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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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.

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