Friday, November 16, 2012


A Short History of Long Range Shooting in the United States
By: Hap Rocketto

Long range is, by definition, a relative term. When the earliest European settlers arrived on the east coast of what would become the United States of America they were armed with a collection of match, wheel lock, and snaphaunce actuated firearms that were, occasionally, more dangerous to the user than the intended victim. Among the immigrants were gentlemen adventurers on the prowl for quick riches, families looking to build a new life, and others who sought religious freedom; all who drilled with these firearms under the under the leadership of the likes of Captain John Smith, in the Virginias, and Captain Myles Standish, in the Plymouth Colony.

The separatist Puritans came from England and, with the possible exception of one or two men, had never used firearms. Firearms were a tool of the soldier and a plaything of the aristocracy, hunting being forbidden the common man. As much as the Pilgrims might have impressed the natives with the flames, explosive sounds and rolling smoke, they were far from effective marksmen. Even with a generous supply of powder, ball, and time to exercise themselves with their 16th and 17th century firearms, it took almost two years for the Pilgrims to become proficient. However, by the time they learned to hit what they aimed at, a hunting party of four could bring home enough game to feed the village for a week. Whether this is a comment upon the developing skill of the Pilgrim marksman or the quantity of game is left to the reader. In the early days of settlement long range might mean a distance of as much as 50 yards. The enduring myth that every American boy can drill out a gnat’s eye at 100 paces was in the making.

As time passed, gunsmiths from continental Europe immigrated to the New World and set up shop. They brought a tradition of manufacture and knowledge that was soon adapted to the technical and economic realities of the colonies. The somewhat clumsy and large caliber rifles of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland underwent evolutionary changes in the Lancaster region of Pennsylvania in the early 1700s at the hands of French Huguenot, Swiss and German craftsmen. The first American made rifles were manufactured in smaller calibers than its European antecedents to save precious lead and powder. The spherical bullet, between .32 and .45, weighed about 160 grains. The powder charge, of about 60 or 70 grains, left a minimum amount of fouling. The long barrel, about 40 inches, increased velocity making efficient use of powder and ball, as well as dampening the sound of the shot that might attract uninvited attention from four footed quarry or two footed enemy.

The rifle was equipped with what was the most reliable ignition system of the time-the flintlock. It had brass furniture and a recess built into the butt to hold a supply of grease or greased patches. Called a patch box, this is a distinguishing feature of the Kentucky rifle. Provided with a small, sometimes brass, blade front sight and a hickory ramrod, its graceful and comely shape, pleasing to the eye, made it easy to carry and employ in the forest.

A distinct disadvantage of the rifle, as opposed to the more common smooth bore musket, was that loading was slow and required a short metal rod and mallet to start the bullet into the bore. At some point in time an unknown marksman thought up the idea of using a slightly undersized ball and a greased patch and to ease the loading of the powder fouled rifle while insuring the tight fit necessary for the ball to engage the rifling. The American marksman now had a firearm that was capable at a range of 300 yards and deadly accurate at 100 yards. The technological advance of the patched ball made rifles capable of equaling the feat of James Fenimore Cooper’s fictional Hawkeye, La Longue Carabine, who with his rifle ‘Killdeer’ boasted an astounding firing rate of three rounds a minute standing or two prone.

A good shooting rifle, hand made by a Pennsylvania craftsman, might cost a man half a year’s wages. It earned its keep and repaid its owner by its daily use in hunting and, if need be, defense. Horace Kephart describes the so-called Kentucky Rifle as “…remarkable for its precision and distance it shot. It was generally three feet six inches long, weight about seven pounds, and ran about seventy bullets to the pound of lead.” The artist’s belief that form follows function reached one of its highest evolutionary points with the development of this distinctly American firearm.

Oddly enough the rifle seemed to be almost solely a development of the Allegheny frontier and its German influence. That hotbed of colonial industry, the Connecticut River valley of New England, boasted firearms manufacturing but it was almost exclusively devoted to smoothbore muskets. It wasn’t until just prior to the Revolutionary War that rifles became more widely used and manufactured in what would become the center of the American firearms industry.

