Historic Weapons Requirements

A group of living history performers firing a canon.
Living history performers firing a canon

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Park Policy for Historic Black Powder Weapons

Individuals or units that are signed up as volunteers at Gettysburg National Military Park may carry historic black powder weapons in the park as part of their approved and scheduled volunteer activity, as outlined in their volunteer agreement form.

Before a weapon can be used in park demonstrations it must pass an inspection by a certified NPS black powder safety officer. This must be done at the start of each day as you report for volunteer duty. This applies to firing as well as non-firing activities.

Please read the following NPS and Gettysburg NMP policies and requirements for all volunteers who carry or demonstrate with black powder firearms:

Historic Weapons Demonstration “Misfire” Plan: Gettysburg National Military Park

All misfire procedures and regulations are taken from Director’s Order 6 and Reference Manual 6, which outline the National Park Service policies for historic weapons programs. If you would like more information, you can consult these documents as well as the National Park Service 19th Century Percussion Musket and Artillery manuals.

There are two basic categories of misfires:

Level I Misfire is defined as a misfire that can be cleared at the demonstration area making it possible for the demonstration to continue.

Level II Misfire is a misfire that cannot be cleared at the demonstration area without disrupting the demonstration. Specialized equipment is needed to make the piece safe.

A piece is allowed three (3) total attempts to fire. After three unsuccessful attempts it is deemed a Level II Misfire. After any attempt, based on his/her own judgment, the Black Powder Weapons Supervisor (HWS) may declare a piece a Level II Misfire.

I. Procedure for Small Arms

While conducting misfire procedures it is essential to adhere to other safety precautions and considerations - a demonstrator can easily become careless during a misfire situation. After bringing the musket to the recovery position the demonstrator's body should be turned completely to the right: perpendicular to the firing range. The musket cradled in the crook of the left arm to facilitate and simplify working with the weapon. Always keep the weapon pointed downrange and the muzzle elevated.

Interpreting the misfire is a good idea, it was a common occurrence historically and the demonstrator should utilize this opportunity to the fullest. Be prepared to handle multiple misfires if required; however, throughout the procedures, safety is paramount.

Level I Misfire Drill

In the event of a misfire, immediately yell "misfire" in a loud voice and retain the musket in the firing position for 10 seconds to account for the possibility of a “hang-fire.” After 10 seconds the weapon will be returned to the recover position and automatically brought to “half cock” to determine the type of misfire.

  1. Remove the spent cap and visually inspect the vent of the cone.

  2. Use the cone pick to remove any obstructions in the vent.

  3. Re-prime and bring to full cock.

  4. Repeat the final two commands of “aim” and “fire”.

  5. If necessary, repeat the procedure one more time.

Level II Misfire Procedure

If a weapon misfires after three trigger pulls (the initial firing attempt and two attempts to clear the misfire) the demonstration will come to an end. The demonstrator will very briefly explain the situation and inform the visitors that for the sake of safety the demonstration is over. In a demonstration involving multiple demonstrators the misfire will step out of line and proceed to the specified area for clearing the misfire (see appendix A). The demonstrator will then bring the weapon to the attention of the Historic Weapons Supervisor (HWS). The location of all ranges allow Level II misfires to be cleared at the demonstration area after Range Safety Observers are made aware to remain in position until the weapon is clear.

Keeping the weapon pointed down range at all times, The HWS:

  1. Brings the weapon to half-cock.

  2. Removes the spent cap.

  3. Confirms that a clear trail exists through the vent to the chamber using the pick.

  4. Securely places the CO2 discharger into the vent.

  5. After now pointing the barrel towards the ground, the HWS pulls the trigger of the CO2 discharger and extracts the cartridge.

If it is found that the CO2 discharger cannot extract the round, the barrel will be flooded with water and allowed to soak for a minimum of ten (10) minutes. Then using the appropriate size wiper, the unfired round will be extracted from the barrel. If the round has to be wormed out it should be soaked to dissolve the powder and disposed of.

Misfire Safety Kit includes: CO2 Clearing kit, 2 Syringes for water, 2 bottles water, wiper and cone pick, weapons cleaning kit with extra rags. First aid kit w/ burn kit.

