Battle of Québec
The Battle of Quebec was fought between American Continental Army forces and the British defenders of Quebec City early in the American Revolutionary War. The battle was the first major defeat of the war for the Americans, and it came with heavy losses. General Richard Montgomery was killed, Benedict Arnold was wounded, and Daniel Morgan and more than 400 men were taken prisoner. The city's garrison, a motley assortment of regular troops and militia led by Quebec's provincial governor, General Guy Carleton, suffered a small number of casualties.
In the battle and the following siege, French-speaking Canadians were active on both sides of the conflict. The American forces received supplies and logistical support from local residents, and the city's defenders included locally raised militia. When the Americans retreated, they were accompanied by a number of their supporters; those who remained behind were subjected to a variety of punishments after the British re-established control over the province.
- 35 VRM
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June, 1863: As the American Civil War raged on, a newly made percussion revolver passed the gates of the E. Remington & Sons factory in the small city of Ilion, New York. Exactly 150 years after the old veteran became mine. Now it was time to bring it back to life.
Published: 11 February 2015 by Øyvind Flatnes.
Paper cartridge, skin cartridge and animal gut cartridge.
Colt paper cartridge packet patent drawing.
Paper cartridge of perm paper with bullet from original Remington mould.
Cartridge paper templates from H & C Collection.
Paper from H & C Collection.
H & C Collection paper cartridge kit.
The H & C paper burns increadibly clean.
Potassium nitrate from the pharmacy.
Glue that has been used for paper cartridges.
Different cartridge forming dowels.
Homemade paper cartridges.
Making the paper template.
The Tinman's Manual, and Builder’s and Mechanic’s Handbook instructions for making the frustrum of a cone (1863).
Rolling a nitrated paper cartridge.
Rolling a cartridge with unnitrated paper.
The H & C cartridges (to the left) are too short for most original revolvers.
During the heyday of the percussion revolver soldiers almost exclusively loaded their revolvers with cartridges. Usually made from paper, some were made from swine or sheep guts or even tinfoil - all of which contained powder charge and ball, usually of a conical type. This article gives you a short historical background of the use of paper cartridges, shows you how to make your own and finally how to shoot them.
From a military perspective, one of the biggest advantages with paper cartridges was that it enabled faster loading. However, due to the thin paper which was necessary for reliable ignition they were fragile and vulnerable to moisture. Contrary to popular belief, coned paper cartridges do not tear at the base when loaded. Because of the shape, the cartridge paper tore open when compressed into the chamber. The loose powder in the chamber helps facilitate ignition.
The most important reason for the coned shape however, was to facilitate loading into the chamber. Once inserted into the chamber the entire cartridge it was simple task for the soldier to seat the cartridge into the chamber with the loading lever.
The caps had to be seated manually on the nipples. To facilitate ignition the cartridge paper was nitrated, and the spurt of flame from the cap penetrated the paper and ignited the powder. A properly nitrated paper leaves little or no ash and residue from the paper.
The loads used back then were in most cases a bit stiffer than those used by modern competition shooters. While a modern shooter shooting an original Remington New Army often uses about 18 to 20 grains FFFg or Swiss #2, the military loads typically ranged from 25 to 30 grains and a conical ball – depending on manufacturer. This does not mean that the original loads were more accurate compared to today's competition loads, because roundballs in most cases prove more accurate than conical balls. But if light roundball loads are more accurate, why didn't soldiers rely on this in combat instead of hard conical ball loads? The answer is easy: The revolvers were made to kill and some of the accuracy was traded off for power.
Although bullet moulds for both Remington and Colt percussion revolvers had cavities for one roundball and one conical ball, roundball cartridges were apparently never manufactured for military purposes, and they were not common on the civilian market either.
During the American Civil War (1861–65), the US Army used balls and cartridges from a number of arsenals – both private and government owned. The powder charges varied, and the balls and cartridges varied in shape, diameter and weight. But most .44 calibre revolvers – such as Colt's 1860 Army, Remington's Old and New Army and Starr's Model 1858 double action – could use the same ammunition. A Remington revolver could thus be loaded with ammunition made for the Colt. The soldiers used what was available.
