Loading A Muzzle Loader

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MikeyB

Corporal
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Had a couple of questions on this for the experts or for maybe a reenactor whose done it
1) When ramming the round, how difficut/tiring is this? If you have to do it once, I'm sure its no big deal, but if you're in the heat of battle, doing it 60 times, does it become a somewhat tiring and physical activity?
2) After firing a few rounds, does the barrell get so hot as to impact the ability to hold and control and reload?
3) Does heat impact the shape of the barrell and make it easier or harder to ram a round down?
4) When there are reports of rifles having multiple unfired rounds in them, is that typically caused by a soldier forgetting to use his percussion cap? or were there other common misfiring failures?

Thanks for the input!
mike
 

BillO

Captain
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Location
Quinton, VA.
1.Have fired a lot of rounds but not 60 in 1 go. It could get physically difficult due to fouling. I doubt you could get 60 rounds off without swapping the barrel every so often.
2 Yes depending on the weapon after 7 or 9 rounds it will get hot to the touch.
3unfired power and carbon are the real problem.
4 mostly getting too excited and in the noise and smoke not realizing the weapon didn't fire.
 
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captaindrew

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Lets see, I'll take them one by one but keep in mind most of my experience is reenacting not firing live rounds. 1. Not really but gets a little more physical as the weapon becomes fouled. 2. Yes, very hot, you have to be careful to handle the stock and not the barrel as much as possible. When mine gets really hot during a reenactment I can hold it by the top of the sling (the only reason I keep it on there) but I don't think that would work trying to ram a live round. 3. No, I don't believe it could get that hot. 4. I believe the biggest reason for loading multiple rounds was having a misfire in a battle line with hundreds if not thousands of rifles firing at once and not even realizing it. If you've been in that situation you can easily see how that happens, done it myself at big reenactments
 

Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Loading a cap & ball muzzleloading rifle involved nine movements that had to be done in order. Soldiers were drilled & drilled & drilled until it was pure muscle memory. You can imagine that in the stress & confusion of battle errors would occur led to a number of rounds being loaded on top of one another.

c729b938ffb05d8cf8ca76f1dce28322 copy.jpeg

Cleaning Round

Fouling was a real problem. 60% of a black powder charge is not converted into the expanding gas that propels the bullet. The plume of white smoke is the obvious evidence of that. I don't recall off the top of my head the exact number, but every so many rounds was a cleaning round like the one pictured above. It was wrapped in a colored paper. Soldiers believed that the cleaning round was a wasted shot. I never have read of any live fire test of that, but it was what the soldier's believed. Here at Sones River N.B. where I volunteer, the site where soldiers pulling back from the cedar break rallied & refilled their cartridge boxes was identified recently. Hundreds of cleaning rounds were found where the soldiers threw them away. Someone knowledgable on this subject may know if the cleaning round actually worked or not.

The cartridge box held 40 rounds. Of course, soldiers would carry more than that, but at about 40 rounds the bore of their muskets would become so fouled that it became difficult to impossible to load. When firing my .50 caliber flintlock or cap & ball rifles the fouling from black powder makes loading noticeably difficult after about ten rounds. The minnieball was smaller than the bore of the musket to make loading easy & allow for fouling. The cone shaped void in the base of the bullet expanded to engage the lands & grooves.

One of the arts of the infantry commander was shifting units out of the firing line to refill their cartridge boxes & clean the fouling out of their muskets. Plain water sloshed up & down will remove the fouling. It was not uncommon for men to urinate into the barrel when canteens were empty. Boiling water is best, but regardless of temperature, the fouling comes right out.

Firing blanks fouls the bore, but doesn't affect reenacting. One of my friends claims he hasn't cleaned his musket in ten years.