II. Procedure for Artillery

Should the cannon not fire when the primer discharges, the Gunner will yell, “Do not advance, the primer has failed.” The gun crew will remain in their “Ready” positions for the entirety of the misfire drill until the gun is cleared or until it is elevated to a Level II Misfire. No action is taken on the gun until 30 seconds have elapsed since the last wisp of smoke is observed exiting the vent. During the interval the interpreter will inform the public and interpret the misfire while the chief of piece will question the crew to ascertain if there were any anomalies during the loading sequence; every effort should be made to determine the cause of the misfire. After 30 seconds have passed since the last time smoke was seen escaping the vent, the Gunner will give the command: “Re-prime the piece.”

Level I Misfire Drill

All cannoneers not designated with a roll in the re-priming drill will remain in the “Ready” position until the gun is cleared or until it is elevated to a Level II Misfire. Two attempts to clear the initial misfire are allowed before the gun is elevated to a Level II Misfire.

At the command: “Re-prime the piece:”

  1. No. 2 rises from the Ready position and carefully steps around the front of the wheel keeping his back to the gun and taking care not to touch the gun or the wheel

  2. No.3 steps up to a position even with the axle facing forward

  3. No.4 steps up to a position even with the axle facing forward

After the three cannoneers are in position:

  1. No. 2 uses the back of his left hand to remove the spent primer from the vent and drops it straight down to the ground.

Once the failed primer has been removed:

  1. No. 3 hands the priming wire to No. 2 being conscious to hand the primer over the wheel.

  2. No. 2 drops the priming wire into the vent using the left hand and re-primes the piece

  3. No. 2 hands back the priming wire to No. 3

  4. No. 4 hands No. 2 a new friction primer attached to the lanyard.

  5. No. 2 inserts the friction primer into the vent

After the friction primer has been inserted into the vent:

  1. No. 2 holds down the lanyard with his left hand along the breech maintaining eye contact with No. 4

  2. No. 4, holding the end of the lanyard, steps back and to the left of the gun maintaining eye contact with No. 2.

  3. No. 4 nods to No. 2 when he is in position

Once No. 4 is in the desired position:

  1. No. 2 takes hand off the lanyard, carefully steps back outside the wheel (facing the wheel the whole time), and assumes ready position.

  2. No. 2 then calls out “Ready”

  3. No. 4 turns his head away from the gun

After No. 2 has called out “Ready”:

  1. Gunner gives the command to “Fire”

  2. No. 4 pulls the lanyard.

Level II Misfire Drill

A piece is allowed three (3) total attempts to fire (the initial firing attempt and two attempts to clear the misfire). After such time it is deemed a Level II Misfire. After any attempt, based on his/her own judgment, the Black Powder Weapons Supervisor (HWS) may declare a piece a Level II Misfire.

At the declaration of a Level II Misfire:

  1. The interpreter will end the demonstration and disperse the public.

  2. The Safety Observers will be informed to stay in place.

The entire crew will be dismissed from the gun. All implements will be secured except for the sponge rammer and worm and only the HWS and the most experienced cannoneer will remain to work on the piece.

After ten minutes have elapsed after the last wisp of smoke is visible the HWS will:

  1. Place the water bucket at the spot normally occupied by No. 3.

  2. The other cannoneer will gather the misfire implements from the misfire kit.

When the water bucket has been situated, the HWS will:

  1. Put 3 syringes of water down the vent while standing in the position that No. 2 occupies during a level 1 misfire.

  2. Re-prime the piece using the vent pick.

  3. The HWS elevates the muzzle as much as possible; while continuing to face the wheel he will use the left hand to turn the elevating screw.

  4. Inject water from the bucket into the vent using a syringe until the vent overflows. Multiple syringes are recommended to make the process faster.

After the vent has overflowed:

  1. The HWS will wait five (5) minutes.

  2. The HWS slowly pours water from the bucket or hose into the barrel and floods the remainder of the barrel.

    1. The entire time exercising care to stay clear of the muzzle.

The flooded barrel will be allowed to soak for ten (10) minutes while the crew will remain in the vicinity to maintain security.

When ten (10) minutes have elapsed, the HWS, while wearing gauntlets, will:

  1. Use the worm to remove the cartridge from the barrel.

  2. The charge will be placed into the water bucket.

  3. The cartridge will then be pulled apart and rendered inert.

  4. The water bucket will be removed, and the tainted water will be disposed of properly.

After the bucket is removed the gun crew will clean the cannon and either resume the demonstrations or secure the cannon.

Last updated: April 20, 2022

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