British Sea Service Pistol

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Portrayal of me on Saturday...but less cool looking

Portrayal of me on Saturday…but less cool looking

With my Charleville lock at the gunsmith for maintenance, I got a chance to spend some good one on one time with the sea service pistol. I set up a target with a large surface area in order to identify where I was missing (post firing remarks often end with “where in the world did I miss THAT time?”) Today I managed to squeeze a little bit more accuracy out of this fun flintlock. The trick is to bend the wrist down a little and aim low. Oh and any more than ten paces and you begin to understand why duels were often not as deadly as advertised (apologies of course to Mr. Hamilton).

After a few shots, I experimented with using a Civil War era bullet from a 1853 Enfield. The suggestion was met with some hesitation from me, but I tend to forget that we are just talking about essentially a metal pipe, black powder and a spark. This weapon could fire out skittles if I wanted (a rainbow of fruit projectiles!!)   The Enfield  bullet fit just fine in there and gave me a pretty good kick to boot.

British Sea Service Pistol with 1853 Enfield minie ball

 

Looks as if the bullet actually rolled through the air and left a nice profile in the paper:

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Video to follow.

 

 

 

Guns, Germs and Steel

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Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

Why do some civilizations become more technologically advanced than others? What leads to the rise of empires and to the dissolution of native peoples? This is often a loaded question that can reveal a persons prejudice. It is a question that is generally not explored or even contemplated by most members of our “modern society”.

Jared Diamond takes a scientific and historical approach to this controversial topic. Guns Germs and Steel takes and in depth look into the circumstances that give rise to dominant peoples and civilizations.

Lets take a (somewhat oversimplified) look at what it takes to become a empire from the ground up…

1: Start with enough wild plant diversity that the benefits of domesticating these plants outweigh the benefits of hunting gathering.

This requires an assortment plants that when domesticated, provide excess calories. The fertile crescent provides this appropriate mix with its wild cereals and grains.

domesticated animals2: Be sure the native animals can be domesticated.

These animals will then help provide additional calories (such as pigs and cows) as well as assist in farming (like ox and horses). Not many animals on the earth can be domesticated. Around the time homo sapiens migrated to North America, animals that potentially could be domesticated were wiped out. These animals did not evolve along side mankind, and therefore had no adequate defense mechanisms to stave off extinction at the hands of these clever interlopers.

3: Resistance to disease is not futile–it is essential. 

Keep calm and avoid the plague

Keep calm and avoid the plague

Sharing viruses and bacteria with domesticated animals will produce unique diseases that only your people will be able to develop resistance. This will take some time and many losses on your side, but eventually natural selection will take over and weed out the susceptible members of your civilization.

Exposing rival peoples to these diseases will wipe out your competitors and leave room to successfully migrate to other lands. This unintended “asset” will be your primary means of establishing dominance peoples unexposed to nasties such as tuberculosis, small pox, the plague, and the flu to name a few.

4: Live in the ‘Goldilocks’ of geography–not too isolated, but not too connected.

Your geography needs to be free of signification obstructions from east to west. This allows farming technology to migrate with a little climate change as possible. North south migration is much more difficult because significant changes in climate make it harder for domesticated crops to adjust or even survive.

The goldilocks of geography must also provide enough barriers to create competing–but still connected–pockets of peoples.

Too many geographical barriers? Your people become isolated and may not feel the pressure from nearby competitors to advance in military and food producing technology.

Too few geographical barriers? Your people could be conquered and fall under an authoritarian rule that may resist technological and geographical advances due lack of nearby competition (China).

5. Feel the pressure to keep up with the Joneses. 

Hello Japan. Have we showed you our cannons yet?

Hello Japan. Have we showed you our cannons yet?

Competition from your rivals will force you stay on edge. You cannot afford to take principled stances against technology that rubs your religious or societal sensibilities the wrong way. Adapt or be conquered.

Japan is a unique case study. Japans’ geographical isolation allowed them to throw out superior rifle technology and maintain an antiquated military technology until US gunships showed up on their shores in 1853.

Conclusion

Notably absent from this list is “have more geniuses” or “get capitalism” or “be culturally innovative” or even more wrongheaded assumptions like “genetics”. The primary point is that civilizations benefit first and foremost from circumstance. This may be a hard truth for those who feel that work ethic, cultural intelligence or a particular social system to be a primary factor. These factors are of some significance, but not nearly as much as the factors listed above.

Sons of Liberty: Final Thoughts

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Very dark and oily looking clothing. Pirates perhaps?

