Loading A Muzzle Loader

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
"Firing blanks fouls the bore, but doesn't affect reenacting. One of my friends claims he hasn't cleaned his musket in ten years."

If your friend is telling the truth, he doesn't really reenact as a CW soldier. No reenacting officer or sergeant of any worth at all would allow such a weapon to be used. We check before the first battle of the weekend, and when there is no 'ping' at the bottom of the barrel by dropping the ramrod a few inches onto the base of the barrel, that soldier and his musket are sent to clean it, not allowed to stay and march off to the battle.
I gotta laugh, my buddy was one of the most active reenactor & living history participants that I have ever known, which is saying something. Ranger Jim Lewis at Stones River did make him clean it, mostly because Jim couldn't stand the idea of leaving a musket dirty. Was it actually ten years between cleaning? Who knows, but his ramrod did ping every time, so maybe cleaning up after firing blanks isn't as important as we might think. I have never made the experiment, myself.
 
Joined
Aug 9, 2011
Location
Lockhart, Texas
I gotta laugh, my buddy was one of the most active reenactor & living history participants that I have ever known, which is saying something. Ranger Jim Lewis at Stones River did make him clean it, mostly because Jim couldn't stand the idea of leaving a musket dirty. Was it actually ten years between cleaning? Who knows, but his ramrod did ping every time, so maybe cleaning up after firing blanks isn't as important as we might think. I have never made the experiment, myself.

My experience as a reenactor starting each weekend with a clean barrel, is that the first battle is easy to get through without misfires, even firing 20 or 30 blank rounds. But if it isn't cleaned before the second battle and sits overnight, the grit firms up in the bottom of the barrel and even if allowed to be used, most muskets will misfire often or the cone will be clogged and it won't fire at all.

As a live round shooter at the range, after 10 to 20 rounds, it's super hard to ram a minie ball to the bottom without a quick douse with water or a running a wire brush down the barrel. Or both.

And in both cases, the barrel does get hotter than hades. I keep a flat leather strap tied to the top of my sling ring as a handy grip.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
My experience as a reenactor starting each weekend with a clean barrel, is that the first battle is easy to get through without misfires, even firing 20 or 30 blank rounds. But if it isn't cleaned before the second battle and sits overnight, the grit firms up in the bottom of the barrel and even if allowed to be used, most muskets will misfire often or the cone will be clogged and it won't fire at all.

As a live round shooter at the range, after 10 to 20 rounds, it's super hard to ram a minie ball to the bottom without a quick douse with water or a running a wire brush down the barrel. Or both.

And in both cases, the barrel does get hotter than hades. I keep a flat leather strap tied to the top of my sling ring as a handy grip.
I must say, he always had a vent wire pinned on his hat.
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
As a live round shooter at the range, after 10 to 20 rounds, it's super hard to ram a minie ball to the bottom without a quick douse with water or a running a wire brush down the barrel. Or both.
Might be historical for civil war firing where issues was common.

But it do sound like your bullet is to big or you don't use the right grease?

I only have limited experience with live firing, but both British and danish period sources tell us that it is possible to fire 100+ rounds with no cleaning. But it do require the right bullet and grease.
 
Joined
Aug 9, 2011
Location
Lockhart, Texas
Might be historical for civil war firing where issues was common.

But it do sound like your bullet is to big or you don't use the right grease?

I only have limited experience with live firing, but both British and danish period sources tell us that it is possible to fire 100+ rounds with no cleaning. But it do require the right bullet and grease.

All my minies' are pushed through the proper sizer and well-lubed, and I cannot imagine being able to ram 200 rounds without a couple of quick barrel cleanings. Maybe with a looser round ball in a smooth bore musket, but not with a minie in a rifled barrel.
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
I gotta laugh, my buddy was one of the most active reenactor & living history participants that I have ever known, which is saying something. Ranger Jim Lewis at Stones River did make him clean it, mostly because Jim couldn't stand the idea of leaving a musket dirty. Was it actually ten years between cleaning? Who knows, but his ramrod did ping every time, so maybe cleaning up after firing blanks isn't as important as we might think. I have never made the experiment, myself.
If it pinged every time he's lying about either not cleaning it or firing it at all. As a safety officer and event organizer at multiple events I've told people to go clean their weapon or leave the site.

