A Soggy Shenandoah Spring

I am writing this column the day after returning from the N-SSA's Spring Nationals. When you read it, the Nationals will be a month behind us and I will be fishing in Vermont. Let's hope we both have better weather.

If you were there, you are well aware that the weather at the Nationals left us little to cheer about. If you weren't there, you missed a rainy Friday and an overcast and dismal Saturday. On Sunday, the sun broke through a humid haze, soaking the first phase shooters with sweat. Overall, however, condfitions were much better than during the "Mud March" of a few seasons ago.

There was still plenty of fun to be had.

My own unit, the 69th New York, fielded three full eight-man teams for the first time ever. The 69th has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years, with most of our recruits drawn from the ranks of black powder target shootes and reenactors, rather than other skirmish units. I believe this is the best way to build an N-SSA team, as it introduces new blood into the organization as well as invidual outfits.

Our "A" team was bumped up into Division II due to a medal-winning performance in Division III last October. Although we shot a better score than we did in the fall, the competition was stiffer, and we fainled to finish "in the money."

The 69th had two tuneup skirmishes prior to the Nationals, one at Holmesburg, PA, and another at the Lyman Blue Trail Range in Wallingford, CT.

At Blue Trail, I had the opportunity to kibitz with some skirmishers from the 20th CT.

You may remember the 20th as the unit that sent a team armed with smoothbores to the line at the Fall Nationals. The "authentics" from the Nutmeg State went down to defeat (last place) with style last October, and, like the army of the Potomac, bounced back yet again this spring.

At Blue Trail, the 20th fielded a full eight-man musket team, most of them firing original rifle muskets. When a shocked collector expressed his amazement that anyone would shoot an original gun, the response from the ranks was - "that was what they were made for." One simply can't argue with that.

When I was growing up, 'tweren't nothin' but original guns to shoot. My own rifle musket has a reproduction barrel and stock, but all the other parts, including the lock, have been going since 1863. If you're reasonably careful, you can't really hurt the old timers all that much.

Mark Reimer of the 20th shot a .58 caliber Model 1854 "Lorenz" Austrian rifle musket at Blue Trail. A sturdy firearm, the Lorenz, in both the original .54 and rebored .58 calibers, was widely used by both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War.

Quartermaster James D. Hendrie of the 104th Pennsylvania believed the .54 caliber Austrian rifle muskets issued to his regiment early in 1862 were "very superior weapons, although not quite so well finished as the American arms." Although there were a few complaints, most soldiers, like Private Alfred Bellard of the 5th New Jersey, who praised his .54 Lorenz for being "short, light and very easily cleaned," felt well armed with their imported muskets.

Smallarms expert Jac Weller tested a .54 caliber Lorenz, along with a number of other Civil War guns, and reported his results in the May, 1954 issue of the American Rifleman. The Austrian rifle musket shot slightly larger groups at 50 and 100 yards than a .54 caliber U.S. Model 1841 "Mississippi" rifle also used in the test.

The Lyman minie ball used in both guns was designed for the Mississippi, which had a .540 bore. The Lorenz's bore diameter was .546. Given better fitting ammunition, target results might well have been identical. During the Civil War, Austrian muskets were fed, for the most part, American bullets, but, according to most reports, performed creditably. If properly loaded, they still do.

Veteran N-SSA shooter Bill Goble started skirmishing with a .54 Lorenz in 1961. The technical state of the skirmishing art was much lower then than now, and Bill was advised to shoot .52 caliber minie balls in his Lorenz. Needless to say, the gun did not shoot well, and Bill subsequently sold it, an act he still regrets.

Bill Goble's Lorenz may be gone, but it's not forgotten. The Austrian import, along with a number of other imported and domestic arms, is featured in Battlefield Video Productions' Guns that Shaped a Nation, 1861-1865. (Dept CWN, PO Box 239, East Texas, PA 18046, $29.95) Bill wrote the script and narrates the video, which was produced and directed by David A. Donio.

Using the still-photo technique pioneered by Ken Burns in his landmark Civil War series, along with film of actual guns and live-fire demonstrations by reenactors, Guns that Shaped a Nation briefly details the development of military smallarms in America. The video also tackles the large variety of guns which made their way to the front on both sides during the war.

Goble's narration covers the war's significant smallarms, from smoothbores to Henrys, and highlights forgotten experiments like the Lindsay two-shot musket. Donio and Goble had the cooperation and assistance of the United States Army Military History Institute, the West Point museum, Military Images magazine, several historical societies and a number of prominent private collectors during the production of the video.

I highly recommend Guns that Shaped a Nation. I can't think of a better introduction to the subject than this video, perhaps supplemented by An Introduction to Civil War Small Arms by Earl J. Coates and Dean S. Thomas. It would be an outstanding classroom supplement for both high school and college level Civil War courses and should also find a place on the shelf of the serious Civil War buff or collector.

Although shooting well at a National is important to me, socializing and shopping are equally significant. One of the highlights of the gray Nationals weekend was a peek at the prorotype Dixie Gun Works Model 1816 flintlock musket. Although I am not as familiar with the esoteric details of a given weapon as a collector would be, it sure looked good to me. Perhaps most important, when I whipped it up to my shoulder, the front sight was just where I wanted it to be. Regular supplies of 1816s should start arriving over the summer.

R. J. Hoyt, of the Freischutz Shop (700 Fairfield Rd., Fairfield, PA 17320, catalog $2) set up his stand just across the mud lane from Dixie's tent. After helping dig R. J. out from under his collapsed, sodden tent fly, I dropped off my original smoothbore .69 caliber musket barrel for relining.

Hoyt, with a box full of barrels at his feet, appeared to be doing a land office business. His shop, a one-man operation, is a full service gun barrel business. He relines breech loading percussion carbine and cartrtidge rifle barrels, and offers new barrels for military rifles and rifle muskets as well as other muzzleloaders and vintage cartridge guns.

If you have an old Model 1816 .69 caliber smoothbore that was "sporterized" by having its barrel shortened in the long ago, R. J. can lengthen, line and even rifle it for you. Hoyt's work is N-SSA approved and his prices are moderate, $170 to reline my smoothbore, $150 to reline and rifle a rifle musket barrel. Because of the quality of his work, Hoyt, who has 20 years of experience in the field, is always running four to six months behind on orders. It's worth the wait.

Slogging away from the Freischutz tent, I stopped to see cap and ball revolversmith Tom Ball (RD#1, Box 241, Millville, PA 17846. 717-458-5107). Tom has "accurized" many N-SSA, National Muzzleloading Rifle Association and International shooters' sixguns. Several years ago, I gave him my old Navy Arms Remington .44 to work over. Ball rebarreled my revolver with a new, target-quality tube and thoroughly tuned the action. The gun has shot better than I have ever since.

Tom will re-work your Remington or Rogers and Spencer replica for $250, or sell you a re-worked Uberti Remington for $450. His "semi-tuned" Uberti Remington rates as as best buy for a shooter on a budget. Although he leaves on the factory barrel, Ball reams and aligns the chambers, recuts and lengthens the barrel forcing cone and slicks up the action on the "semi-tuned" special. The gun sells for $199 and Tom claims it will outshoot factory-tuned percussion sixguns cossting up to $100 more. Tom's prices may rise in September.

That's all for now. Keep your caps and powder dry and I'll see you on the line.

1992, 1998 by Joe Bilby

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