Georgians on the firing line at the Brierfield, Alabama Skirmish in March of 1998.
The public often confuses "Skirmishers" with "Re-enactors," and with good reason. Both Skirmishers and Re-enactors portray Civil War soldiers. Both groups wear Civil War uniforms and carry Civil War equipment and U.S. & C.S. military weapons as part of their efforts to "make history live."
While both Re-enactors and Skirmishers honor those Americans, North and South that fought in the War, the difference is that Skirmishers fire LIVE AMMUNITION in individual and team marksmanship matches. Skirmishes are weekend affairs. Saturday's at Skirmishes are devoted to Individual (bulls eye target) Matches (50 & 100 yards).
In these matches, competitors use original or reproduction (N-SSA approved) Civil War Military Issue firearms such as Revolvers, Carbines and Rifle Muskets in the different classes of competition. Smoothbore Individual Matches are conducted at 25 & 50 yards. Some Skirmishes also feature Individual Matches using Henry and Spencer repeaters. Usually 1st, 2nd and 3rd Place Medals are awarded in the different classes to the winners.
Saturday afternoons at skirmishes are usually devoted to Smoothbore, Revolver and Carbine Team Matches. All day Saturday at a skirmish, the firing line is a pretty busy place.
The most prestigious event of any skirmish is the Musket Team Matches that are held on Sunday mornings at a Skirmish. The Musket Team Matches always begin with the official Opening Ceremonies.
The units march out on the field in full uniform, with banners flying and form up facing the spectators. The Skirmish Director makes some opening remarks to everyone assembled there and then the command "Present Arms" is called.
The field resounds with the strains of "The Star Spangled Banner," and then our National anthem is followed by "Dixie." Wild Rebel Yells from the Confederate units assembled on the field usually punctuate the morning air when the Southern anthem is played.
After that the formation is dismissed and the units go to their assigned positions on the firing line to begin the Musket Team Matches. Musket Team Matches usually consist of six separate "events"(usually four 50 yard events and two 100 yard events).
Members of the 3rd Georgia Musket Team hanging clays on the 50 yard target frame at the Aberdeen Skirmish
These "events" consist of shooting breakable targets. The mainstay of any official N-SSA Skirmish is the 32 Clay Pigeon board shot at 50 yards. Eight vertical rows (consisting of four clay pigeons each) are mounted on a 4' x 8' cardboard board. Other events can be such things as 16 clay pigeons hung from the top board of the target frame, hanging water filled styrofoam coffee cups, etc. 100 yards events can consists of 10 hanging waterfilled milk jugs, hanging water filled 2 liter plastic soft drink bottles, etc.
A Musket Team consists of eight members of your unit. The object is very simple. Your team must destroy ALL OF YOUR TARGETS IN ABSOLUTELY THE LEAST AMOUNT OF TIME. Behind every Musket Team stands a Safety Officer to watch for any infraction of the safety rules and also a Timer. This individual holds a stop watch. He starts it when the event begins and only stops it when the Musket Team Commander hollers "STOP !" and all of your team's targets are destroyed.
So firing in a Musket Team Match is a fairly simple thing. All you have to do is to be able to load and fire your rifle musket somewhere between two and three shots a minute... and be able to hit. If your team is going to have a chance to win 1st Place, you and the rest of the members of you team have to be able to shoot better and faster than any of the other Musket Teams against whom you are competing!
An "event" starts when all the targets are hung and your relay is called to the line by the Skirmish Director. When the range is "clear" then the Skirmish Director checks up and down the firing line to make sure that every Musket Team has a Safety Officer and Timer standing behind it.
"REPRO CONFEDERATE WITH REPRO MUSKET !"
3rd Georgia team member Kirk Sanders shooting a repro .69 caliber U.S Model 1842 Springfield smoothbore Musket in the Individual Matches at the Red Hill, Georgia Skirmish in July of 1997.
Kirk's Great-Great Grandfather, Pvt.Charles Mallory Sanders of Penfield, Georgia served in the original 3rd Georgia in the Wilderness Campaign of 1864, was wounded at the Crater before Petersburg and was with the original 3rd Georgia at Appomattox.
The original 3rd Georgia was initially equipped with .69 Caliber U.S. Model 1842 Smoothbore Muskets that were taken when the state seized the U.S. Arsenal at Augusta, Georgia at the beginning of the war.
Kirk won a medal shooting his repro M 1842 at this Skirmish in the Smoothbore Category !
Then the command is given by the Skirmish Director: "ONE MINUTE TO SNAP CAPS." So you pull the hammer of your rifle musket back, firmly place a cap on the nipple and bring the musket to your shoulder.
Since N-SSA rules require that your first cap be snapped down range, you usually line up your sights on one of the clays on your clay board and gently squeeze the trigger. The hammer falls and the cap snaps with a miniature "BAM..."
It was good, for you felt the hammer fall and heard the cap snap while the sights were still lined up on your clay. Your tension is relieved somewhat. For the next few caps, you point the muzzle of your musket down toward the ground and snap the caps, making sure that the cap blast moves a blade of grass your muzzle is pointing at.
You cannot afford to have a musket that misfires during a team event, if your team is to have any chance of winning. The Skirmish Director calls "CEASE FIRE !" and once again the firing line is silent.
