“A Musket Recipe & the Rifling Revolution” – Eric Johnson

The long-standing debate between the faster musket versus the more accurate rifle comes to a mortal head when the Civil War erupts.(Videos below)

When the country was first formed and our first President was George Washington, he’s known to us in Jefferson County for a variety of reasons, but Mr. Washington came to Jefferson County also to look for a suitable location for a place to build these firearms. Now, I picked the Charleville for a reason. That’s because in the American Revolution, the principle arm that we were armed with from another country at first, was the

Brown Bess from Britain. But as you can imagine the British were a little hostile and angry with us, so that didn’t last too long. So we went looking for other sources, and the French, ever anxious to do battle with England, were able to arm us with the Charleville pattern musket.

We had a lot of these left over from the Revolutionary War; and what ended up happening was that we took that musket pattern and the Ordinance Department said: “You know? We need to copy already what we have in stock. What makes the most sense?” – and that would be the Charleville. So Washington came to Jefferson County to have a look at the area and said: “You know what you need to build a gun. . .”

You notice when I’m holding this gun, you need wood – right?- and you need metal.

Well it just so happens in Jefferson County, you have brown hematite flowing under the rocks and under the grounds – and to tell you what that is – that’s iron ore. There had already been existing iron furnaces in the County – in fact, in the Shenandoah Valley and the Cumberland Valley up through the Appalachian stream. So, iron is a necessity when you’re making guns – also to make the machineries, and the cutting bits, and the tools that we need to make all these pieces. The other product you need is wood,

hardwood to be exact. You need walnut perhaps to make the dense stocks. Sometimes maple is used. But, the reason that’s often overlooked and why Harper’s Ferry and Jefferson County seemed a suitable place at the time as we had lots of other hard woods.

And hardwoods are used to form charcoal. (NOTE: This video on iron-making omits the finery forge stage, an oversight-ED)

Eric Johnson continues:
And charcoal is what fires forges – foundries that will do the casting, forges that will use the heat to forge the metal into shapes.

Charcoal is also used in foundries and furnaces to make the raw iron itself. So those raw materials existed in Jefferson County. Also, the one component we add to all this we did have was water power, magnificent water power in the form of the falls of the Shenandoah.

As you know, the Shenandoah and the Potomac converge and they come together. And as they come together, there is a powerful current. So if you wanted to take a wheel, let’s say, or a turbine and go and plop it into the river next to you or build a canal so that you capture some of that falling energy,

and you’re able to turn an axis or a shaft and transfer that so it runs belts and things: well, guess what? – you’ve made a factory. And that is why the area was looked at to build firearms. There were some other reasons. Obviously we were a little closer to the capital of Washington City and it was felt that the location in Jefferson County was far enough away

from the Chesapeake Bay and sea area so that an invading enemy, like the British enemy in 1812, would have a hard time getting to it – let’s say in a day’s time. It would take them a while to get across the mountain and over the roads and passes. So, it was a strategic location to build firearms. It was considered a defensible one. And also all the raw materials were there to build these parts and pieces that we’re going to talk about today.

The other thing that’s overlooked often in the discussion of the making of muskets and rifles is you have to have the people who are talented enough to make them. Well, in the area, we had a nice collection of craftsmen – gunsmiths, professional gunsmiths – who had trained under the craftsmanship system – master gunsmiths in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. So you have that large resource to draw upon to fill the factory system to build this piece. All of the parts and pieces of this plan come together and one of the first pieces produced in the armory system looks an awful lot like this.

It’s called the model 1795 U.S. musket, and it’s probably an exact copy of the one I’m holding in my hand – the Charleville. And so that will go on for years. And that’s the principle arm in the armory system that we’re interested in producing.

In the Revolutionary War, America had a secret. Well, not really so much of a secret, but an idea that was novel to us. We in this country had rifles, and we had riflemen, and the idea we had was that,

instead of having a barrel like this one that is smooth – you dump something in and it falls to the bottom – it’s not about speed as much, as it is about accuracy. I’m gonna discuss rifling with you in just a little bit.

In my hand, I’m holding a nice period piece. This is a double rifle. It’s made by a master craftsman. You notice the candy striping on the rod. There is no practical reason for that, but it sure does look good. That says that the man who made this – the men who made this – were excellent at what they did.

