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This looks interesting. I like the focus on lesser known revolutionary figures like Joseph Warren and Salem Poor.

Joseph Warren’s eclectic past and rise to prominence is exquisitely captured in Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill. Philbrick takes a page from

Nathaniel Philbrick's Bunker Hill

Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill

David McCullough’s 1776 in that it centers around a critical event of the Revolution rather than attempting to chronicle the entire eight year war.

I am really interested in learning more about African Americans such at Salem Poor. The American Revolution was the most integrated American war up until Vietnam, yet I imagine it is difficult to capture a compelling story from those who did not have the advantage of letters and social prominence.

I’ll find this series on Comcast and report back.

 

West of the Revolution

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worThe American Revolution was a global event and well documented. West of the Revolution by Claudio Saunt focuses its lens on the other stories of this period–namely the interactions between the old world and the new during this period of history. Even though the stories are less familiar to us, the patterns are predictable. Europeans show up on Native American soil and things go south from there.

While it is tempting to go down the well trodden path of Native American suffering and blame, it does give me pause to consider the reasons behind the catastrophe that fell on nearly every group of native peoples.

Analogies may work here, and what we see could be described as the introduction of an invasive species. But what made the Europeans so powerful and so intentionally and unintentionally destructive? Lets look at a few of the many reasons:

Technology

Eskimo boats are some of the finest naval technology at the time. Find out more about them in West of the Revolution

Eskimo boats are some of the finest naval technology at the time. Find out more about them in West of the Revolution

European military technology has often been overstated as an significant factor. Native Americans had comparable technology and numerical superiority. But naval technology is an often overlooked yet essential factor. Naval technology made the trip possible, and impressed the natives upon arrival.

This being said, Saunt also points out some impressive Native American naval technology such as Eskimo boats. These sturdy, waterproof boats took months to build and were superior to anything the Europeans had for fishing. Sadly, these boats were often sabotage targets for Europeans looking to cripple their Native American adversaries.

The Spanish brought horses to assist with colonial domination. Picture taken at the Columbus Alcazar in Santo Domingo

The Spanish brought horses to assist with colonial domination.

Horses were another piece of technology Europeans brought to the shores of America. Men riding these beasts would be a terrifying site to any Native American who never laid eyes on this uniquely European coupling. Like firearms, horses would be eventually integrated into the Native American lifestyle.

Disease

Some estimates say that after initial contact with Western ships, European diseases wiped out up to 90% of the Native American population in North America. While that number is high, consider that even a smaller number would essentially ‘clean the plate’ for Europeans who looked to colonize many years later.

Europeans had spent generations in filth that essentially culled those with lesser constitutions and created a somewhat more resistant human figure. Native Americans had no such exposure and less genetic diversity to protect themselves.

The tragedy of European diseases like smallpox, the plague, tuberculosis and even measles could not be overstated. It is one of the saddest chapters in human history and shrouded in mystery. The spirits of those who passed on took their stories to the next world, leaving us with little but vague clues and speculations.

Determination

What motivates Europeans to make a deadly trip thousands of miles away from home with a great possibility that they will never see their homeland again? One can point to two separate yet powerful motivations: greed and religion. While greed is a simple yet powerful motivator, religion is a much more complex topic.

Native Americans had very practical religion and nothing to parry the aggressive institutional Christianity that Europeans brought to their shores. Theological motivations were core to the European mind. Generations of wars over religion (religion in this case being essentially a cloak for power and cultural control) were fresh on European minds and they took this war to the natives.

Now there were certainly some who genuinely wished to bring the Good News to the natives, yet it is nearly impossible to separate the good intentions from the power and control grab. Religion at this point in history was too intwined with international politics, and the aggressive theology that sprung from it was unlike anything the Native Americans knew.

Conclusion

Technology, disease and determination are admittedly shallow and oversimplified reasons for European domination of the new world (that’s why they write books and not blogs on this topic). For more information, I suggest checking out West of the Revolution. Check out a more detailed (and professional) review here. 

I knew I could make something out of these…

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Sharp flints!

Sharp flints!

I’ve held on to my used flints with the hope of one day figuring out how to sharpen them. At $2.50 to $3.50 a pop, things can add up (especially since my Charleville chews flints like a teenage girl through a pack of bubble gum).