Making paper cartridges
It's an advantage to use nitrated paper for making percussion revolver cartridges. This is to ensure the flame from the cap can ignite the powder inside the paper casing, but also to make sure the paper burns up completely, leaving a minimum amount of ash or residue. Cigarette paper works too, but thicker nitrated paper – a paper which has been soaked in a solution of potassium nitrate (saltpetre) and water and then dried – is better, simply because it's easier to work with. A coned dowel of wood, plastic or metal with which you roll the paper casing is a must. It should be coned because conical cartridges are easier to load and in addition the cone ensures that the paper is torn inside the chamber when the cartridge seated by the plunger. The bottom of the cartridges does not tear, but the sides do. This exposes small amounts of powder and makes ignition more reliable.
A couple of years ago I bought a paper cartridge kit for .44 calibre percussion revolvers from H & C Collection – a French company that is best known for producing loading equipment for obsolete rimfire and pinfire cartridges. The came in a small wooden box that included a brass dowel, balls, pre-cut nitrated paper templates, powder measure, glue and instructions. First of all I must say the paper burns impressively clean and fast! It leaves no ash at all, and burns so clean that I suspect it isn't made simply by soaking the paper in a saturated saltpetre solution. When the H & C paper burns it burns with a "swoosh", almost like black powder. My theory is that it is made in the same fashion as gun cotton, which means that the paper is soaked in a solution of nitric acid and sulphuric acid. As mentioned above, this method was also used by Colt and Johnson & Dow in the 1800s.
While flash paper is known to be considerably more unstable compared to paper saturated with potassium nitrate, this could possibly explain why Colt and other manufacturers used the solid wooden blocks that separated each cartridge.
Flash paper, which is often used by magicians, is made the same way. Flash paper is often thin, and does not lend itself well to paper cartridges.
Potassium nitrated paper has one advantage over flash paper: it's much easier and safer to make. Nitric and sulphuric acids are not something a novice should play with. Flash paper is also rumoured to spontaneously ignite.
The adhesive that comes with the H & C kit is also combustible, so even if you use it on the base of the cartridge it ignites reliably. Strangely enough, the glue does not work on regular paper or cigarette paper. Historically, the sodium silicate (water glass) was used to glue the paper casing to the ball.
Note that both nitrated paper and especially, unnitrated paper, can leave glowing embers and ash in the chamber. This can be dangerous when loading the next rounds because it can ignite the cartridge. Wait a while before loading a new barrel, or clean the chamber with a chamber brush. Unnitrated paper leaves more ash compared to nitrated paper, while flash paper leaves only a tiny trace of ash.
Cartridge paper templates and dowel
The finished paper templates and dowel that was included in the H & C kit was too small to work in my original revolver. As a result, there was an air gap between the powder and ball when the ball was seated at the maximum depth. To fix this I ordered extra sheets of nitrated paper from H & C and made my own dowel of wood. The largest diameter should be similar to the ball diameter or slightly smaller. Let it cone to about .30 calibre (7.62mm) at the bottom. A length of about 31–35mm (1.22"–1.38" is suitable for conical balls or roundballs. As a general rule you can make the paper cone the same length as the depth of the chamber.
I make my .44 calibre dowels from 12mm round hickory or birch rods. Cut the rod in proper length and mark it with the length of the coned part. Whittle the cone roughly with a knife and then secure the rod in a hand drill. While the rod rotates, use a file and "turn" the cone to your desired shape, just like on a lathe. This makes a perfectly round and even surface. Finish with sandpaper.
The cartridge paper is cut in appropriate paper pieces as shown in the pictures. The shape of the paper template depends on the cone and length of the dowel. By using some simple geometry you can calculate the shape of the template. To make the template you need a ruler, a compass, a half circle protractor and a vernier caliper.
Start by measuring the smallest and largest diameter of the dowel, as well as the length. As you need some over overlap in order to glue the cone together you need to increase the diameters a bit, for example 20% both up and down. You must also remember to add approximately 5mm (0.20" to the length to allow for closing of the base.
For convenience sake you can plot the numbers into this calculator.
To make the paper template:
- Use pencil and draw a dot in the middle of a piece of paper.
- Continue the line up to R2.
- Starting at the point, use the ruler and draw the R1 line.
- Place the half circle protractor at the first point and draw a new line with an angle corresponding to the «Arc Angle».
- Place the point of the compass on the first point and move the pencil to R1 and draw the radius until both lines are crossed.
- Move the pencil to R2 and draw the radius until both lines are crossed.
- To create some overlap, increase the arc angle a couple degrees.
- Cut the paper template with a pair of scissors, roll it around the dowel and test the fit.
