GUNS Magazine May 2013 Digital Edition - Page 8

Although Duke has owned many replica rifle-muskets and one original, the sample he has kept is this ParkerHale reproduction of the Enfield Model 1853 .577. The Rifle MuskeT The leThaliTy of warfare is bruTally escalaTed by Minié’s invenTion. I Mike “DUke” VentUrino Photos: YVonne VentUrino t sounds farfetched to say the configuration of a simple piece of lead revolutionized warfare with a result being hundreds of thousands of dead and seriously wounded soldiers. It is true. The war was the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 and the piece of lead was the Minié Ball. his only hope was the opposition was taking prisoners that day. In the 1840s, a French officer named Minié discovered if the musket’s barrel was rifled and its projectile was conical with a hollowbase, it could be loaded like a smoothbore musket but give precise bullet placement like a rifle. Gas produced by gunpowder’s explosion filled the Minié ball’s hollowbase, swelling it to fill the rifling grooves. When everything worked properly, after taking Here is a very brief history of that chunk of metal. For hundreds of years, European armies had been blazing away at one another with smoothbore muskets of large caliber firing round lead balls. General wisdom has them not being capable of reliably placing a ball on a human target past 50 yards. (Actually, some can do much better than that, as I have witnessed. We’ll cover such in a column in the future.) Military tactics during the smoothbore musket era called for soldiers to pack themselves in a dense mass, fire a volley at the enemy in their likewise tightly packed ranks and then charge with bayonets fixed. The bayonet was considered the battle’s determining factor. Be sure there were rifles in existence, and they were used to limited good effect in the American Revolution of the 1770s/1780s but they were not the final answer on battlefields. The reason was that they were too slow to reload and had no provision for bayonets. If a rifleman with an empty weapon came face-to-face with an enemy soldier having a bayonet attached to a 5-foot-long musket 8 the rifling Minié balls flew to where a musket’s sights were aimed—more or less. Early on it was felt an iron plug was necessary in the Minié ball’s base to insure expansion. Before long the plug was found to be superfluous. By the 1850s, all modern armies, meaning mostly those of European nations, were wielding what came to be called “rifle-muskets.” Generally speaking their calibers ran from .577 to .69. By the time of our Civil War, the US Army’s rifle-musket caliber was .58. According to U.S. Firearms 1776-1875 by David F. Butler, .58-caliber rifle-musket ammunition consisted of a 60-grain powder charge encased in a paper cartridge with a 500-grain Minié Ball. In use a soldier tore off the base of the paper cartridge, poured the charge down his musket’s barrel, and rammed the Minié ball on top, lastly placing a cap on the nipple. The 40-inch barrel of a Model 1861 rifle-musket gave about 1,000 fps velocity. long range? According to some sources riflemuskets of the Civil War were accurate to 1,000 yards. That is utter nonsense. An experienced rifleman with a properly sighted rifle-musket had a moderately good chance of hitting an opponent as far as 300 yards. He would have been deadly at 100 yards. Because officers on both sides of the Civil War were still trained in antiquated tactics, such level of precision was suitable to produce the horrendous casualties for which that conflict is infamous. The key words in this paragraph are “properly sighted” and “experienced rifleman.” The Model 1861, predominant in the Civil War, had a simple leaftype rear sight with a tiny nub atop the barrel for a front sight. The sight leaves were meant for 100 and 300 yards but some versions had a third leave for 500 yards. Being made in the hundreds of thousands by a host The original Colt Model 1861 Special .58 musket was sighted with a 3-leaf rear sight. W W W . G U N S M A G A Z I N E . C O M • M AY 2 0 1 3

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