Thanks, Politics and New Dixie Catalog

First of all this month, I would like to publicly thank the Veterans' Corps of the 69th New York and the Irish Brigade Association for the dinner and ceremonies attendant upon my reception of the William "Wild Bill" Donovan award for excellence in Military Literature on the evening of December 7, 1996. Barney Kelly, Charlie Laverty and Liam Murphy outdid themselves. The weather was horrible that night, yet there was a good turnout, testifying to the dedication of the members and admirers of one of the finest fighting regiments in the history of the U. S. Army -- the 69th New York.

I was especially impressed with my first ever "piping in" to the mess by the regimental piper and the privilege of mixing the "regimental punch" in the 69th's 19th century Tiffany punch bowl.. The foot artillery sword, (the 69th militia was originally a heavy artillery regiment), engraved placque and Ron Tunison bust of "himself" (General Thomas Francis Meagher) that I received are now ensconced in honored places in my home. A bonus of the evening was the tour of the historic 69th Regiment armory and its collections conducted by regimental historian Lt. Col Kenneth Powers.


As you may recall from last month's column, I mentioned the e-mail message I sent to the office of President Clinton prior to the election. In it, I identified myself as a historian and columnist for The Civil War News and requested the president's views on several issues of importance to skirmishers, reenactors and other black powder shooters.

Included among my queries were the administration's views on classifying muzzle and breech loading black powder firearms in relation to other firearms in any future legislative proposals as well as the already proposed addition of "taggants" to black powder. Previous tests of available taggants, theoretically designed to identify explosive residue at a bombing site as to manufacturer and (less likely) sales source, suggest possible safety and quality problems for shooters.

Although it seems unlikely at this juncture that current Federal attempts to restrict firearms ownership will affect the ownership of black powder guns, except inadvertently, the powder itself is the focus of contemplated legislation. Should current proposals floating around in Washington become law, shooters, reenactors and living history participants in possession of untagged powder will become instant criminals. At the time I wrote last month's column, still prior to the election, I had not received a reply to my letter.

I now have a reply in hand. And it's just what I expected. The no doubt puzzled White House staffer who handled my query waited until after the election, then probably clicked on the "moderate gun nut" file in his computer. The letter I received, ostensibly (like his "book") written by Bill Clinton and signed by one of his auto-pens, did not address my concerns or questions at all. After thanking me "for sharing your thoughts about guns in our society," the letter went on to claim that the president "As a hunter since the age of 12," (completely untrue) is "sensitive to the legitimate rights of hunters, sportsmen and other gun owners and will not allow the infringement of these rights." In conclusion the letter trumpets the president's achievements with the Brady Bill, "assault rifle" ban, and such total irrelevancies as "school uniforms and truancy programs, drug and crime prevention efforts."

Unfortunately, the president's ghost writer makes no attempt to define what the "legitimate rights" of "hunters, sportsmen and other gun owners" are. Equally unfortunate, I doubt anyone in the White House gives those rights any thought at all. "Soccer moms" don't shoot muskets. And I'd be willing to place a bet that no one who works at the White House does either.

I guess this column has forever blown my chance for an invite to a "Renaissance Weekend" with all the elitist twits down in Hilton Head -- oh well.


"Parker Hale is back!" So read the signs outside the Navy Arms Booth at the 1996 N-SSA Fall Nationals. Unfortunately, being occupied with the crew running the Nationals, I never had the time to stop by and check out the new Parker Hales. The Gibbs Rifle Company, however, is actively advertising the new Parker Hale line, which includes the rifle musket, rifle and carbine in .58 caliber and the .45 caliber Volunteer and Whitworth rifles. The Whitworth has the same hexagonal bore as the original guns and the older Parker Hale reproductions, and should shoot as well at long ranges. As regular readers know, I am quite an admirer of the Whitworth, and it's good to have one back on the market.

The new Parker Hales are made in Italy, on the British made machinery that produced the "first generation" Parker Hales. Stocks for Parker Hale guns were always made in Italy, so having the whole gun made there is not so radical a departure as it might seem. I have not yet handled any of these new guns, but will do so at the first opportunity.


The 1997 Dixie Gun Works catalog (Box 130, Gunpowder Lane, Union City, TN 38281, catalog $5) is now off the press. As usual, the Dixie catalog, a "must have" for black powder shooters, is chock full of neat stuff -- including the new Parker Hales. Also new from Dixie this year are imitation polymer "ivory" grips for reproduction 1851 Colt navies and Remington Army revolvers, replacement butt stocks for Civil War era Sharps carbines, a beeswax lined Mexican War pattern canteen, an authentic Henry rifle sling and many other goodies.

One useful addition to the catalog, and worth the price of the catalog to many folks I would bet, is a detailed diagram (on page 250) of how to put a sling on a Civil War rifle or musket. When I was new to this game I spent a long time figuring out how to do this, and got it wrong more than right.

Also new for '97 is the twentieth anniversary issue of the Dixie Gun Works Black Powder Annual, a magazine which covers shooting, hunting, and the history of the black powder era from match lock to breech loader. While there are not as many Civil War articles as usual this year, Edward R. Crews' "Arms of the Confederate Infantry" provides a nice introduction to the subject. Other articles of interest to the Civil War reenactor and shooter include Sharon Cunningham's piece on "Bob Porter, the Carpetbagger," who makes excellent quality reproduction carpet bags, Roland Dean Vangen's "The Guns that Stopped the Arrows," a weapons survey of Indians and soldiers of the Civil War era, and Tom O'Neil's "Tom Custer: the Other Custer." There's always something for everybody in the Dixie Annual, which makes perfect fireside reading in these waning months of winter, when my thoughts often wander to trout fishing, the upcoming skirmish season and this year's vegetable garden, not necessarily in that order.

© 1997 by Joe Bilby

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