Mirror, mirror who is the fairest…
In the fall of 64 on the way to Savannah during the “March to the Sea” my mess were on the flank working as skirmishers to foil any surprises Wheeler and his men might decide to try and spring upon the army. We found a clearing full of corpses; slaves slaughtered so that they might not face the burden of freedom. Among those corpses was a young woman with both of her legs broken. Gangrene had settled in and she had little time left upon this earth. But she had endeavored to keep her child, an innocent babe alive. The arrival of our mess gave her the chance to see her child to safety. No real man will harm a child and no one but a fool would have called us anything but real men.
The woman demanded that we prove to her that we would show her baby freedom. Seth and Emmanuel agreed and she put that child into his hands. The woman passed before we could learn either her or the child’s name. Seth and a few of the other men gave her a hasty christian burial with a cross marked “Freedom’s Mother” to show the world who slept there. Emmanuel took the child back to the column handing her off to my Mina. When Mina asked for the child’s name he called her “Freedom.”
I provided a bottle of Scotch to clean the child, Little Foot provided a dipper of mares milk to feed her, Kevin found a feather to tickle her nose and Emmanuel made a baby rattle from a turtle shell beans and a stick. A neighboring plantation provided the cloth for swaddling clothes and bedding before we fired the place. That little girl was a pathway back to humanity for many a man in my Regiment. That child would not stray from my Mina for most of the next year. Even today, years later, only a fool might say Little Miss Freedom is anything but an angel. I am proud to say my men did a good turn for a woman as she slipped this mortal coil. In return God provided my men, and to a lesser extent me, a bit of salvation in the midst of war.
May god have mercy upon any who would harm this child for I will have none.
A broad axe is a vital tool when building structure; it is the tool that turns round logs into square beams. All a man needs is a chalk line, square, felling axe and broad axe to turn a good heavy log into a good heavy beam. A broad axe may look like a fearsome weapon but the reality is that it is too heavy and cumbersome to be an effective weapon; but it is a splendid tool.
There are a variety of broad axe styles from the gull wing common on the continent to the “Pennsylvania” style to this “American style identified by the wings that hug the haft giving it better balance. I really cannot say where I acquired this broad axe; but it has given me good service.
I really am not that skilled in the use of hand tools, but I do enjoy using them. The feel of a smooth wooden handle under my hand and the sound of the steel cutting into a project has always had a pleasing sound to me. Even as a child I enjoyed cutting wood for the stove. When trimming or squaring logs a large amount of spoil is created that makes decent kindling and I task my young daughter or other children with filling a flour sack with such. It occupies them and keeps them from mischief… at least some of the time.
A short while back a pair of young Irishmen passing through on their way west to the Dakota Territory spent some coin in my tavern, shared my bread and slept in one of the beds on the top floor. These two young men, veterans of the war both, each arrived with a rifle to hand. I had seen a few of these during the war, likely been on the receiving end of their fire more than once. I had handled and repaired one during the Vicksburg siege and at the time had been impressed with it. It was a short and handy weapon with good accuracy; though the recoil had been substantial, almost uncomfortable.
They were handsome arms, easy to keep in order and accurate. What they lacked was the quality fit and finish of an American made Springfield pattern M1861 rifle musket or of the M1841 I will always be so fond of. The Enfield pattern arms never had the drop in the stock that I prefer in American or French arms; though I don’t believe such had a notable impact upon accuracy.
I am familiar with the P56 and to a lesser extent the P60 as used during the war. But the two the men were carrying did not match what I knew of the P56 and P60. The iron mounting of the P56 and P60 was a distinctive feature and these were both brass mounted. It was explained to me that they were both P58’s. The longer of the two was a Naval rifle while the shorter was a Sergeant’s Fusil and had never been rifled. When I asked where these fine young men had acquired such arms they both simply smiled and did not answer. I have to admit my curiosity was piqued but I did not press the subject.
The two men paid their way and I wished them well on their ventures. The Irish I have known have been good soldiers, I suspect these men were of the Fenian brotherhood heading west.
