George VanArsdale
15th New York Cavalry, Co. G
Early November, 1863
Camp Stoneman, Washington, D.C.

Another training milestone for the Fifteenth: handgun training was beginning at last. Unfortunately, firearm training consisted mostly of drill: pulling weapons out, waving weapons around this way and that way, putting weapons back... all in unison, of course. Training with firearms didn't include much one-on-one instruction, much less carefully prepared informational sessions. Mostly rote repetition, and not nearly enough of that.

Sergeant Lane ordered, "Draw..."

George unbuckled his holster with his right hand and grasped the handle of his new Colt Navy revolver, waiting for the second part of the command. Lane must have seen someone pull his revolver out of the holster. "Wait for it, wait for it.." Then, "... pistol!"

George drew the revolver out of the holster and held it pointed up, his hand level with his right shoulder and six inches in front of it.

Lane ordered, "Return... pistol!" George holstered the pistol. "Again! Draw... pistol!"

Lane walked the squad, eyeing each man's stance and position. "All right. Load!"

George transferred the revolver to his left hand and with his right hand opened the cartridge box on his belt, keeping his hand by the cartridge box. Lane saw something wrong with how George held the revolver. Lane roughly lifted the revolver out of George's grip, turned it, and shoved it back. "Like this."

Lane stepped back in front of the rank of men and ordered, "Handle... cartridge!"

George took a paper-wrapped cartridge from the cartridge box and brought it towards his mouth.

Lane eyed the trainees and spotted one fellow who needed guidance. "Turn it around, Smith! You need to bite the powder end, not the ball end!" That situation remedied, he gave the next order. "Tear... cartridge!"

George bit the end off the waterproofed paper cartridge, spilling some black powder. He inwardly cringed, hoping Lane had not noticed, and vowed to be more careful thereafter. He held the cartridge near the revolver chamber.

"Charge... cartridge!" George poured in the powder and inserted the bullet, pushing it in with his finger. With his left hand, he then turned the pistol, bringing the hammer close, and cocked it.

"Ram... cartridge!" George pulled the lever down, ramming the bullet tightly, then let the hammer down and moved his right hand to the cartridge box.

"Handle... cartridge!" George took out another cartridge and prepared to bite it. Lane repeated the process until he was satisfied that the men all had six bullets loaded in their revolvers. "Prime!" George lowered the muzzle, half-cocked the hammer to let the cylinder rotate freely, and placed a cap on the exposed nipple. Rotating the cylinder a notch, he repeated the process until all six chambers were capped. Then with his right hand, he held the revolver with the muzzle pointed up, his hand level with his right shoulder and six inches in front of it.

"Return... pistol!" A groan of disappointment was heard as the men holstered their pistols; one fellow apparently was disappointed not to be firing already. Lane, however, was standing between the men and the targets. "You will fire one at a time." He pointed at the first man. "You first." Lane scraped a line in the ground with his boot. "Stand behind this line." The man walked to position. "Turn slightly to the right." Lane tapped the man's right boot. "Move your foot back a little." Lane pointed to a rail with some empty bottles and cans on it. "There's your target."

"Which one?"

"Surprise me. Draw..." Lane noticed some motion from the boys still standing in the rank. "Just him, dammit! Put that away!" He turned back to the man at the firing line. "Pistol. Ready." The man brought the revolver to the draw position. "Aim. Fire." Nothing happened. Lane wryly observed, "Part of the 'ready' command is to cock the pistol." The man cocked his pistol. Lane said again, "Aim. Fire." The man fired, and the pistol's recoil caused the man to lose his grip. The pistol fell, and the man jumped back so as not to have it hit his foot. The men in the rank laughed uproariously.

Lane gestured that the man should pick up the pistol and resume his firing position. He then gestured towards the intact line of cans and bottles. "Ready. Aim. Fire." This time the man didn't lose his grip. But the line of cans and bottles remained undisturbed. "Aim. Fire."

The man said, "You didn't say 'ready,' so when do I cock?"

Lane must have been feeling magnanimous. "Tell you what. Just fire at will. That means cock it and fire it, until the gun is empty."

The man emptied his revolver, and no cans or bottles were harmed in the process.

Each man in turn had a chance to fire his revolver six times. Some men even managed to hit a target. George missed five times but then hit one with his last shot. There was halfhearted applause from his fellows, and inwardly George vowed that he would do better next time. Following the instruction on loading and firing, the men were instructed on cleaning the weapon. That was all the training they got on the use of the Colt Navy. George never had the chance to fire at inanimate objects again.

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© 2019 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.