The Lamar Rifles

A Drill Column by the 1st Sergeant

(Modified from an article by Dennis Faught)

In 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 filth.

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.

It is not essential for the musket to be dismounted every time that it is cleaned. It can be perfectly cleaned as follows:

-Put 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 clear.

-Withdraw the leather, and stand the musket on the muzzle a few moments.

-Wipe 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 available.
-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 way.
-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 Soldier).

All 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 with it.

Final 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!



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