In my quest to start in another time period (American Civil War) I obtained two reproduction weapons, a 1861 Springfield rifled musket in .58 cal and a 1842 smoothbore Springfield musket in .69 cal. There are a percentage of reenactors that have never fired their weapons with live rounds, only with blank charges at reenactments. I feel that you can not interpret the weapon effectively to the public unless you HAVE fired it live and have a good understanding of what it will do, as well as what it will not do.
Of the two weapons, I seem to be more interested in the 1842 musket. I don’t know why other than this weapon has a bit more history behind it than the 1861.
In 1861 at the beginning of the American Civil War, the rifled musket was the gold standard on the battlefield. The U.S. Army had started issuing rifled muskets to troops as early as 1855. Rifling of muskets and the use of the Minnie ball had improved both the range and accuracy of the average soldier making it possible to hit a man sized target at distances two to three times farther that possible with a smoothbore musket. However, when the war broke out, the numbers of rifled musket that were available was not sufficient to arm all the troops that were enlisted both North and South. This set off a shopping frenzy in Europe to buy anything that would put a piece of lead down range. There were also seizures of weapons stored in federal arsenals in the south by the southern states. Most of the weapons that were seized were considered obsolete and were smoothbore muskets, models 1822 and 1842. Since there was a shortage of all weapons, soldiers were forced to carry these weapons until 1863. While the soldiers who were issued the smoothbore muskets for the most part were not very happy to have them, sometimes deriding them as “punkin’slingers” there were others who thought that they were just the thing the soldiers needed.
Thomas Francis Meagher commander of the famous “Irish Brigade” was one of these. When he was organizing the brigade, since he was fairly well politically connected he was offered the latest rifled muskets. He turned them down, asking rather for the older 1842 model. His thinking was the fighting that he envisioned for the brigade would be up close and personal. A smoothbore musket at close range would be as effective as a rifle, at closer ranges perhaps even more effective with the recommended load of “buck and ball” The weapons of this time were loaded with a paper cartridge. This consisted of a paper tube containing a pre-measured charge of powder and a single bullet. A buck and ball load on the other hand had three oo buckshot on top of a .650 lead round ball. At close range it would turn a target into a long division problem. At long range, you had a better chance to hit the target. I ran across a mention of soldiers who using these types of weapons and ammunition at the battle of Gettysburg. A Federal officer, Col. William E. Potter of the 12th N.J. which was one of the regiments waiting on Cemetery Ridge for the Pickett-Pettigrew advance on July 3rd wrote:
” The regiment was armed with the Springfield smoothbore musket, calibre .69----A terrible weapon at close range. The usual cartridge carried a large ball and three buckshot, but many of the men, while awaiting the enemy’s advance, had opened their (cartridge) boxes and prepared special cartridges with ten to twenty-five buckshot alone”
I have started gathering all the stuff together to replicate the paper cartridges with both Minnie balls as well as the buck and ball load. After the holidays, I hope to be able to learn what these weapons and this ammunition will do to a charging bad guy target at various ranges. I will share my finding with you folks too.
Something else you might find interesting. When I was down loafing at the local gun shop I found a box of Centurion Law Enforcement 12 gauge shot shells. This ammunition is loaded with (wait for it) 1 .650 lead round ball and 6 #1 buckshot pellets. This is just a modern version of the old Buck and Ball ammunition. I figured I would test them at the same time I test the muskets to see what this ammunition will do.
Once again, history repeats it’s self.