Thursday, March 25, 2004

War Trophies

TC's oldest boy came back from Iraq a few months ago. He had scads of nifty pictures of places he'd been and things that he'd seen. The one that got me was the huge pile of stuff that he had to leave behind, mostly bayonets and that sort of thing. What the hell is up with that? I thought the Army had always let the guys bring stuff home? I had a buddy who brought back a bunch of crap from Gulf I, but he was an officer if that makes a difference. What the heck has changed since then?

I once saw a well traveled rifle that was a war trophy twice. Several years ago I did some illustrations for a friend of mine who was writing a pamplet/book on Spencer rifles and carbines. One of the things he wanted me to do for him was a series of drawings showing the Manual of Arms for the Spencer rifle. Randy Steffen did a very nice set of renderings for the carbine in The Horse Soldier series of books, but John didn't want the carbine version, he wanted a rifle version. No I am not saying that I am an illustrator of Steffen's calibre, far, far from it.

Plus I don't think he wanted to go to the trouble of getting permission to use Steffen's artwork....

If you're wondering where the war trophy part is by now, we're coming to it.

In order to do this right, I called one of the rangers I know over at Chickamauga to see if he'd help me with this. He agreed to go through the Manual of Arms for me to photograph. I took a Sharps with me, thinking they were close enough for me to change it to the Spencer when I did my drawings. When I arrived, he pulled out a pretty nice looking three-band Spencer Rifle. I said "surely you didn't pull that out of the museum?" He proceeded to tell me this most interesting tale.

A few years ago, an elderly gentleman came into the visitors center and told someone at the desk he had a rifle he'd like to donate to the park. They called someone out to talk to him and he gave them this particular rifle. The man said he was a WWII veteran and he'd found the rifle in a bombed out farmhouse in Germany in 1945. He knew what it was and brought it home with him.

How did an American Civil War rifle end up in a German farmhouse? During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the government sold a LOT of surplus guns to the French (not that it did them any good). Some German soldier took it home as a trophy in 1870-1, where it was found by the American soldier in 1945.

I once owned a Spencer (sort of) that I sold in a fit of stupidity back in the eighties. When I say sort of, it was because it wasn't a real Spencer. It was a "period reproduction" if you will, maunfactured in Leige, Belgium in 1873 by a company named Falisse and Trappman. I never did figure out what calibre it was. The odd thing is, it had a centrefire breechblock.

Christopher Spencer couldn't even complain about copyright infringement.... Apparently, Spencer had money troubles in the late 1860's and was bought out by another company, who was in turn bought out by Winchester, who sold all the machinery at public auction.