The piece that is rifled is a thick-walled barrel, and inside that barrel, are a series of grooves and risers or lands. They twist as they go to the bottom of the barrel. And the idea behind the rifle is that you would put your powder down, then you would put a cloth patch, usually soaked in some kind of fat or a lard substance, to make it slide down easier, then a very tight-fitting ball.

Here is where the ramrod comes in handy. You will need this because it is going to be tight-fitting to push it all the way down to the very bottom of the chamber so that it fires.

When you fire the rifle, the idea is that the patch takes up the grooves and starts to spin, much like throwing a football. If you throw a football and spiral it, it goes farther and straighter and faster than if you just threw it end-over-end and it would tumble. The rifle was the same principle: put a spin on the ball, it made it much more accurate. So the United State Armory at Harper’s Ferry also produced rifles. Some of the first rifles that were produced were called “contract rifles.”

The first United States Armory product in the rifle form is the Model of 1803. Some people thought that maybe Lewis and Clark took that rifle with them when they went West. There’s still some question about that. Probably they might have taken a 1798 contract rifle with them. In any event, a rifle was an idea that stuck in America. It was something that you would issue to a picket or a vidette, (that’s a soldier that advances out in front of the main body of troops), or perhaps their sharpshooter, (someone who stays behind who’s going to shoot at, let’s say, an officer, or an important person that you want to eliminate from the battlefield). The rifle would never go away. And the idea of rifling actually would never go away.

Again, the thing to emphacize here is the musket is fast to load, the rifle is slow to load. The rifle you may get one shot per minute with proficiency, the musket you will have shooting three to four times per minute. So it’s about the amount of lead in the air (with the musket-ED).

I’m mentioning all these things to you, because in the American Civil War, all of this comes to a head (the use of rifle v. musket-ED) and will progress through some of the pieces that we have here and talk about the changes that come.

As beautiful as this piece is that I hold in my hand – as well-made as it is, and it is well-made – it probably took a master gunsmith, I’d say, a good three or four months of his life, that’s starting with every piece of it, and hand-making every piece of it. So while it’s beautiful to behold, and very functional, and very strong – if you’re on a battlefield and if some part breaks, you can’t reach into your box of parts and slap another one on there . . .

Eric Johnson is “a blacksmith doing 18th and 19th Century reproductions, some restoration, some consultation, and some sculpted iron artwork for fun, a Jefferson County small farmer growing grass-fed lamb and turkeys, and a struggling father trying to keep 3 kids in higher learning and a wonderful wife happy. I have been; an NPS Ranger, Farm Museum Interpretive Designer, then a Farm Museum Manager for several Ag. historic sites in Henrico Co. VA, Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactment coordinator for the aforementioned site, contract living history interpreter/speaker. I have collected and repaired/restored many black powder firearms over the years and still do.”

Useful Local Links:

Eric Johnson Discusses the Sharps, Enfields and Colt Weapons

Eric Johnson Discusses James Henry Burton

Eric Johnson Discusses the 1855 Rifle

Eric Johnson Discusses the 1841 Model Rifle

The Man Who Changed The World – That You Never Heard Of – Eric Johnson Explains

Only “Pretty Days” For Civil War Battles? – Eric Johnson Explains

Mr. Hall Showed Us How To Make Things

References:

Brown Bess
Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

Charleville_musket. Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

Musketparts.jpg. Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

“Glosssary of Firearms Terminology.” Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 April 2011.

Abbot, Jacob. (July, 1852). “The Armory at Springfield.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. New York, NY: Harper and Bros. Vol. 5, Issue: 26. pp. 145-162. Print.

Abbot, Jacob. (July, 1852). “The Armory at Springfield.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Parks as Classrooms, Springfield Armory. Start date unavailable. Web. 25 Apr. 2011.

Harper’s Ferry Model 1803. Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

Videos:

Johnson, Eric. “Civil War Weapons by Eric Johnson Part 1.” {Video} (6:19). Retrieved 10 Sept. 2011.

Johnson, Eric. “Civil War Weapons by Eric Johnson Part 2.” {Video} (9:39). Retrieved 10 Sept. 2011.

