COURTESY HAWAII HISTORIC ARMS ASSOCIATION
Damian Paul, left, and other Civil War re-enactors wear period uniforms and fire period weapons while sporting modern eye wear and hearing protection.
Civil War at Koko Head
Black-powder enthusiasts gather for a living history event Sunday
The battle at the crossroads hamlet of Gettysburg, July 1 to 3, 1863, in the rolling heart of Pennsylvania, was that hinge of history upon which modern America was founded. The high-water mark of the Confederacy -- and the concept of states' rights -- faltered in the last few steps of Pickett's Charge, breaking on the Angle on Cemetery Ridge, and nearly half of the Rebel attackers were wiped out, in one sweltering summer hour.
12th Annual Battle of Gettysburg Memorial Shoot
Place: Koko Head Shooting Range
Time: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 6
Call: 946-8183 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The three-day roundelay suffered the highest total casualties of any Civil War battle -- roughly 50,000 -- all of which were American. It occurred 145 years ago this week.
Gettysburg is generally considered the turning point of the Civil War, and the proximity to the July Fourth holiday makes it an ideal time to pull that muzzleloader out of the closet. As they do every July Fourth holiday period, the Hawaii Historic Arms Association is sponsoring a black-powder "living history" event Sunday at the Koko Head rifle range -- look for the era flags and billows of smoke.
War Between the States buff Damian Paul, who hosts the monthly Hawaii Civil War Roundtable, has been attending the shoot for the past decade. "You really get a feel for what the weapons sound like, and feel like, even what they smell like," Paul said.
The weapons range from reproduction revolvers to a small cannon. The weapon of choice, however, is the standard muzzleloading rifle.
"Every time you fire, it takes four steps," Paul said. "Put powder down the barrel, then a ball and wad, then tamp it down with a ramrod. Then you affix a percussion cap to the nipple on the end. The average Civil War soldier could do this three to four times a minute."
COURTESY HAWAII HISTORIC ARMS ASSOCIATION
A youngster is introduced to the kickback of a percussion Colt revolver.
Pulling the trigger slams the percussion cap down on the weapon touch hole, and the resultant tiny explosion sets off the main charge within the rifle barrel. Unlike the instantaneous fire of modern weapons, there's a momentary hesitation when a muzzleloader fires, rather like when you press the shutter on a digital camera.
"Unlike an authentic Civil War soldier, however, we wear earplugs and glasses. It's a family event, kid-oriented, and lots of folks show up just to shoot pictures," Paul said. His own weapon is a reproduction 1851 "Navy Colt" revolver, and gray-clad Paul refers to the conflict as "The War of Northern Aggression."
How's the accuracy?
"Like any weapon, you shoot it a few times and you find it might shoots a little left, or a little right, so you compensate," Paul said. "You get better with practice. The black-powder charge and lead ball is surprisingly accurate, however, if you can hold the heavy musket steady."
Civil War soldiers, except for skirmishers, tended to fire in massed volleys, and the resulting smoke turned battlefields into an instant foggy day. Black powder -- which actually looks like tiny cylinders of pencil lead -- is called pyrodex, and the association has laid in a supply in case you have a Civil War weapon and no ammo. "Ever since 9/11, you really can't mail-order the stuff, so we get it at local gun shops," Paul said.
In addition to all the banging away at targets, the re-enactors are kitted out in "uniforms, belts, cartridge boxes, musket cap pouches, kepis, bayonets, haversacks, sack coats, holsters, sabers, flags, tin cups, cigars, pipes, beards and dishevelment."
Lunch will be available; the menu consists of Yankee and Rebel stew, cornbread, hardtack and goober peas. (Warning: This writer is one of the few people in this century to actually break a tooth on boiled hardtack!)
The event is free and open to the public, but there's a donation box to help cover the cost.
"Besides," Paul said, "where else in the world are you going to see a dozen Asian guys in Civil War uniforms, banging away with black-powder weapons?"