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Old 2nd August 2019, 05:47 AM   #12
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: California
Posts: 612
Default ammo quality, recoil

Originally Posted by Jim McDougall

If these troops were being supplied with either adulterated powder, or poorly made powder from a Mexican source, then that would explain the heavier charge which caused them to fire from the hip. Not only the recoil, which was powerful as the muskets were initially produced, but the flash and sparks in the face......would have these inexperienced soldiers avoiding such dynamics very quickly.

Could its transport from Mexico have rendered it inert from weather or some sort of alteration to make it less volatile have been at hand?

Jim, here are some tidbits of data that might be germane to your post, put here in no particular order:

1. Yes, black powder can degrade during long storage, or transport in unfavorable weather. Remember the folk saying, "Keep your powder dry!" ? Moisture is the primary threat. In an earlier post on the cannon thread, I mentioned that this propellant has a tendency to absorb atmospheric moisture. In those days, bulk storage was typically in wooden barrels. The best powder in the world, kept for a time in damaged barrels, or those cheaply made from insufficiently seasoned wood, can be compromised by moisture of this sort. As you mentioned, springtime in Texas is pretty wet; I imagine that the whole Gulf region can get pretty damp during hurricane season as well.

2. Degraded or adulterated powder would have been weak (assuming that it did explode) so Newtonian physics would indicate that if projectile velocity were low, recoil felt by the shooter would be reduced likewise.

3. But the ignition of such powder could be more flammatory than explosive mainly due to a sub-optimal burning rate. This would explain the discomforting flash and smoke coming out of the pan and vent. All the more so if the troops were in the habit of overloading in order to ensure the bullet reached the target. Understandable that soldiers would prefer to shoot from the hip rather than shoulder their pieces to aim. Before the advent of metallic cartridge ammunition, shooters often tested powder for freshness by igniting a pinch of it in the palm of their hand. Good powder went off so quickly (it didn't explode unless confined) that the skin would not be burned.

4. Reaction to the force of recoil on the shoulder could be aggravated by negative perceptions generated by the noise and smoke of firing. Especially on the part of recruits who lacked prior exposure to firearms before conscription and who have had insufficient training by competent drillmasters. Have you looked into the standards for musketry training in the Mexican army at the time? (I wonder if it was on a level with that in the Czar's infantry at the time of the Russo-Japanese War, when recruits got to fire just six rounds during basic training because of a chronic supply shortage mainly due to inadequate state funding).

5. We can't go back in time to watch those soldiers shoot and experience the recoil for themselves. So we have to take their word for it, via surviving documentation. However, my experience and that of other modern shooters who have fired replica military muzzle loaders tends to lean towards the perception that the recoil felt on our shoulders (and cheeks) is of a different intensity than that produced by later service rifles using cartridges loaded with nitrocellulose "smokeless" powder. Probably because of the slower combustion rate of black powder, you definitely feel the energy but it comes across more like a robust push than a sharp jolt. Personally, I find the kick of a Civil War-model rifle in .58 caliber to be less uncomfortable than that of, say, a Mod. 1893 Spanish Mauser in 7 mm, or a Mod. 1903 Springfield in .30-06. All three guns are of similar mass, their design makes no allowance for mechanical recoil absorption, and all have straight-wrist stocks. However the bore diameter of the Mauser is half that of the muzzle-loader.
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