The music of war

Erin

I am a man who cannot carry a tune in a bucket. But I can whistle and whistle loud, over the years I have even learned to whistle a few tunes but I do not have an ear for music and few would care to listen to my music. Thankfully there were plenty in my company and Regiment who had a taste and a talent for music.

The regiment had a band and it wasn’t an unskilled group of men. Many a tune I liked was shared among the soldiers. Minstrel Boy may well have been my favorite but there were others sung and played around the campfires at night. Whenever we stopped it seemed small instruments appeared from nowhere to add their accompaniment to our sad attempt at music. On the march, in the camp a song was always being passed about. Music soothed our souls and made the time pass more quickly.

Pictured above is one of my mess, Emmanuel. Emmanuel and his constant companion Nate were friends and good soldiers. Emmanuel planned to make a business building musical instruments after the war, he had built quite a few cigar box fiddles and a few larger instruments. He carried a violin through the war, I cannot recall it ever leaving his pack except to grace his shoulder.

Young Nate was killed at Allatoona Pass. All that is good that can be said of his death is that it was quick. A bullet took him in the head killing him outright; at least the boy did not suffer. Emmanuel went a little mad over the death of his young friend becoming one of my “killers.” After Allatoona Pass he never once passed on the opportunity to form up in the skirmish line or take part in a patrol. He actively hunted the rebels and spared no effort trying to kill them. Emmanuel had been well liked prior to Allatoona Pass, but afterwards his cold demeanor and dead eyes changed him. The change dulled his popularity with the other men of the company and regiment. He took up a friendship with the Dakota boy Little Foot and the two worked well together.

Emmanuel like so many other young men, Union and Confederate, was forever changed by the war. I watched hatred nearly consume him, it became his boon companion. He still played but it was not the same; he had lost his passion for the music and it was not the same. If it had not been for the actions of my Mina and that precious little baby I expect Emmanuel would have attempted suicide by rebel. He was not alone in having the war change him; all too many were forever changed and scarred by the war. Too many of us looked into hell and found it staring back at us. Some learned to live with it, others let it consume them.

I lost track of Emmanuel after the war; like so many others he disappeared into the vast west never to be seen or heard from again. I cannot hear the strains of music from a fiddle or violin without thinking of Emmanuel. He was a good soldier and a good man. I hope that if he has indeed died he has found peace.

Re-purposed files

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I have often spoke of tools made from re-purposed files. It is an old practice, files wear out with use but they are typically made from good steel. A wise user will recycle that file into something useful and either use it himself or sell it on. I have spoken of these tools before but I enjoy them and see an inherent beauty in them.

A draw knife is a tool that is heavily used in many a project and the two I have with steel made from files are easily sharpened and hold their edge well. They are simple yet quite elegant to my eyes.

Turn screws are not a tool I use on a daily basis but when you need one it is best to have one of quality available and the two here are both of good quality and the workmanship that went into making them pleases me.

A scribe and marking knife is a tool used for nearly every project and the two here are ones I like. While I have other draw knives and turn screws I have no other scribes or marking knives. I don’t need them as I have what I need to hand.

There is something nice about the look of a tool made from a file, I like the feel of knowing I hold a tool that has had a previous life and yet has a future ahead of it. I suspect I will acquire more tools that have had a previous life as something else.

A soldier’s life

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Those who have spent time around me know of my varied military experience. I started my military careers in the Dutch army, a career that lasted only a very short few months after which I deserted. I ended up in France and shared drinks with some fine young soldiers; I woke the next morn enrolled in the La Legion Etrangere. I would serve more than a decade and a half with the Legion being blooded in North Africa and the Crimea before I made my way to the United States. I would arrive a few years prior to the War of Rebellion but upon the commencement of that great war I would enlist at Ft Snelling Minnesota. Initially I was part of the training cadre and would assist in the training of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Regiments of Minnesota Infantry. When the 4th marched toward the frontier I joined the NCO cadre and proudly marched beside them. I would march beside them until the Regiment mustered out of service.