The wall of a rifled musket barrel is surprisingly thin. On sunny days here in Tennessee, the barrel can get too hot to touch just by being stacked in direct sunlight. During extended engagements, the barrel would get hot enough to cause the powder to flash as it was poured into the bore. Sam Watkins, among many others, mentions that alarming phenomenon in his Kennesaw Mountain memoir entry. Others had the ramrod shot through their hand by premature detonations. I have no idea how many rounds you have to fire for flashing to occur & don't know anybody who has tried to find out.

I am not aware of any particular rifle being more or less subject to fouling. Using modern powder solves the problem.

Yes, after actions muskets gathered on battlefields were found with more than one round loaded one atop another. There was no official reporting of this by the armorers who inspected & refurbished dropped muskets. As a result, it is the subject of conjecture that has generated reams of arguments over the years. All that is certain is that an exhausted, frightened soldier could easily load multiple rounds without knowing it. How many times would they do it is anybody's guess; as many as 14 have been reported. As Captaindrew wrote above, it is surprisingly easy to misfire in a group without realizing it. I witnessed what might have been as many as six rounds going off together, that was a memorable blast to say the least.
 
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DixieRifles

Captain
Joined
Mar 22, 2009
Location
Collierville, TN
Had a couple of questions on this for the experts or for maybe a reenactor whose done it
Here is my answer as one who shoots at a range.

[1] Ramming a rifle load should not tire you out. Even loading it 60 times. Instead I would say that handling a heavy military rifle will wear you down as you run through all the steps of setting the rifle on the ground, raising it to shoulder and moving into position to fire. If you are having difficulty ramming a load down a clean barrel, then something is wrong with the bullet or patch, etc.

[2] See next answer. I don't notice that much heat when firing a rifle, maybe because I'm taking my time to safely load and handle the weapon and I'm firing for accuracy. Also maybe because my rifles have thicker-walled Octagonal barrels. Heat is really noticeable when firing a 6-shot revolver, especially a .44 caliber. However, by the time it takes you to reload all 6 chambers, the cylinder and barrel has cooled down. I would say that it does not interfere with loading or handling of the gun---and I'm comparing this to firing modern military rifles.

[3] Yes. Technically heat makes everything expand and, conversely, Cold makes everything shrink. How much? IMPERCEPTIBLE. Expansion of a Steel barrel would not be noticeable not even when you ram the next bullet.

[4] I have not studied rifles recovered from battlefields. IMHO, I think it would NOT have happened due to forgetting his cap. The cap is easily visible---bright shiny brass/copper. I haven't shot those large size caps but I use Number 11 caps. I don't want to say I forgot to put my cap on so instead I will say it fell off. But you know it. Also remember that in 99% of the caps, they are still retained after you fire the weapon. My problem with Number 11 caps, sometimes they are captured in the cup of the Hammer. I think most agree that loading multiple rounds was due to a misfire and they did not know due to the noise and excitement of battle. Of course, if you didn't hear the rifle charge fire, then you would likely not hear the cap fire---but I think you would easily see a missing cap.
 
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frontrank2

1st Lieutenant
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Location
Mt. Jackson, Va
Just to add my two cents worth. I've been a member of the N-SSA for thirty years. During a musket team match I will fire from 40 to 50 rounds. There are five events during the match, so on average, 8 to 10 rounds for each event. I have found that after 6 to 7 rounds, the barrel gets too hot to touch, especially when the air temperature is above 80 degrees. In addition, after firing about fifteen rounds, fouling builds up in the barrel making it necessary to swab out the barrel a couple of times.
 

poorjack

Corporal
Joined
Jul 17, 2015
Location
NC
1) When ramming the round, how difficut/tiring is this? If you have to do it once, I'm sure its no big deal, but if you're in the heat of battle, doing it 60 times, does it become a somewhat tiring and physical activity?
I shoot muskets in competition and instruction. First round is always easiest. With a properly balanced load, it doesn't get much harder than about the third round. I've run muskets for 60+ live rounds with little fall off in accuracy. Reenactors don't use the ramrod in a battle for safety reasons.

2) After firing a few rounds, does the barrell get so hot as to impact the ability to hold and control and reload?
Yes, the barrel gets hot but I haven't noticed an issue. Just don't hold the gun by the barrel.

