Let’s Talk About Ramrods

NO, this does not require another George Takei GIF. I’m being serious. Trying to be.

The ramrod is a metal rod used to ram (how they got the name, I’ll never know) the musket ball down onto the gunpowder in the barrel so it’s packed tight for maximum velocity when the powder is ignited.

Reenactors rarely implement ramrods for their intended use because we’re not (I hope) using ammunition. There are some reenactors who will use the ramrod after priming and loading just for show, or to ram the cartridge paper down for a little extra oomph when firing, but it’s extra seconds that are superfluous anyway because we’re not (oh lordy, how I hope) using ammunition.

I have heard of one or two cases where a reenactor pantomimed ramming a musket ball, forgot to remove the ramrod, and shot the gun. In one case, apparently the ramrod flew clear across the field and straight through the head of a young musician’s drum. Because of the human error margin, it’s best to leave the ramrod be when in battle. It takes time, it’s unwieldy, and it’s a potentially lethal hazard.

Therefore, our ramrod usage is mostly safety checks: before and after a battle we spring ramrods and one by one drop them down the barrel to see if it makes a clear pinging sound – if there is anything in the bottom of the barrel it’ll just thud, which means you need to clean your weapon, stat. We do it beforehand to make sure the guns are battle-safe, and we do it afterwards to make sure there isn’t any residual powder that could gunk up the weapon, or worse, go off.

This brings up an interesting physical problem. I’m 5’5” flat. My musket is a First Model, and butt on the ground she stands just about 5’2”.

St Pauls 2012Yup.

Springing rammers is no easy task for me even on a good day, and I’m a massive klutz to boot. Usually I have to angle the gun behind me and hike the ramrod out in two or three movements before I can turn it the 180° in order to send the blunt end down the barrel.

The movement is supposed to be graceful, and done in one fluid step. Mine is more akin to an uncoordinated baton twirler, and the amount of fumbling is inversely proportional to the rank of the officer overseeing the safety check.

i have a big headI feel you, bro.

When it’s my serjeant or my captain, I can usually carry the motion off fairly well. But if it’s an officer at a regional event whom I don’t know, unfailingly I manage to botch it completely. I’m always terrified I’m going to poke the poor man in the face. Hasn’t happened yet, but hey. Ya never know.

The funny part about the whole situation is that I’m closer to the average height back in the late 1700s than my closer to/over 6-foot comrades. It makes me wonder if any soldiers back then experienced similar problems. If they found a way to make it work, I wish they’d have passed it along. This particular short person would really not like to poke any officers in the face any time soon.

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