Here’s what it takes to fire an 18th Century gun at a national battlefield


(Photo: Pixabay)

A park ranger at Moores Creek National Battlefield in North Carolina will soon be teaching others on how to safely handle weapons that were used at the 1776 battle that made the Pender County National Park site such an important part of American history.

Jason Howell was selected as an apprentice instructor to the National Park Service’s Historic Weapons Supervisory Safety Course. In the position, Howell will be instructing other national and state park rangers and interpreters in the safe and proper handling and firing of 18th-century weaponry.

Howell said to be selected for the apprenticeship is something he has wanted for several years.

“It gives me a way to get out and help not only the volunteers here at the park, but to help everyone at the National Parks Service become better at their job as far as teaching historic weapons,” he said. “It’s making everything safer and more enjoyable for the public, so I’m really, truly excited about doing this.”

As an apprentice instructor, Howell will travel to Anniston, Alabama, every two years to assist with historic weapons recertification training that all park service members who handle such weapons must complete.

In the two-week training, Howell will help teach the manual of arms — or instruction book for using weapons in formation — and will go through the actual firing of an 18th-century rifle, pistol and swivel gun.

“We will even get out one day and actually fire live rounds,” he said. “It’s the only time in the National Parks Service where you are allowed to fire live rounds, but it will be on a military range on Fort McClellan.”

Howell started volunteering at Moores Creek nearly 10 years ago after a field trip with a history class from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and was hired on shortly after. He then became the park’s historic weapons supervisor in 2011.

During demonstrations, Howell can fire a musket three times in under a minute — known as the Mad Minute — which would have been typical for a militiaman or minuteman of the era.

“Typically when we do demonstrations we load the gun and fire the gun once, but to give the public a perspective of what it would have looked like in battle we try to take and fire the weapon three times in under a minute to give them an idea of how fast that is,” he said. “Three to four times a minute is pretty impressive considering that you have to stop and go through like 13 steps and then get ready to re-fire.”

Howell in addition to demonstrations also trains volunteers, many of which are high school age, in the proper handling of 18th-century weaponry.

“Working with these kids or even the adults that come in, just them coming in and helping to provide the public with a glimpse to the past and how things looked or how things worked, it’s rewarding to see their passion and their hard work to do everything correctly,” he said.

Moores Creek, located in western Pender County near Currie, was the site of a skirmish in February 1776 between American Patriots and Loyalists who wanted to stay with Britain. The battle marked the last broadsword charge by Scottish Highlanders and the first significant victory for the Patriots in the American Revolution.

By Hannah DelaCourt, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.

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©2017 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.