The Shooters & Skirmishers Library

To paraphrase Blanche Dubois, I have always relied on the kindness of preceding researchers and writers. Almost from my beginning interest in shooting Civil War ordnance in 1976, I have sought out the previously written word. Over the years, as I became interested in obscure manufacturers of military arms or even more obscure offerings by recognized manufacturers (to name only a couple of my interests), I attempted to find books on the subjects first. Over the years since 1976, I have come to depended on a few books almost daily, and some books at least weekly, as I delve deeper into the topics concerning shooting and skirmishing.

My dictionary defines a library as "a repository for literary and artistic materials, such as books, periodicals, newspapers, pamphlets and prints kept for reading and refer- ence," and this is what I submit every skirmisher and shooter should develop for his or her own edification. By keeping and using a library of your personal design, you will find yourself more knowledgeable and, eventually, more conversant, on topics of interest to you as a person who competes with Civil War ordnance. Not that you have to know that the federal government purchased 55,000 Burnside Carbines, but that you know where to look to find out!

There are three volumes which I find are indispensable to the shooter and skirmisher. Putting one first, I would select Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms, by Norm Flayderman (DBI Books, Inc., Norfield,IL). If I was stuck on a desert isle with only one 50 yard range and one book, I would want a copy of Flayder- man's to be that book. This book is encyclopedic in content, well organized and well written. Flayderman's reputation is deservedly legendary. I can think of no class of Civil War ordnance interest -- collecting, history, et al - that would not benefit by mere osmosis from the inclusion of Flaydermans' Guide in your library.

Another well used book from my library, and the book most lent to friends, is Arms and Equipment of the Civil War (Doubleday & Co., Garden City NY), written and illustrated by Jack Coggins. More then any other book I know, Arms and Equip- ment accurately and succinctly describes the tactics and armaments of the armies and navies of the Civil War. Many is the neophyte enthusiast who relished the information in this book when they borrowed it; many procured copies for themselves. If I were teaching a course about the Civil War, I would include this book in the required textbook list. More then any other book in this list, it covers every military topic about the Civil War -- pontoon bridges, siege artillery, wagons, naval ships -- and every topic is covered well.

My triad of "must have" books is completed by the Dixie Gun Works Catalog (Dixie Gun Works, Union City, TN), published annually. I have purchased at least six different editions in the last eleven years -- at least I still have all or part of six editions. Forget the fact that the 700 pages in this book give you finger-tip access to thousands of products for the shooter and skirmisher; this publication is filled with TONS of fascinat- ing and/or interesting stuff. I often can find a fact I want to look-up or check in the DGW catalog. Every edition of The Catalog is filled with hundreds of photographs, not just of products, but also of parts. The Catalog is the yellow pages of skirmishing and reenacting; the place to begin your search for anything related to our endeavors. I keep extra copies to give to beginners, but those copies always come back when the rookies order up a current copy for themselves. In The Catalog, you can identify Pearl Ash (potassium carbonate), the Inspectors initials "EJF" (E. J. Frost) or serial numbers of known surviving Colt Walkers. At one time or the other, I have used The Catalog daily for weeks, be it for projects, writing or just plain reading. I still don't know why Mr. Kirkland issues a new edition every year -- I have never been able to completely read one in just 12 months. For the price, the Dixie Gun Works Catalog may be the best bargain in my top three.

I certainly have more than three books in my reference library, and I would recommend a few more. My definition for library included "periodicals and newspa- pers", and my next group of recommended references are, indeed, just that. First and foremost among any blackpowder shooting library periodical collection, including skirmishing, is Muzzleblasts, the monthly publication of the National MuzzleLoading Rifle Association (NMLRA, Friendship, IN). Muzzleblasts has it all. I have lent more issues of this periodical to more living history friends and acquaintances then any periodical I have ever acquired. Period. If you think you are a serious blackpowder competitor in any field, and you don't receive Muzzleblasts, you're only fooling your self, pardner. I can find historical and technical data in every issue of Muzzleblasts, and I mourn every issue not returned like a battlefield casualty. Get a copy today if you are unfamiliar with Muzzleblasts. The magazine is included with NMLRA membership which is presently $30.00 a year. Write the NMLRA at P.O. Box 67, Friendship, IN 47021 for membership or Muzzleblasts information. The magazine alone is worth the annual membership fee.

