Saturday, February 23, 2013

Celebration Station! Edwin Blankenship

Day 23

Fighting Things in the 19th Century
By Charles “Chuckwagon Charlie” Albertus Whatley

If you know you’re going to run into trouble, prepare yourself.

One may say that the fighting spirit or mental toughness is more important than what iron you’re packing. It’s true. You can have all of the firepower you need at your fingertips, but if you don’t have the willingness to pull the trigger you will likely die. Having a weapon, in that case, just means the other fellow has a better and more urgent reason to do unto others. So if you doubt your ability to inflict grievous harm, don’t make things worse for yourself.

Let’s say you have grit and are willing to kill in order to live. Now, you might never lay a hand on another soul in your whole life, yet you should prepare for such an eventuality. Why is that? I hate cheating when I’m playing poker, but when the lead starts to fly, I’m going to fix the odds in favor of the house as much as I can. And by house I mean myself.

Enough of that then.

What is your budget? It’s nice to have two of everything, such as a pair of engraved and inlaid pearl handled Colts. But unless you’re Mr. Moneybags you may have to make do with the less than ideal arsenal.

Let’s start with the basics in hand to hand …


These bad boys don’t break springs, have sights to go out of alignment, suffer wet powder or run out of bullets. The comments made earlier about your willingness to kill go double for these things. The work done with them is both up close and personal. More strength is needed to employ them than firearms require.

If you’re toting a sword, you’re probably insane or in the cavalry. They’re bulky, and will draw attention to you that you may want, but I certainly don’t. So, unless your sergeant insists, leave this at home.

A big Arkansas toothpick or Bowie knife is sometimes just the right medicine. If your town bans firearms, you could still have something to make a persuasive argument. They don’t make loud noises when you stick somebody with them neither. (Though, truthfully, your target may.)

If you think you might face a similarly armed opponent, make sure your quillon (crossguard) is sturdy and large enough. Some Bowie knives have a brass strip on the back edge to ‘catch’ an opponent’s sword. I wouldn’t bother with that.

Straight razors are easy to conceal and sometimes you have one  on you when you have nothing else. However, fencing with it is problematic and unless your purpose is to murder your opponent by slashing his throat, it is not my first choice. Folding blades have these characteristics as well, as do switchblades.

Hatchets and tomahawks are easy to carry and useful enough for other chores that I like having them around.

If you have the skill to do it, throwing blades are good for a scrape. Never, however, throw your last blade. If you’re going to do this, practice a lot. A knife that don’t land right won’t get your point across at all.

A simple sharpened spike is cheap, easy to conceal, silent, and extends your lethal reach.

Exotic items—like shurikens, katanas, medieval broadswords and the like—are as deadly as they ever were, but are hard to come by and mark the bearer as foreign, crazy, or both. Either that or part of a Gilbert and Sullivan traveling show. (Is that redundant?)

Clubs, blackjacks and brass knuckles likewise can do the job, but are better employed as backups for your primary weapons.

Which leads us to …

~Pistols and Rifles and Shotguns~

Before I delve into the options we have for you today, let’s talk a bit about the weapons we used to employ, that way you can appreciate where we are by looking at where we came from.

In 1801 muzzle loading flintlocks were the usual weapons. By modern standard they were ridiculously slow and complicated to load and prime. Rifles did exist, but were even slower to load. (Rifling consisted of spiral grooves inside the barrel to spin the bullet in flight to improve accuracy.)

The primary infantry weapon a that time was a large bore, smooth bore muzzle loading flintlock, that was expected to double as a handle for a bayonet point as much as fired at an opponent. The main cavalry weapon was a saber.

Thankfully the equipment of the third branch of the army, artillery, is outside the scope of my essay, as is military maneuvering and tactics. My concern is for the individual warrior.

If a rural person such as yourself has only one weapon, it would be the shotgun. Early in American history most weapons were smooth bored and capable of firing shot. Which, in case you didn’t know already, means multiple pellets. At close range, nothing else can match the terrible damage of a shotgun.

When rifling became commonplace, such arms were purpose built as shotguns. Once of the great strengths of this gun is its versatility. By varying the type of projectiles used, a shotgun is suitable for hunting game from quail to grizzly bear. A twelve gauge can fire a fistful of small birdshot, larger buckshot or a single ball.

Percussion ignition made things much faster. By the time of the War of Northern Aggression, percussion muzzle loading rifled muskets made warfare deadlier then ever. Cutting down the barrel of a scatter gun for easier handling in close quarters makes sense. Twenty to twenty six inches is about right. Cutting off the stock to make a pistol out of this weapon, however, results in one that is difficult to use and uncomfortable to fire. Don’t think it will result in a yard wide shot pattern either. Contrary to popular opinion, it still has to be pointed at the target, not just in the general area.

Percussion revolvers are more effective than a single shot pistols. When Colt introduced them around 1836, gunslingers found an instrument whose music lasted more than one note. The enormously heavy (four pounds!) and powerful Walker Colt should be left alone. It is prone to blow up in your hand.

For mayhem, stick with the medium to larger calibers, .36 to .44. The smaller ones are fine for backups or concealment, but more power is required for serious social intercourse. Reloading these hoglegs is still long and complicated, so if multiple opponents are around, you might need multiple guns. Josie Wales carried two Walker Colts, two .44 Army model Colts and a .31 caliber pocket in a shoulder hoslter.