3) Does heat impact the shape of the barrell and make it easier or harder to ram a round down?
No

4) When there are reports of rifles having multiple unfired rounds in them, is that typically caused by a soldier forgetting to use his percussion cap? or were there other common misfiring failures?
It's not unheard of to dryball a round on a range with no pressure so imagine being in a battle line with a bunch of guys over yonder trying to shoot you back. I can totally see how it could happen.
 
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poorjack

Corporal
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Jul 17, 2015
Location
NC
And yes, I'm also North South Skirmish Association.

Some guys haven't gotten their load really dialed in and while we only shoot maybe 15 rounds in a relay when the wheels fall off, I have run muskets for 50-60 straight when working with the Scouts doing instruction.
 

MikeyB

Corporal
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
thanks for all of the expert replies!

is fouling just all of the residual gunpowder caught on the sides of the barrell?

if hot water wasn't available, did the soldiers ever wrap a piece of cloth around the ramroad and clean it in this manner?
 

Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
thanks for all of the expert replies!

is fouling just all of the residual gunpowder caught on the sides of the barrell?

if hot water wasn't available, did the soldiers ever wrap a piece of cloth around the ramroad and clean it in this manner?
Fouling is residue from the ignition of the black powder, mostly carbon.
slot in ramrod.jpeg

There is a slot in the head of the ramrod for passing a cleaning cloth through or they used the cleaning worm, but was done after the bore had been washed out. There really is nothing to sloshing out the bore.
 
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Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Had a couple of questions on this for the experts or for maybe a reenactor whose done it
1) When ramming the round, how difficut/tiring is this? If you have to do it once, I'm sure its no big deal, but if you're in the heat of battle, doing it 60 times, does it become a somewhat tiring and physical activity?
2) After firing a few rounds, does the barrell get so hot as to impact the ability to hold and control and reload?
3) Does heat impact the shape of the barrell and make it easier or harder to ram a round down?
4) When there are reports of rifles having multiple unfired rounds in them, is that typically caused by a soldier forgetting to use his percussion cap? or were there other common misfiring failures?

Thanks for the input!
mike
Good questions that have led to an interesting thread, thanks.
 

hrobalabama

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 12, 2014
Location
Andalusia, AL
Fouling is residue from the ignition of the black powder, mostly carbon.

There is a slot in the head of the ramrod for passing a cleaning cloth through or they used the cleaning worm, but was done after the bore had been washed out. There really is nothing to sloshing out the bore.
That slot in an Enfield rammer is not for a cleaning patch. It was a slot to insert a bar for leverage with a bullet puller on the other end which is threaded.
 
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captaindrew

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West Palm Beach Florida
This end of the ram rod with the proper tool and patch or preferably a cleaning rod is correct. The other end slot is for the musket tool. You don't know how many times I've told new guys not to do that and come to me moments later with a ram rod stuck in their barrel. And no reenactor would ever pass a safety inspection with a dirty rifle from the previous day let alone 10 years.
20200325_203349.jpg
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
Loading a cap & ball muzzleloading rifle involved nine movements that had to be done in order. Soldiers were drilled & drilled & drilled until it was pure muscle memory.
The big problem is that they where drilled and drilled and drilled without the use of cartridges and without live firing.

That did result in pure muscle memory.... without critical parts of the procedure.

That is in my opinion central part of the explanation of what caused men to load with the bullet below the powder, with the bullet turned upside down, forgetting to use percussion caps and so on... they here not trained to do so.

And they did not get the needed experience with firing to noticing if the gun had gone of or not and how to deal with it if it did not.
(And then add the stress of combat...)


Oh, and when in combat you actually only do 8 "times"... The 9th is returning the gun to shoulder arms, and that is only done the first time you load. If firing as a unit, you stay in ready when finished priming. If firing by file you obviously just aim and fire again. (until ordered to cease firing)
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
Yes, after actions muskets gathered on battlefields were found with more than one round loaded one atop another. There was no official reporting of this by the armorers who inspected & refurbished dropped muskets. As a result, it is the subject of conjecture that has generated reams of arguments over the years.
That is simply not correct.