See it explained in a video:
But what is the best paper? You can of course buy nitrated paper from H & C Collection (80g/m2), but it is rather expensive at Euro 4.5 for 21x50 cm. Another option is to soak your own preferred paper in saltpetre as mentioned above by making a saturated solution of water and saltpetre, soak the paper and dry it. For best result, use hot water and plenty of saltpetre. My experience is that the thin paper used for paper patching rifle bullets works best. Others use cigarette paper or hair curling paper without nitrating it.
Newsprint paper actually work very well. It is cheap, readily available and burns well. Just draw the template on the front of the paper and use a pair of scissors to cut around several layers. In minutes you can have hundreds of paper pieces ready for nitrating.
As mentioned above you can nitrate paper in potassium nitrate (salpetre) by mixing it with boiling water until the solution is saturated (until the saltpetre won't dissolve anymore), soak the paper and lay it out flat to dry. You can also nitrate larger sheets of paper an cut the paper pieces afterwards. Using hot water is important for the result. Also make sure you use plenty of potassium nitrate.
Start by mixing a couple of tablespoons of saltpeter in a small casserole and heat the water until it boils. It's almost useless to mix the potassium nitrate in cold or lukewarm water. Hot water is necessary in order to dissolve the saltpeter properly. Use plenty of saltpetre and keep adding until the solution is saturated, which is a fancy way of saying it won't dissolve anymore. Put your paper into the solution and let it soak for a minute or so before putting them to dry on a tray covered with aluminum foil or similar. You can also dry them in the oven on low temperature. You now have a nitrated paper which is ready for use. It should burn with a hissing sound when you set it on fire.
If you cannot get potassium nitrate, you can use ordinary newsprint paper, perm end paper, or other thin paper without nitrating it. To make sure the cap manages to penetrate the base, you should make the case with a thinner bottom. This is done by making a paper cone which is open in both ends, while a base of thinner bottom of, for example, cigarette paper, is added later. More on this below.
Before reading how to roll cartridges, you might want to watch this video that explains the whole process:
Rolling nitrated cartridges
Click the picture to start a slideshow that shows you how to roll a nitrated cartridge with folded bottom.
Fill the case with powder.
Click the picture to start a slideshow that shows you how to roll an unnitrated cartridge with thin bottom.
Start by rolling the paper around the cartridge forming dowel. Apply a thin layer of glue or water glass to the edge of the paper and glue the two ends together. You now have a paper cone which is open in both ends. To close the base, fold the remaining paper until the base is closed. Three folds are usually perfect. Apply a thin layer of glue to make sure the base is closed.
Rolling with unnitrated cartridges
First, roll the paper template around the dowel until you have a paper cylinder. Apply a thin layer of glue on the edge of the paper and glue the paper. You now have conical paper case which is open in both ends. Remove the cylinder from the dowel and allow it to dry. To close the base, place the case back on the dowel again and fold the remaining paper towards the end of the dowel. Three folds are usually perfect. Use a small amount of glue to close.
Loading powder and ball
Loading powder and ball is similar for both cartridge types. Start by filling the case with powder. If you use reduced loads you can top the powder off with some semolina to avoid an air gap between powder and ball. One problem connected to the use of filler is that it can mix with the powder when the cartridge tears during loading. I haven't noticed any ignition problems or loss of accuracy, but if you use weak loads this could potentially be an issue.
Do not fill it completely, but leave a small amount of paper to allow it to be glued to the ball. Here you probably have to experiment a bit to find the correct seating depth.
When roundballs are used it is a good idea to glue the paper just below the equator of the ball. This ensures that the ball can be rammed down without paper between the chamber walls and the ball. In theory, you can then seat the balls the same way as you seat loads loaded with loose powder and ball. If you use conical balls without heel base you can fold the paper over the powder and glue the paper to the base of the bullet.
The cartridge is now done. Optionally you can dip the bullet end in molten lubricant, but you can also use grease in front of the balls when the cartridges are loaded in the chamber.
Loading and shooting
Loading a revolver with paper cartridges is easy: insert a cartridge into the chamber and force it down with the loading lever. If you haven't dipped the cartridges in molten lubricant you must lubricate the chamber mouths. Cap the nipples and shoot. Before you load again you must make sure that no glowing traces of paper are left in the chamber. See this article for more detailed instructions on how to load a percussion revolver with paper cartridges. Or you can check out this video: