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Bull's eye: Skirmishers use Civil War firearms

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

STATESVILLE—Norman Horne, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, often wondered what it was like to use Civil War weapons. A television program a few years ago rekindled that interest.

“They were having cannon competition,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well, that looks like it might be fun.’”

Two years ago, he and Joe Newman, both Brunswick County residents, went as spectators to the North-South Skirmish Association national matches, near Winchester, Va.

“We stayed up there Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Horne said. “We watched it. Saw it. And said, ‘This is it.’”

Newman joined the N-SSA in the spring; Horne, in the fall.

“We’ve been shooting ever since,” Horne said.

Horne’s great-great-grandfather died during the Civil War Battle of Sharpsburg in September 1862. The battle is considered the first major battle of the war fought on Northern soil and is the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with about 23,000 casualties.

“I’ve always had an interest in it,” Horne said about the Civil War. “This was like, ‘I’ve come home.’ This is a close as you can experience what it may have been like.”

The N-SSA competitions are not meant to be like the more widely known and publicized Civil War re-enactments.

“This is live-fire competition with Civil War arms, either originals or replicas,” Horne said.

The N-SSA, formed in 1950, consists of 13 regions, and teams in those regions participate in sanctioned matches, called skirmishes, throughout the year. The Carolina region covers the Carolinas. Horne and two other Brunswick County residents are members of the 23rd North Carolina State Troops, who recently competed in a two-day Statesville skirmish. (Another county member, Mike Roberts, was out of town that weekend.)

The regional skirmishes are intended to be preparation for the national matches that take place each year at Fort Shenandoah, Va. (This year they are in May and October.) Horne said that at a national match 500 people will be standing on the line at the same time, shooting as fast as they can in the timed events.

“All of it live fire,” Horne said. “In the cannon match, there will be as many as 16 cannon on the line at the same time. You have about 45 minutes to shoot 12 rounds. The smoke and the noise—it’s realistic.”

Last year Horne finally was able to compete in a cannon match, with a team from Ohio.

“It will cause the hair on your neck to stand up, give you the chills,” he said. “You have cannon on both sides of you, and you don’t know when they’re going to go off because you’re not watching them. You’re just paying attention to your team.

“I tell guys, ‘If you don’t ever intend on doing this, don’t come watch it, because it gets in your blood if you have any interest in shooting firearms.”

Horne, 59, is an experienced modern-firearms competitor. He has competed at the NRA National Outdoor Rifle and Pistol Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio, “probably half a dozen times the last 10 years,” he said.

But the experience he has had in the N-SSA matches is more enjoyable.

“This is the most shooting fun that I’ve ever had,” he said. “This is more fun because all the targets we shoot (in team competition) break. It’s like instant gratification.”

Horne’s favorite N-SSA competition are events with the revolver.

“Probably because it carries over from some of my modern-arms competition,” he said.

Competitors at the N-SSA, however, have to furnish their own uniforms and weapons.

“This is pretty much like about anything else,” Horne said. “To really compete, you have to have good equipment. I started off with a pistol that cost $50. I bought it from an N-SSA skirmisher. And it made noise and it threw a round down range. But that lasted me for about the first match. I said, ‘Nah, this ain’t gonna get it done.’ I was used to competing, and I could not compete with that. So I saved up money, found out who built good pistols, made a deal and got some.”

Fortunately for Horne and others who are newcomers to the N-SSA, current members provide leads about where to buy either replica or authentic Civil War weapons.

“At the national matches there will be as many as 30 sutlers,” Horne said. “There are buildings up there where they can bring their stuff up and set up. There will be as many as 3,500 shooters at a national match and there will be as many as 8,000 to 10,000 people there, because people bring their families.”

Adding to the realism of the N-SSA national matches is that each unit has its own bivouac area. The 23rd North Carolina State Troops has nearly 20 people in it. But Horne is hoping to have more Brunswick County members in it so that an all-county unit could compete at matches. At least five is needed to compete in most matches.

“We would really like to have a team from Brunswick County,” he said. Although most of the competitors in Statesville were older men and women, Horne said younger adults are welcome to compete.

“Two of our team members are a married couple and both are in their 20s,” he said.

In just 18 months of N-SSA competitions, Horne already has much of which to be proud. In the nationals last year, he finished second in his classification in the revolver match.

“Next time I want to win it out of the top class,” he said. “There is always a peach to reach up there for.”

Horne did not fire an original Civil War arms during the competition in Statesville, but Buck Buchan, one the four county members in the NC 23rd, used an original 1859 Sharp’s .54 caliber carbine in one of the timed events, hitting two of four targets.

That event is his favorite, and he got involved in the N-SSA through Horne and Newman.

“Norman and I used to pistol-shoot bull’s-eyes” said Buchan, 68. “When they came back from the nationals, Norman started talking about black powder, and I used to shoot black-powder pistols. So once I got with them, it just grabbed me.

“It’s addictive. I used to play golf five days a week. Now I shoot three days a week and play golf two days a week.”

Buchan has one other authentic Civil War weapon, a Bridesburg.

“I went to Dalton, Ga., and bought the Sharp’s,” he said. “I bought the Bridesburg at a Civil War show.” Buchan also finds Civil War weapons at shows in Charleston, S.C.”

Buchan, who has won regional skirmishes, likes associating with the N-SSA members.

“The people are absolutely brilliant people,” he said. “They’re a lot of fun. Everybody is out to help each other, even though we’re in competition with each other.”

Newman, 62, has had the longest association with the N-SSA.

“I first was exposed to it as a teenager during the Civil War centennial in the ’60s,” he said. “I knew people who did this, and they used to let me shoot then.

“Of course, it took until now to where I could afford to do it and have the time. It takes a lot of time. You spend three days at a regional shoot or five days at a national shoot twice a year.”

Newman started shooting black powder as a teenager.

“I shot with some (N-SSA) teams in the ’60s as a teenager when I couldn’t really be a full-fledged member,” he said. “I learned how to do it. They actually had a cannon and they had the muskets, and I used to go shoot with them. I wasn’t a full-fledged member. I just went when they had practice.”

Newman owns a Parrott rifle, which was a Civil War cannon.

“It’s a short barrel, large bore cannon,” he said. “They were made originally for rough terrain, for use in the mountains or wherever. It’s not a real big gun. It can be broken down and packed on three mules instead of having to have a team of horses to pull it somewhere.”

Owning the cannon fulfills a goal Newman has had since he was a teen.

“I like to shoot cannons,” he said. “I got started messing with them when I was 14 or 15. I had been to the North-South skirmish matches as a guest. It’s about the only artillery matches there are. You get up there looking at it and you want to do it.”

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Anyone county resident interested in joining the N-SSA may contact Norman Horne at normanghorne@hotmail.com.