Dixie provided an original 1816 in fine condition to well known Italian gunmaker Davide Pedersoli and expects to market an exact reproduction sometime next year. Rumor has it that a percussion conversion may become available down the road. I would like to see a copy of the Civil War era Hewes & Phillips rifled version of the 1816 conversion as well. It would be interesting to see a team armed with rifled Model 1816s or Whiteacre barreled 1842s loaded with Rapine .69 caliber wadcutter minie balls cut loose in a stake event at a regional skirmish. If the Dixie 1816 is as good a gun as the 1861 rifle musket the company currently sells, it will be worth waiting for. Three of the eight guns our medal winning team fielded at the National were Dixie Model 1861 Springfields.

There may be a more of a Civil War enthusiast market for plain smoothbores than meets the eye. During the first two years of the war most soldiers on both sides carried smoothbores, including Model 1816s in both original flintlock configuration and converted to percussion ignition. Model 1842 smoothbores loaded with "buck and ball" loads were favored by the Irish Brigade and other units, including the 12th New Jersey, throughout the conflict. Many Confederate outfits, most notably at Shiloh, were armed with flintlock 1816s. A reenactor creating an early war impression would be authentically equipped with either a flintlock or percussion smoothbore. Some already are. I spotted a Confederate reenactor carrying an original 1842 at the recent reenactment at Freehold, New Jersey.

Although a proposal to introduce smoothbore individual competition in the N-SSA seems to have been shelved, the organization has long permitted smoothbores, loaded with a single projectile, in team competition. The smoothbore's relative inaccuracy, needless to say, makes it less than a favorite with skirmishers.

Until this last National, I don't ever recall seeing a smoothbore on the line, although Sutler Danny Kane of the 69th did shoot a smoothbore at a National before I joined the team. There are some shooters, however, who like to stretch the shooting envelope backwards. Several such stalwarts belong to the 20th Connecticut, an N-SSA unit which not only dresses authentically, but sleeps under period canvas. Three members of the 20th, Tom Riemer, Mark Riemer and Lynn Bull shouldered original smoothbores for the 1991 Fall Nationals. Tom fired a model 1816 conversion while Lynn and Mark shot Model 1842s.

The Connecticut boys loaded 63 grains of FFG powder behind round balls in Dixie Gun Works plastic cartridge tubes. Tom, Mark and Lynn pressed .682 round balls into the tubes and then spooned melted lubricant on top of them. The balls were rammed down musket barrels lubricant side first. A post skirmish interview revealed uneven results, although, almost incredibly, Tom Riemer hit four 3" clay pots with five shots in the final event.

Perhaps it is not so incredible, as muzzle loaders in other fields, including buckskinners and National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association shooters, have been successfuly shooting smoothbore trade guns and muskets for years. Nineteenth century experiments in both France and the United States revealed that the larger the ball in relation to bore diameter, the better the accuracy of a smoothbore musket. Despite this, U. S. musket cartridges were loaded with .64 and .65 caliber balls (unlubricated) for easier loading.

My own tests show .69 caliber muskets loaded with "buck and ball," to be as effective as .58 caliber rifle muskets on N-SSA style breakable targets, including cans and clay birds, at fifty yards. Buck and ball, however, is not a legal load in N-SSA competition.

There are a few regional skirmishes following the Fall National, but most of us will rack up our muskets, except for practice when the weather permits, until the spring. It's time to tune a lock, glass bed a new stock, cast some minies and read a few good books before the fire. I've also got an old Model 1842 with a bad barrel to take out of the closet and inspect.

Until next time....

1991 by Joe Bilby

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