The rifle gained its fame and name from its use in what Native Americans called the "Dark and Bloody Ground". The land west of the Allegheny Mountains, populated by the Iroquois and Cherokee, was the site of continuous warfare, the ground stained dark by the blood shed in battle between these two tribes for possession of these rich hunting lands. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War frontiersmen thought of the region as a hunter's paradise. John Findley traveled the Ohio River documenting the valley's beauty and abundance of game. A young adventurer and skilled marksman named Daniel Boone, explored the passage now known as the “Cumberland Gap” and followed Findley, rifle in hand, into what is modern day Kentucky.

Boone’s rifle, and its cousins, is more correctly known as a Pennsylvania Rifle. The more popular appellation, Kentucky Rifle, became permanent on January 8, 1815, two weeks after the Peace of Christmas Eve was signed at Ghent. The War of 1812 was already over when five thousand American soldiers and militiamen, including two thousand Kentucky and Tennessee frontiersmen armed with long barreled rifles, under the command of General Andrew Jackson, engaged 7,500 British troops along a drainage canal just south of New Orleans. The British forces grimly advanced into the fire of cannon manned by Jean Lafitte’s pirates. As the orderly lines of troops came into rifle range, Jackson ordered the cannons to lift their fire so that the billowing powder smoke would not obscure the Redcoats. In just a few minutes British General Edward Pakenham and 2,000 of his Redcoats were cut down by American riflemen hidden in trenches and behind cotton bales in the pointless Battle of New Orleans. A popular song called "The Hunters of Kentucky” or “The Battle of New Orleans” was soon ringing throughout the nation’s taverns hailing Jackson’s victory. One couplet proclaiming "But Jackson he was wide awake, and wasn't scar'd at trifles, for well he knew what aim we take, with our Kentucky Rifles" was a public relations coup of gigantic proportions. To this day, few ever refer to this quintessential American flintlock as the Pennsylvania Rifle.

The Battle of New Orleans may have raised public consciousness about the rifle but it was not the first conflict on American soil where the long-range capabilities of the colonial marksmen played an important part. Between 1689 and 1763, England and France fought a series of four wars on the continent that were mirrored in the colonies. The final conflict was The French and Indian War, known as the Seven Years’ War in Europe, fought between 1754 and 1763. Among the young colonials blooded in the conflict was a young teamster by the name of Daniel Morgan. Morgan, Daniel Boone’s cousin, survived the disastrous rout of General Edward Braddock’s expeditionary force in July of 1755 along with two young lieutenant colonels who would have much to do with each other two decades later-British regular Thomas Gage and Virginia militiaman George Washington.

Twenty years after serving with the British the tables turned. In July of 1775 Washington found himself in command of the newly formed Continental Army and with it, ten companies of riflemen. In command of the company from Virginia was Captain Morgan. As proof of their capabilities the Virginians marched from Winchester, Virginia to Boston, 300 miles away, in just three weeks. New England was treated to displays of marksmanship that amazed the locals who were unfamiliar with the rifle. Morgan’s men would demonstrate their skill by regularly hitting targets at twice the maximum range of the Yankee’s muskets and fowling pieces.

Over the next several years Morgan would command troops under Benedict Arnold in his abortive expedition to Quebec and in the Hudson River Valley. One lesson he would learn was that, as good as the rifle was, it was still slower than the musket and rifleman could not engage the enemy with out support. Morgan’s riflemen would prove their worth at Saratoga where they functioned as skirmishers, going out in front of the main battle lines to use their skills with the rifle to disable gun crews, kill officers, and generally harass the enemy. The constant rain of accurate long-range rifle fire hampered the fighting efficiency and mettle of the British troops under the command of Braddock’s Defeat alumnus General Thomas Gates.

It was here that one of the more famous long range shots of the war took place. The most celebrated of Morgan’s riflemen was Pennsylvania rifleman Tim Murphy. Tradition has it that Murphy was ordered to kill a British officer astride a gray horse. Perched in a tree and steadying his aim on a strong limb he missed with his first shot. With his second he mortally wounded General Burgoyne’s Aide de Camp, Captain Sir Francis Clerke, at a range of some 300 yards. Reloading, he next drew a bead and downed General Simon Fraser. Clerke and Fraser lingered for hours in agony before succumbing and were buried on the battlefield. In the end the British losses were twice that of the Colonial forces with rifle fire contributing greatly to the American dominance of the battlefield.

