Colts, Powder, Publications

Last month I spent some time covering the new Colt Blackpowder Sam Colt Signature series of guns, including the company's line of revolvers and new rifle musket. At that time I noted that the Colts had not yet been approved by the North-South Skirmish Association (N-SSA) for use in competition. This is no longer the case.

The Colt rifle musket and revolvers were submitted to the N-SSA Small Arms Committee at the Spring 1995 Nationals. They were approved by the committee and, subsequently, the association's Board of Directors. Although I doubt we'll see many of the Colt open frame six-guns on the formal target range, where solid frame Remington and Rogers and Spencer-style guns predominate, Colt's rifle muskets will no doubt find a welcome home with many skrimishers.

Ken Enger and E. Hudson of Chattahoochee Black Powder Supply Co. (PO Box 2534, Cumming, GA 30130-5068), laid out an impressive display of Colt Blackpowder's products on Sutler's Row, affording me and thousands of other skirmishers a close-up and personal view of the new guns, which are truly beautiful.

Along with Colt guns, the Chattahoochee stand also had a new "Super Patch and Bullet Lube" for black powder rifles and pistols on sale. Enger and Hudson claim that the Teflon-based lubricant prevents the buildup of powder fouling and improves accuracy. The lubricant functions within a temperature range of -65 to 500 degrees Farenheit, and won't melt or run in hot weather. This is a particular plus for revolver shooters afield in the summer.

Super Patch and Bullet Lube is advertised as "non-toxic and biodegradable," and is sold at black powder shops across the country.

Goex Black Powder. Successor to the old Dupont firm, has introduced a new cartridge grade of black powder, specially manufatured for use in cartridge firearms. According to Goex, the propellant has "a brilliant sheen" and is "enhnaced for today's shooter with scientifically developed additives." The powder is "encapsulated, which means more efficient burning, increased velocities, little fouling, less caking and eliminating the need to clean after every shot!"

Although primarily aimed at long range shooters of .44 to .50 caliber large capacity metallic cartridges in big Sharps and Remington rifles, the new powder is good news for .44-40 Henry shooteres, converted Spencer shooters and those who participate in "postwar period" cowboy shooting matches. It also might make a cleaner shooting Henry blank for reenactors.

In the 19th century, when black powder was the only available propellant for military and civilian shooters, many different grades and brands were available. Shooters had decided brand preferences and loyalties, in many cases based on the type of wood used in a given powder's charcoal component.

Better grade powders, with glazed grains like the new Goex, were prized by target shooters for use in cartridge guns. Goex has taken a welcome step backward and forward at the same time with this interesting new propellant.

In 1862, Col. Goerge L. Willard of the 125th New York wrote a pamphlet entitled Comparative Value of Rifled and Smooth-Bored Arms, in which he extolled the virtues of the smoothbore musket. While acknowledging the superior range of the rifle musket over the smoothbore, Willard was convinced that the former weapon was "very difficult to use effectively."

The Colonel believed the smoothbore was the best arm for most soldiers, since it didn't have varied sight settings to confuse them and was terribly effective when loaded with buck and ball cartridges at close range.. According to Willard, the rifle musket, to be effective, "necessitates a great deal of intelligence, tact and coolness" on the part of soldiers, virtues he apparently found lacking in the common soldier of the Union.

Interestingly, the colonel was probably correct when he declared that "nineteen twentieths of those who carry it [the rifle musket] do not know how to use it." Although the real reason for this ignorance was largely due to lack of training, , rather than an "absence of intelligence, tact and coolness" on the part of enlisted men, Willard's argument, butressed with examples of the French experience in the Crimea, is well made, if not totally convincing.

Although Comparative Value of Rifled and Smooth- Bored Arms is must reading for students of Civil War arms and tactics, it is, unfortunately, quite rare in its original form. Willard's work has been quoted in part in several books over the years, but I, for one, had never seen the text in its entirety until recently.

Now, thanks to Longstreet House Press, we can all have an inexpensive copy. The New Jersey Publisher is offering a retypeset version of Wilard's original work with a critical and explanatory introduction by N-SSA Inspector General William C. Goble.

Bill Goble's comments do much to place Willard in a proper perspective. As Bill notes, officer ignorance, poor tactics, lack of proper training and a shortage of modern rifle muskets were more significant factors in making the smoothbore an effective weapon in the early years of the Civil War than any inherent superiority it held over the rifle musket.

Willard'a use of French Crimean War case studies to argue for the combat efficiency of the smoothbore in the hands of most troops is interesting. There was a philosophical struggle among French tactical theorists at the time, with one school agruing for issuing the rifle musket to all soldiers while the older,,more conservative officers regarded the smoothbore as the best weapon for most of the rank and file.

The New York colonel's arguments were no doubt drawn from examples provided by the conservative school of thought. Interestingly, as Goble points out, Willard ignores the British experience in the Crimea, where ordinary infantrymen used their Pattern 1851 Minie Rifles to great effect at long range.

Comparative Value of Rifled and Smooth-Bored Arms is available from Longstreet House (PO Box 730, Hightstown, NJ 08520) for $5 plus $1 shipping. New Jersey residents are asked to add sales tax.

Another new pamphlet of interest is John Rountree's A Reenactor's Guide to Shoooting the Rifle Musket. John, who shoots with the N-SSA's 73rd New York, has spent a good deal of time instructing reenactors and others who have never fired a rifle musket with live ammo in the intricacies of the art.

Although there is nothing new here for grizzled old skirishers, John's pamphlet covers most questions the new rifle musket shooter might ask. Oldtimers who know it all aren't always able to convey it all.

I believe it would be a good idea for skirmish teams to keep some copies of A Reenactor's Guide on hand for newcomers. I also feel that reproduction rifle musket importers should consider including a copy of Rountree's work with each new gun they sell. Very few, if any, imported muskets come with a user friendly (if any) guide to shooting and caring for the musket.

A Reenactor's Guide covers some basic historical information on the development of the rifle musket projectile, the minie ball, as well as excellent basic advice on bullet casting, loading, shooting,, cleaning and safety with the weapon.

One of Rountree's most valuable tips regards zeroing rifle musket sights, which, as issued, often fail to direct a bullet to the bull's-eye. Most beginners haven't a clue regarding adjustment of the gun's fixed sights.

I highly recommend this pamphlet to any reenactor (or civilian) who has an interest in shooting Civil War arms with live ammunition. Experienced rifle musket shooters, whether skirmishers or not, will also find it quite useful for introducing new shooters to the sport.

A Reenactor's Guide to Shooting the Rifled Musket is available from the author/publisher, Rountree Printing and Graphics, Box 363, Maplewood, NJ for $2 postpaid. New Jersey residents please add sales tax.

1995 by Joe Bilby

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