Very dark and oily looking clothing. Pirates perhaps?

About ten minutes into the second installment of the series I decided that I am just in it for the scenery. Its apparent that by now you need to come to the conclusion that Sam Adams is awesome, otherwise..well… you are in it for the scenery.

The Boston Tea party is essentially a Sharks verses Jets scenario as Sam Adams dares the redcoats to fire on his men as they empty cargo of tea into the harbor. Governor Hutchingston urges the redcoats not to fire on the vandals because he doesn’t want to create a martyr out of Sam. So in front of everyone, Sam’s men empty valuable cargo into the bay because apparently, if the American’s can’t have nice things, the British can’t have them either.

But this scene is about as close as the series gets to the under riding political causes of the Revolution. Politics, societal tensions and religion are overlooked in a muddled attempt to make the conflict a personal story of one man’s rage against the British empire. If you didn’t know better, you would conclude that Sam Adams sullen angst launched the Revolutionary war. Its apparent that the History channel isn’t going to bother with messy social political realities.

At this point I find it necessary to issue an apology to the good people over at the Journal of the American Revolution. In a previous post on this series, I suggested that historical accuracy gotcha gets tiresome. At times it does, but after watching The History channel butcher history into an unrecognizable heap, I suggest you read this post in order to undue any damage done by watching Sons of Liberty. In the piece, Thomas Verenna shows signs of exhaustion and eventually gives up pointing out the inaccuracies pushed on us by the series. Why bother with pointing out errors in what in reality is an alternate history program? It wasn’t worth the effort.

History is a rich tapestry of compelling drama, interesting facts and captivating people. But it takes work to tell the story right. To depart from historical accuracy in an attempt entertain is an easy way out. Sons of Liberty boils down to a children’s story of good vs evil. Its lazy TV, and offers nothing more than what I could get from my kids Saturday morning cartoons. Sadly, the History channel misses yet another opportunity to enlighten people about our past and dig into the complexities that make our history and our world so fascinating.

Revolutionary Summer

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Revolutionary Summer by Joseph Ellis has been sitting at my bedside for weeks now. I still cling to the illusion that a large gap of time will spring forth and present an opportunity to dig into this book. Until that fateful day, this short interview with Ellis is will do. Ellis is, in my opinion, one of the most eloquent writers of the American Revolution. He’s got an impressive backlog and for good reason. The man can tell a compelling story. You can get a sense of this as he discusses Washington and the New York campaign:

I you accuse me of posting this video in an attempt to grab an ounce of respectability after my Sons of Liberty review I won’t deny it. Enjoy!

Sons of Liberty: Part I

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imagesThe History Channel has released a three part min-series entitled Sons of Liberty. I got a chance to view part one this evening. Here are some thoughts in no particular order:

No attempt at historical accuracy. Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way first. I am no historian, so I don’t feel the need to nit pick historical errors in a TV series — even one on The History Channel. Frankly, stuff like that bores the tar and feathers out of me (I’m looking at you Journal of the American Revolution).

I understand Sons of Liberty uses historical events and characters as a touch point for creating TV drama, and yet I would be remiss if I did not point out that HBO’s Band of Brothers and John Adams sacrifice much less actual history at the alter of creative liberty than Sons of Liberty. I guess it is just too damn difficult to stay historically accurate AND entertaining. One must just leave that heavy load to premium cable and acknowledge that Sons of Liberty is no John Adams.

Boy, is Sam Adams beer trying to ride this thing all the way to the bank. Perhaps they are hoping that the reinvention of Sam Adams as a Keuno Reeves lookalike will spark a renewed interest in the hipster microbrewery segment. Or perhaps they have abandoned that market segment and are looking to take the burgeoning Sam Adams superhero mythology all the way to Coca-Cola Santa or Budweiser Clydesdale heights. Honestly how can anyone blame them? Almost no need for the ads at all. I’ll give them credit for throwing one at least on redcoat in an ad however. The head of Marketing has to at least act like he/she is trying.

Sam Adams Played by Ben Barnes

Sam Adams Played by Ben Barnes

Sam Adams is a mystery in this series so far–and not in a good way. So far no convincing glimpses into his motivations. He’s upset about taxes (I guess). He is sullen. In between bouts of sullenness he gets chased around by the British. He then becomes mad about a boy being killed due to mob violence. Even HBO’s depiction of Sam Adams has much less screen time yet seems to pull together a more convincing character. This may be in part because Ben Barnes is a miscast. He is just too young. This certainly was a TV demographics driven decision and not a historically driven one.

