Skirmish, Sharpshooters

The 1995 skirmish season ended on an outstanding note, with clear skies and beautiful weather for the Fall Nationals. It should be noted here that I didn't arrive at Fort Shenandoah until Friday, following the deluge. My unit, the 69th New York, fielded three teams, all the members of which rose to the occasion.

Our "reenactor-skirmishers" have come along as shooters very nicely, conclusively proving, to my satisfaction, that you can have a successful skirmish outfit blending people who, on the surface, have divergent Civil War interests.

The N-SSA's rebuilt sutler's Row presented some new and pleasant surprises. I ran into co-columnist Tom Kelley leaving Bill Osborne's Lodgewood Mfg. booth with an impressive armload of goodies. Tom was especially delighted with Bill's new plastic Burnside cartridge cases, considerably cheaper than the brass cases he had intended to buy.

These economical cases may well be in interest to living history participants who want tomake blanks for a Burnside carbine as well as live fire shooters. I'm sure Tom will give us a complete rundown in a future column.

Bill Osborne had more goodies inside. Perhaps the most noteworthy firearm in Bill's rack of fine original and reproduction guns was a prototype Spencer reproduction. The Spencer, chambered for a proprietary centerfire .56-50 cartridge, was manufactured by the new Spencer Repeating Arms Company in Wisconsin. It seems probable that a version will be submitted to the N-SSA Small Arms Committee for approval, perhaps by the 1996 Spring Nationals.

The reborn Spencer will be available in rifle as well as carbine configuration and there is also a sporting version, with a number of barrel, stock and sight options, in the works. Probably the most striking new Spencer will be the "Gemmer Plains Rifle," patterned after the post-Civil War deluxe sporters which came out of the famed Gemmer shop in St. Louis.

There are plans to offer Spencers in .45 Colt and .44-40 calibers as well. While it is unlikely that these calibers will gain approval from the N- SSA Small Arms Committee for match use, they may well be of interest to reenactors and living history practitioners who will be able to economize on blanks.

Another new product Bill Osborne is enthusiastic about is "Genuine Rust Buster,"tm which comes in a squeeze bottle with a "Zoom Spout"tm for use in hard to get at places. Osborne discovered this product in a hardware store while looking for something to loosen a rusted-in screw on an old gun he was disassembling. Bill told me that after applying a few drops of Rust Buster" and then waiting for a few minutes, the screw came out slick as butter.

After hearing Bill's story, my buddy Bud Scully grabbed for his wallet. Bud had taken on a cleaning project involving an incredibly dirty and rusty reenactment musket (not his) and was looking for all the help he could get in loosening up some exceptionally stubborn screws.

When he returned home from the Nationals, Bud applied a few drops of "rust Buster" to the screws, waited a bit and then applied a screwdriver -- they came out with ease. Bill Osborne knows of what he speaks. No more buggered screw heads, guys -- buy this stuff -- it works.

If you're interested in the born-again Spencer, "Rust Buster" or a wide variety of excellent quality original and reproduction 19th century gun parts, drop Bill Osborne a line at Lodgewood Mfg., PO Box 611, Whitewater, WI 53190, or call him at (414) 473-5444.

Dixie Gun works was, as usual, well represented. The most exciting thing at the Dixie stand, for me, was the prototype percussion conversion of the company's successful Model 1816 .69 caliber flintlock smoothbore musket. Made in Italy by Pedersoli and featuring a drum and nipple style conversion (I would have preferred the far more common nipple in the top of the barrel or "Belgian" conversion.), the percussion conversion Model 1816 should be on the market sometime in 1996.

Reenactors will welcome the caplock Model 1816 because conversions of the gun were among the most common weapons issued to troops on both sides during the first two years of the Civil War. Smoothbore shooters will also be delighted to have an "off the shelf" caplock gun available for N-SSA competition.

Dixie is also now offering a double set trigger for retrofitting to its Pedersoli-made Sharps rifles. Installation, however, is not a simple "drop in," proposition, and Dixie recommends that the set trigger be fitted by a gunsmith.

Set triggers are just the ticket for reenactors doing a Berdan's Sharpshooter impression. By the time you read this, Dixie's new 1996 catalog will be available. Send $4 to Dixie Gun Works, PO Box 130, Union City, TN 38261 for the biggest black powder catalog available anywhere.

You can not only buy stuff on Sutler's Row, you can get stuff fixed as well. I brought my Euroarms 1860 Colt reproduction revolver over to Tom Ball's booth to have Tom ream the forcing cone to a uniform concentricity and cut the hammer notch sight deeper. A concentric forcing cone, which guides the bullet from the cylinder into the barrel, is the single most critical dimension in revolver accuracy.

While Tom specializes in complete rebarreling and accuracy jobs on Remington and Rogers and Spencer style guns, he will gunsmith any revolver. You can leave your gun with Tom for a complete accurizing job and he will ship it back to you in the off season, but he can perform minor handgun surgery at the Nationals, like he did for me, while you wait. For more information, contact Tom Ball at Ball Accuracy Inc., RD #1, Box 241, Millville, PA 17846

In previous columns on Confederate sharpshooters I mentioned John Anderson Morrow's book Confederate Whitworth Sharpshooters, which I found unaccountably hard to find. Morrow is the only person who has made a systematic study of Confederate use of the British-made Whitworth and, to some extent, the Kerr rifles for long range sniping. He makes a strong case that Confederate sharpshooters equipped with these British rifles were the best snipers of the Civil War, or, perhaps, since.

Interestingly, the term sniper and references to "sniping" do not appear to have been in use in America during the Civil War. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term "sniping," in reference to sporadic harassment firing, was used in India as early as 1773. In 1821, English troops complained that they were subjected to "a sniping fire from neighboring walls."

The OED defines a sniper as, "One who snipes, or shoots from concealment." The term was not widely used, however, in this country until World War I, at least. I have not encountered the word in my own research on Civil War sharpshooters. If any readers have, I would like to hear from them.

1995 by Joe Bilby

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