National Skirmish Notes and News

The 91st National North-South Skirmish is now over, and they just seem to keep gettin bigger and bigger (as in longer and longer). Why ten years ago, a skirmisher could show up on Friday afternoon and shoot six individual targets - two each of revolver, musket and carbine -- and still shoot with the carbine, musket and artillery teams. It used to wear me out! Nowadays, we shoot Henrys and smoothbores, revolver teams, and mortars, plus all the other stuff. So here I am, older, sorer and poorer after another National Skirmish. This skirmish seemed to stretch the envelope a little more then others. There was a time, at least once everyday, when it really seemed like the staff of the skirmish was overwhelmed by the tasks at hand. We did get a break Sunday afternoon when the loudspeaker cut off, or we liked to never get out of there. Hopefully. as our Nationals keep growing, we can devise a better system to hold skirmishes or add more and more staff to assist. Don't get me wrong, pardner, we had a good time, it was just a little rough, that's all.

One of the highlights of our participation in the 91st National N-SSA Skirmish was to be the first team to compete in the artillery competition with the oldest field-piece ever entered in an N-SSA competition. Through the good graces of a dear friend of the Chesapeake Artillery (Lars Curly of the 27th Virginia), we rolled a Fort Pitt Foundry 1827 6-pound smoothbore to the line on Saturday afternoon. This particular piece is old enough to have seen service in both the Mexican and Civil Wars! The 3.6 inch bore was a hungry devil, but the thrill of touching off such a rugged piece of American History was spectacular to say the least.

N-SSA regulations limit the amount of powder a cannon can use, and the limit is well below the service load of the 1860s (1820s, too). Most artillery pieces use zinc rather then lead projectiles to try to improve performance with the required light loads. We also used a zinc projectile to try to increase the projectile to powder ratio from 6:1 to about 4:1 (Zinc is about 66% the molecular density of lead). As it was our first shoot with the Pitt, and we shot high alot, but the load and gun both showed potential. Given the chance, we hope to improve our performance in the future.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of any National Skirmish is the Sutler Row at Fort Shenandoah, and if you're a regular reader you know how much I appreciate the work that Mr. and Mrs. Groah have done down by the creek for the last year. Most of the shanties are gone, and the new buildings are a genuine treat. Every skirmisher should thank Bill Groah personally for everything he does as our caretaker at the Fort, and if you get the chance, I hope you will.

I couldn't wait to spend money this Skirmish, and Thursday afternoon found me pacing in front of many a vacant booth. I have been looking for a pair of authentic boots for at least a year, and I scored a great pair of size 11s at the Dixie Gun Works booth. I only paid half of what I thought I was gonna have to pay, and I wore 'em for four straight days with no blisters or complaints. I stopped by The Regimental Quartermaster a couple times, and I finally dropped a small stipend on an original Burnside Carbine action, complete with matching block, that Mr. Lomas was kind enough to part with. Then, it was across the way to Bill Osborne and Lodgewood Mfg for some original parts to complement my new project. My original plan was to eventually have the Burnside rebarelled by Bobby Hoyt, but closer inspection seems to indicate that the bore may be in very shootable condition, so now I'm gonna make it cough before I determine if it's terminal. I'm sure there is a story in this project, and I hope to share it with you in the not to distant future.

Speaking of carbines, it is about time somebody said something about the Navy Arms Smith Carbines - Cavalry and Artillery Model. I know too many skirmishers who have purchased these carbines and have not been the least bit satisfied. First, the cleanout screw on the bolster was under threaded, and, to their credit, Navy Arms repaired and/or replaced arms with this problem. Then comes another production problem, this time with the barrels on most Navy Arms Smith Carbines. Smith Carbines are breech-loaders; they open at the breech and a cartridge is inserted, rather then loading the shot down the muzzle. It appears that the problem with the Navy Arms Smith is that the bore is wider at the muzzle then it is at the breech - exactly the opposite of the way it should be. Competent gunsmiths have known for centuries that a bore with a smaller diameter at the muzzle then at the breech improves accuracy. The reverse, as in the Navy Arms Smith, allows the bullet to roll off-center while still in the barrel! After leaving the barrel, the projectile will often tumble, not a characteristic of an accurate arm, to say the least. I know more then a few individuals who have purchased a Navy Arms Smith Carbine and have not been satisfied. Two members of my own team each purchased Navy Arms Smiths, and both ended up having the barrel relined by Bobby Hoyt. Mr. Hoyt is so busy nowadays, it may take you up to a year to get your job finished.

O.K., there, I said it. Something is desperately wrong with these carbines. What can you do? Well, the problem has been around at least a year, and the N-SSA Executive Board hasn't done anything about it. Granted, some of these "clubs" (they aren't accurate enough to be termed "weapons") are purchased by reenactors who don't ever plan to shoot live ammo. And these consumers may be satisfied. But the average purchaser at Fort Shenandoah is probably a shooter, and last month in their booth Navy Arms was selling dozens of "used" Smiths "as-is" in an obvious attempt to recoup some of their loss. Selling a gun as "used" and in "as-is" condition when you know the piece is suspect, at best, isn't horse-trading, it's horse stealing! Now more then ever, Caveat Emptor.

I sincerely hope that the folks at Navy Arms will come up with a decent solution and stop compounding the problem by reselling guns that were returned. At the National, I witnessed Navy Arms personnel who were issuing rebates to dissatisfied Smith purchasers. Navy Arms will apparently refund up to $125 of the purchase price of your Smith if you are steadfast and sure in your belief that you have a screwed up bore.

Warm weather means skirmishing and shooting, and I hope everyone has a chance to get out this summer and enjoy the atmosphere of a good skirmish. Until the next time, shoot safe and have fun.

(C) 1995 Tom Kelley
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