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:
Capandball 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!
“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.
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?
Here is a clip of me fidgeting around a bit. Obviously still work to be done here:
Shot four times. Hit paper twice at 50 yards. Again, this was with a smaller calibre, so accuracy was not the goal.
This was my grouping at 50 yards after taking my time and using .69 calibre bullets.
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 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!
This will be the first in a series of observations and opinions on AMC’s spy thriller TURN. I will touch on some plot elements, but will avoid putting much effort into rehashing the plot of every episode. You will just need to watch it yourself!
AMC’s new Spy drama is based on the exploits of the Culper Ring, a spy organization built on the orders of George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The series revolves around Abraham Woodhull, an unassuming cabbage farmer who through hard luck and fate, ends up siding with the Americans to become America’s original James Bond.
On first impression, AMC did not cut corners with production design. The series premier had a very finished, authentic feel that looks to be on par with the standard bearer of Revolutionary War television, HBO’s John Adams.
An early scene of downed American Dragoons being ‘mopped up’ by a Queen’s Ranger was both visually arresting and emotional. The Ranger bayoneting wounded men with his musket really gives one a sense of the deadliness of this 18th century tool of war. The deadliness was perhaps taken a bit too far when Robert Rogers hit a running Ben Tallmadge at what looked to be over a hundred yards (this nitpick from one who readily retorts naysayers that say muskets were woefully inaccurate. Perhaps Rogers was firing a rifle?)
TURN is crafted around the conflict between America and Britain, however the real tension in the series comes a layer deeper when one realizes there are really two wars going on here. One between a formal enemy and the other between one’s own countrymen. The dirty underbelly if the Revolution is where you will find the real danger, deceit and atrocity. No one is beyond suspicion at this point until the series can really be felt out.
Is there so delightful a villain as the British? This imperial foe is so full of arrogance and aristocracy that it must be tempting AMC’s writers to coast along with the stereotype. Yet the jury is still out on this (Patriot anyone?). The British are crafty, brutish, charming, and polite. Most of all, you get a sense of their power and influence. But If you are looking for a traditional ogre, Samuel Roukin’s ‘Simcoe’ is an especially well cast antagonist that looks to be fun to hate.
Jamie Bell as Abraham Woddhull
As with most spy dramas, it was difficult at times to interpret the hushed voices and follow a string of unfamiliar names. I worry that the storyline may be TOO subtle and difficult to pick up mid stream (as may be required for a cable series to build viewing momentum). Also, our antagonist Woodhull comes across as a bit flaky and mousy on first impression, but one assumes events will force him out of this phase.
Finally, I am curious as to how much the writers can pull in historically specific elements that really give us a sense of the drama behind the American Revolution. One thing to ask ourselves as the series progresses is will this be just another spy thriller fitted into the shell America’s war for independence, or will this be something unique that helps us shape our understanding of this critical period of American history?
I had a few questions heading into my first reenactment. Probably my number one question was how does one “die” during a battle? I imagined all sorts of possibilities. Perhaps before the battle you drew from a deck of cards that accurately represented the casualties of the battle? If you drew the “die a glorious death” card you would do just that. Or maybe you would draw the crippling “take a flesh wound that hobbles your walk” card. Or much less fun yet more historically accurate would be the “died from consumption in camp before the battle” card.
As I soon discovered, taking a fall during a reenactment is much more a matter of a personal decision. Sometimes you may be encouraged to take a fall by your superior, or other times you might choose to be a casualty if your musket stopped operating correctly (a much more common occurrence). Or maybe you were a pro at reenactment like these French soldiers and took a fall for dramatic effect:
Well done monsieur. Well done.
The First Battle of the Hook
The 2nd South Carolina took the field early on a drizzly Saturday afternoon. We were officially representing hand picked Grenadiers that saw the heaviest fighting during the Battle. As we took the field, we immediately encountered British skirmishers. It was the first time anyone ever pointed a firearm at me and fired. As I watched the skirmishers take aim and fire at my line and I thought to myself “this is it!” Orders to take aim and fire were given. I leveled my trusty Charleville and fired. We only had powder in the barrel, but still it was a unique experience. I had never purposely discharged a firearm at anyone before.
But it was all part of the game and quite fun. That is, until the fun stopped. I should of known better. After only three fires, my flint stopped sparking. Knowing my weapon’s propensity to chew up flint, I should of carried a spare, yet inexplicably I did not. After a few more misfires, I did what any good reenactor would do–I took the fall.
Appropriate? Perhaps. Wise? Maybe not. I had no idea how long the battle would last. I spent the next hour in a prone position, occasionaly peaking up to catch a glimpse of the action. At one point I even dared to think I could catch a quick catnap, but that idea went out the window once the cannons were pulled up fifty yards from me. The cannon blasts shook the ground and kept me bright and alert as any “dead” soldier could be.