The fact that 27,574 muskets was picked up after Gettysburg and that many where loaded more than one time can be found in many modern books and articles.
Back in early 2016 I tried to track down the source.

My work and the suggestions and info from others can be found here in this topic.


It is mentioned in a West point book from 1867.
I found it in an article by a Major T.S. Laidley in United States Service Magazine 3 (January 1865):
Who was a high ranking Ordnance officer.

But that looked like a dead end...

But then in November 2016 we got this.

This is interesting...it came to both Joe Bilby and me in a "letter to the editor" which will appear in the next issue of Civil War News:

To the Editor:
I’m a long-time researcher of U.S. Army Ordnance Department records at the National Archives, and for the last ten years I have been focused primarily on Civil War records, but I am new to the Civil War News. At a recent show in Richmond, I picked up a copy of your November 2016 issue (Vol. 42, Number 10) and was quite impressed. However, that is not my purpose in writing. In Mr. Bilby’s column in that issue, I noticed a section titled “Provenance of Gettysburg loaded muskets,” in which Mr. Bilby discussed an April 2016 “Watchdog” column by Craig Barry. I have not seen Mr. Barry’s article so I don’t know specifically what he said, but based on Mr. Bilby’s statements the substance of it was regarding a: “much-repeated account of the 24,000 muskets, many of them with a number of loads in their barrels, retrieved from the field at Gettysburg.” Mr. Bilby noted that neither he nor Mr. Barry had found any official provenance for the story. Well, as a matter of fact, I can help with that problem. On seeing Mr. Bilby’s article I recalled seeing something on this topic, did a search of my material, and found the following notes:


1/4/1864, Record Group (RG) 156, Entry (E) 20, Volume 40, Letter W28 of 1864: Capt. Benton at Washington Arsenal for - warded a report of Master Ar - morer J. Dudley re the condition of small arms received from the battle fields. 1/4/1864, RG156, E201, Report #376: Master Armorer J. Dudley reported to Capt. Benton on small arms received from battlefields. He based his report on the arms taken from the Gettysburg battlefield. Of the number received (27,574), at least 24,000 of them were loaded. About one half contained two loads each, one forth contained from three to ten loads each and the rest had only one load. Some of the guns had two to six balls with only one charge of powder, and in some cases, the ball was at the bottom of the barrel with the powder charge on top of it. In some arms, as many as six paper cartridges were found whole – not having been torn open. Twenty-three loads were found in one Springfield rifle, each load being in regular order. Twenty-two balls and sixty-two buckshot with a corresponding quantity of powder, all mixed up together, were found in one percussion smooth-bore musket. Mr. Dudley also stated: “About six thousand of the arms were found loaded with Johnson’s & Dow’s cartridges, many of these cartridges were found about half way down in the barrels of the guns, and in many cases, the ball end of the cartridge had been put into the gun first. These cartridges were found mostly in the Enfield Rifle Musket.” About 1,000 of all muskets found, Union and Confederate, had stocks broken at the wrist with the butt of the stocks completely gone. One hundred and thirty-six arms of different kinds had been marred by shot; in many the ball had gone through the barrel or other parts had been shot away. Many barrels were burst, almost always near the barrel from having the muzzle clogged by mud or having left the tampion in place. Mr. Dudley noted that barrels of American manufacture were superior to those of the Enfields and Austrian weapons in both material and workmanship."

Without knowing where to look, this report would be difficult to find. One would expect it to have been filed in the letters received by the Chief of Ordnance, which is Entry 21 in the Chief of Ordnance records (Record Group 156), and the first set of notes above supports that assumption, for Entry 20 contains the registers for Ordnance Department letters received. But for some unknown reason, the Ordnance Office in - stead filed the report with “Reports of Experiments,” which the National Archives have cataloged as Entry 201.

