Keeping a Civil Tongue
Last evening at the Chestnut Ridge Historical Society we had a gentleman who spoke on the weaponry of the American Civil War. He was a last minute substitute for our original speaker Ken Williams who was to have spoken on the Mason Dixon Line. The substitute was Sam Vaughn who is a Confederate Colonel for the reenactments of the Civil War as part of the Campbell Artillery Brigade. Colonel Vaughn shared the reason he was the Colonel was because he was the only person with a cannon.
His hour long presentation of weaponry covered the rifles, carbines, shotguns, and pistols of the Civil War era. He didn’t bring his cannon, because he’d stored it away for the winter. The wide selection of authentic and replica weapons ranged from the basic muzzle loading rifles to the various pistols gave us insight to the guns of the Civil War soldier. With due diligence, Col. Vaughn traced the history of each piece and the improvement and innovation in the next weapon.
The flash pan flintlock was the first weapon he detailed. The nearly 10 pound weapon was passed to the audience. Col. Vaughn also shared the progression of the cartridges that were developed for each weapon. They ranged from the muzzle loading lead ball to a rubber jacketed cartridge. The descriptions lead to bullets wearing brass casings.
Through his presentation he described the difference between a rifle and a carbine, also pointing out the changes in loading each weapon, the cartridges, and percussion caps to detonate the powder. The approximate time for a Civil War soldier to load and fire his rifle was about 20 seconds. The shotguns of the era often used buck and ball muzzle loads. If the larger ball missed its target, most likely the smaller scattering buck shot would injure the enemy. Sam shared that Stonewall Jackson was injured by friendly fire. He was wearing a dark uniform and mistaken for a Yankee soldier. The ball was removed from his arm, but cloth debris from his jacket remained in the wound. It festered and his arm had to be amputated. Later Stonewall succumbed to pneumonia.
Col. Vaughn’s original and most expensive firearm was his Burnside carbine. The carbine was a gun shorter than a rifle and often men from the cavalry or the artillery would carry one. As it was passed through the audience the wear patterns of the weapon were easily noticed.
He also shared the progressive improvement of handguns from that time period, starting with the derringer to the pepperbox and through the invention of the revolver. Thank you Colonel Vaughn, it was a remarkable collection and an extremely informative event.