If you can get it, a Remington percussion revolver is stronger due to it’s solid frame construction. The Colt’s of this time had no frame top strap over the cylinder. There are many other weapons of this type, varying in price and quality.

Confederate Civil War Colt copies can be completely cantankerous. Even the well made ones endured rough use, so survivors are rare and usually well worn.

Self contained cartridges were a vast improvement in ease and speed of reloading. Smith and Wesson had control of the patent for bored through cylinders until after the Civil War, and their early weapons were of small caliber. When it expired, both Colt and Remington offered conversions to cartridge use for older percussion guns. If you’re on a budget, this could be the way to go.

The ’73 Colt Single Action Army and Remingtons of ’75 are roughly similar in appearance and function. Smith’s ’70 breaktop reloaded much faster and, although not as popular as the Colt SAA, would be my choice for a weapon of this type of vintage.

Double action revolvers—only needing trigger pull to rotate cylinder and cockhammer—were also popular. Avoid the early Colts, though, as they were prone to mechanical failure but were highly popular nonetheless. Stay away from cheap ‘suicide special’ type of revolvers too. As they say, you get what you pay for, and a bargin now could pay for a funeral later.

Black powder weapons need thorough cleaning and lubrication after use. Its residue is messy and corrosive, though the nickel plating of some weapons helps a lot.  If you think you’ll need to clear leather in a hurry, stay away from military style full flap holsters.

If you have it available, take a rifle to your gunfight. It’ll provide greater power than pistols and greater range than a shotgun. Even if the rifle is chambered for a pistol cartridge, the longer barrel will provide more time for the powder to burn, and thus provide more velocity. The Winchester lever actions are very nice, as is the Civil War era Spencer repeater.

I like the 44-40’s, otherwise known as the Winchester ’73 and ’92 models. They are handy and comfortable to shoot. You can sometimes get big bore revolvers chambered for this caliber and need one type of ammunition for rifle and sidearm. The bigger ones that fire 45-70 type ammo may be required if you need more range, past one hundred yards or so, or enough punch to argue with a grizzly bear.

Colt’s Lightning model repeater is very nice too, if you prefer pump action.

At the tail end of the 19th century we saw the new smokeless powder weapons appear. They are much cleaner burning, less smoky (of course) and capable of much greater performance than black powder. The flatter trajectory for rifles meant an increased effective range. Old big bores, like the 45-70, were in fact capable of shooting past five hundred yards, but their curved trajectory required expert range estimation. Flat trajectories more closely approximated line of sight.

Be very careful in using smokeless loads in guns designed for black powder. Actually, on second thought, just don’t do it. Instead use a weapon you know can handle the smokeless load. This also applies to hot hand loads with greater than normal charges. It can be done, but you better know what you’re doing.

Late 19th century military bolt action rifles are powerful, long ranged, reliable and sometimes cheap. The French Lebel 8mm was the first of these. The Spanish and ’98 German Mausers are particularly outstanding. Their stripper clip loading system makes reloading a snap. I like the cavalry or carbine versions of these as the infantry models with 30” long barrels are somewhat unwieldy. Keep the bayonet if you want, but I plan on using my rifle as a rifle, not a spear.

Also, don’t use your weapon as a blackjack, hammer or gavel. Respect your tools and treat them well, as if your life depended on it. Keep ‘em clean and lubricated.

Don’t think you can just show your iron, wave it around to cow people and not have to use it. If you do get yourself shot, the bad guy will have the excuse that you’re armed. Don’t think you can just ‘shoot ‘em in the leg’ and stop your opponent without killing ‘em. It may or may not work for one thing, and you could end up killing them anyways. Unless you’re Annie Oakley, don’t try to shot the guns from their hands or even in the head. The chest is a better target. Aim for the center of it.

Of the many early auto loading pistols, the only ones I would recommend is the ’96 broom handle Mauser with its wooden combination holster stock, and the model 1900 Browning. The Browning is flat and small and suitable for concealed carry, but don’t expect good stopping power from its .32 ammo.

To modern eyes, both of these weapons look a little peculiar, but both have reputations for reliability.

The latter part of the 19th century also saw the first of the swing out cylinder revolvers.

The Colt 1889 .38 was adopted by the US military and despite a reputation for a delicate cylinder. It is instructive to note that the increase in caliber came in response to the bitter fighting against the Moro rebels in the Philippines. The new .38s didn’t knock down the fanatical warriors as well as older .45s. The army switched back to .45 calibers in 1911 with the Colt autoloader. The later Colt new service .45 revolver is a fine weapon, also adopted by the army.

 Smith’s 1896 .32 hand ejector is a modern revolver, and is fine for concealed carry or as a backup. But the 1899 .38 military and police is better for serious combat use. This weapon in an improved and modified form is still in production.

There we have it, a fair rundown of just what you’re looking for.

Now, y’all try and stay out of trouble.

Ya hear?

 Don't forget to follow the link on the top right side of the blog to contribute to the Smile Train organization.  
Help low income kids get the smile they deserve! 


"Chuckwagon Charlie," otherwise known as Edwin Blankenship, is the proud father of three amazing kids. He splits his time between fatherhood, reading, trying his hand at cooking, reading,  work and even more reading. Prone to host the occasional role playing game, he favors weird western settings with Cthulian nightmares thrown in for good measure.

<<BACK                                                              FORWARD>>          

No comments:

Post a Comment