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Modification in the Army Exercise.


November/December 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Wednesday, December 4, 1861.


Tearing of the Cartridges with the Teeth Pronounced Dangerous—Suggestion to Army Officers.

Editors Missouri Democrat:

In the manual exercise of our army, the soldier in holding the gun is instructed to tear off the cartridge with his teeth. This practice is pronounced by many military men, both of our own and the European armies as dangerous and fatal to the teeth; besides the unpleasant consequence, which converts the soldier after a few discharges of his gun to a perfect blacksmith, and ought to be abolished in our army.

This matter has already attracted the attention of our scientific men. The well instructed Scientific American, a paper published in New York city, recently suggested to inventors to invent some attachment to guns to cut the ends of cartridges. The Scientific American while speaking of this subject, says: “At present the soldiers tear the cartridges with their teeth, but the nitre and sulphur contained in the powder, occasions disease in the mouth and loss of teeth, besides causing the most acute thirst to the soldier during battle.” Quite true; the writer of this, who was present at the battle of Lexington, Missouri, where he made about twenty discharges, was the next day taken with a disease of the mouth, which ended in the extraction of a tooth, although his teeth before the battle were perfectly sound. The same thing occurred with other soldiers, after that unhappy affair.

With the writer of this, it has been an occurrence of a repeated nature; at the noted battle of Novara, in Italy, in 1848, where he made about 150 rounds, he was suddenly seized with a violent toothache, which was followed by swelling of the cheeks, and he was confined to the hospital.

Now, the writer of this does not intend to suggest any contrivance to be attached to guns for tearing off the cartridges, as required by the Scientific American, but he proposes to the officers and army instructors a plan—instead of tearing the cartridge with the teeth, to tear it with the fingers of both hands. The operation is very simple, and was adopted in the Austrian army about seven years ago. The operation is as follows:

Upon the command, “Load,” the soldier brings the gun down, just in the same position as prescribed in Hardee’s or Scott’s Tactics, grasping it with his left hand in the same manner, on the upper band as usual, only with the exception that instead of leaning his thumb between the barrel and the ramrod, he turns it right before the barrel, at the same time not embracing the gun with his forefinger. The gun is embraced only with the three small fingers and with the inner wrist of the thumb, the thumb and the forefinger being before the barrel ready to receive the aperture of the cartridge. On the command, “Handle cartridge,” the cartridge is brought, instead of to the mouth, to the right side of the gunbarrel, the thumb and forefinger of the left hand seizing at the same time the aperture of it. Upon the command, “Tear cartridge,” the soldier turns his right hand with the cartridge against his body, and tears it; after that he places it before the muzzle, at the same time the left hand grasps the gun fully, and the soldier awaits the command, “Charge cartridge,” &c., &c.

This operation has the following advantages, viz:

1. The soldier has the cartridge before his eyes, and can tear it just in the proper place, so that no powder is lost.
2. The cartridge or the powder is hereby not moistened; and
3. The soldier is, as already stated, hereby not converted to a blacksmith.

By adopting this plan of exercise, the military authority will have no necessity to attach any contrivance to guns for tearing the cartridges, and the above named bad consequences, arising from tearing off the same with the teeth, will be obviated.

late Serg’t in Col. E. Peabody’s Reg’t.
ST. LOUIS, Dec. 3, 1861.