Another relished periodical in my library is The Civil War News. To paraphrase another wag, I find it difficult to recommend a periodical that would have me as a columnist, but all things considered, The News really is the best value for your money as a reenactor or skirmisher. The Civil War News publishes more then 1,000 pages a year of book reviews, reenactment news, living history news, preservation news, upcoming events and they even have established shooting columnist and noted author Joe Bilby on their staff! Any reader of The News knows that you only have to lend a friend or comrade one issue of The News to get them hooked. There has never been a periodical that rivals the coverage and in-depth reporting that The Civil War News gives to American History reenacting. Our group uses the events section of The News to plan our reenactment schedule for the year as well. I guess you can say if you don't get it, you're not going to find out about it either.

Good things really do come in threes, and my final recommended periodical is the recently improved publication of the N-SSA, The Skirmish Line. I was not always a fan of this bi-monthly periodical, but recent additions of a membership sound-off feature called "Recoil" and some excellent gun writing contributed by members of the N-SSA have made a vast improvement in the publication. Like Muzzleblasts, a subscription to The Skirmish Line is included in the annual membership of the N-SSA. If you know a member of the N-SSA, perhaps he or she will loan you a few of the recent issues so you can become familiar with this periodical as well. Non-member subscriptions are available for $12.00 a year from The Skirmish Line, 507 N. Brighton Ct., Sterling, VA 20164-3919.

One costly addition to a shooters' or skirmishers' library might be a multiple volume reference set. Again, I recommend three, but expense will probably limit the library builder to only one, depending on need. The most expensive, and alas, most recommended would be the Broadfoot Publication Company's (800-537-5243) reprint of The Official Record of The Rebellion. With original volumes now costing four figures each for some issues, a reprint is the only way to go. Broadfoot will also be offering the OR on CD-ROM in the near future, and I think they almost have me hooked. Broad- foot Publishing also is the source for my other reference set recommendations, The Confederate Military History and The Confederate Veteran. The CMH is published in state volumes, each originally published under the auspices of a surviving Rebel General and reprinted with expanded biographic sections. The CV is a collection of all the Confederate Veteran magazines published in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. My skirmishing pard "Gunner" Womelsdorf has a CV set and I own a CMH set, and we trade back and forth when researching. This is a great arrangement you might want to try with your own pards. Contact Broadfoot Publishing Company at 800-537-5243 for current availability and prices. All Broadfoot books are museum quality editions which will last for a couple of lifetimes.

These books or periodicals conclude my recommended nucleus of a skirmish- ing/shooting library. From this point, each individual library should be customized to suit the needs and neuroses of the library's creator. A collector would certainly want to include Francis A. Lords' Civil War Collector's Encyclopedia. Artillerists would want to acquire a reprint of Instruction for Field Artillery; French, Barry and Hunt, 1861, Greenwood Press, New York, NY. Civilian reenactors would certainly be interested in the diaries from the Civil War, and I recommend two; A Diary From Dixie, Mary Chestnut, 1905, Appleton and Co., New York, NY; and The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman, Sarah Morgan, Charles East, Ed., 1991, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 10020. Because I value memoirs and diaries as windows into the past, I would also like to recommend a recent addition to my personal library, The Memoirs of William Nelson Pendleton, Susan P. Lee, 1893 and 1991, Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, VA. Mrs. Lee was Pendleton's youngest daughter, and the book is an excellent look at the entire Civil War and Reconstruction Eras.

I have enjoyed opening my library up to our readers, and I hope you have found a title or two which will increase your enjoyment of an already rewarding avocation. So, until the next time, read something, shoot safe and have fun.

(C) 1996 Tom Kelley
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