Gearing Up

I guess if you only had to buy a musket and you could then be magically endowed with all of the property necessary to operate the musket this whole game of shooting and skirmishing would be completely different. Truth of the matter is, the expense of procuring a musket probably represents less then one- half the cost of shooting and skirmishing with that musket (or carbine or pistol). In addition to the target-breaker, you need to get lots of other stuff -- leathers, tubes, moulds, ad nauseam - and the list is never complete. And that other stuff is what we're talking about this month.

No matter how you plan to use your musket, as a reenactor or a skirmisher, the purchase of a musket, carbine or pistol is going to require your procurement of reproduction accoutrements. The bare essentials in this area include a cartridge box, cap pouch, waist belt with buckle and a cartridge box sling. All of these items come in different styles. The two most popular styles are the Enfield pattern and American pattern accoutrements. The Enfield cartridge box is quite different than the American pattern cartridge box, and I must say that I prefer the Enfield for my Musket Cartridges. The Enfield box is much easier to access in the heat of skirmishing, measuring 3 by 6 1/2 inches as compared to the 1 1/2 by 5 inch dimensions of the American box. Additionally, because I shoot a 2-band Enfield, I've always enjoyed having the appropriate cartridge box on my sling. A cartridge box sling is used to carry the weight of the box over your left shoulder, while the box itself is always worn on the right hip because the manual of arms is right-handed. The sling is about 70 inches long and has two tongues, one on each end, to attach to the buckles on the cartridge box. Rarely, a cartridge box may be worn on a waist belt. This would have been very difficult to get away with in actual combat conditions, because the weight of 40 to 50 cartridges would definitely pull the belt downward with every step. Some reenactors pull this off, because the blank cartridges don't weigh nearly as much, but I don't imagine that it is very authentic. You're better off spending the money and getting a cartridge box sling. The waist belt is put on after the cartridge box sling is placed over the left shoulder with the box on the right hip. The belt performs two functions -- it helps keep the cartridge box firmly on the right hip and it carries the cap box. The cap box provides for easy transportation of the percussion caps necessary to ignite the charge. Original cap boxes are often found with their nipple picks, which were included to help the soldier keep his nipple in good working order (don't even think about it). Today, replica boxes don't include such detail. The belt was held closed by a buckle, and Joe Bilby and I could each write for months about the various buckles worn by Civil War soldiers, and not cover the same buckle twice. If you are joining an established outfit, they probably have researched the correct buckle to buy and know where you can get it. Of all the basic equipment, the belt buckle was the most diversified item. A properly accoutred soldier would turn out with these four basic items.

Cartridge boxes were made in various styles. The Cartridge boxes for Carbines are smaller and were designed to be worn on waist belts, as were the Pistol cartridge boxes. The Pistol boxes are even smaller then Carbine boxes, and I personally don't see how anybody can live without at least one of each. Caps for pistols come in tins much smaller than musket caps, and their transportation was usually affected by including them in the Pistol cartridge box or in a vest pocket.

Shooters and skirmishers need loads, and until somebody starts selling already made loads at a reasonable price, we will have to get the gear to make loads if we want to participate. Loads for reenactors mean getting paper, powder, etc. and rolling blanks. Shooters will need at least one bullet mould, waterproof tubes to hold the powder charge, and something to store and carry the loads in until it's time to shoot.

Bullet moulds are expensive to buy and tricky to use, but I think they are the most important gear a skirmisher gets. When developing your optimum load, the bullet is the key variable in the equation. Some bullets shoot better in some barrels then others, and asking around and watching other people who shoot the same barrel you do is the best ground work you can do.

Unfortunately, we usually buy at least one mould before we start snooping around for a better projectile, and then we might buy a couple more before we settle in on the best one. I can't say enough about how important good lead is to good shooting, and I plan on covering bullet making in a future column.

Some moulds come with handles, and some require the purchase of separate handles. I have had good luck with Lyman steel moulds for years, and I still use a Lyman 575213OS(Old Style) as my basic Minie bullet. Recently, I have also used aluminum moulds with good results, including the Rapine Smith (#515365)and Burnside (#556360) Carbine bullet moulds and even the Lee wadcutter Minies (#90475 -.575 and #90478 - .578). I also have a custom aluminum round ball mould from Northeast Industrial Inc.( 2516 Wyoming Street, El Paso TX 79903) which throws two .550 round balls. I use Rapine's Mould Prep religiously on all my moulds, and have found that vastly improves results, especially on the aluminum moulds.

The most commonly encountered load tubes are the "caplock" brand thread protectors for 5/8 inch threads. They come in two basic colors, red and yellow, and have a flat base which makes them easy to load. Pistol tubes come in smaller calibers, and they aren't as easy to stand up and load. Pistol tubes come in more colors, and I even have huge, black colored .69 caliber tubes for my smoothbore that I have to store and keep separate from my other loads.

Some people scoop their blackpowder with a powder measure, while others prefer to use an articulated, gravity fed powder measure like the Lyman No. 55 Powder Measure. Just the equipment listed in this article probably cost more than any musket I own, so I sure am glad I didn't get it all in one weekend. I guess I'll have to build an addition on the ol' log cabin someday to put all this stuff in, but I know I'm not done gearing up yet. And Henry shooters! They need brass, primers, modern reloading equipment, oh, it is a vicious cycle we find ourselves in my friends.

Look for me in the Confederate Artillery camp at Sharpsburg or Cedar Creek, or stop by our camp at the Fall National. Until then, shoot safe and have fun everyone.

(c) 1997 by Tom Kelley
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