I’ve tried a few techniques such as napping with a flint hammer and snipping the edge of the flint with needle nose pliers.  But these techniques were iffy at best. I would only manage to get one or two more good sparks before the flint was completely useless.

I finally came across a video with an interesting technique here:

flint sharpenCapandball uses a small brass rod that is tapered at the end. With this technique I was able to sharpen my old flints with great success! In fact, I think they are sharper now, but probably less structurally sound (more likely to disintegrate). Nevertheless, this is exactly what I was looking for. Many thanks to you good sir!

The Need For Speed…

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“Rapid Fire” and “Musket” are words that you do not normally see together. For the sake of a challenge, I’ve been working into my Saturday shoots a “speed round”, where I see how many shots I can get off in a minute. So far only two I am sad to say, but I am creeping closer to three the more I practice.

The rate of fire for muskets is generally believed to be two to maybe four shots a minute. The best rapid fire I’ve seen to date is this guy:

One primary thing to point out here. He does NOT have bullets in the cartridge. My experience its that you can’t throw a ball in the cartridge THAT fast down the barrel. The ramrod is called a ramrod because there is ramming involved. It takes a little more than just gravity to work to get a ball down the barrel.

Reloading

I’m the tall guy here…

Keeping this in mind,  I’ve reduced the ball size so I can more rapidly seat the bullet in the barrel. This means that I can leave the bullet in the cartridge without fear of jamming. I’ve moved from my standard .69 cal to my pistol cal of .57. This reduces my accuracy but increases my rate of fire.

Now back to the video. I am IMPRESSED with his ability to rapidly return the ramrod back into the musket. This by far is my most challenging aspect of rapid fire. The hole is small, and if you rush it, you just burn seconds. Why return the ramrod you ask? If you leave it behind during a battle, then all you are left with is a fancy Pike. 18th Century soldiers were trained to return the ramrod.

Tomorrow I will try my hand at rapid fire once again.

Some other notes:

  • I start with an unloaded musket.  I am not sure if the first shot of a pre-loaded musket would count toward the rate of fire. Please comment below if you know.
  • I am leaving the bayonet off for this exercise. I have left it on in the past. The blade actually does help guide my loading, but inevitably I end up cutting my hand. Its just not worth it. I use a mouse for a living–I  know, First World Problems.
  • I’ll try to get some video tomorrow.

Improving my rate of fire will take time.  Like any sport, it is really all about muscle memory and focus. Eventually I want to be able to make a video with proof of three shots a minute. Maybe I’ll actually hit the target, but lets just focus on one thing at a time shall we?

Update

Here is a clip of me fidgeting around a bit. Obviously still work to be done here:

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Shot four times. Hit paper twice at 50 yards. Again, this was with a smaller calibre, so accuracy was not the goal.

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This was my grouping at 50 yards after taking my time and using .69 calibre bullets.

At the Range…

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At the range on Friday. A friend of mine took some videos and we were able to extract a few frames just to give us an idea of the combustion involved. When firing, you don’t really see the flash in the pan as you might suspect from these stills.

My Contribution to Historical Reenactment

This is an excellent, well animated synopsis of Yorktown and the events that led up to it:

Yorktown: Now or Never

Yorktown: Now or Never

http://www.mountvernon.org/animated-washington/yorktown/

The live action footage was taken from ‘The Battle of the Hook’ reenactment which I participated in. It was my first reenactment, and as noted in this post, I spent the majority of the first battle on my back. But alas, not all was lost! Seems as if the camera guy noticed my fabulous acting skills and incorporated me into the series at the 37 second mark:

casualty

45 solid minuets of acting. Will submit my nomination for “Best Historical Reenactment of a Dead Guy” category.

I highly recommend you check out the entire series, which is divided into small 2-3 minute chunks. The production, design and graphics are top notch. Hats off to the visual team for their work.

Almost a Miracle

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Almost a Miracle by John Ferling

Almost a Miracle by John Ferling

Compelling storytelling is a craft not easily mastered by many Historians. We’ve all struggled through books that do nothing more than lead us through a dusty timeline of historical events littered with stale flat historical figures. Worse yet is the historian with a knack for unnecessary detail and little interest in exploring the complexities of human motivation.

