Monday, January 24, 2011

Wall hanger Sharps Carbine

I have an old Sharps New Model 1863, converted to 50-70 Government in the late 1860s. This little carbine was purchased by my father in late 1950s for just a few dollars and it always reposed above our fireplace. It never was fired, it just was a decoration. Fortunately, the Sharps received periodic maintenance and oiling. It sat in silent repose for about 40 years. One day I made a decision to return the old Sharps to firing condition. After buying a book and reviewing diagrams, I determined that the Sharps was complete, except for a missing extractor. After a few call I was able to get a replacement from Shilo Sharps. They were very helpful and a fine company to deal with. The next task was to find a gunsmith that could accomplish the task of fitting and installing the part.
This process took two or three months and I also had to look for ammunition. In those days cases had to be made and bullets cast. After the rifle was fixed, I just didn’t have time for this so it sat for a couple of years. With some new Starline brass and a Lee .515 350 grain bullet mold. With some 2F Black powder I assembled some cartridges. The Lyman Black Powder Hand book and Mike Venturino’s book on hand loading for buffalo rifles were very helpful.
Of course, as a preparation for the test fire, I explained to my wife that the old Sharps had not been fired in about 100 years. With a look of impending disaster, she got out the first aid kit and prepared to call 911.
The Sharps fired without a hitch, shots landing centered but about 12 inches high at 25 yards, later at a 200 yard range the shots hit point of aim. Pretty good for a first attempt. Here are a couple of things I learned:
1)New 50-70 cases hold about 55 grains of powder, not the 70 grains. This is good because the original carbine load for the 50-70 was actually 55 grains of BP.
2)The 50-70 cartridge has a lot of trajectory.
3)Old rifles can be returned to service, and they are great fun! It’s a great feeling of satisfaction hearing a piece of history “boom” once more.
4)Lightweight, simple, rugged, and reasonably accurate the Sharps Carbine was a formidable weapon.
5)There is no substitute for research, books and black powder internet forums can provide a great amount of information.

Always keep safety in mind, There are a lot of things to know about Black Powder weapons, seek expert advice from shooters and gunsmiths about any potential project. Have a lot of fun.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

M1911 and M1911A1

This could be called the “World’s Greatest Pistol 101”. Some people are confused by Model 1911 and Model 1911A1. As the accompanying photo shows, the Model 1911 was produced from 1911 to about 1924. The differences supposedly came from experience in Great War. Several refinements were made to the Model 1911.
A shorter hammer spur, shorter trigger, arched mainspring housing, and relief cuts on the frame behind the trigger were the changes made. Small things, that really don’t matter much, in fact, a lot of shooters put the flat mainspring housing and long triggers in their M1911A1 guns and partially return them to Model 1911 configuration. Some Model 1911s were retrofitted with new parts and continued to serve the military, the frames not being modified.
I must admit that I can’t tell much difference, the biggest difference for me is the mainspring housing. The arched one does fit my hand better. The rest doesn’t matter much. There is some exciting news. Cimarron Arms has introduced a original configuration Model 1911, with correct frame parts. I saw the nickel version of this and it’s pretty stunning. Previously the only authentic Model 1911 was available for Colt as it 1918 reissue, a very nice gun itself. The Cimarron is available at a nice price point. I just so strongly admire the nickel I just may have to have one.
One hundred years after adoption by the U.S. Military the Model 1911 and its decedents are better than ever.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Great War, My Great Uncle, The Model 1911, and The Distinguished Service Cross

In this centennial year of the Model 1911 .45 ACP, I suspect everyone will rehash the history and popularity of the pistol. They’ll discuss how it evolved and how it’s still relevant today. I want to do a different take and explain how the pistol has affected my life. I believe the Model 1911 is greater than the sum of its parts and it has had a profound effect on people as well as history.

The saddest expression I ever saw on my Grandmother’s face was during the only time she mentioned the loss of her brother in World War I. In her cultured Maryland-Southern accent she described the news of his death in action in France as “such a terrible blow”. All I had ever seen of him was a few old photographs and a news paper clipping. My father, was named after my Great Uncle, had an officer’s dress sword; my Great Aunt Florence received his medal.

For years, I had assumed he was one of thousands of ordinary soldiers lost in that conflict. He was one of many, from all sides, who contributed to the grim statistics of the Great War. World War I is really a forgotten war, over showed by the struggle and glory of World War II and the pain and anguish of Korea and Vietnam. No one can quickly articulate why the United States became involved, the significance of the sinking of the Lusitania, or the Zimmerman telegram are lost to all but a few history buffs and academics.

How does this connect to a Model 1911 pistol? Well, years later, after I had embarked on my own military career, I decided to research the man and his exploits. What I found filled me with pride and patriotism. The Model 1911 figures in this.

My great uncle was born in 1894 and grew up in Maryland, on a farm outside of Baltimore. He graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis. St John’s was a military school at that time. After graduation he joined the Army as 2Lt and assigned to duty on the Mexican Border. After the declaration of war in 1917 he quickly went to France in the first contingent of Americans. After training with the French and British, he trained arriving American soldiers in the ways of trench warfare. He was eventually assigned to Company I, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.

His citation for the Distinguished Service Cross reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Captain (Infantry) Harry J. Selby, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, A.E.F., near Exermont, France, 4 October 1918. Captain Selby led his battalion in the attack through heavy artillery and machine-gun fire. On one occasion he opened fire upon an enemy machine-gun nest with his pistol, thus drawing its fire while others made a successful flank attack.

Another account reads:
1st Div Citation for Gallantry in Action, French Croix de Guerre (Palm) Capt Selby displayed great bravery and coolness at the head of a battalion which he brilliantly led to the attack on October 4, 1918. During the succeeding days he exerted himself to the utmost, encouraging his men by his imperturbable calm under enemy artillery and machinegun fire. Was mortally wounded October 9, 1918.

An account signed by Marshall Petain:
While in the Argonne, the Major of his battalion was gassed. Capt. Selby was immediately put in command of the battalion and led it for three days of the hardest fighting. Besides being cited in Division orders December 8th, 1st. Division, A. E. F., the Marshal of France, Commander in Chief of the French armies of the East, cites in the order of the Army:" Capt. H. J. Selby, 18th Regt, U. S. Infantry, displayed great bravery and coolness at the head of a battalion which he brilliantly led to the attack, October 4, 1918. He did not spare himself during the days following, encouraging his men by his great calm under the fire of enemy guns and machine guns. Fatally wounded October 9, 1918." (Signed) Petain, Commander-in-chief." Capt. Selby won the admiration and friendship of every officer in the Regiment, and all the men under his command say he was the bravest man they ever saw.

In those days pistol meant exactly that, a Model 1911 pistol. Narratives of the day did not use the terms interchangeably. Citations mentioned revolvers, if that was used. So, as a 23 year old Battalion Commander, he pinned down a German Machinegun nest with a pistol and led his men until fatally wounded. Certainly deserving of a Distingusished Service Cross.

Dedicated to the memory of CAPT Harry J. Selby (1894-1918) Aged 23 years, Company I, 18th Infantry Regiment 1st Infantry Division.