Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Scholarly Myths: How to Load a Musket

Expand Messages
  • Jim Yaworsky
    Once, a long time ago, a scholar was writing a book about warfare in the time of flintlock muskets. This scholar had the idea of demonstrating how unwieldy
    Message 1 of 7 , Feb 26 8:26 PM
    • 0 Attachment
      Once, a long time ago, a scholar was writing a book about warfare in the time of flintlock muskets. This scholar had the idea of demonstrating how unwieldy they were to load, by listing the ponderous steps involved. This was a good idea.
      Unfortunately, the scholar screwed up, and never having loaded a musket themselves or seen anyone else load one using a cartridge, jumped to the conclusion that the end of the cartridge that was bitten off was the part with the musket ball, which therefore remained in the loader's mouth, and had to be "spit" down the barrel after the main charge of powder had been inserted.
      Generations of scholars who have never loaded a musket themselves or seen anyone else load one using a cartridge, have followed the original scholar's lead.
      When Bernard Cornwell was researching for his Sharpe series, he too followed the myth of the "spitting of the ball" down the charged barrel. So the TV series now also features scenes with Sharpe training the South Essex in this manner, etc.
      -
      Of course, loading a musket in this manner is not only slower than the proper way, but is considerably more dangerous! If a gun doesn't go off prematurely occasionally, blowing the spitter's head off in the process, then there is the factor of eventually succumbing to lead poisoning from having the balls in your mouth [a somewhat lewd picture that I put in as a joke, 'cause I don't know if persons circa 1812 understood that lead can poison you if you start licking balls... :>)]
      -
      Anyway, the point of this little tale: unthinking repetition of "the common line" can perpetuate untruth... and the fact that serious scholars can repeat the "common line" on some subject they have no direct experience on should, I submit, lead us to be wary of stories that make little or no sense... even if the story is repeated by a serious scholar!
      -
      I've often thought it would be sort of like an archeological dig, or peeling the layers of skin off an onion, to dig back through the literature on the subject to find out who the original scholar was who started the "ball in the mouth" "myth". It would make for a great story in Military Illustrated, etc., don't you think?

      Cheers,
      Jim
    • BritcomHMP@xxx.xxx
      In a message dated 2/28/99 12:30:53 AM Central Standard Time, awoodley@clear.net.nz writes:
      Message 2 of 7 , Feb 28 7:18 AM
      • 0 Attachment
        In a message dated 2/28/99 12:30:53 AM Central Standard Time,
        awoodley@... writes:

        << I'm not questioning your authority on the subject at all - I just wondered
        if there was a manual or something that followed - or is it just plain
        commonsense from experience that has shown this? >>

        Dear Anne,
        There are manuals, the whole procedure is written down.
        Actually I seriously doubt the scholarship of any academic who does not know
        the loading procedure. He or she has proven to the world that they have never
        cracked a period manual of which many are available (particularly to
        academics).

        Cheers

        Tim
      • Anne Woodley
        ... Putting aside the issue of lead poisoning - and bearing in mind that the closest I have been to a musket is on the pages of book so I have no idea myself
        Message 3 of 7 , Feb 28 11:31 AM
        • 0 Attachment
          ----------
          >From: Jim Yaworsky <yawors1@...>

          > Of course, loading a musket in this manner is not only slower than the
          > proper way, but is considerably more dangerous! If a gun doesn't go off
          > prematurely occasionally, blowing the spitter's head off in the process,
          > then there is the factor of eventually succumbing to lead poisoning from
          > having the balls in your mouth

          Putting aside the issue of lead poisoning - and bearing in mind that the
          closest I have been to a musket is on the pages of book so I have no idea
          myself how muskets are loaded. Were these the reasons they didn't load them
          that way - and how do you know they didn't?

          I'm not questioning your authority on the subject at all - I just wondered
          if there was a manual or something that followed - or is it just plain
          commonsense from experience that has shown this?

          Anne
        • Jim Yaworsky
          In a message awoodley writes:
          Message 4 of 7 , Mar 1, 1999
          • 0 Attachment
            In a message awoodley writes:

            << I just wondered if there was a manual or something that followed - or is it just plain
            commonsense from experience that has shown this? >>
            Tim Pickles replies:
            "Dear Anne,
            There are manuals, the whole procedure is written down.
            Actually I seriously doubt the scholarship of any academic who does not know
            the loading procedure. He or she has proven to the world that they have never
            cracked a period manual of which many are available (particularly to
            academics).
            Cheers Tim

