More Safety Needed at Reenactments

Cold weather is here with the end of another year of Shooting and Skirmishing and the beginning of another. I'll remember 1997 as a year when we didn't get any floods at the Fort, and my reenacting organization had our best year ever, participating in two major reenactments with our Parrott Rifle. We also blossomed in our Carbine Team shooting, and we are looking forward to next year's competitions, beginning with the Snowball Skirmish in February (brrr).

I'll also remember 1997 as a year that had too many reenacting accidents, some of which have been covered in this periodical, and some which I saw or heard about but never read about. As most readers know, I can be passionate in my plea for safety around civil war ordnance, and it doesn't matter if the stupidity occurs at a skirmish or a reenactment, it can still get somebody killed and ruin our weekends (when they close events down). As you read in last month's Civil War News, a juvenile from Indiana lost the sight of one eye and part of his hand in an artillery accident. This young man was only 14 years old, and had no business serving the muzzle of a cannon. While he was ramming home a charge of powder, the charge ignited, sending the rammer staff back out of the barrel in pieces, which struck the youngsters arm and severely damaged it. Anyone involved in reenactment management needs to have and enforce a minimum age of 15 for all participants. Period. It doesn't matter if an artillery crew is short (and I don't know if this one was or not). It is better to not have artillery then to have artillery crewed by under-age participants. Would enforcement of this rule have prevented this accident? It sure would have saved that 14 year old boy!

Another accident occurred in Biglerville, PA in September, again involving a Number One Man. In this accident, the Winchester, VA resident suffered a broken arm, dislocated shoulder, loss of three fingers and part of his thumb, and spent three weeks in the hospital. The unit was performing a rapid fire at the time of the accident.

A standard artillery load for a reenactment is from 12 to 16 ounces of cannon grade black powder for every 3 inches of bore. That is the equivalent of 100 musket loads for a reenactment! It seems to me, that safety for artillery should therefore be 100 times more stringent. I think all reenactments should have a federal and confederate artillery safety officer whose only duty is to observe the drill of the participants, verify age, weigh sample loads and perform other duties assigned by the chief artillery officer to insure absolute safety at the event. Units and their cannon would not be allowed in the field without the approval of the safety officer. If this meant the event had fewer artillery pieces, SO WHAT.

If you want to have a lot of artillery firing at an event, you need to have a lot of artillery. Under no circumstances should any piece engage in rapid fire if it means not servicing the vent and bore safely between each shot. The Chesapeake Artillery can perform safe drill and discharge a round about every 90 -100 seconds at a reenactment. When planning for any event, if you want an artillery barrage of 10 minutes, you should plan on each piece discharging about 8 rounds. If that isn't enough noise, add more cannon.

At reenactments, many times units which have never drilled together are amalgamated into batteries and battalions. Then, these larger groups attempt to conduct complicated firings -- particularly fire by battery - which require timing and finesse. This can be dangerous too. At Gettysburg, I was crewing during a battery fire at the Cornfield; I was actually the Number Four pulling the lanyard. We loaded for a "Fire By Battery", and awaited the command. On command, three of our four guns on the hill spoke with one authoritative voice. However, the crew of the gun that was not fired was unaware of there predicament. The crew began to execute their maneuvers to prepare the piece to reload, and the Number One stepped forward one step. The Number Four of this piece then decided he had better fire, and ignited the charge, putting the Number One one second and six inches from hell.

This was a serious event, and could have been much worse. The entire crew was at fault. The Number One didn't watch the muzzle; he listened for noise. The Gunner didn't watch his own muzzle, and was unaware. The Number Four failed to announce his faux pas, and acted inappropriately to his mistake. The Number Two was also not watching the muzzle, he's the back-up. But most of all, these men were inexperienced in battery drill. A reenactment is no place to practice. While this crew was quickly replaced on the line, we could not have turned back the hands of the clock if someone had been seriously hurt.

Almost every accident I can recall in more than 10 years of reenacting experience came from somebody not following rules. If an event says no close order or hand to hand combat, and then somebody gets injured in hand to hand combat, we used to call that contributory negligence. As participants, we need to adhere to the rules set up to protect us. If somebody says, don't go near the orange x's, and you get burned by a ground charge, who is at fault? I would like to see reenactments begin policing themselves from the inside. Participants with unsafe drill, even whole units, should be kept from the field.

Readers who wish to assist the young man who was injured are encouraged to do so. No contribution is too small. Send what you can to B. Vicchrilli Fund, c/o North College Hill Police Assoc., 1646 W. Galbrath Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45239.

On a cheerier note, I am pleased to announce that I have acquired an address on the information super highway. I receive many requests for old articles, etc., and this material can now be found at "www.civilwarguns.com" on the Internet for crying out loud. I will try to keep the site up to date, and I hope you will visit it whenever you can. Most libraries have Internet access now, so you can have them help you find it if you want to check it out and don't have a computer.

Lets hope 1998 is a safe year for everybody, and until the next time, shoot safe and have fun.

(c)1997 by Tom Kelley
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