Charles Pate
So clearly there where a official report on this issue.

Also we got this from General Meade.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, April 19, 1864
To familiarize the men in the use of their arms an additional expenditure of 10 rounds of small-arm ammunition per man is hereby authorized. Corps commanders will see that immediate measures are taken by subordinate officers to carry out the order. Every man should be made to load and fire his musket under the personal super- vision of a company officer. It is believed there are men in this army who have been in numerous actions without ever firing their guns, and it is known that muskets taken on the battle-fields have been found filled nearly to the muzzle with cartridges. The commanding general cannot impress too earnestly on all officers and men the necessity of preparing themselves for the contingencies of battle.
By command of Major-General Meade:
CHAS. E. PEASE,
Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General."



So this was in no way an unknown issue. Officially or unofficially.
 
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poorjack

Corporal
Joined
Jul 17, 2015
Location
NC
That slot in an Enfield rammer is not for a cleaning patch. It was a slot to insert a bar for leverage with a bullet puller on the other end which is threaded.
Yup, what he said^^^^^

I would strongly encourage you to get a quality range rod to do cleaning. I have 4, one piece range rods. One has a jag set up to do only my Sharps carbines. Of the other 3, one is a wood one that I got in trade. I use it some, but the other two are fiberglass with knurled aluminum handles and are threaded for cleaning jags like you can get from Lodgewood or S&S. One is for 2 band muskets and the other is for 3 band. I also use the short one with proper jags to clean my smoothbore and other carbines so it's a very useful thing to have.
 

Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
That is simply not correct.

The fact that 27,574 muskets was picked up after Gettysburg and that many where loaded more than one time can be found in many modern books and articles.
Back in early 2016 I tried to track down the source.

My work and the suggestions and info from others can be found here in this topic.


It is mentioned in a West point book from 1867.
I found it in an article by a Major T.S. Laidley in United States Service Magazine 3 (January 1865):
Who was a high ranking Ordnance officer.

But that looked like a dead end...

But then in November 2016 we got this.



So clearly there where a official report on this issue.

Also we got this from General Meade.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, April 19, 1864
To familiarize the men in the use of their arms an additional expenditure of 10 rounds of small-arm ammunition per man is hereby authorized. Corps commanders will see that immediate measures are taken by subordinate officers to carry out the order. Every man should be made to load and fire his musket under the personal super- vision of a company officer. It is believed there are men in this army who have been in numerous actions without ever firing their guns, and it is known that muskets taken on the battle-fields have been found filled nearly to the muzzle with cartridges. The commanding general cannot impress too earnestly on all officers and men the necessity of preparing themselves for the contingencies of battle.
By command of Major-General Meade:
CHAS. E. PEASE,
Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General."



So this was in no way an unknown issue. Officially or unofficially.
I know Craig Barry very well & have discussed this very topic with him. The raw number of muskets recovered from battlefields & how many were refurbished is documented. The armorers who refurbished dropped muskets did not file a report on the number of muskets that were loaded or the number of rounds loaded. There was no form with that data point printed on it to report with.

In the absence of a paper trail, all numbers are anecdotal. In the posting you have cited, Barry & Bilby were aware of the report cited. The problem they had with it was the total lack of any paper trail to support it. Nobody knows what the 27,000 musket breakdown was based on. Maybe it was from hard data, maybe it was an educated estimate, nobody knows. If there was a regulation stating that armorers report on how many of the muskets they found were loaded & how many loads, we would have thousands of those reports. If an official ordered an accounting of the number of loaded muskets found, there would be a paper trail. As we know, no such documents exist. Anybody who finds a data stream to support the oft cited 27,000 claim will trumpet it to the heavens, but nobody has found it yet.

I have absolutely no intention on entering into the endless speculation that exists on this topic. All I know is that without a regulation requiring an accounting, a record of that data simply doesn't exist. That is the Army way.
 
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