Simple tools do so much and look nice doing it. Above are a pair of shaves and a pair of draw knives, one store bought and the other blacksmith made from an old file. All work and work well for my uses. What kind of uses you ask? Well everything from chair legs for furniture, shaping replacement shingles and host of other items that are too rough or too pretty to be thought of as made from such tools.
Some of the old timers will tell you that the only tool a man needs is an axe or hatchet. I beg to differ but that said there is no need to argue with a man who can build a respectable home for himself with no more to hand than a few simple hand tools. I can think of only a few tools that truly are vital. A shovel, an axe, a saw or two, a froe, couple of hammers and mallets, a scribe and marking gauge, good brace and a decent selection of sharp bits, a measure and calipers, a couple of planes, some files and a whet or oil stone to sharpen what needs an edge and a level, plumb bob and square to make certain floors don’t tilt too much, corners are square and walls are plumb. Most anything past that is extra and not always unwelcome.
Have you ever wondered what kind of tools it takes to keep a musket or rifle in the field? The mainspring along with the nipple were two fairly common breakages on a musket. As a result there were ample spare parts as well as the right men having access to the right tools to bring a weapon back on line in as short a time as possible. The small hand held spring vise pictured above made replacing the mainspring a matter of a few minutes. Simple, robust and effective it was a tool that worked and worked well.
If you have the proper tool the job is never a job but often a small bit of joy.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to maintain a musket in the field? The reality is that it really takes nothing more than the two tools you see above, hot water and a bit of sweet oil. These two tools can easily be kept in the implement pouch of the cartridge box. The wrench is used to remove the nipple for cleaning or as a mainspring vice if you need to do some work on the lock internals. The three turnscrews will work on all the various screws holding a rifle musket together. The worm is easily threaded onto the ramrod with a scrap of cloth or some tow threaded into the teeth. Combine with some boiled water to pour down the barrel and cleaning of fouling is quite easy. Then a few drops of oil on the moving parts and she is ready for service. If it takes a man more than twenty minutes to clean his arm he has a problem and more often than not that problem is of his own making. The kind of problem I or any other sergeant is quick to notice.
There is no excuse for a dirty weapon, none. A soldier trusts his weapon to keep him through the worst times. She had best be clean, serviceable and ready for use. If not that soldier will be noticed by a good sergeant and that good sergeant will rectify the situation in a very loud and notable manner.
A man needs a good set of tools to use about the house and homestead. My own tool box has been filled a little at a time over the years.
I have three saws of varying size and shape spread through my tool box. The top drawer holds a draw knife made from an old file and a new manufactured one as well, two old hand forged hammers. A fro, scribe or scratch awl and a set of calipers as well as a small oil bottle, a trio of turn screws, a small level, plumb bob and a stag horn handled carpenters knife made from an old file. A good back saw sits on top of it all. I don’t know why but there is also a cute little collapsible tin cup and a scalp knife in that drawer. You might ask why I keep a collapsible cup and a scalp knife in my tool box? Well, If some passing stranger were to offer me a drink while I was working it wouldn’t be polite to drink straight from his bottle, it’s more civilized to drink from a cup. As to the scalp knife; I figure should I ever need a knife it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have one close to hand.
The middle drawer holds a trio of braces with a set of bits in an old canvas apron the wife re-purposed for me as well as a hollow auger and spoke pointer for them. Those two tools in particular came in quite handy when I made the stools and chairs for my tavern. There is also a nice new English hammer which, with the hollow auger and spoke pointer, is one of the few new tools I have ever purchased new.
The bottom of the tool box is held down by four different planes, a blacksmith made square, hand adze, a pair of mallets, good saw with teeth on both sides. There is a side compartment that holds the handle for the fro blade and a Norwegian made hatchet and a small piece of wood to use as needed.
All things considered I have most every tool I need to use around the place in one handy box that while heavy is rather compact. A strong man can easily put it in the bed of a wagon and take it anywhere needed should a neighbor or community project need my hands.