The battle finally came to a close and afterwards I was informed of the glorious maneuver in which the 2nd South Carolina surprised the British by suddenly appearing on their right flank from a corn field.
Yes, it was quite an exhilarating afternoon for those with sharp flints. However it was hard to avoid a feeling of disappointment for not participating in a larger portion of the battle. I obviously had missed out, but not all was lost. There would be another battle of the Hook on Sunday. And better yet, there would be a night battle later that evening that involved taking a redoubt from the British. I would not miss this chance to take the field again with sharp flint at the ready. As it turned out, the night assault would be the highlight of the weekend.
Up next, night warfare and the storming of the redoubt.
Saturday morning began with formation and drills. After about two hours, I was able to mentally grasp the basics of marching and maneuvering in tight ranks. Yet even though the concepts were clear, it was obvious that a certain amount of time would be required for the physical motions to become second nature.
As a result, marching and maneuvering did not get easier as the weekend progressed. Every motion demanded and act concentration and focus. Missteps effected everyone in close proximity. Even marching in a straight line proved to be a struggle as I found myself shuffling in order to step on the correct foot and avoid kicking the person in front of me.
By the close of the weekend I figured my brain was just wired to walk in the opposite manner of most people. I was sore from locking my body straight and shuffling my feet to find the correct footwork. Unfortunately, my familiarity with group choreography did little good in formations this tight. I did my best to cope by learning to follow the rhythm of the marching drum and take it as they say, one step at a time. The others in the troop kept me in line as well, repeatedly reminding me to assume ‘trail arms’ when I was busy concentrating on walking.
Formation drills drove home the importance of maneuvering during the 18th century. Unit cohesion, battlefield mobility, and concentrated fire was the ultimate goal. These tight formations had but one primary goal– to maximize the effectiveness of the musket.
For those familiar with modern day firearms, safety etiquette requires that proper distance from another person be observed when discharging a firearm. Only an accident or a joke in poor taste would result in discharging a firearm a few inches away from other person.
18th century reenactment offers an entirely different experience.
Firing and reloading shoulder to shoulder was a requirement for a soldier of the line. If you happened to be a bit taller than your comrades, you would be positioned in the second row where you were expected to fire OVER the shoulder of the man in front of you.
This type of firing was a unique experience, and one that I recommend if you are a fan of firearms. It is the only real way to experience the combat effectiveness of the musket.
Firing as a concentrated mass becomes less a single act of an individual and more of a coordinated action of a larger whole. For someone living within the context of a highly individualistic 21st century mindset, this is truly a step into the past. In short, the unit becomes a collective fire-breathing, smoke spitting, shotgun blast.
The British Line moonlightcourt.com
It is easy to understand how a well drilled foot unit can be the most effective and powerful weapon on the battlefield. However, effectiveness like this takes training. Now I understand why troops drilled 40 hours a week.
I consider myself somewhat competent at loading and firing my musket, yet during the chaos of a “battle” I often behaved like a rank novice. I found myself reloading my musket using all sorts of improvised motions.
A number of factors played into my inconsistency:
While firing and reloading in close quarters, there is a great deal to keep in mind. The musket must always be pointed away from others (until firing at an enemy unit). The torso cannot be tilted as it would interfere with the man next to you (watch those elbows!) Most importantly, if you were in the back row, you had to make sure you did NOT step too far away from the row in front of you. This mistake would result in the the muzzle discharging too close to faces and ears.
The pressure to reload and fire on command was palpable when facing a wall of enemy troops trying to do the same a few short yards away. I will not pretend to understand what sort of emotions soldiers experienced during an 18th century battle (or for any battle for that matter) but I can understand to some degree the difficulty involved in maneuvering and firing in the mists of a noisy, smokey and chaotic environment.
Only the muscle memory acquired from constant drilling could alleviate the pressure and chaos that interferes with the smooth operation of a musket. Now I understand why they drill…and drill…and drill. The importance Baron Von Steuben cannot be underestimated.
As just about anyone who has checked out my blog would see coming from a mile away, I have finally taken the plunge and will participate in my first reenactment at the Battle of the Hook. I will be joining Patrick O’Kelley’s 2nd North Carolina Regiment this coming weekend. The regiment will be depicting “Mercer’s Select Grenadier Battalion” that saw most of the infantry action during the battle. If predictions hold out, this event may even see the largest contingent of cavalry for a Revolutionary War reenactment ever.
