As normal, the end of the campaign season was rather hectic. A 1812 period event, two RevWar events and a three day school. I would say the school was the most stressful as well as the most interesting. Allow me to tell you about it.
North Carolina's Department of Cultural Resources is the organization that controls and supervises the various historic sites in the state. Some years ago they started a training program for historic site staff that interpret historic firearms on site. These programs focus on safety and function of black powder weapons. As a part of this training, the trainees get to fire live rounds from the weapons. When I heard about this training, I was very impressed. To try to explain how something works or it's effect, without truly using it or understanding it, it's almost like talking about swimming without ever being in any water. I was lucky enough to go to the last small arms class where I got to work with 19th century black powder muskets in which I learned a great deal.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the school of artillery where I studied 19th century muzzle-loading artillery. We spent a couple of days learning the drill used in firing the gun, all the safety issues we needed to be aware of, as well as the history of the weapons. Make no mistake it CAN be dangerous, even firing blank loads out of the big guns. The typical blank load is around 8 oz of black powder. The majority of reenactment injuries are as a result of incidents involving artillery. We spent a great deal of time learning the various drills and firing blank charges. I was up close and personal to a 32 pounder when it was fired with it's 4 POUND blank charge. I kid you not, it rattled my teeth.
I spent most of the class working with the crew of a 3" ordinance rifle. We fired a bunch of blank charges then each member of the crew was required to make up and fire a live round. They also made up a canister round to be fired as the last shot. 19th century artillery is a good bit different than the 18th Century guns I was use to. They are fired with a friction primer ignited by pulling a lanyard. The 18th century artillery is fired with a slow match.
The last day of the school, all the guns were transported to Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base where we were allowed to set up on artillery range so we could do our live fire. Now picture this, 6 people dressed in various types of civil war period uniforms clustered around 3" ordinance rifle, using reproduction sights and aiming at a very shot up Russian T-62 tank about 1100 yards away. Each member of the crew got to sight the gun and pull the lanyard. I can't say we hit it for sure, but if there had been anyone in the tank there is no doubt they would have known we were around.
The most interesting thing for me was when we fired the canister round. Canister is basically a tin can about the same size as the bore of the gun you are using. It is filled with a large number of lead balls the size of musket balls. When fired, the tin can blows apart and scatters the balls turning the cannon into a giant shotgun. We sighted our gun at a target about 150 yards and it literally tore it into pieces. On several levels I knew that canister was highly effective round, but when I actually saw it used, I finally understood how effective it was and also how much hell the men went though when they had to face canister.
To hear what the guns sounded like, to hear the balls as they head toward the target, to see what canister does to a target, gave me a excellent tool to use when educating the public about historical weapons. I bitch and moan quite a bit when talking about how my tax dollars are spent, but in this case, North Carolina did a good job.
So now, I get a chance to slow down and take a break before getting fired up for the holidays. I think I am going to like it........
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