Support items for the handgun
by: Kerry Barlow
Loading,firing and cleaning a black powder handgun requires
numerous accessories to be carried by every soldier to maintain his firearm.
A soldier may be even required to make his own bullets or lead balls. Everyone
has heard the term 'Possibles' bag. This term has generally been used to
describe the entire group of handgun items needed by the soldier, however
this term originally came from the days of the original mountain men using
flintlock rifles and single shot pistols. The possible bag was used by them
to carry just about everything and really did not pertain to ONLY items
for the handgun. Despite this it is really impossible to say where a term
or word came from in history. I am happy to use the term "possibles"
to refer to all the many items necessary for typical usage of a handgun.
- Nipple wrench: The Nipple wrench was
used to remove the nipples on the firing chamber. One nipple was threaded
into each chamber of the revolver. The cap would then be placed over the
nipple to fire the main charge.
- Nipple pin: A nipple pin was used to
clear the tiny hole in each nipple. A nipple was hollow inside allowing
the charge from the cap being fired to pass through the nipple and into the
main firing chamber. Sometimes the hole would become plugged with debris
and the nipple pin was used to clean out this tiny orifice.
- Powder flask: This was used to hold
the actual black powder,the early flasks were made from animal horns. Any
style of flask may have been issued to the soldiers,sometimes formed from
actual manmade material or the old standby the animal horn.
- Powder: Black powder was used extensively in all the early firearms.This
powder is different then todays more modern powder in that it was very
smoky and would make great flames and sparks when it was ignited. This was
a disadvantage to a soldier hiding in the bush's, after the first shot,
the enemy would know where he was from the cloud of smoke around him. Also
todays powder explodes much more quickly then the early black powder generating
much higher breech pressures in the chamber. The two powders are definitely
NOT interchangeable. Don't ever use a modern powder in a black powder
- Powder charge measure: Powder had
to be measured before it was put in the chamber of the handgun. It could
be measured by weight or by volume. By volume was the most widely used method,although
not as accurate a measurement. The Colt and Remington style revolvers would
use around 30 grains of black powder to fire a bullet.The special measuring
tool would be used to measure the correct amount of powder poured from
the Powder flask. Many times the end of the flask was cut off to exactly
the correct volume length for the soldiers weapon. He would then simply
turn his powder flask upside down,holding his finger over the open end.Righting
the flask again he would now have the exact amount of powder necessary
for that handgun. This would be a much faster method then measuring every
single shot by hand.
- Capping tool: This was a special tool
used to hold the tiny caps and place them onto the nipples. It was possible
to place the cap on a nipple by hand, however it ran the risk of exploding
the cap, as well as being just plain to difficult to do with large hands. The
capping tool would be designed to dispense 1 cap at a time.
- Caps These were tiny cup like devices
the size of a pencil eraser that would explode when struck hard by the
hammer of the gun. One cap would be placed upon each nipple to fire the
main charge of powder. These were a HUGE improvement over the earlier days
of firearms that used a separate tiny charge of powder in a pan that was
ignited by a rotating wheel striking on flint
- Balls or Bullets: These could be standard
round lead balls or various types of shaped bullets. Whichever they were
they were certainly lethal to anyone that got in there way. It may be of
interest to note that a round ball is not truly round after it is
fired from a revolver. The process of pressing the ball into the chamber
shaves off a tiny ring of lead from the outside circumference of the ball
giving the ball straight sides to it. This helps tremendously as the ball
is fired down the barrel,because the sides of the ball will now engage
the rifling in the barrel creating the characteristic spin of the ball
for accuracy. Round ball is extremely accurate over short ranges up to 100
yards from a handgun and much further then that from a rifle. Bullets did
not ever seem to have a great advantage over the round ball except in very
long range shooting, however they were still used extensively during the
- Grease: Grease was a safety item and one of the most critical
items for safety that a person firing a revolver could use. A revolver
had a very real possibility of creating what was called a Chain fire.
Multiple cylinders firing at once. As you can imagine this would not be
enjoyable for the soldier firing the weapon. It was possible in a revolver
to fire one shot and have flame shoot back and work its way down inside
the next unfired cylinder, thereby igniting that cylinders charge, it would
most certainly destroy the handgun if not kill the soldier using it! Grease
was placed over the end of each loaded cylinder, topping off the cylinder
and preventing these chain fires from occurring. A single shot pistol did
not have this problem, only having the one shot at a time. Grease would
be some sort of animal fat, most likely whatever was at hand.
- Loading lever, ramrod: This was used
to force the lead ball or bullet into the firing chamber. A revolver would
have a loading lever and in almost all cases this lever would be attached
to the handgun permanently. The single shot pistol would use a ramrod to
force the ball and powder down into the chamber. A pistol would have its
ramrod kept in a holder on the pistol but it would not be physically attached
so it was possible to lose a ramrod. And at the worst time I imagine!!!
- Forming tool: This was used to create
balls and bullets from ingots of lead,which would be melted over a fire. They
came in many different styles and shapes. Some could make a single ball
at once while others would make 6 balls at a time. You may have heard the
term Shot Tower. This was a very high tower that had a bowl of molten lead
at the top of the tower. Lead was poured off the tower down through its middle
section and the falling lead would pass through a wire screen mesh. This screen
was calibrated to be the correct height from the ground and the correct
hole size to produce a perfectly round ball of lead as it passed through on
its way falling to the ground. The lead would then land in a tub of water
on the ground. When the lead was removed it would be formed in a round ball
just the size necessary for use in a weapon. I myself wonder how well
these towers actually worked?
- Gun oil: This would be used to clean the gun,oil its moving
parts and act as a preservative on the outside to prevent rust.
- Cleaning rod: Used to clean inside the bore of a handgun to
remove powder fouling.Guns needed to be cleaned after every use because
the black powder was very corrosive. Fortunately soap and water easily removed
the powder residue. How often guns actually got cleaned with constant battle
is a good question.
- Screwdriver and small hand tools: Any numerous and sundry tools
necessary to disassemble a handgun. The Remington needed a tiny screwdriver
to remove its cylinder pin for cleaning. The Colt models used a wedge which
could be driven out with a small stone.