The American victory at ‘The Hook’ shut Cornwallis in Yorktown and threw away the key, effectively ending the British general’s hopes for escape or reinforcements (thanks should also be given to the French fleet). The dreaded Banastre Tarleton partook in the battle and was injured as Mercer’s Select rushed in to support French cavalry.
So there is much to the world of reenactment that I am learning. Random thoughts:
The 2nd North Carolina regiment will feed, cloth, arm and shelter both Wesley and I.
Patrick O’Kelly will train us upon arrival. With any luck, I’m hoping he won’t break into spats of cursing in German like Von Steuben did.
My musket will pass muster this time, although technically the 1777 Charleville was not issued to Continentals. If asked, I’ll stick with the story that I ‘borrowed it’ from the generous French contingent. Or maybe won it in a bet. Not sure yet.
The regiment will provide the cartridges. No bullets will be used of course. This statement was made particularly to ease my wife who is concerned about the next bullet point…
A period correct Tavern will be present at this event. I will be sure to practice period correct consumption, hopefully not leading to a case of period correct ‘the consumption’.
The reenactments will include redoubts and two buildings that will be burnt down during the battle. The 11 year old in me just jumped with joy upon discovering this.
Shaved the beard. Sad faces from my wife and 11 year old daughter upon discovering my cleanhsaveness this morning. But worth it to see the confused look on my one and two year old boy’s faces.
Must keep out of view my sleeping bag and anything that is not period correct. Once the public is gone however, I plan on taking plenty of pics. Vids too.
Gloucester Virginia. 9 hr drive. Ouch.
Sleeping accommodations free of charge thanks to the 2nd North Carolina Regiment:
Today I stepped up to the big boy table and shot the 50 yard range for the first time. Very happy with the results. Started off hot. Below is the result of four shots–one missed the paper all together, and the other three were good enough to drop a lobsterback at 50 yards.
50 Yards. 2 shots dead center, one bottom right.
As the day continued, things went downhill a bit. One would assume that as the fouling builds up, a tighter fitting ball would increase accuracy, but no. I struggled with my flints most of the afternoon and as a result, my accuracy suffered after a number of misfires. Next time I will be sure to hit the range with at least a couple of new sharp flints. Here I am firing above the target:
Thanks to Greg Clark for the colorful commentary here (I would write something snarky about him if he wasn’t 6’5″ and quite the marksmen)
As usual, Saturday evenings I listen to the Braves on the radio while cleaning my Charleville. All clean and ready to go.
Out shooting today. I’ve made some strives with my 1777 Charleville! First off, thanks to the power of YouTube, I’ve discovered the best way to make a cartridge. I created a template using the recommended paper (Walmart packing paper actually). Now the same amount of powder and paper will be loaded every time. This technique is so nice that it makes for ‘rapid’ reload and allows the paper to remain wrapped around the ball as it is loaded in the barrel. A tighter fit means tighter groupings!
My French Grenadier Cartridge Box
Secondly, I’ve added more powder to the charge. I was using 80 Grains of FF Black powder, however Matt Murphey informed me that military charges (at least for the Brown Bess) were 120 Grains. Since the Charleville is a slightly smaller caliber than the Brown Bess, I bumped it up to 110 Grains. This took some adjustment. I basically needed to accommodate less for bullet drop.
The First Six Shots
Target (the larger holes are mine)
This is from 25 yards. For those of you who ever shot a smoothbore musket, you know that aiming is a relative term. I was aiming for the center of the target, which I have a pretty good grouping of 5 here. However I feel obligated to explain the top right shot.
Misfiring is somewhat common for a flintlock (however not as common as you would expect). From my experience, the primary cause for a misfire is the flint failing to adequately spark the frizzen and ignite the powder in the pan. So during an hour or so of shooting I will pause to readjust, clean or replace my flint at least once or twice.
Not a big deal, however there is one drawback to misfires–they REALLY mess with my head. When you expect a large BOOM and get a quiet ‘click’, it throws things off. On top of this, adjusting the flint after a misfire can be a bit um…delicate to say the least. Tweaking a fully loaded firearm with a pan full of powder can test my nerves. As a result, I’ve discovered that if I misfire more than once, it affects my aim proportionally.
So that top hole in the target? Yea, that is a shot after 3 misfires in a row. Three ‘clicks’ when I expected a BOOM…Thats my story and I’m sticking to it.
VERY exited about my shoot today. Now that my methods are becoming more systematic and consistent, I expect my accuracy to eventually improve. I want to move to the 50 yard range soon, but I still need to try and figure out a way around the range rule that states you must be sitting when shooting from the 50 yard range (this rule is the sad result of irresponsible/inexperienced gun owners not respecting their firearms. If anything, the attention that the Charleville demands has taught me a respect for firearms– but thats a post for another day).
The barrel can get very hot after only a few shots.