Johnson, Eric. “Civil War Weapons by Eric Johnson Part 3.” {Video} (8:19). Retrieved 10 Sept. 2011.

Johnson, Eric. “Eric Johnson Discusses the 1841 Model Rifle.” {Video} (13:08). Retrieved 10 Sept. 2011.

Johnson, Eric. “Eric Johnson Discusses the 1855 Rifle.” {Video} (6:45). Retrieved 10 Sept. 2011.

Johnson, Eric. “Eric Johnson Discusses the Burton Bullet.” {Video} (23:06). Retrieved 10 Sept. 2011.

Johnson, Eric. “Eric Johnson Discusses the Sharps, Enfields and Colt Weapons.” {Video} (11:39). Retrieved 10 Sept. 2011.

Surkamp, Jim. (2009). “Frontier Iron-Making.” {Video}. (7:33). Retrieved 3 Aug. 2011 from:

(NOTE: Received this post: “Great video, but you forgot about the finery forge in which the brittle pig iron had the carbon burnt out of it in order to make wrought iron which was malleable and workable by blacksmiths.” – post by MrThahey June, 2010-ED)

Surkamp, Jim. (2008). “Thomas Shepherd Mill.” {Video} (9:10). Retrieved 3 Aug. 2011 from:

Flickr Sets:

George Washington
Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

Brown Bess
Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

Painting of musket use from
Surkamp, Jim. (2009). “Beeline March 2.” {Video} Retrieved (4:39). 2 Aug. 2011 from:

hfjeffvid.jpg
Surkamp, Jim. (2009). “Frontier Iron-Making.” {Video}. (7:33). Retrieved 3 Aug. 2011 from:

Walnut Tree
Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

slow cooking wood to make charcoal
Surkamp, Jim. (2009). “Frontier Iron-Making.” {Video}. (7:33). Retrieved 3 Aug. 2011.

foundries and furnaces
Surkamp, Jim. (2009). “Frontier Iron-Making.” {Video}. (7:33). Retrieved 3 Aug. 2011.
and
Diderot, Denis. (1751). “Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (English: Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts). Paris, France. Print.

forge from
Diderot, Denis. (1751). “Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (English: Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts). Paris, France. Print.

convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rives after heavy rains – Jim Surkamp

closeup of rushing water – Jim Surkamp, from Industry Museum, Harper’s Ferry Historic National Park, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

mill gears from:
Surkamp, Jim. (2008). “Thomas Shepherd Mill.” {Video} (9:10). Retrieved 3 Aug. 2011.

pulleys – Jim Surkamp from Industry Museum, Harper’s Ferry Historic National Park, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

barrel worker
Abbot, Jacob. (July, 1852). “The Armory at Springfield.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. New York, NY: Harper and Bros. Vol. 5, Issue: 26. pp. 145-162. Print.

Abbot, Jacob. (July, 1852). “The Armory at Springfield.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Parks as Classrooms, Springfield Armory. Start date unavailable. Web. 25 Apr. 2011.

detail of region between Harper’s Ferry and Chesapeake Bay from
Fry, Joshua. (1755). “A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. Drawn by Joshua Fry & Peter Jefferson:” London: Thos Jeffrys. Print.

Fry, Joshua. (1755). “A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. Drawn by Joshua Fry & Peter Jefferson:” United States. The Library of Congress: American Memory. “Maps Collection.” 27 Oct. 2009 Web 10 Sept. 2010.

musket fire from
Surkamp, Jim. (2009). “Beeline March 2.” {Video} Retrieved (4:39). 2 Aug. 2011.

Eric Johnson explaining a smooth barrel (from video)

Eric Johnson explaining a double barrel (from video)

Eric Johnson explaining a thick-walled barrel (from video)

Eric Johnson explaining a ramrod with double-barrel firearm (from video)

Musket parts
Wikipedia English. Latest update 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

TAGS: history, Civil War, Eric Johnson, musket, rifling, Brown Bess, Charleville, Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, Armory, American Public University System, http://amu.apus.edu , Southwood Farm Forge, Sharpsburg Armory, Jim Surkamp, 1795 U.S. musket,

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