Firing blanks creates considerably more fouling than live fire.
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
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
1. Not at all tiring, I've fired a lot of lead down range and a properly made cartridge will slide down the barrel w/ little more than the weight of the ramrod and the shooter holding the ramrod. I give 2-3 solid raps once it reaches bottom to make certain it's properly seated.

2. I've never had the barrel grow too hot to touch but I'm also not going for 3 rounds per minute. The reality of combat in the ACW didn't have those boys shooting 3 shots a minute very often either.

3. Not even a little bit.

4. I think the biggest part of that was some damned fool trying to kill them with shots from a rifle, cannon or bat **** crazy cav boy whooping and hollering as he charged at him from the back of a horse.

In all of my study of ACW battles I only found a few where 3 rounds a minute was kept up at all. Stories of men pissing down the barrel to clean it... largely a re-enactorism. I've read just one and only one what I consider legitimate account and that was at Allatoona Pass where it was marveled at as something no one in their right mind would do. Burns on that particular appendage would HURT! With the enthusiastic surgeons and amputation. No thank you very much.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
If it pinged every time he's lying about either not cleaning it or firing it at all. As a safety officer and event organizer at multiple events I've told people to go clean their weapon or leave the site.

Firing blanks creates considerably more fouling than live fire.
Unfortunately my friend is gone, so he is not here to laugh at your gratuitous insult.
 
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johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
Unfortunately my friend is gone, so he is not here to be insulted by your gratuitous insult.
It's one or the other, anyone who has ever actually fired a military black powder weapon will attest. If a man showed up at an event I, or any event I've ever atended, w/ a weapon uncleaned in 10 years... nope, not happening. I don't care if he's dead or not.
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
All my minies' are pushed through the proper sizer and well-lubed, and I cannot imagine being able to ram 200 rounds without a couple of quick barrel cleanings. Maybe with a looser round ball in a smooth bore musket, but not with a minie in a rifled barrel.
Popper sized for what? the historical size of american bullets? or for effective shooting with no fouling?
The american bullets was arguable larger than needed. Resulting in this issue.

In the system used by the British and danish armies the bullet was loaded with the paper and the paper held the grease.
And both had tests showing that is was indeed possible to fire a hundred rounds with no cleaning. Because each round pulled the fouling from the shot before it, when fired.

The british made their bullets smaller a couple of times with no loss of accuracy. They simply underestimated how much the bullet could expand when the first version of the round was designed.

"Colonel Lane-Fox recalls that as First Instructor at Hythe (before 1855), “as many as 150 rounds were frequently fired out of the same barrel” without any fouling or difficulty of loading. Even more remarkably, the rifles were left to sit overnight without any cleaning “in order to make the test severe.” They still loaded and fired “without experiencing the slightest difficulty in loading.”
Busk’s Hand-Book says rifles were fired “200 times successively without any difficulty in loading.” "


Taken from https://nebula.wsimg.com/a1ee616841...C5D56582B54161E90&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

I highly suggest reading it. It tell both about when the enfield was seen as "perfect" with this cartridge and how it was almost taken out of service because the same cartridges didn't work when transported to other parts of the world. (and show why Minie was a rather minor person in the story of the rifle musket)

And danish testing in the late 1850ties show the same. Firing bullets all day, letting the weapon stay dirty over the night and then firing again the next day. And it note that the last shot was just as easy to load as the first shot.
And in that test the P53 was tested against danish made rifle muskets and against up-rifled muskets.

edit - typos
 
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captaindrew

Major
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Whereabouts Unknown
I gotta laugh, my buddy was one of the most active reenactor & living history participants that I have ever known, which is saying something. Ranger Jim Lewis at Stones River did make him clean it, mostly because Jim couldn't stand the idea of leaving a musket dirty. Was it actually ten years between cleaning? Who knows, but his ramrod did ping every time, so maybe cleaning up after firing blanks isn't as important as we might think. I have never made the experiment, myself.
I can assure you it will not ping after just a few rounds
 
Joined
Aug 9, 2011
Location
Lockhart, Texas
Popper sized for what? the historical size of american bullets? or for effective shooting with no fouling?
The american bullets was arguable larger than needed. Resulting in this issue.