            Jim adds:
            Actually, I don't think we should be too hard on the academics. If they go to what appears to be a reputable source & it happens to have a small error in it, and the small point they are trying to make is that muskets are cumbersome to load, then should we really expect them to go back to primary sources to verify what, for their purposes, was presumably a very minor detail? The average reader would be most unlikely to even notice, but if he/she came away with the idea in their mind that muskets were cumbersome to load - isn't that the very idea the academic was trying to get across?
            After all, not that many people (alas) are fated to ever have to load a musket!
            Since I've been sewing tunics, I've read the Steppler articles numerous times, looking for fine details, and usually, the details are in fact there. I never noticed the specific detail I've been hunting for in the prior times I read the articles, because it just wasn't that important to me at that time to draw my attention.
            Now, I can't look at anyone's tunic without picking out all sorts of minor flaws - and I'm not just talking about machine-sewn tunics that only look "correct" from 5 or 10 feet away! This is actually a curse & I have to consciously make an effort to not offend people by nitpicking what is, when all is said and done, usually a perfectly adequate job!
          • Roger Fuller
            ... to what appears to be a reputable source & it happens to have a small error in it, and the small point they are trying to make is that muskets are
            Message 5 of 7 , Mar 1, 1999
            • 0 Attachment
              >Jim adds:
              >Actually, I don't think we should be too hard on the academics. If they go
              to what appears to be a reputable source & it happens to have a small error
              in it, and the small point they are trying to make is that muskets are
              cumbersome to load, then should we really expect them to go back to primary
              sources to verify what, for their purposes, was presumably a very minor
              detail? >After all, not that many people (alas) are fated to ever have to
              load a musket!


              R: Ah- but out of little errors and sloppiness do big stories grow- I doubt
              B Cornwell has ever loaded a musket, let alone fired one, but he passed the
              very same info, unexamined, into the Sharpe's novels, and thence it got into
              the TV series, and now, it's part of the canon. (Baaaad pun, I know) TV
              cements the worth of something in our culture by way of the factoid's or
              falsehood's very presence on the tube. So- when do the tourons start asking
              us if we load by spitting and tapping the musket? What?? It's already
              happened, you say? Well- why not- "they wouldn't put it on TV if it weren't
              true"....right?.

              >Since I've been sewing tunics, I've read the Steppler articles numerous
              times, looking for fine details, and usually, the details are in fact there.
              I never noticed the specific detail I've been hunting for in the prior
              times I read the articles, because it just wasn't that important to me at
              that time to draw my attention.

              R: Uh oh- what are these Steppler things? (revealing my ignorance here....)
              Where can I get copies? I have pix of the Guardsman's 1790's coat (inside
              and out) from the NAM, that I use as a sort of sewing guide (Amazing how the
              sewing, cut and cloth styles changed so little from a tailoring point of
              view from 1775 to 1815, headgear, collars and lace notwithstanding...)

              >Now, I can't look at anyone's tunic without picking out all sorts of minor
              flaws - and I'm not just talking about machine-sewn tunics that only look
              "correct" from 5 or 10 feet away! This is actually a curse & I have to
              consciously make an effort to not offend people by nitpicking what is, when
              all is said and done, usually a perfectly adequate job!

              R: Well, be sure to let me know if you think there are any flaws in the
              3/95th kit when you finally see it. But, be prepared for the 3/95th SOP:
              "What is the primary source upon which you base that assertion, Sir?" :^)


              RF
              3/95th
            • BritcomHMP@aol.com
              In a message dated 3/1/99 8:51:55 PM Central Standard Time, yawors1@uwindsor.ca writes:
              Message 6 of 7 , Mar 2, 1999
              • 0 Attachment
                In a message dated 3/1/99 8:51:55 PM Central Standard Time,
                yawors1@... writes:

                << Actually, I don't think we should be too hard on the academics. If they go
                to what appears to be a reputable source & it happens to have a small error in
                it, and the small point they are trying to make is that muskets are cumbersome
                to load, then should we really expect them to go back to primary sources to
                verify what, for their purposes, was presumably a very minor detail? The
                average reader would be most unlikely to even notice, but if he/she came away
                with the idea in their mind that muskets were cumbersome to load - isn't that
                the very idea the academic was trying to get across? >>

                With one or two notable examples Jim (David Candler is the most eminent)
                academics are the ones most critical of re-enactors. If someone who prides
                themselves on pure research is spreading erroneous information because they
                have been too lazy to check secondary information with primary sources, you
                bet your life they need criticizing!

                What other ideas might they be trying to get across that are complete tosh?

                Cheers

                Tim
              • Andrew Bateman
                ... I tend to agree. In the Europa Militaria series of photo books, featuring reeenactors of various historical periods, I have seen a couple of references to
                Message 7 of 7 , Mar 2, 1999
                • 0 Attachment
                  Tim wrote:

                  >With one or two notable examples Jim (David Candler is the most eminent)
                  >academics are the ones most critical of re-enactors. If someone who prides
                  >themselves on pure research is spreading erroneous information because they
                  >have been too lazy to check secondary information with primary sources, you
                  >bet your life they need criticizing!
                  >
                  >What other ideas might they be trying to get across that are complete tosh?
                  >
                  >Cheers
                  >
                  >Tim

                  I tend to agree. In the Europa Militaria series of photo books, featuring
                  reeenactors of various historical periods, I have seen a couple of
                  references to the "standard" load for a musket as being a 1 ounce ball and 1
                  ounce of powder! The ball size is correct, but the powder charge works out
                  to 437.5 grains! Ouch! My shoulder and my pocket book both hurt just
                  thinking about that! The real load should be closer to 1/4 ounce.

                  This was in the "Wellington's Army" one, and again in the one on Napoleon's
                  Imperial Guard, in case you are interested. The one on Wellington's Army
                  had a few guys in modern glasses, too, which is one of my pet peeves about
                  1812 reenacting in general - the other being the amount of modern footwear
                  on the field (speaking as an "anal" ACW guy new to the 1812 hobby of
                  course).

                  KYPD,

                  Pte. Andrew, 41st ROF
                Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.