By Jim Smith
REMARK: This story was originally published in August 2017.
GRAYLING – For more than 27 years, Michigan Light Artillery’s Loomis Battery has taken to the field, courtesy of the Michigan National Guard, to participate in its annual Long Range Artillery Match .
Loomis Battery was formed in 1961 during the centennial celebration of the American Civil War. It was organized by Matt Switlik and a small group of black powder artillery enthusiasts as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in Monroe, Michigan.
The group was modeled after the original Civil War artillery group formed by Cyrus O. Loomis in 1861. Assembled in Coldwater and made up of volunteers from Branch, Wayne, and Oakland counties, the original unit was called to action on April 23, 1861 by Abraham Lincoln. .
Battery Loomis served in many battles from Cheat Mountain, West Virginia to Perryville, Stone River, Chickamauga and the Battle of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The unit was discharged from duty on 12 July 1865 after suffering 12 men lost in action and 28 to disease for a total of 40 dead during their three years of service.
Don Lutz, commander of Loomis Battery, said the mission of modern Loomis Battery is the preservation of the history of one of the great groups of Michigan volunteers who served to defend the Union during this great upheaval. in our country. Their purpose is to educate those interested in the artillery used during this critical period in our history.
This year saw the highest number of entries the Loomis Battery has ever had for this special event. Competitors from as far away as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and West Virginia began arriving at Range 35 as early as Thursday, setting up their living quarters in everything from RVs to Civil War-style field tents.
They all arrived with their artillery pieces, some on trailers, some in trucks, all original or reproductions of pieces built before 1898 and designed to use black powder. Most artillery pieces are reproductions because the originals are far too valuable to be fired. Guns range from Coehorn mortars firing a white flag at 350 yards to rifled mountain guns that aim at targets 1,000 to 1,200 yards away.
Loomis’ Battery Warrant Officer Matt Switlik led the way down where the targets were set. The targets were four-by-eight-foot sheets of plywood placed in a trench in the dirt 1,000 yards away. The 35 range has available distances of up to 1,200 meters.
However, in 1987 a 3,000 yard range was made available to the battery for demonstration and educational purposes. Camp Grayling is the only range where cannons can be fired at their intended ranges. Elsewhere where demonstrations take place, shooting is limited to a maximum of 200 meters and sometimes only blank shots.
Contests are by invitation only. The current Loomis Battery has a total of about 40 artillery men and women who live primarily in southeastern Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Illinois. This year the range included 30 field and mountain guns, three siege mortars and twelve Coehorn mortars.
These guns still use the original loadings of coarse black powder. Teams tend to steer clear of modern black powder substitutes because they aren’t as good as the “old stuff”.
The ammunition used today is usually homemade, die-cast in zinc or a zinc alloy that has a density similar to the original “iron” cannonballs. Calibers range from mountain guns with a bore of 1 to 1.5 inches to 6-pounder rifled field guns 3.6 inches in diameter to the 5.8-inch bullets used in 24-pounder mortars. Some of the siege guns are up to eight to ten inches in diameter.
“The average cost per shot, including powder and projectile, ranges from less than ten dollars to sixty dollars or more. Once the firing is complete, squad members descend to collect their projectiles several times before digging them out of the ground. Each cannonball is labeled.
“Judging by the mortars, the one closest to the flag wins the round. Each gun crew takes careful and detailed notes regarding each projectile and its performance. Differences in temperature, humidity, and how the barrel heats up all have an effect on how each projectile fires. This information allows the crew to select which projectiles to use and in what order.
“Most of the artillery pieces present were muzzle-loading. Several guns were breechloaders but this type of artillery only really came into service around the time of the Spanish-American War.
For those who see one of these shoots and catch “the bug,” a gun carriage and iron cannon start at around $12,000.
A bronze barrel quickly raises the auction price to $30,000 or more. The Coehorns are a bit cheaper, starting around $2,000.00 plus an additional $500.00 for the cart. This doesn’t include all the extras, the trailer to transport it, or the crew care and feeding you’ll need to shoot the thing. The average gun crew consists of three to six members, depending on the gun.
A great advantage is evident by the number of wives, girlfriends and children behind the scenes and even on the firing line. It really is a family affair and well worth a Saturday afternoon, note attendees
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