John Hancock Played by Rafe Spall

John Hancock Played by Rafe Spall

Rafe Spall’s John Hancock is carrying this series so far. Straight out of the gate you know where the Gentleman Hancock stands. He is a business man. His motives are focused on profit, yet as the show progresses you begin to see the effects of the events surrounding him take its toll. Add to this a few quirks and subtle embellishments of character and you have a solid (and even charming) take on John Hancock. Well done Rafe.

Fantastic setting and costume design. Man, they are getting good with these TV series. Sons of Liberty moves one notch above AMC’s TURN in this department. More ships. More extras. More city. My only reservation is that at times the costuming almost comes across as too grungy and stylish. Mix the costumes with slow motion scenes and you get a definite sense of the video game Assasin’s Creed. As one who was turned on to this period by a video game (Empire Total War) I can’t really complain about the decision here.


That’s it so far. Next time we get to take a look at even more historical characters like Washington and what looks to be Joseph Warren’s scandalous affair. Until then, stay calm and carry on.

Cowpens 2015

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Its Cowpens time! Four years in a row. Every year is different thanks to the men and women of the National Park Service.  This year Mark Schneider joined the crew as Banastre Tarleton. Mark is a historian and participant in Colonial Williamsburg. Mark does a fantastic job. Check out this short clip of Mark as Banastre Tarelton describing his capture of Charles Lee.

Chatting at the Range

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1777 Charleville

1777 Charleville

As with all niche hobbies, black powder firearms come with a particular set of requirements. A proper outdoor venue is a must. If you don’t have access to land that is free of firearms restrictions then an outdoor range is your next best option. Don’t even think about an indoor range unless the range in question doubles as a smokehouse for BBQ (no luck in finding that YET).

The closest outdoor range to my home in Marietta is Creekside firing range in Taylorsville GA. The range manager is Fred, and aside from a few good natured rate of fire jabs, Fred has been nothing but friendly and accommodating to us old school firelock folks.

Naturally, people are curious when they see the muzzle loaders. We happily answer all questions and we even promise that some of those answers are actually factually true. Here are some of the common answers to questions about the Charleville (whether they specifically ask them or not).

  1. Its a 1777 Charleville smoothbore musket. It is not a rifle. Rifles have grooved bores.
  2. This is a late Revolutionary War/Napoleonic era firearm. A few Americans as well as the French soldiers used this musket at Yorktown.
  3. French support was essential in winning the Revolutionary war. They also used this musket to conquer all of Europe (too bad it didn’t double as a space heater in Russia eh?).
  4. 50 Yards

    50 Yards

    .69 caliber.  Here is the lead ball. It’s hand made by my buddy Wesley. He used lead from wheel weights to make them.

  5. The inaccuracy of a musket is overstated. No issue hitting a target at 50 yards.
  6. It doesn’t kick as much as it shakes. 
  7. Of course you can fire it. Let me load it for you.
  8. Want to load it yourself? Ok. Don’t put too much powder in the pan. Remind me to tell you a story about that…
  9. If the spark ignites the pan but does not discharge the musket, this is called a “flash in the pan”. This is where the phrase originated from.
  10. Its heavy for a reason. This weapon also serves as a pike for defense against cavalry and other infantrymen. Thinner and lighter weapons don’t hold together well when used as a club. This is a soldiers weapon–not a hunters.
  11. Washington insisted that he Continentals be equipped with muskets because they were faster loading, sturdier, and could be fitted with bayonets. It was superior to any rifle technology at the time and was the preferred weapon of war.
  12. The flint strikes the frizzen which creates a spark that ignites the powder in the pan. The resulting fire travels through the touchhole to ignite the powder in the barrel. There is VERY little delay in this series of events.
Blowed that wood up!

Blowed that wood up!

From the Target’s Perspective

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Out shooting today. ‘The Pit’ was open, so we had a chance to avoid the post Christmas rush (“hey I got a new gun!!”) and shoot in the members only section. Wesley and I prefer this area because we can load and fire without the annoyance of hitting the ramrod on the ceiling and being forced to sit when firing from the 50 or 100 yard areas.  Range rules stipulate that you have to sit in order to fire from these areas. This rule came to be because inexperienced people were not handling their weapons properly.  I understand this, but sitting and firing a musket completely defeats the purpose of firing an antiquated weapon. Why bother if you use it in a way that it was not designed for?

This shot is from about 25 yards. Next time I will get even closer for full effect. We shot at around 40 yards for most of the afternoon. The picture at the end of the clip shows the average grouping (after adjusting for the slight uphill shot).

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