So it is with great pleasure then that one comes across a book that covers such a monumental topic such as the American Revolution with a flair for good storytelling. John Ferling’s Almost a Miracle is just that book. The one volume synopsis of the war would be my first suggestion for someone with a casual interest in the American Revolution.

Now time for a few observations of Ferling’s fine work:

Ferling is not a big fan of Lafayette.

Marquis de La Fayette

Marquis de La Fayette

Using words like “petulant”, “brash” and “sycophant”,  Ferling pulls no punches when describing young Marques as an opportunist who rides the coattails of Washington. Ferling notes Rochambeau’s concerns about Lafayette’s attachment to Washington and even points a finger at Lafayette for triggering the events at the battle of Monmouth that effectively ended Charles Lee’s tenure as a general in the Continental army.

Lafayette had a romanticized interpretation of the ideals that drove the Revolution, yet his motivations were complex. He also was driven by an ambition for fame and glory and this ambition was certainly a factor in his decision making.

After the war, Lafayette never wavered from this romantic notion of the Revolution and worked to bring this vision to France. Unfortunately, he was swept up in the chaos of the French Revolution and was fortunate enough to escape with his life.

Not afraid to sidestep historical doubts in order to tell a compelling story.

When dealing with history, very little can be said with absolute certainty. Debate still continues on two instances that Ferling address in Almost a Miracle.

Missed Opportunity?

Missed Opportunity?

One is Patrick Ferguson’s choice not to fire on Washington during the battle Brandywine. Many believe Ferguson spared Washington’s life that day, yet others maintain that this was not Washington at all, but one of the many European Aristocrats participating in the war (Count Casimir Pulaski).

Another is the supposed clash between William Washington and Banastre Tarleton during the battle of Cowpens. Did they briefly engage during the end of the battle? Perhaps, but there are still doubters this confrontation actually took place.

But trifling over the fog of history can bog down an otherwise compelling story, so I applaud Ferling’s choice to avoid the debates and ambiguities that all historians must wrestle with.

Ferling does not ignore the south

Nathaniel Greene

Nathaniel Greene

Ferling points out the essential and often overlooked British southern campaign. To most, Cornwallis magically appears in Yorktown. But Ferling leads us through the series of events in the south that placed him there. Kings Mountain, Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse and the cunning Nathaniel Greene are not overlooked.

Ferling is fair to Hortio Gates and Charles Lee

Disparaged by most historians and laymen alike, Lee and Gates are often exemplars of poor generalship. Ferling does not sugarcoat their shortcomings, however he also describes them as the two most experienced and talented generals under Washington. One is left to feel a twinge of regret that Lee and Gates personal shortcomings led them to infamy.

Ferling’s take on Washington was well thought out and concise.

Was Washington a brilliant General? No. About average according to Ferling. But Ferling points out the attributes that Washington did bring to the table and notes how these were unique and essential to the position. Washington’s ability to work with congress, collaborate with the French, focus on thousands of administrative details and adapt to the circumstances made him the “indispensable man”.


 

John Ferling

John Ferling

In summary, John Ferling’s Almost A Miracle accomplishes the difficult feat of consolidating a long complex period of American history in a very palatable and entertaining way. This book is certainly one to recommend for all those interested in the American Revolution. Well done!

 

Nathaniel Green and Georgia

Nathaniel Greene

Nathaniel Greene

Born in Rhode Island on August 7th, 1742 Nathaniel Green played a critical role in torpedoing the British southern campaign. Rarely victorious in battles, Greene nonetheless avoided disasters and stuck multiple blows to Cornwallis’s southern army. Greenes’ “flying army” eventually bled the British out of the South and into Yorktown. From there Washington and Rochambeau took over.

Nathaniel Greene was buried in Savannah’s Jonathan Square after succumbing to a heat stroke during a tour of his plantation.

Gerstner Tool Chest

Gerstner Tool Chest

Gerstner Tool Chest

My Dad found this in Summerville GA at a “Trade Day”. Trade day is essentially a lawn sale the size of a football field where everyone brings their whatnots and sells them.

This particular item is an old Gerstner Tool Chest and it is fantastic. Just enough ware and tare to fit nicely into my black powder 18th Century gun room. I’ve removed almost all of the tattered thin black leather shell to reveal the quality wood. Once I am done cleaning it up I’ll wipe it down with linseed oil and replace the ragged green felt that lines the bottom of the drawers. Quite a find!

 

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