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Fifth Missouri News Letter Articles

Quick Cup O'Joe | Care and Cleaning of the Civil War Musket


Extract of Coffee
Pvt. Dennis Faught

One of the staples of reenacting -- for some of us more than others -- is coffee. The reviving effect of this particular elixir was prized equally so by the soldiers of the Civil War.
However, it became a rare commodity in Southern ranks early in the war, and they were forced to concoct substitutes made from such things as parched peanuts, potatoes, peas, dried apples, corn or rye. But the real thing was issued throughout the conflict to federal troops, and became a sought-after article of trade.
Northern troops received their coffee in a variety of forms: in loose grounds, ready to be boiled; in the whole bean -- roasted or green -- which was often ground using tin cup and bayonet; and as extract of coffee, which the soldiers sometimes called "axle grease" because of its appearance.
Extract of coffee was made by vacuum-pumping the water out of coffee and mixing it with similarly condensed milk and sugar. The resultant thick paste would yield a cup of coffee per tablespoon. Since it was concentrated and less likely to spoil, it was cheaper for the army to transport. It also made a quicker, more reliable cup of coffee than did loose grounds or whole beans.
For today's reenactor, a close copy of this 19th-century product may be made by combining instant coffee crystals and condensed milk. How much you use is up to you. The process is the same. (I usually measure out a number of teaspoons of coffee and corresponding amount of condensed milk equal to the number of cups I plan to drink at an event.)
Place your instant coffee crystals in a cup and add a few drops of boiling water, mixing the crystals into a thick paste. Use as little water as possible, adding just a few drops at a time. It doesn't take much water to break down the crystals. When the crystals have dissolved, mix in the condensed milk, a little at a time. I like about a half-teaspoon of milk per cup, but you can make your extract black if you want -- by omitting the condensed milk altogether. (Note that it will be more concentrated without the sweetener, and require less paste to make a strong cup of coffee).
The finished product will be a thick paste that looks like liquid fudge. Pack it in any suitable container. Authentic tins are available from some sutlers (like C&D Jarnagin or Tin Works), or in a pinch you can use an empty percussion-cap tin with the label removed. I've found that it will keep for weeks without refrigeration, especially if made without condensed milk.
At the event, one tablespoon of extract of coffee mixed into a large tin cup of hot (or even cold) water will produce Civil War instant coffee -- an exceedingly tasty beverage with nary a ground to be found. And it sure beats toting a coffee pot.


Care and Cleaning of the Civil War Musket  Part I

By Alan Bowling, Pvt, Part I

Some of you older members of the 5th may remember I have written on this subject in past issues of the Messenger. However as it has been a while and we have new members. I think it may be appropriate to address this issue again. By way of qualification may I say that though I don’t claim to be an expert I have been shooting and cleaning muzzle loading arms since about 1970 both percussion and flintlock.

Basically there are three reasons why we as re-enactors should devote time and effort to cleaning and caring for our muskets. The first and foremost is safety. If a musket is dirty it is more likely that after repeated firings an ember will remain in the breach to ignite a charge as it is poured down the barrel. In 1995 at Springhill, TN, I witnessed this very thing in the ranks of the 5th. A gentleman who was not a member of the 5th but had fallen in with us had this happen during the battle. He was in the rear rank right behind me. The resulting discharge blew my hat off and peppered the back of my neck with hot powder grains it also badly burned and blistered the fingers on the hand with which he was holding the cartridge over the muzzle. (A good reason to be careful not to get any part of your hand over the muzzle while charging.) Also as fouling builds up in the breach and flash channel it will not let some or perhaps any of the fire from the musket cap reach the main charge this can result in a hang-fire or a misfire. While this is bad enough there is a more dangerous side effect to this. When the fire from the cap is restricted or prevented from going through to the breach the cap pressure has to go somewhere. This results in the copper or brass body of the percussion cap being fragmented and these fragments are usually thrown to the side with enough force that they can draw blood when they strike you or a man in the rank on either side of you. I know of one instance at Jefferson Barracks a few years ago in which a re-enactor was struck in the eye by a cap fragment and lost partial sight in that eye! ENOUGH SAID!!

The second reason is to preserve the value of your investment. Perhaps some more wealthy than I may disagree but the purchase of a reproduction musket represents a fairly significant outlay of money. Black powder fouling is corrosive and if a musket is left uncared for it will cause rust. This will at least lower the value of your musket should you decide to sell or trade it for another and if allowed to progress can impair proper functioning altogether.

The third reason is authenticity. We are trying to represent to the public the clothing, equipment and conditions of the Civil War soldier. Some time ago I was a sergeant in the US Army Infantry and I would never let any of my men get away with having a dirty rusty weapon. While I’m not quite old enough to have served with Pap Price I believe the army, whether 1775, 1865, or 1965 hasn’t changed much on this. Also, no soldier in his right mind is going to neglect an instrument with which in a battle his very life may be endangered if it fails to function. I am not just speaking about cleaning and caring for the bore and lock internals of the musket though this is of primary importance, but also of the exterior of the weapon as well. Some will point to surviving originals on which rust pits and a grayish brown rust patina is to be seen as evidence that this is how they looked in 1863. To this I say Bunk! That rust and pitting is the result of the 40 or 50 or more years they spent neglected in some closet, attic or basement well after the Civil War when they were nothing but old obsolete guns with no value. I quote a passage from a book written by Leander Stillwell entitled “The Story of a Common Soldier“. Mr. Stillwell lived on a farm near Alton , Illinois and in late 1861 at age 18 enlisted in the 61st Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The 61st fought at Shiloh, Corinth, Iuka, Vicksburg and then later in Arkansas and finally portions of the regiment finished the war near Macon, Missouri. The regiment was initially issued Austrian Lorenz rifle muskets and in 1863 received Springfield’s. Mr. Stillwell served to the end of the war and rose from private to Lieutenant. He wrote this book in later years from letters he wrote home that his had mother preserved. It has been reprinted by Time-Life Books. On pages 90 and 91 he says “ About the only drawback resulting from our being caught out in the summer rains was the fact that the water would rust our muskets.

In our time we were required to keep all their metal parts (except the butt plate) as bright and shining as new silver dollars. I have put in many an hour working on my gun with an old rag and powdered dirt, and a corncob, or pine stick, polishing the barrel, the bands, lock-plate, and trigger guard until they were fit to pass inspection. The inside of the barrel we would keep clean by use of a greased wiper and plenty of hot water. In doing this we would ordinarily, with our screwdrivers, take the gun to pieces and remove from the stock all metallic parts. I never had any head for machinery, of any kind, but, from sheer necessity, did acquire enough of the faculty to take apart, and put together, an army musket, - and that is about the full extent of my ability in that line. We soon learned to take care of our pieces in a rain by thoroughly greasing them with a piece of bacon, which would largely prevent rust from striking in.” While this is a Federal unit I hardly think the officers and NCO’s in Confederate service were any less professional in performing their duties. I will quote again from Mr. Stillwell. This on page 45 of the above mentioned book. This takes place at Shiloh and the author is speaking of Confederate troops “ Suddenly on our right, there was a long wavy flash of bright light, then another and another! It was the sunlight shining on gun barrels and bayonets- and- there they are at last a long brown line with muskets at right shoulder shift.” I hardly think rusty barrels or bayonets are going to reflect sunlight in that manner. As you can see from this those re-enactors who use three band Enfields with blued barrels and brass mounts are going to have it easier but even a blued barrel will rust if neglected and brass will tarnish.

This concludes part one of this article. Next month I will address the methods I use in cleaning and caring for my musket both at home and in the field Until then, keep on the good side of the First Sergeant!

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