the field, a soldier's first order of business should
be the care of his weapon. It is on this assemblage of
wood and metal that his life depends. This is something
that has not changed since the beginning of warfare. Nevertheless,
some muskets are maintained in an embarrassing state of
course, in the field you do not have (or shouldn't have)
access to things like WD-40, Bore Butter, Hoppes Gun Oil
& etc. Oh my! What is a fellow to do without them?
Well, how about what the real soldiers did? Manuals of
the period outlined the recommended procedure for cleaning
the piece in field.
is not essential for the musket to be dismounted every
time that it is cleaned. It can be perfectly cleaned as
a piece of rag or soft leather on the top of the cone
and let the hammer down upon it.
-Pour a gill of water into the muzzle carefully so that
it does not run down the outside.
-Put a plug of wood into the muzzle, and shake the gun
up and down, changing the water repeatedly until it runs
-Withdraw the leather, and stand the musket on the muzzle
a few moments.
out the barrel and also wipe the exterior of the lock
and the outside of the barrel around the cone and cone-seat
- first with a damp rag, then with a dry one - and lastly
with a rag that has been lightly oiled. (In this way,
all the dirt from firing may be removed without taking
out a screw.)
-If, however, the hammer works stiffly, or grates upon
the tumbler, the lock must be immediately taken off, and
the parts cleaned and touched with oil
(Rules for the Management and Cleaning
of the Rifle Musket, Model 1855).
-A gill is 4 ounces.
-The cone is correct term for the 'nipple'.
-Hot water is not mandatory, but aids in cleaning when
-The inside of the barrel may be wiped dry by using the
head of your Enfield rammer -- or better yet an authentic
period wiper (not a 'worm') screwed to the other end --
with a patch of cloth around it, changing the cloth two
or three times.
-The oil that was used was sperm (whale) oil. That not
being widely available today, an alternative (then and
now) is olive oil -- also called 'sweet oil.' You want
to avoid petroleum-based oils in the field because, well,
they didn't use'em.
-For the outside, the never-ending battle against rust
can be waged with another period in-the-field expedient:
wood ash. Daub some from the campfire on a damp or oily
rag, and with a liberal application of elbow grease --
rub. Corncobs and pine sticks also work well for this
purpose. Don't forget to clean your rammer in the same
-To keep the rust from coming back, a coating of olive
oil works wonders, as does another trick mentioned in
this period account:
"We soon learned to take care of our pieces in a
rain by thoroughly greasing them with a piece of bacon,
which would largely prevent rust from striking in."
(Leander Stillwell: The Story of a Common
that's necessary to keep his musket in inspection-ready
shape can easily be carried by the soldier on the march.
A small period vial will hold sweet oil. Your canteen
has the water. There's a pouch in your cartridge box for
your wiper. You should have a nipple pick in your cap
box. The rammer, of course, is in the musket. Rags for
cleaning can be carried in pockets, your knapsack or --
if you have a period ration of salt pork wrapped in a
rag in your haversack, you have a ready-made maintenance
helper that makes a dandy fire-starter when you're finished
Note - If you must use WD-40 in your at-home cleaning
regimen, do not use it down the bore of your musket. This
particular substance, when not rubbed off, leaves a protective
coating on metal, which if allowed to accumulate inside
the bore, creates a safety hazard. This hard coating makes
it impossible to remove old rust or pitting, which in
turn can trap burning embers. Burning embers are not our
friends when loading a rifle-musket!