Then the command is given: "LOAD AND COME TO THE READY !" Surprisingly, this command somewhats lessens the tension that everyone is feeling; you have something to do. So the butt of your musket goes down to the ground, with your left hand you point the muzzle out, away from yourself. With a measured, fluid motion of your right hand, you reach into your cartridge box and withdraw a round.
The bullet is removed from the cartridge tube, and the powder poured down the barrel. Next the Minie Ball is inserted into the muzzle base down. Careful Now. You can only insert the ball by holding it with your thumb and forefinger. If the Safety Officer sees anyone "Thumbing the Ball" (pushing it into the muzzle with his thumb) he would stop them.
Once the Minie Ball is in the muzzle, then you use the ramrod to seat it firmly down on the powder in the breech. You only use your thumb and forefinger on the ramrod. Any other technique is a safety violation.
While you are loading your musket, as is everyone else, the morning sun glints off of the multitude of ramrods ramming a multitude of minie balls home. The metallic capaony of all those muskets being loaded is a chilling reminder of how it must have been on those battlefields of so long ago.
You stick your ramrod in the ground next to your right foot, then bring the musket up, holding it with your left hand at the "balance point" on the forestock. Keep that musket pointed down range.... those Safety Officers are watching everyone like a hawk for any violations.
You pull back the hammer, eject the spent cap from the nipple and firmly place a new one down on it. Hammer at half cock, muzzle pointed down range with your right hand gripping the wrist of the musket. You are holding your musket waist high. Careful now, your finger has to be out of the trigger guard or a Safety Officer will call you down for it.
When everyone on the firing line is loaded, a silence and stillness falls over the skirmish site. You can even hear birds chirping in the distance. The tension is beginning to mount. By missing one shot too many, you can lose an event and possibly a skirmish for your entire team. Just don't think about that now....
Then the Skirmish Director calls: 'READY ON THE LEFT, READY ON THE RIGHT AND READY ON THE FIRING LINE." At this point he will look up and down the line and the safety officers and see if they are holding their small green flags aloft indicating that everything is O.K.
Then the command, "FIRE !!" is given, Timers standing behind every team hit the "Start" buttons on their stopwatches, and the seconds and milli-seconds start flying by at a supersonic pace.
3rd Georgia member Shaun Bohannon with a Smith Carbine in the Carbine Team Matches at his first Skirmish at Brierfield, Alabama in March of 1998.
You bring your musket up to your shoulder, yank the hammer back to full cock and the quiet of the morning is shattered by the thunder of the volley of the multitude of the muskets on the firing line. If you get good target alignment for that first shot and fire with the rest of the line, then you don't have to worry about your target down range being obscured by the rushing cloud of black powder gunsmoke that is expanding rapidly in front of the firing line. Wait, take your time for the shot, and you will be aiming through a smoky, bluish haze of gunsmoke. If there is a bit of wind, then it will usually keep the cloud of gunsmoke dispersed. If not.... well, then your target will be harder and harder to see and hit.
After your first shot (you didn't take too long) you quickly but gently slam down the buttstock of the musket on the ground, hold that muzzle away from your body with your left hand and in a very quick sweeping motion of your right hand, withdraw another cartridge from your cartridge box. Dump powder, insert minie ball and then slam the load home with one quick jab of the ramrod. Jam the ramrod back in the ground, and while bringing the musket up you have learned the trick - jerk your hammer back, just sooo.. hard, and the spent cap will be automatically ejected from the nipple saving you a precious half second in your reloading time. Jam the new cap down on the nipple and bring the musket back up to your shoulder.
By this time, your team mates have destroyed a number of your team's clays. You quickly align sights, touch the trigger and feel the hammer fall. You are swept with a surge of elation as you see the clay you drew down on vaporize, leaving an ugly, black smeared, ragged hole in the cardboard where the clay had been a milli-second before...
No time to congratulate yourself, load and fire... load and fire...... load and fire as quickly as you can. Careful now. The barrel is heating up, and the powder fouling is accumulating down in your barrel making each shot a bit harder to load....
In the final few seconds of an event, the tension rises even higher. Just a few targets are left and everyone is loading and firing as fast as possible... your team commander calls: "CALL YOUR TARGETS !" This is so two or three shooters don't waste their fire by all firing at the same target at the same time... someone at the end of the line calls "TOP LEFT" and a Rebel Yell resounds when his clay is obliterated by his minie ball... Shoot faster... Shoot faster... Shoot faster... and don't burn your hand on that hot barrel during reloading... careful now of "cook offs!" Then Suddenly the last clay on the board is looming in your sights. Before you even realize what you are doing you have lined up the target and fired... and the clay shatters into four or five hundred pieces and those pieces rain down on the ground...
Your team commander urgently calls "STOP!" so the Timer will stop that greedy stop watch that wants to add milli-seconds to your score and possibly cost you and your team medals!
After you are cleared, you find that maybe YOU didn't break that last clay after all because two other team members drew beads and fired when you fired. No matter though... even if your mini ball arrived 6 inches behind another one, the clay was shattered and the time stopped.... AND THAT'S ALL THAT COUNTS... Now you can relax for a while, clean your musket and get ready for the next relay.
Well, just five more events to go in the Musket Team Match today. If you and your team members give their best performance, and you are a bit lucky, then you might end up in the winner's circle at the end of the Skirmish. Or you might lose placing in the medals by a lousy three or four seconds... Whatever the result, Skirmishing is never boring. Matter of fact it is one of the most colorful and exciting forms of shooting competition found anywhere, and there is always another skirmish coming up!
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