The British made several halfhearted attempts to establish a corps of rifleman to counter the colonial marksmen. The most noteworthy unit was under Major Patrick Ferguson of the Second Battalion of the 71st Highlanders, one of the finest marksman of his day and the developer of a breech loading flintlock rifle. Ferguson raised a company for deployment in North America to test his rifle. A colonial bullet shattered his right elbow on September 11, 1777 at Brandywine Creek, a battle where his riflemen contributed significantly to the British victory. After a lengthy convalescence he returned to active service but, ironically, before he could definitely prove the effectiveness of either his rifle or his troops, one of Morgan’s riflemen killed ‘The British Morgan” at the Battle of King’s Mountain, North Carolina on October 7, 1780.

After the war was won the rifle continued to prove its worth as the new nation pushed westward.

In development: paper-thin body armor proof against body armor-still in the experimental phase:

A key reason the revolution succeeded was its strictly limited scope. The Founders sought only liberty, not equality or fraternity. They aimed to make a political revolution, not a social or an economic one. Their Lockean social-contract political philosophy taught them that the preservation of individual liberty was the goal of politics. Its basis was the surrender of a portion of man’s original, natural freedom to a government that would protect the large remainder of it better than any individual could do on his own—the freedom to make your own fate and think your own thoughts without fear of bodily harm, unjust imprisonment, or robbery. The Founders’ study of history taught them that the British constitution under which they had lived—“originally and essentially free,” as Boston preacher Jonathan Mayhew described it—was the ideal embodiment of such a contract. It was “the most perfect combination of human powers in society,” John Adams wrote in 1766, “for the preservation of liberty and the production of happiness”—until George III began to violate it. So Americans didn’t take up arms to create a new world order according to some abstract theory. They sought only to restore the political liberty they had actually experienced for 150 years, and they constructed their new government to preserve it.
The Protestantism of the Founding Fathers also helped the Revolution succeed. Their Protestant worldview placed an intense value on the individual—his conscience, the state of his soul, his understanding of Scripture, his personal relation to God, his salvation. It was an easy step for them to assume that, as each man was endowed by his Creator with an immortal soul immediately related to God, so he was similarly endowed with rights that are “not the Donation of Law,” as Constitution signer William Livingston put it, but “prior to all political Institution” and “resulting from the Nature of Man.” It was easy for them to assume, therefore, that the individual, not the state, took center stage in the human drama. They saw the state as merely instrumental to the fate of the individual.
But their Protestantism also gave them a history that helps explain why the colonists didn’t need or want a social revolution. The many non-Anglican dissenters among them had already had such a revolution: they had been forced to uproot themselves from their relatives and friends, from “the fair cities, villages, and delightful fields of Britain,” fleeing religious persecution into “the arms of savages and barbarians” in pursuit of liberty of conscience, as Mayhew put it in 1763. The Plymouth Pilgrims, who wrote a literal social compact in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, were only the first wave of a tide of such immigrants fleeing persecution: English and Scottish Presbyterians, Baptists, and Quakers; German pietists; French Huguenots; and others followed. In the eighteenth century, their offspring—John Jay, for example, who descended from New York’s huge contingent of Huguenot refugees from Catholic oppression, and Livingston, whose Presbyterian great-grandfather had fled Scotland for Holland after the Stuart restoration—had as lively a sense of lucky escape from the Old Country’s murderous religious tyranny as American Jews whose forebears had escaped Russian pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust had in the twentieth century. They had as acute a sense of having had to start their lives over again in a land that afforded them almost providential religious and political freedom, safety, and opportunity.
It was that historical understanding that made Founders like Livingston and James Madison begin their journey to revolution with an assertion of freedom of conscience, which led to freedom to examine and judge for yourself, to think your own thoughts and speak and write them—and all the rest, since liberty is seamless. An “equal TOLERATION of Conscience,” Livingston wrote, “is justly deem’d the Basis of public Liberty in this Country.” To Madison, for whom America “offer[ed] an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion,” an established, official, obligatory religion, with dogmas you must profess, though it is seemingly “distant from the Inquisition, . . . differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other the last in the career of intolerance.” Even George Washington, who never knew that his great-great-grandfather, an Anglican cleric, suffered religious persecution at the hands of Cromwell’s Puritans, often liked to speak of America, with an endearing mix of Old and New Testament echoes, as “a Land of promise, with milk & honey,” which offered a refuge to “the poor, the needy & the oppressed of the Earth; and anyone therefore who is heavy laden.”

rest here:

No comments: