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Cap and Ball, back in the day

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by OrangePwrx9, Sep 14, 2012.

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  1. mykeal

    mykeal Member

    Sep 9, 2006
    It's possible the ball will have an internal void, so that when the outer layer lead is shaved off the void is exposed. That void could then leave a gap between the wall and ball. Unlikely, yes, but it happens.
  2. CraigC
    • Contributing Member

    CraigC Member

    Jan 27, 2006
    West Tennessee
    He said he did and William F. Cody (and others) confirmed it. May have been a bit OCD but his life depended on his sixguns and his skill with them. He understood that.
  3. Crawdad1

    Crawdad1 Member

    Sep 13, 2012
    Reading a narrative about the Battle of Gaines Mills, a confederate infantryman said, “Our rifles were all “chuked” up so we went down to the river to clean them” Jesse James while still living on the farm was responsible for cleaning the bands revolvers during the war. He gathered them all up and took them to the barn to clean them with water. He lost the tip of his finger when he was cleaning a revolver that still had a charge in it went off. There are entries in the work books of Pennsylvania gunsmiths for “refreshing(?) the rifling. R Gordon Cummings while hunting in Africa during the 1850’s had his John Dickson and his William Moore double rifles blow up from the lack of care.

    From these and other entries in my opinion a good cleaning wasn’t universally practiced, but what do I know. This is a very good question!!!
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2012
  4. AJumbo

    AJumbo Member

    Feb 6, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    Welll, treblig, good firearms maintenance isn't universally practiced today, is it? The reason so few old guns (relatively speaking) exist today is in part due to poor maintenance. Same with old tools, cars, or whatever.
  5. Stantdm

    Stantdm Member

    Jan 1, 2012
    Hickcock unloaded his revolvers every day, I am not sure he fired them. It was a ritual of a careful man whose life depended on those guns working.

    I have left my cap and ball revolver and my percussion rifle loaded with black powder and with pyrodex at times for a couple of months with no adverse result in power. I live where it is fairly dry but have had no issues even when the gun is left loaded during what passes for a rainy season in these parts. I grew up believing you had to clean the gun after it was shot and continue to do that to this day. I use hot water with soap and have often wondered what the early frontier people did. I suspect they "washed" their guns after firing but didn't clean them at the end of every day if they hadn't shot them.
  6. Steel Horse Rider

    Steel Horse Rider Member

    Jan 4, 2012
    Loveland, Colorado
    From what I have read "lube" also consisted mostly of some type of animal fat such as beef tallow, bear fat, hog lard, or whatever might be available from skimming the top of the pot dinner was boiled in.
  7. Desert Scorpion

    Desert Scorpion Member

    Nov 14, 2006
    I use to live in a high elevation desert not The sands of Egypt!! This was my own experience probably the wads I used or a bad cylinder.
  8. Fiv3r

    Fiv3r Member

    Sep 30, 2009
    This is an interesting question for sure. I would imagine that they would simply swab out the spent chambers and barrel as needed and reload.

    I did a pretty short term experiment with my 1858 Remington where I loaded it up with Pyrodex, .454 ball, and capped it. I used no wax, no grease, and no wad. I wore it most every day in a shoulder holster under my over-shirt for the better part of two months. This was in the fall/winter and not as humid as it gets in the summer, obviously. However, I think it's pretty easy to imagine that the under-arm area of a shoulder holster can get a bit swampy:evil:

    7 or 8 weeks of doing that for 8 hours a day, and all six chambers went off without a hitch. Not exactly scientific, but I think I could have easily pulled the cylinder, removed the caps for safety, and swapped out the spent chambers and the barrel and got the revolver back into service without talking ALL the bullets and powder out.

    BADUNAME30 Member

    Mar 24, 2009
    Neshannock, Pa.
    The only thing that i can add to this thread that i see has been missed so far is.....
    The muzzle loading rifle wasn't unloaded or fired and cleaned as often as some think.
    The romantic pics often seen of muzzle loader rifles hangin over the fire place was not a decoration or jus a convenient out of the way place for the owner to store his rifle. It was intentionaly hung there to help keep the load dry by utilizing the warmth of the fire place.Possibles bags were hung near the hearth for the same reason...to keep the powder dry.
    Properly stored black powder loaded rifles can be kept loaded for a long time with no ill efects. They most likely weren't kept loaded very long at all just for the mere fact that game was often hunted with them.
  10. PRD1

    PRD1 Member

    Apr 24, 2008
    S.E. Arizona
    One factor which has not yet been addressed...

    is that the original percussion caps were extremely corrosive, themselves. The potassium chlorate which was the basis of their composition deposited , when fired, potassium chloride on the metal parts it contacted: KCl is hygroscopic, and will absorb moisture from the atmosphere, producing a brine that will very quickly cause rusting. This is the same substance which caused so much trouble with firearms corrosion after the introduction of smokeless powder, and before the real cause of the rusting was identified and proper methods of cleaning and preservation instituted. Later, of course, non-corrosive priming formulae which did not contain KClO3 were introduced.
    Examination of many original percussion firearms will show how much worse the corrosion was around the nipple and its seat than on the rest of the arm.
    Proper cleaning of black powder residue with water, or some solution based on water, completely removes both powder and priming fouling.
    PRD1 - mhb - Mike
  11. sltm1

    sltm1 Member

    Feb 21, 2009
    Steel Horse Rider, Lewis and Clark's lead containers held only 8lbs of powder each, so the powder would be distrubuted to the men or stored in spare horns. Got the weight measyre out of De Voto's book. There were hunters sent out every day and 30+ men on the "Voyage of Discovery", so splitting up the powder wouldn't have been any problem.
  12. Phantom Captain

    Phantom Captain Member

    Apr 24, 2007
    I have a reprint of the US Government manual:

    "Rules for the Management and Cleaning of the Rifle Musket Model 1863 for the Use of Soldiers".

    Being a reenactor and amateur historian it's one of those things I've come across over the years. Basically the manual describes cleaning much as what we do today. That is, plug the cone with a small piece of wood, add water, shake and repeat til the water runs clear then oil. For firing in the field it states mainly the same thing, water to clean til it's clear then run an oily patch down the barrel when dry.

    If anyone is interested I can scan and post here tomorrow so you can read it all in the exact words.

    One of the stories that I've heard passed down over the years on how the Cavalry or Officers cleaned their cap and balls after firing was much more of the same and close to what another poster here said about the men going down to the river. I'm not sure the source or where it can be authenticated but I do remember hearing that they simply went to a creek or river, dunked their pistol under water and swished it around til it was clean, turn the pistol in such a way that the water runs out of it and then douse with oil. Makes total sense to me and seems the most probable.

    I've also read that they didn't use grease or lard either. The guns were made to be fired with simple powder and ball and even the packages of cartridges came with nothing more than that. I've read no where in any quartermasters log of grease being issued for pistols. Image too, a holstered pistol on your side all day in the sun while riding and what a mess that melting grease would make down your holster and leg. Highly improbably in my opinion. Also remember that the caps being issued at the time were standardized for the guns so they also fit properly. I don't think caps falling off undersized nipples was an issue whatsoever. These guns were the highest technology of the time thus the ammo and caps were made to properly fit the guns as designed. They certainly weren't curiousities or afterthoughts.

    Sam Colt's own instruction manual for cap and ball revolvers says nothing of wads or grease. Powder, ball and cap. That's all one needed.
  13. loose noose

    loose noose Member

    Feb 22, 2012
    Southern Nevada
    Man, this is the most interesting subject I've ever seen on here. I never even thought about how the original frontiersmen, used to take care of there weapons, all I know is after I shot my BP weapons I cleaned them within a day or so. This is fantastic info, I'm going to have to get a book on the Lewis & Clark Expedition.:D
  14. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Member

    Dec 29, 2002
    Los Anchorage
    I suspect there were a lot of tricks and tips that folks knew but never bothered to record. So many of those little details were lost and later rediscovered after the black powder revival. Like reconstructing how buffalo rifles were loaded by looking at receipts for paper purchases, for example.

    It wouldn't surprise me at all if experienced law men did things like seal the caps with candle wax. And we know they used full-flap holsters far, far more than the sillywood fast draw types.
  15. J-Bar

    J-Bar Member

    Nov 24, 2010
    Springfield, MO
    Phantom Captain:

    Thanks for your post.
  16. scrat

    scrat Member

    Jan 27, 2007
    Monrovia, CA
    read two books. Both not anywhere like you boys mentioned. In the heat of battle time wise around the 1850's early Los Angeles. cap and balls were loaded and were initially clean. However when shtf they were shot off depending on time they were loaded right up without any cleaning, thrown away or used as a hammer or club. Wasnt until everything was done where anyone thought about cleaning anything and if you did while things were going on you were a damn fool or one of the ones that were buried the next day.

    six gun sound

    Reminiscences of a Ranger
  17. OrangePwrx9

    OrangePwrx9 Member

    May 30, 2009
    North of the Fingerlakes-NY
    Makes sense as far as it goes, scrat; but it may go too far. What if the Sheriff was having a slow day/week and putting down a mad dog with a couple of shots on Monday morning was all the shooting he had to do for a while? Like Mayberry.

    Of course I wasn't there. Maybe things were different than I imagine. Major gunfights might've been a daily occurrence.
  18. Tommygunn

    Tommygunn Member

    Jun 14, 2006
    Morgan County, Alabama

    Yeah, if you live in the Westerns as portrayed by Hollywood.
    In real life ....not so much. Yeah there was the OK Corral and stuff but that was the exception not the rule.
    If you want real gun violence modern inner city ghettos are the place to be (shot).
  19. Iggy

    Iggy Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Hickock was durn near blind his last few years and I suspect his daily ritual if true was more of an effort to extend his reputation as a pistolero than a concern about the reliability of his sidearms.
  20. Malamute

    Malamute Member

    May 12, 2004
    Rocky Mts
    I agree that the guns dont instantly turn to junk if not cleaned right away. I used to have a cheap 44 Navy copy that I left loaded all the time, it lived in my truck. I'd shoot it once a year, or whenever I thought about it. One time I figured I'd shoot it, since it had been a year since I messed with it. I dug it out, and saw that it had been shot,...and not cleaned, for a year. I was a bit concerned, but it cleaned up fine, if possibly some tiny pits in the bore. Nothing to have a cow about. It was northern Az.

    I bought an Uberti Navy. It was dirty, and I had no idea how long it had been left dirty. I bought it cheap. It cleaned up pretty well. It had some minor pitting, but shoots quite well. I'm rather happy with it, and give it no thought regarding the condition of the barrel. If I needed a gun to be ready, I'd probably load it as is, and deal with cleaning it when it was convenient. If I had time, a couple simple damp patches down each chamber and the bore, then dried out with patches, then loaded would probably be fine for as long as one chose to leave it that way.

    I used to keep the Navy and an Army loaded all the time. I left them both loaded a year or so a couple times anyway, and they shot fine. The Navy had one slight hang fire I believe, but it fired, and I couldn't tell any loss of power. It killed bunnies just fine. One of the members here bought a couple Civil War period guns that had been found under the floor of a barn, most likely put there during the war. They had been wrapped in oily rags, but had no other care in the 120-130 years thay had laid there. One had been rusted on one side, the other looked ok. He used fresh caps, and both fired. The Navy, which had the rusty side, had a few hangfires, but it did fire.

    I currently have a Colts Dragoon that I loaded when I bought it about 4 years ago. I haven't fired it yet. Will report when I do, I've been wanting to shoot it. I dont expect any troubles.

    I believe the popping caps on nipples to be a modern idea, done after storing a gun that has been left oiled. I generally load mine right after cleaning them, and don't oil them (chambers) and don't pop caps before loading them when loading dry. I've never had a problem doing it that way, with rust, or with them firing.

    I beleive open top holsters were fairly common. Reading in the book "Packing Iron", open top holsters were common after the war, even before in some palces, spreading quickly. I think caps are more damp resistant then most of us believe, and the old caps were probably better yet.
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