In the system used by the British and danish armies the bullet was loaded with the paper and the paper held the grease.
And both had tests showing that is was indeed possible to a hundred of rounds with no cleaning. Because each round pulled the fouling from the shot before it with it when fired.

The british made their bullets smaller a couple of times with no loss of accuracy. They simply underestimated how much the bullet could expand when the first version of the round was designed.

"Colonel Lane-Fox recalls that as First Instructor at Hythe (before 1855), “as many as 150 rounds were frequently fired out of the same barrel” without any fouling or difficulty of loading. Even more remarkably, the rifles were left to sit overnight without any cleaning “in order to make the test severe.” They still loaded and fired “without experiencing the slightest difficulty in loading.”
Busk’s Hand-Book says rifles were fired “200 times successively without any difficulty in loading.” "


Taken from https://nebula.wsimg.com/a1ee616841...C5D56582B54161E90&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

I highly suggest reading it. It tell both about when the enfield was seen as "perfect" with this cartridge and how it was almost taken out of service because the same cartridges didn't work when transported to other parts of the world. (and show why Minie was a rather minor person in the story of the rifle musket)

And danish testing in the late 1850ties show the same. Firing bullets all day, letting the weapon stay dirty over the night and then firing again the next day. And it note that the last shot was just as easy to load as the first shot.
And in that test the P53 was tested against danish made rifle muskets and against up-rifled muskets.

That's fascinating stuff. Thanks for the info.
 

Don Dixon

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 24, 2008
Location
Fairfax, VA, USA
We had a young, authentically garbed, reenactor appear at one of the N-SSA national skirmishes. He wanted to camp with a Confederate unit, and since we're always interested in a possible new recruit we invited him to pitch his tent with us.

As we cleaned our muskets after some of the individual matches he commented in amazement at the thoroughness of the process. I asked how he cleaned his musket, and he said that he poured hot water down the bore, scrubbed it with some tow on his ramrod, and oiled it, just like they did in the Wah. He had never shot the musket with live ammunition, only blanks at reenactments.

I suggested that he fill the bore of his musket up with some of my Moose Milk and let it soak while we drank a beer, and then we would see how clean his gun was. We put the musket in a cleaning cradle and started working on with with a bronze brush. After about half an hour of scrubbing, we finally stopped getting chunks of hard powder fouling out of the bore, and then started in on the rust. Looking at the bore with a bore light, one saw the craters of the moon in the midst of the residue of the rifling. Old sarge would have taken him out behind the company line and beaten him half to death. When he asked what he would need if he wanted to shoot in the N-SSA, I told him that he first needed a new barrel because he'd ruined the one on his musket. While my statement was accurate, I'm afraid that I insulted the poor thing.

Back to the original questions:

1) When ramming the round, how difficut/tiring is this? Not at all. 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? No. Its a Saturday afternoon at the beach.

2) After firing a few rounds, does the barrell get so hot as to impact the ability to hold and control and reload? No.

3) Does heat impact the shape of the barrell No. and make it easier or harder to ram a round down? No. It would only be harder if you had poor lubricants and were getting powder fouling. On multiple occasions I've shot over a hundred rounds in practice, and the last went down the tube as easily as the first.

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? They loaded multiple rounds without realizing they hadn't fired the rifle because they were terrified, and miserably trained in marksmanship.

I'll quote Major General Meade. On 19 April 1864, two weeks before the Overland Campaign began, he directed that the soldiers of the Army of Potomac receive an additional expenditure of 10 rounds of small arms ammunition. The order went on: “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 supervision 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 then it wasn't about hitting a target at 200 yards or even hitting a target at 50 yards. It was about ensuring that the men could merely load and fire their weapons correctly 10 times. [emphasis added] (O.R., I, 33, 907-8)

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
Two assumptions based on the above discussion:
1.) Fouling was an issue in American Civil War combat..
2.) 3 rounds per minute was not sustainable after the first few rounds due to fouling and fatigue.(seems obvious to me but I am not an expert).

Would these remarks be correct?

The above conversation was fascinating but I did get somewhat confused, (not unusual for me).

Thanks to all hands, John
 

FedericoFCavada

Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
1)Fouling was a big issue throughout the use of black powder weapons, including the American Civil War.
There were cases where soldiers had to bang the rods down, which is injurious to the rod of course. Some had to leave the line and clean out some of the fouling. Soldiers had simple tools to service the muskets. A turn screw/ screw driver, and a "tow worm" to attach tow to scrub the bore. NCOs could have additional tools and equipment.
2) 3-rounds per minute was drilled over and over and over again until it became "second nature." In actual combat, NCOs often had to slow down their men so they wouldn't shoot wild or high. The theoretical versus the actual rate of fire is something addressed in, dare I say it again? Earl Hess's excellent book The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat. How the weapons were designed and what their capabilities were is one thing. How they were typically employed is another.

Allow me to state that I fired a *single 100 grain FFg* cartridge as a blank with no projectile in a salute during Texas Independence in early March. I neglected to clean the flintlock musket, and overlooked it during the nuttiness of the ongoing SARS-CoV-2/ Covid-19 brouhaha. The musket has had metal left "in the white. The amount of scrubbing with sweet oil and brick dust to eliminate the active rust on the exterior let alone the fouling in the bore's interior would have to be seen to be believed. Had I fired, say, ten or more cartridges and neglected it, as I did, I shudder to think about the status it would be in. I have purchased muskets online, and received them from re-enactors with uncleaned barrels. This entailed repeated and extended scrubbings with hot water and copper wool and brass brushes, followed by something like half a jar of bore paste and patching out.... NCOs and officers would have had the men scrubbing metal barrels bright, polishing buttons, all sorts of things to keep idle hands busy.

Many of us who do skirmishing have modified what we do for modern safety concerns. Viz.: The minié/burton ball is placed just barely in the muzzle. We choke up on the ramrod, and start it into the barrel , before then extending the arm along the rammer to finish seating the bullet on the powder charge. It goes down easy. The original technique called for unwrapping any paper from the bullet (I here speak of U.S.-style cartridges, not British or European style paper cartridges, which I've made and used too), and seating the bullet into the muzzle with the thumb. This is unsafe by modern standards, where we use the thumb and fore-finger to lightly introduce the skirt of the lubed Minié/Burton ball before going for the rod. We leave the rod in the socket bayonet stuck in the ground, rather than introducing the ramrod back into its channel, and thereby someone diminish the possibility of shooting a rod down range. Every now and then, for fun, a volley is fired, but we don't shoot by files or any of the other techniques of fire that were developed. It's pretty much just "fire at will." Of course, as battles wore on, firing must certainly have gone this route and become general for the most part. There is a Canadian who has a Victorian era rifleman Youtube channel who can really show and demonstrate how the shoulder arms of the period were actually used, including the U.S. Civil War staple, the British P53 Enfield. Similarly, one of the champion muzzle loaders from Hungary, Bálazs Néneth has an English-language (albeit with Magyar accent!) Youtube channel that includes ample, and sobering, tests of the relative merits of smooth-bores and rifled arms, the Austro-Hungarian Lorenz rifle (widely used in the "Late Unpleasant War of Aggression Between the States in Rebellion"). Good luck with your research!
 

DixieRifles

Captain
Member of the Year
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Joined
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Location
Collierville, TN
"Firing blanks fouls the bore, but doesn't affect reenacting. One of my friends claims he hasn't cleaned his musket in ten years."

If your friend is telling the truth, he doesn't really reenact as a CW soldier. No reenacting officer or sergeant of any worth at all would allow such a weapon to be used.
Occasionally, I like to browse through Pawn Shops. I used to see some Black Powder rifles with the old percussion hammer. I like to check them out. I remember one that looked a little used, not shiny but clean. The bore was a rust bucket. Maybe never cleaned after the last time it was fired. Or people liked to poke their finger down the .50 caliber bore a lot.
 

Don Dixon

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 24, 2008
Location
Fairfax, VA, USA
Let's discuss "powder fouling."

