Review of Volumes III and IV
from Black Powder, The Official Journal of the Muzzle Loaders' Association of Great Britain, Vol.46 (2000) p.58.

By Peter Jacques (President, MLAGB).

Two years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing the first two volumes of this monumental work, and described it as remarkable, Having now the final two books before me I cannot find any adjective to describe the completed work other than superlative. The first two volumes contained over a thousand pages, and now the final two add a further 1,288 pages, with 144 photographs and 77 line illustrations, with nearly 7,000 source notes. No other book that I have ever read contains such a comprehensive coverage of the subject, and every possible aspect has been explored in the minutest detail. Remarkable indeed.

Volume III deals with ammunition and performance, not only with the accuracy of fire of these military muzzle loaders, but also makes comparisons between flintlock and percussion muskets, Baker rifles and the two-groove rifles - their respective muzzle velocities, range and the rates of fire and rates and causes of misfires. The many official tests are carefully recorded and commented upon, and to the practical competitive musket shooter of today provides a wealth of priceless information and answers to questions hitherto unknown. The section on ammunition, both gunpowder and shot, shows the constant evolution of these components, giving full descriptions of the grain sizes, quality and effectiveness of powders, made both in the UK and India, and many graphs and tables compiled from a plethora of original documented trials clearly indicate the effectiveness or otherwise of these military muzzle loaders throughout two and a half centuries of battle experience.

One small example is the fascinating insight into the manufacture of musket balls - how initially they were cast, and the machinery used, such as ball-clipping engines to remove sprues in quantity, and mills for smoothing off surface irregularities and removing the residues of sprues - and the odd fact that from 1804 the Bengal Army alone in India added tin to alloy the lead `as it makes the Balls much more lively, and fatal to Cavalry, as they will break the Bones of the Horses instead of being flattened by them' refutes the common belief that until the introduction of breech loaders in the late 19th century all British smallarm projectiles were made of pure lead. The introduction of Napier's compression bullet-making machine by the Board of Ordnance in 1842 led to requests from India for similar machines, but these were initially turned down by the Court of Directors on account of cost, but finally, in 1846, after repeated requests, the Court asked Woolwich Arsenal for its assessment on these compressed balls, and the surprising reply from James Cockburn, the Inspector of Machinery at Woolwich was that in his opinion the increase in accuracy detected in a trial of cast and compressed balls was `so trifling, that it did not warrant its adoption in the (Royal) Service' and he went on to point out that only pure lead could be used, thus prohibiting the re-casting of unserviceable balls and those recovered from firing ranges as they would be too hard, and also the expense of the extra manpower required in manufacture more than compensated for any supposed advantage they had over cast balls. Napier's machine was never purchased, but with the introduction of the minie system the purchase was made of Anderson's new `lead squirting' machines, reputed to be able to produce 100,000 bullets in a day.

Mr. Harding's books contain myriad similar examples of the manufacture of ammunition, both by hand and machine, describing the types and descriptions of cartridge papers used, powder charges - the accuracy and effectiveness, rates of misfires, problems with the Baker rifle, and comparisons between the flint and percussion ignition systems - the subjects are endless. Volume IV deals with the users and their smallarms, but to try to describe the total coverage of information contained in these books is frankly impossible, and so I can only recommend to anyone seriously interested in learning the true facts of the practical use of British military smallarms during virtually the whole period of their muzzle loading use, that they become the fortunate owners of these beautifully prepared volumes.

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