Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Firing Range - GETT

John Lucas (left) and Ranger Tom Holdbrook (right) instruct us on proper musket technique.

As part of our interpretive training here at Gettysburg, the first year seasonal rangers, new battlefield interns and I received instruction from Park Ranger Tom Holbrook (in the NPS hat) and volunteer living historian John Lucas (in the Union blue) in Civil War era weaponry. This is just a portion of our activities that day dedicated to experiencing the life of a soldier. Later on this same afternoon, we dressed in period uniform and hiked the battlefield - laden with gear, under the full heat of the sun - but I'll talk more on that in a separate post.

While the training looks like (and is) a lot of fun, there's more to it than just "having fun." This sort of hands-on learning enables us to better understand the experiences of the men who fought and died here as individual people with personal experiences who share the commonality of a singular historic event, rather than simply blue and red lines or arrows drawn on maps. Gettysburg was more than just generals and their faceless armies, it was a battle of individual soldiers - normal and extraordinary, fighting for reasons ranging from the deeply personal to the patriotic and universal, with shared fates - both Union and Confederate - that all intersect violently in one small Pennsylvania town on first three days of July in 1863. Spending just a few moments of our lives simulating some of the everyday reality of a Civil War soldier helps us to keep the human, personal element of the war in our minds as we relate the park's stories to our visitors.

In Confederate gear (the belts) for now! I end up enlisting with the Union for the march later on that day.

This is me, at Spangler's Spring, Gettysburg National Military Park - prior to receiving arms. Slung across my right shoulder is a cartridge box (where the ammunition is held) while across my waist is a cap box (where the firing caps are held). The belt is a little too big, so John helped me tie it around.

When firing, you must "T" your feet, turning your shoulder towards your enemy rather than facing fully forward. This way, you present the smallest possible target to your opposition, minimizing the chances of being hit.

This was my first encounter with a musket, and I can tell you that these things are heavier than they look! Firing them is a dirty, loud process that requires the use of your teeth as tools and a palate that doesn't mind the occasional taste of gunpowder.

John Lucas demonstrates the speed at which one must move to achieve the rate of fire for an average soldier during the Civil War: 3 shots per minute. This is followed by a short interpretation by Ranger Tom Holdbrook, who discusses the difficulties of battle.

Ranger Tom Holdbrook takes us through the loading and firing drill known as "Loading in nine times". In the previous video, John Lucas is firing at will, and is therefore moving much at a much faster pace. We were also given a chance to fire at will and still fell considerably short of the 3 shots per minute mark.

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