Given the mythology of the Southern soldier as a gaunt, ragged man who maintained his weapon with meticulous care, one of the things which I found interesting in my research in Confederate Inspector General reports was the number of occasions in which units’ arms were characterized by the inspecting officers as being “dirty.” Fouling in muzzle loading arms is a particular problem because it makes them difficult to load, and because the corrosive properties of black powder fouling will render weapons unserviceable in very short order. Keeping equipment serviceable requires constant supervision of troops by a unit’s noncommissioned officers and officers. Ill-trained, incompetent, or unmotivated NCOs and officers are either not equipped to provide such supervision or are unprepared to do so, and the condition of a unit’s equipment is a clear sign of the competence of its leadership. (Confederate Inspector General Reports, M935, passim, NARA)

The Confederate ordnance establishment recognized that it had a maintenance and inspection problem. On 1 June 1863 First Lieutenant J. Wilcox Brown submitted a report on weapons he had inspected in Richmond; presumably weapons associated with the Army of Northern Virginia. In his 2 June endorsement of the report, Lieutenant Colonel William L. Broun, commander of the Richmond Arsenal, wrote “It will be seen by the enclosed report that the ball is sufficiently small for the gun when clean, in good order, but if it is deemed necessary to furnish a ball for guns when foul, in bad order, as it seems the guns in the army [of Northern Virginia] are, those of a requisite diameter will be supplied upon your order.” Lieutenant Dinwiddie wrote to Broun on 5 June regarding inadequate maintenance and inspection that “I know from observation…when rigid company inspections are so rare, the cry will continue to be that the balls lodge in the gun.” But, if they reduced the size of the bullet to compensate for incompetent maintenance, accuracy of fire would suffer. [emphasis in original] (Brown and Broun to Gorgas, 1 and 2 June 1863; Dinwiddie to Broun, 5 June 1863; cited at Thomas, Round Ball to Rimfire, IV, 86-8)

On 11 June 1863 Brigadier General Gorgas sent a circular to the ordnance officers in the field directing something that should have been inherently obvious. “Please procure an order requiring commanding officers of infantry companies to have the interior of the barrels of Rifles & Muskets rigidly inspected and kept clean. It is believed that the complaints against Cartridges are mainly to ‘foul barrels’ and not to the size of the ball.” In response to Gorgas’ circular, General Lee directed on 15 June, during the Gettysburg Campaign, that inspectors in the Army of Northern Virginia look specifically to this issue and report their observations, and that the inspection should be made “habitual.” [emphasis in original] (Thomas, Round Ball to Rimfire, IV, 90)

What a revolutionary concept, that the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia - purportedly the greatest army in the history of the world - should actually clean the barrels of their rifles, and that their NCOs and officers should actually inspect the weapons to ensure that this was done ----- two years into the war.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 
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Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
@FedericoFCavada . and @Don Dixon Thanks very much for responding to my questions.

i have some experience with black powder weapons but am no expert. Casual plinking was it. I received two black powder weapons as a kid. One an original model 1816 Waters 69 caliber, converted to percussion. The other about five years later a Belgium manufactured reproduction of a 58 caliber, two band, percussion rifle musket. My Dad and I refered to it as a Zouave special although I am sure that was just us.

We molded our own ammunition but did not use paper cartridges. This was in the 1950s and early 1960s. My shooting has been very limited since then but I still have the Waters which I no longer fire.

My memory of the difficulty I had ramming the ball home after firing about 10 or 12 rounds with that Belgian reproduction have stuck in my mind all these years. More than once I ended my shooting day with big blisters.

So in my later reading on Civil War battles I frequently came across accounts of regiments shooting up their forty round and even the extra twenty they were carrying in their pockets and wondering what the hell I had done wrong.

Later I read about the cleaning rounds and wondered how effective they would have been or how prevalent they were.

I know paper cartridges made exactly as they were in the war would have helped some, but then there were peeing down the barrell stories.

I would have thought these issues, if they were occurring in the actual battlefields of the time, would greatly effect the effectiveness of the volleys delivered by a regiment the longer it was engaged in firing.

I learn a lot from these discussions and I greatly appreciate your comments. I am going to try to find those YouTube videos you suggested FedericoFCavada.

Thanks again, John
 
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