Thursday, November 14, 2013

Civil war reenactment survival kit

First, it occurred to me that you never got to see what my finished ammunition crate looks like.  (I made a long blog post with instructions how to build your own HERE) Here it is:

Isn't it just glorious and super authentic looking?  For the paint color, I chose a dark olive drab I created by mixing dark grey and green house paint at Home Depot. It's darker than it looks in the picture.
I marked it with the Frankford Arsenal because that arsenal supplied the Northern Pennsylvania regiments of the Union Army,  which would make it appropriate for a Bucktails camp setting.  I decided to date stamp it with "1861" so it won't look out of place, no matter what year of the war we are portraying.

Were you wondering how I got the lettering so perfect? After several lousy tries by hand and coats of paint to cover it up, I ended up laying it out on the computer with a stencil font and took it to a sign shop to get a vinyl stencil made of it. That way I could stick it on to the wood, paint in the letters and then peel it off after it dried. During wartime they supposedly used a brass stencil plate and applied the letters in white paint with a hand brush.

...So now that I have my very own ammo box to leave laying around in camp, what do I use it for?  At first I carefully covered the inside with plastic and duct tape to make a small drink cooler. It holds about 2 six packs of beer or four Gatorade bottles laying down.
This does work, it is waterproof and it does keep the drinks cool if you pack it with ice.  Just be sure the lid stays on tightly.

That worked as an ice cooler for one or two events. It saved my behind at the 150th Antietam and the Gettysburg 2012 where it was 110 degrees in the shade.

Now I came up with another use for it...a survival kit, tool box and carryall!  Here's all the stuff I keep in it now:

Going from right to left, I'll give you 'pards a breakdown of what's in here at all times...

You will notice there is a teapot. What is the teapot for?

This pretty cheap, worthless old dented teapot was a lucky find at a flea market.  I actually use it for boiling water to clean my rifle. See the narrow spout? It fits perfectly into the muzzle of a .58 Enfield, and if you tip it up the hot water pours straight into the barrel with no spillage. It really works! I don't need to take the barrel off or remove the lockplate to prevent water seeping in, because the water goes into the barrel and nowhere else. (I really should make a post about my gun cleaning method passed down from my family firearms expert the late Uncle Bill. He found a way to clean the entire gun in as little as 5 minutes)

Next is my shoestring budget musket cleaning kit, pictured below.

The case (upper left) was handmade out of tarred canvas with a drawstring.  Below that are the segmented cleaning rods.  

Here's a cheap way to assemble a cleaning kit. Go to Walmart and buy one of those universal kits for pistols, rifles and shotguns. Take the patches, the brushes, the wire scrapers and the rods out. You'll need to buy two kits to get the right length of rods to go all the way down the barrel, and then you also have plenty of extra pieces left over and extra rods in case they break. They could break. Use the swab brushes and wire brush meant for the 12 gauge shot gun. The real skinny swab and wire brush are for cleaning the touch hole the nipple screws into.  The patch holder jag for the shotgun will work just fine.

Three special tools you can't buy at Walmart are the nipple wrench (mine is for an Enfield), the bore scraper and the cleaning picks. I also bought two spare nipples (*ahem "percussion cones") in case I lose mine.  You'll also notice a square piece of tough brown leather. I use that piece to plug the percussion cone hole against the hammer when I pour the hot water down the barrel for the initial "shake & bake" rinse. The flexible piece of plastic tubing next to that is meant to fit on the end of the cone, to divert the water away from the stock and lock plate when the rifle is inverted. 

All of the stuff pictured above fits into the black cloth bag.

Here's my bottles and cans of cleaning fluids. The 3 old glass bottles hold Neatsfoot oil (for treating leathers), olive oil (to prevent rust on the outside of the gun), and Linseed oil (to treat the wooden stock). I have two wads of triple-ought "000" steel wool to shine up brass.  The can of Ballistol and Stock Rejuvenator are two modern essentials.

