Riding Shotgun…

And I had been wondering where the next post’s inspiration might come from…

I’m not much of a ‘gun guy’ outside of re-enacting ( can’t see the need for assault weapons if you’re not’ assaulting something’, or maybe you have some fundamentalist Taliban bunnies living in the woods behind your house…)  but one comes to appreciate objects that are meticulously well-designed and engineered, over time. I feel the same way about good guitars and instruments in general, audio equipment, and anything else that my frozen 14-year old psyche seems to have  ever locked onto. This excludes Mrs. Addams and Agent 99 ( that would be most indiscrete.)

In the ” Catholic” post’s comments ( thanks again, all!), there was mention of a Stoeger Coach gun. Being the widespread choice of Southern belles everywhere, I thought we might spend a post or two in discussion of well-engineered firearms that were/are designed with particular applications in mind. Coach guns have a very unique history.

This photo is of a modern variation. It can be re-loaded very quickly with a bit of practice, and the only drawback seems to be a vicious shoulder bruise that will incur should both barrels be fired simultaneously. These are very popular with cowboy-competition shooters, and as home protection. Also practical as a snake deterrent; the poor reptile that sees this coming is about to have his entire evening ruined. Typically available in 18″ barrel length. Very well-balanced and maneuverable. Here’s a photo of a blackpowder variety;

Historically, coach guns were manufactured by Remington and Colt. They were issued to stagecoach drivers by Wells Fargo when they first established a delivery run from Tipton, Missouri to San Francisco in 1858. A coach would have two men up top; one handling the reins, and the other ” riding shotgun.”  The gun fired a buck-and-ball blackpowder cartridge that was horrifically effective at short range. No accuracy necessary. The bad guy riding alongside the coach just…went away. Had there been only one driver, he could hold the reins and still use the coach gun in his other hand.

Early coach guns were rumored to be used by Confederate cavalry. The Confederates were much less formal than their Federal counterparts as to their uniform and accoutrement applications, and anything that you had and could use effectively was likely to be acceptable. A coach gun or  any of several short-barrel carbines were popular. They could all be worn on a short shoulder sling and brought into use in a matter of seconds.

I was once shown a Colt ‘coach gun’, and was surprised that something that looked so stocky and uncomfortable was so very well balanced.  In that regard, it reminded me of a Cook and Brother carbine that I had the occassional use of; it is essentially a shortened Enfield musket. It was remarkably well balanced, and a joy to carry and use. Whenever I would go into the field in a sergeant’s role, I would beg Bubba to borrow his Cook and Brother. NCO’s aren’t in the firing line, so a short-barrel weapon is acceptable. It always felt like… the perfect tool. Here is a photo of a Cook and Brother;

And here is a full-sized Enfield;

Another favorite is the 1842 Mississippi  smoothbore musket. ” Smoothbore” refers to the inside surface of the barrel itself; these had an effective range of app. 200 yds. ” Rifling” refers to a tight spiral on the inside surface that increased range to almost 500 yds. This accounts for the alarming number of casualties in any typical infantry engagement. The field tactics were still entirely Napoleonic in nature ( up close and very personal ), but they could now shred one another long before they got that close. So…they did.

 The Mississippis  were made in Harper’s Ferry, and were so named due to Jefferson Davis‘ use of them during the Mexican war. Here’s a photo;

These are so beautifully designed that it’s hard to believe that they came from that era. Although they’re  a bit ungainly while carrying them or going through the manual of arms, when you raise it to the firing position it just settles into a perfect balance. You could hold this at arm’s length, balance it on one finger and stand there all day. Exquisite. These would mount a very old-school saber bayonet that was about 2ft. in length; absolutely terrifying.

Another absolutely magnificent weapon is the Henry repeating rifle. This looks very clunky and uncomfortable, but balances perfectly when in firing position. Was often mounted with a long-range scope and used by sharpshooters.

If memory serves, I believe it was a Henry that got to Gen. John Reynolds on the first day of Gettysburg; a shot from almost a mile away.

Well…that should do it for today, kids. I think next time, we might look at some period artillery! Try to contain your excitement….

