I am an admitted fan of the Sharps carbine and rifle. I do believe the Sharps action to be one of the finest actions in existence for a military arm. I first saw an M1859 Sharps carbine while trading with the Lakota just prior to the war. The magnificent M1859 was in the hands of an Irish sergeant of the US Cavalry. Like me the man was a veteran of the Crimea. The man had been part of the ill fated “Charge of the Light Brigade” made famous by deed and poem. He had immigrated to the United States and quickly found his niche as a professional soldier of the US Army. I learned recently that the man survived the war and had gained a commission in the US Army. After the war he was returned to his pre-war regular army rank of sergeant but he remained later gaining a commission for the second time with a United States Colored Troops Cavalry Regiment. I suspect his professionalism, experience and competence have given those men good service.
I like the Sharps pictured above, a wartime carbine converted from the percussion system using a paper or linen cartridge to the brass center fire cartridge in .50-70 caliber. The .50-70 is a hard hitting round that is in my opinion in all ways superior to the original paper cartridge. I admit to being a slow convert to the idea of a metallic cartridge. I have changed my opinion and can see no negative to the use of a brass cartridge. The Sharps was not the only breach loading action in use before or during the war. Others used a copper foil cartridge which was difficult to extract after any fouling, some used a brass cartridge without an extractor of any kind which made removing a spent cartridge rather difficult. The Ballard used a simple ejector that worked well. Sharps watched what other designers had done and installed a simple lever that automatically kicked a spent cartridge free from the action upon opening. Simple, robust, reliable and accurate enough to easily strike an enemy out to a range of two hundred yards or more.
The Sharps carbine is handy to use from horseback or afoot. It is suitable as a military or a hunting arm. The .50-70 providing ample power to bring down man or beast. Unfortunately, the US Army seems to prefer the trapdoor Springfield. Thus these have begun to enter the surplus market in large numbers. As I now own one I cannot and will not complain.
A trio of levels from the ACW ers
This is what a level would have looked like to any man of the ACW era who needed a level surface.
A level is a priceless tool to those who wish a bit of precision and craftsmanship to be evident in their carpentry or construction. A level also happens to be a tool that can be rather pleasant to look upon. The levels above are all rather pleasant with beautiful wood and brass trim to remind the user that there is more to things than just pure function. The is no reason beauty can not be present in even the simplest construction.
With the manufacturing revolution that brought the world the “American” system of manufacture tools of all sorts became not only readily available but affordable for amateurs such as myself. While I do not, and never will, claim to be a skilled craftsman I understand the need for a quality level. Without a level floor the marbles and dropped bottles roll to one side of the room causing all kinds of racket and sleeping on a sloping floor gets tiresome. So a level is a required tool.
In times long past a scribe was another name for a scholar or clerk. Today a scribe is a tool for marking wood and steel. A simple blacksmith forged tool that is functional and straightforward in its purpose to mark thins in such a way that the mark will not disappear as a pencil or ink mark might. Ink is expensive and pencils need to be sharpened and can be worn off by a casual touch.
The three scribes pictured were all handmade by blacksmiths of varying skill and artistic bent. A scribe doesn’t need to be more than a simple piece of steel cut to the right length and shape. Simply twisting the metal and adding a loop to hang the tool from a peg or nail change a simple tool into something pleasant to look upon.
I have learned a few things over a lifetime of campaigning with armies. A few things I could do to make life a little more comfortable for myself. IN the colder times I would always wear a sleeping cap and gloves; those who failed to were never warm. If I kept at least twice as many blanket under me as over me I was warmer than not. A Lakota fire hole was quite a bit more efficient than a traditional fire pit; a particularly notable point when fuel was in short supply. A cold miserable night of sleep can be forgiven with a good hot cup of coffee.
It always seems coldest just before dawn. Dawn, that incredible moment where the promise of a new day is realized. The sun emerges from the east with a beauty that is rarely realized or recognized. In my youth I failed to appreciate the beauty I saw around me. The land has a particular beauty and the snow covered land is a bit of peaceful perfection. The snow quiets things, the cold eliminates the annoying insects and seems to cleanse the world. Then the winds begins and you are reminded that nature is a force to be reckoned with and it is time to check the wood pile and keep the wood box stocked.
After my time in the Crimea I thought I would never be warm again, in the desert of North Africa I thought never again to be cool. Many dislike the cold of winter; I cherish it. That cold crisp morning air when you know you must work to survive. It is a time when it is a battle against nature and man has control over much of his success.
Seth once told me that there is a scent and a touch that reminds you of home. At the time I thought him a bit mad at the suggestion. Seth had said the smell of bread his mother had made with a horsehair rug under his bare feet would always bring him home. Another man made mention of the salt spray of the sea and potatoes boiling away in a pot. Yet another the smell of fresh cut hay and fresh bread.
It took me a long time but it is three things for me that encompass the scent of home: it is a glass of cognac to hand, good pipe smoke in the air and the smell of bread my Mina bakes filling the room. Cognac in a smooth glass calms me as much as the smooth wood of a rifle stock. A bowl of good tobacco lending pleasant smoke to the air gives a feel of industry and work well done. And finally that glorious smell of fresh sourdough bread baked fresh by my Mina… all signs that a man has a contented house with plenty to eat and enough comfort to make life bearable.
The scent of home, one of those things that grows upon you the more you think of it. If there is a scent of home, is there also the scent of love… hate?
A while ago a patron asked me why I had so many firearms hanging about my business. There is the M1841 over the bar, a Sharps under the bar, a Colt Revolving Shotgun in the bakery near to the hand of my wife, an M1855 above the bed and an M1864 under it… all are loaded. I have never understood the point of an empty weapon. When a man needs a weapon he needs it in a hurry. Why not carry a loaded pistol? A pistol exists simply to get a better weapon, in a close quarter fight I prefer a knife.
I suppose some might view me as paranoid, but I have fought wars on three continents and remain alive.