These are my homemade cleaning patches. I cut them up out of clean undershirts. Don't cut them any bigger than 3 inches square.  One package of undershirts from any clothing store will make enough patches to last you a year or more.  Don't waste your money on them at the sutlers.

And here's the mending kit I carry with me in the field. I have coils of string, twine, rope and leather shoelaces. These can be used for so many things. Tie your tent poles together to keep your tent up. Tie together a broken leather strap. Lace up somebody's shoe with it.  I have a folding jacknife I also carry in this black bag. The thing at top right is part of a cotton canteen strap, in case anybody needs it.

Then I have a few more modern tools for emergencies nobody should really be without.  I got a nice Leatherman with plenty of tools on it, including a tiny saw blade and a pair of scissors.  The small keychain flash light cost me 99 cents from the bargain aisle of Target. It makes a perfect bore checking light to make sure your rifle barrel is clean and shiny. I got a flat bladed screwdriver for undoing the barrel band screws on an Enfield rifle, because I find the flat tip of the nipple wrench is too small and slips out, gouging the wood around it. The small thing with the blue screwdriver handle is an awl. For punching extra holes in leather belts and straps, of course. 

....And then I also carry a tiny plastic baggie in my ammo box with a handful of cartridges in it. Why in plastic? Say there's a downpour on Saturday night, your cartridge box gets left out in the rain and your powder gets wet and useless. I'll slip you this bag with some dry rounds in it and it's got enough to hopefully get you through Sunday's battle so you don't have to go to the sutlers and buy more. 

And last but certainly not least, I still have room to carry my folding pocket campaign lantern. When it's closed it makes a nice sturdy dry box to hold my Lucifer matches in.

Just so you know guys... I will always have this box near my tent in camp, and anyone is welcome to borrow what's inside with my supervision if they need a quick repair, ammo gets wet or need to check out their gun. I will have a sewing kit too, and I know how to mend torn seams and sew buttons back on to your uniform.  Just come to me if you need anything.

By the way, here's what I look like.  My real name's Jeff.  I am in the Mifflin Guard with the 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry, sometimes the 13th PA Reserves, and sometimes the 1st PA Rifles. (we're all the same group depending what the battle is). I watch out for my brothers. If you're at an event and you think you might need anything you see in this reenacting survival kit, come find me. I hardly ever sleep so my tent is open 24 hours. Just drop in and say hi.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

More Civil War Sketchin' Time

These are recent additions to my 1860s sketch journal for your viewing pleasure. The sketches are only about four inches by six inches. I tend to draw very tiny.

The eagle as a symbol of the Union was depicted more during this time than any other in the nation's history.
Many of my sketches are renditions of engravings found in recruiting posters, political cartoons, mail envelopes and Harper's Weekly newspapers of the period.  I like the way they repeatedly used the motif of the eagle as a symbol of strength and freedom, perhaps you have noticed a bit of a fixation.  Eagles eat snakes, an animal which has sometimes been used to personify the Confederacy. There is a lot more meaning behind symbols than many of us realize.

The idea of Liberty personified as a woman wearing stars and stripes also originated around the year 1860.

 Call me a Yankee if you must, but personally I think eagles are awesome.

...And if you were curious, here's what my 19th century drawing kit looks like that I take to events so I can sit around and sketch. 

The pencil case is made of wood and has a sliding cover that won't slide completely out. I don't know what kind of wood it is, but it smells like pine. I draw with cedar pencils and when the tip gets dull, I whittle it to a point it with my folding jacknife. There are some sticks of vine charcoal, some very old drawing instruments like a compass and dip pen (how old I'm not sure, they look like 19th century), and a natural rubber eraser.  I like to sit around the fire and draw in camp because it gives me something to do besides loaf around, talk and eat. When I practice sketch at home, sometimes I like to work by candlelight and listen to some camp songs to get me "in the zone." Something about putting a pencil to paper in the dim flickering light of a fire makes me forget what century it is. I find it a good atmosphere to create in.