As my co-columnist Tom Kelley has pointed out in a previous column, there are a number of Civil War sites of varying quality and usefulness on the "Web," as well as informative bulletin boards within the major access providers such as America On Line, Compuserve and Prodigy. Bulletin boards can provide sources of information, a way to impart information to others, and, if you are not careful, engagement in endless circular arguments on Civil War topics. To be sure, there are some morons posting on bulletin boards -- but there are also a number of knowledgeable, thoughtful people.
Although I admit a prejudice, I find the North-South Skirmish Association's (N-SSA) home page one of the most interesting sites to visit on the World Wide Web. The N-SSA page (http://www.pilot.infi.net/~nssa/) provides a wealth of basic information on the organization, and answers the most asked questions about the N-SSA's history, organization and competitive structure. Detailed descriptions of all National matches, including musket, carbine, revolver, breechloading rifle, mortar, artillery, individuals and ladies' dress competitions, are illustrated with color photographs and readily available through easy links.
If you want to get to Fort Shenandoah to observe the Nationals and don't know how, fear not, for the home page links you up with maps of the general Winchester area, the route to Fort Shenandoah and a map of the N-SSA campground itself.
The page also features a link to the Winchester and Frederick County home page with information about what's going on in Winchester and the surrounding area to help you plan non-skirmishing activities while visiting the Nationals or a regional skirmish.
Each N-SSA Region has its own link, and these range from a simple listing of teams and skirmish season schedules to full scale home pages, with hyper- links to great unit pages like those of the New England Region's 10th Massachusetts Battery and 34th Virginia Cavalry, which, in turn, provide a large number of links to all sorts of Civil War information services.
The Bulletin board is dedicated to posting questions and answers on N-SSA affairs, Civil War guns and shooting and related topics. Post a question here and you will likely get one or more answers from people who are indeed expert in their fields. Experts often disagree on details, and you will sometimes get a number of answers to choose from on subjects as diverse as cleaning black powder residue from cartridge cases, glass bedding, bullet mold selection, sight adjustment and shooting techniques, to name a few. You don't have to post to learn, however, and a review of previous posts and answers provides a thorough education in Civil War shooting, with a good dollop of history thrown in for good measure.
A bonus for N-SSA home page visitors is an index to the Skirmish Line from the January- February 1988 issue to the present. In addition, the texts of several of Tony Beck's excellent articles, "Spencer's repeaters: Some Historical and Shooting Tips" and "Shooting Merrill's Carbine" are accessible in their entirety.
If you are "on-line" then, surf on over to the N-SSA home page. If not, don't you think it's time you were!
These guns are not, by even the foggiest, "farbiest" interpretation, remotely appropriate for use in reenacting the American Civil War. Those peddling them to unsuspecting innocents as suitable arms for reenacting should be suspended by their thumbs in a convenient marketplace and whipped with lathis on the soles of their feet by a muscular Sikh havildar.
I had time to make one brief visit to the range with the gun before the Fall Nationals. I loaded up all six chambers and, using a double handed "isosceles" hold, and aiming dead on, rapidly fired six rounds at a target from a distance of ten yards. You can see the results in the picture accompanying this article. Who says Colts can't shoot!
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