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 2:47 pm  Comments (11)  

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  1. Yes, it is an appreciation thing, firearm or not. It is about the workmanship, the wood, etc., the ability to find the beauty even in an object such as a shotgun. Why, I imagine (with great difficulty) that there are those who cannot find the beauty in a musical instrument.
    Sometimes it takes a little coaxing to “see” the thing apart from it’s typical associations or uses.
    I am by no means a “gun” person. However, I find the Stoeger both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. I cannot explain why it was so comfortable and natural to shoot from the hip, to hit the mark so easily with what for me is such a foreign object. Perhaps it speaks to the engineering, the balance of all parts. It simply “felt” good when I held it.
    Musicians know of this thing. Again, I am no musician yet I will never forget, and always regret not purchasing, an early 70’s era Fender Precision Bass. Beat up and black/sunburst, it just felt “right” – any minute…I’d be channeling Steve Harris:)
    Favor? Clarification?
    I am puzzled by this line: “These are so beautifully designed that it’s hard to believe that they came from that era.”

    • Well, my foot was about halfway in my mouth when I wrote that, so there you go. I was actually thinking of a .44 cal Dragoon cavalry revolver from that same time. Kind of heavy overall, and trigger guards had not yet appeared, so if you went up against a saber in close quarters you just might lose an index finger. Surprising that they didn’t think it very important at the time. The saber was considered the primary right-hand weapon, and a pistol would have been holstered on the right and drawn by the left.
      I’ve got three reproduction infantry swords, and they look great but I was always glad that I didn’t actually have to use one because they weigh a ton. Just figured I was a wimp. But one day the Liberty Grey’s colonel showed me an original of his that was French made in the Napoleonic era, and it was as light as a feather, and would be amazingly fast and maneuverable.
      Sorry about the Precision, but I’ll bet there’s another out there with your name on it. Hey, do you think that little wooden thing on Precisions is supposed to be a trigger guard?

      • Saber? Pistol? Saber? Pistol? Geez Louise!
        Guess it’s good to have a back up?:)
        I think the time has passed for the Precision. Besides, I have a bass I am very happy with:):)
        (Thanks for the vid!)

  2. I get that part about the Precision, if I may:

    • Yes. Confirmed. That is a trigger guard, because when I play bass, people may well attack me with sabers.It hasn’t actually happened yet, but I can see it in their eyes.

      • It hasn’t?:)
        I am trying to picture you playing bass – what style are you partial to?

  3. So far, I like playing with fingers on a fretless. It’s hard because your intonation has to be right on the money. (That would be where the saber attacks factor in; poor intonation infuriates people.) I would really like to have a full-sized upright to play with a bow. I would also like a yacht by the cove in East Greenwich. I have been told that my expectations are unrealistic. The terms ” ridiculous”, ” silly”, and ” better make a mortgage payment” have been bandied about freely. I have become sullen and resentful, and it has affected my intonation; and this in turn increases the likelihood of random saber attacks. Maybe I should just get a bass with frets on it.
    Oh…you meant “style” style. Well, a Tal/ Jaco jazzy thing would be nice if I’m not killed by cavalry first.

  4. As oppposed to toes?
    The challenge must be immense. One should always have a challenge in spite of sabers readied for the attack.
    “a yacht by the cove in East Greenwich” at this point in time may be in the realm of “ridiculous” however, purchasing an uprite would not be an unexpected thing. Certainly it is within your frame of reference and therefore not “ridiculous”.

  5. …me I am partial to the Bootsy view of things, i.e. even if your clothing looks like an unfortunate explosion at the Salvation Army Thrift store, provided you pull the telephone cable-like strings more than 4″ off the fretboard, people will give you your space…

    As a fan of the modern gospel music ( Fred and them ) I take particular delight in the pedigree of Mssrs Collins and Clinton and Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ. (damn! does the cat have a sense of humour, or what?)

  6. My point entirely! Here i am valiantly trying to advance my art for the sake of all humanity, and I have to consider base economics instead. How droll. It’s bad enough avoiding the cavalry patrols. My intonation is getting worse every day. But fear of sabers, and the incessant nervous shaking that accompanies it, has in turn led to a nice vibrato.

  7. PS; Do you think Bootsy might have a word with the Golden Earring guy?

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