The four young men you see in the picture above were typical of the men I served beside. They were so young, so eager to serve and all were volunteers. They made good soldiers, in my view, every bit as good as any I served with on the continent. They were tough, fit, rugged and superbly drilled but they lacked discipline. I do believe my old 4th Regiment of Minnesota Infantry could have out marched any regiment on the continent and I suspect they could have outfought them as well. Those Minnesota men were used to long walks, harsh winters and hot summers; such experience translated well into the life of a soldier. However, they would not brook the style of discipline I was accustomed to. They had a tendency to ask ‘why’ things had to be done and if they felt it foolish tended to balk, sometimes in a rather forceful manner. But they were also willing to listen and learn and they learned quickly. It did not take long to instill an understanding for the need of incessant drill and physical exertion. For the most part they took to my teachings rather enthusiastically. Though they abhorred the bayonet drill I was so fond of. They generally listened to and learned from me. By the end of the war my rank had not changed but many of those I had trained had been promoted well past me. I did not mind this, in fact I was proud of it. I was glad to see men that I had taught excel.

One of the men in the picture, Bryce, would become a good friend. Before the war he had been a sailor and was used to the hard work necessary for success. He never balked at an order and was always one of the first men in line when it came time to form up for battle. Bryce was one of the older men in my company and his age and maturity made him a natural choice for corporal and it was a rank he took to rather well. The men respected him and appreciated that he never asked them to do something he wasn’t willing to do alongside them. After the war Bryce headed to the north shore and resumed his pre war life eventually securing a job as a lighthouse keeper.

After the war the lions share of those who had survived went on with their lives. They largely picked up where they had left off. Farmers and clerks who had dropped their careers returned to their pre war life. They would marry, raise families and help to make America a better place. They were the foundation upon which the United States would finish the 19th century and enter the 20th. Their children and grand children would forge the nation. They were far from perfect but they were, by and large, good men who I was proud to serve beside.

The P53 Enfield Rifle Musket

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I first handled a P1853 Enfield Rifle Musket during the Crimea when I mingled with Scottish soldiers of the 42nd Highlanders of the “Black Watch.” I was used to the French M1842 Rifle Musket; having been issued one and trained to use it prior to the War while in north Africa I liked it. I remember at the time thinking that the P53 seemed too light. I didn’t care for it and was not impressed with the accuracy when I took my turn sending a bullet into the Russian works. On reflection that may well have been no more than the prejudice of familiarity.

When I came into the United States one of my first purchases was an excellent P53 made by the United States company of Windsor. I was quite pleased to see it and several of its brothers at a drygoods store where I was outfitting myself. It was the only legitimate arm for sale. While there were a variety of shotguns and sporting rifles as well as several Colt revolvers and a few “pepper box” pistols I saw the P53 as the only legitimate arm there. I was quite pleased with the quality, workmanship and all around good value of the Windsor Enfield that I would carry with me for the next several years. I found it to be accurate, reliable and quite robust in even the most trying of situations.

When I volunteered at Ft Snelling I carried that Windsor with me. I placed it in the care of the Barnaby family and was later issued an excellent Colt altered M1841 which I admit a fondness for. My regiment was never issued the P53 but I handled many in my role as a regimental armorer; after Vicksburg the P53 became more plentiful in other regiments and I had many an opportunity to handle them. As I recall a dozen or so did make their way into the regiment for a short while but did not stay long.

All in all I was wholly unimpressed with the arm. There were a number of manufacturers with a vast variety of quality in them. I would handle a couple more Windsors and found them to be of the same high quality as my own and found those marked LA & Co to be every bit as good. Other makers were considerably less so. By far the most common were those marked Tower and I found these a confusing lot with some of excellent quality and others unfit for much more than kindling. I found poorly seasoned stocks, loose and sloppy fittings, weak springs and various other minor but annoying issues. What I found most frustrating was the lack of interchangeability, with the exception of the Windsor and LA & Co arms, in these supposed first rate arms.

Those marked LA & Co as well as Windsor were of the highest quality and some marked Tower were also as good as any. But there were also some marked Tower that were poor substitutions for a pike. Poorly seasoned wood splintered easily, loose or poorly fitted metal parts created problems and the lack of interchangeability made extra work for those of us working as armorers.

As a result many men who had been issued various models of the M1841 held on to them and no regiment I know of passed up the opportunity to exchange their Enfields for new arms of the Springfield variety.