Here's to the Ladies, Whitworths

Women shooters on North-South Skirmish Association (N-SSA) teams have become a common and accepted sight on the line at regional and national skirmishes over the past few years. A few years hence, casual observers will probably believe such participation was always so. It was not. Although many may not be aware of it, women who shoulder a musket in the N-SSA today and will do so in the future have Janet Vroom of the 15th New Jersey to thank for the opportunity.

Janet was the first woman to apply for formal membership in the N-SSA. Her application caused the organization to rethink its bylaws, drawn up in a more gender specific age. Although there was opposition to change, Janet stuck to her position and the N-SSA membership, displaying the flexibility and maturity that have characterized its development over the years, changed the bylaws.

Janet was the first woman admitted to full N-SSA membership and the first to shoot at a skirmish. Many have followed her, including my own Company D, 69th New York's Eileen Cunningham. There is no doubt in my mind that the N-SSA is better for the change. And so, as we enter the new skirmishing year of 1996, a tip of the kepi to Janet Vroom, N-SSA pioneer, Eileen Cunningham, the colleen of Company D, and to all the women shooters of the N-SSA. A little more regimental punch to toast the ladies, General Meagher!

Information on Whitworth rifles, both original and reproduction, continues to come in from readers. Tom Conroy of Honeoye Falls, NY, wrote to inform me that he is "the lucky owner of two Parker Hale Whitworths equipped with Sir Joseph's hexagonal rifling.' Conroy reports that his guns shoot as well at 200 and 500 yards as original Whitworths. He adds that "from a machine rest, their accuracy can be downright scary."

Conroy has used his machine rest to shoot "1-1/2 and 2 inch groups" at 200 yards. He gets this accuracy firing a load of "575 grain pure lead hexagonal bullets on top of dry lubed paper wads and 80 grains of Goex FFG black powder." Tom soaks his bullets, which are cast from a mold made in England by Peter Dyson, in Dura Lube and religiously cleans and dries his barrel between shots.

Conroy's Whitworth loading procedure is as follows: " I clean the bore between rounds and, after swabbing it dry, lightly lube it. I then insert the powder charge contained in a combustible paper column sealed on both ends. On top of the charge I tamp down a dry lubed felt wad cut in the shape (only slightly larger) of the hexagonal rifling. I relube the bore ahead of the tamped charge and insert the bullet, also well lubricated."

According to Tom, the Whitworth's mechanically fitted hexagonal bullets put a good deal of stress and consequent "wear and tear" on the barrel. Parker Hale originally shipped a Lyman mold for a cylindrical bullet with their Whitworths. The cylindrical slug swages itself into a hexagonal shape while traveling down the barrel.

John Kuhl of the N-SSA's 15th New Jersey told me that he witnessed a member of his unit fire a cylindrical bullet from his Whitworth at at bull's eye target 50 yards away some years back. When John and his friend went down to the target they found a hexagonal hole in the 10X ring.

Most bullets fired from modern Whitworths are probably cylindrical. This may have been the case during the Civil War as well. Relic hunters combing the area of the Army of Tennessee's retreat before General Sherman's forces in the summer of 1864 have found more cylindrical than hexagonal Whitworth slugs.

Along with his letter, Tom Conroy sent along a copy of "Whitworth: Old and New," by Russ Carpenter, an article from an issue of the Black Powder Gun Digest some years back. Carpenter conducted a gun test on the then new Parker Hale Whitworth replica. He cast cylindrical bullets in soft lead, lubricated them with a beeswax/alox mix and sized them to .451 inch in a lubrisizer. He then cut hexagonal wads from both cardboard and inch felt with the wad cutter supplied with the gun and tested loads ranging from 60 to 90 grains of both FG and FFG black powder.

Carpenter's smallest 50-yard group, measuring .875 inch, was fired with 80 grains of FFG and an Ox Yoke Wonder Wad designed for .44 caliber revolvers. He found the pre-lubed Wonder Wad less messy and easier to work with than his own lubricated felt wads. I have found the same to be the case when loading .45-70 black powder metallic cartridges.

Canadian reenactor Bruce Reith, of Company D, 17th Mississippi, lives way up north, in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Bruce writes that Thunder Bay, "900 miles northwest of Toronto, boasts three Confederate reenactors, including himself, in a population of 114,000. His unit's headquarters is in Winnipeg Unlike many reenactors, Bruce and his compatriots "use our weapons for more than just reenacting," and participate in a live ammo shoot twice a year with some War of 1812 British reenactors. Bert Winterburn, one of Bruce's fellow far-north Rebels, owns a Parker Hale Whitworth and shoots 3 to 4 inch 100-yard offhand groups on occasion with the gun.

As more information comes in on the Parker Hale reproduction Whitworth, it becomes clear that it was, quite likely, the most accurate reproduction military rifle ever offered on the commercial market. Alas it is gone. Perhaps we can make it come back.

A few months ago I noted that the manufacturer of Trichloroethane, a key ingredient in many gun cleaning products, including Venco Industries' Shooter's Choice Quick Scrub, would be prohibited, for environmental reasons, as of December, 1995.

Fortunately, Venco Industries' chemists have come up with a quick evaporating substitute, which is non-flammable, safe around plastics and dries clean with no residue. It is called Shooter's Choice Quick Scrub II and Venco claims it is not only safer than its predecessor, but just as effective. By the time you read this it will be on dealers' shelves. I have tried Quick Scrub II and can personally attest that it works just as well as its predecessor.

1992, 1998 by Joe Bilby

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