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Old 11-02-2019, 05:49 PM
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4F = lacking four front teeth?


Claim: The disqualifying code of 4F for military service dates back to the Civil War when recruits were required to have at least four teeth in front. They needed them for tearing open gun powder packages while their hands were busy loading their weapons.

Smells like BS to me. The 4F designation sits nicely in a table of codes for various classifcations ranging from 1A to 5A.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Select...lassifications
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Old 11-02-2019, 06:00 PM
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It's complete bullshit. 4-F didn't come along until the Selective Service System, per your Wikipedia link.

While the term 4-F didn't come from the Civil War, you could get rejected for military service in the Civil War for missing teeth. If you were missing your four front teeth you could still be approved for service, as long as you had opposing (top and bottom) eye teeth or first molars. If you didn't have at least one matching set of teeth (top and bottom) so that you could tear open a paper cartridge, you could be rejected for service, at least for the infantry. I have read that soldiers with bad teeth could end up serving elsewhere, like in an artillery unit where teeth weren't required.

So the missing teeth part does have some basis in truth, but the term 4-F doesn't come from there.
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Old 11-02-2019, 06:20 PM
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Originally Posted by TGWATY View Post
They needed them for tearing open gun powder packages while their hands were busy loading their weapons.
This, as written, is a bit misleading.

Here's how a Civil War era musket was loaded when using paper cartridges.

The paper cartridge consisted of a pre-measured amount of black powder in a paper tube, along with a Minie Ball (a conical bullet). The Minie Ball has grooves in it which were filled with grease so that the round would make a better seal. When fired, the expanding gases from the powder exploding would inflate the lead skirt at the back of the bullet, which made the round grip the rifling as it went down the barrel. So your paper cartridge was basically a paper tube with powder and a greased bullet in it.

The cartridges were stored in a pouch that the soldier wore on his belt.

The first step is to put the butt of the rifle down on the ground, and pull out a cartridge. Your hands being "busy" is the fact that your left hand is holding the rifle and your right hand is holding the cartridge. Since you don't have a third hand, you tear the end off of the cartridge with your teeth. Pour the powder down into the barrel, shove the greased Minie Ball into the barrel, drop the paper, grab the ramrod, ram the Minie Ball firmly so that it is fully seated at the base of the barrel (you don't need to bang it repeatedly like they often do in movies), then make sure you return your ramrod into its slot under the barrel.

Now open your cap pouch (also on your belt) and pull out a percussion cap. Lift the rifle up, pull the hammer back to the half-cock position, flick the spent cap off of the cone, and put your new cap onto the cone.

Raise the rifle, pull the hammer back to the full-cock position, and fire.

This gets to be a bit challenging when your enemy is constantly shooting at you while you are doing all of this.

Here is a decent video showing the process:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLkCjIRjDJ8

He's loading the paper into the barrel instead of the bullet (Minie Ball) since it's for reenactment and he doesn't have an actual bullet.

In the video, he says that a good soldier could fire 3 shots per minute. In actuality, it wasn't just "good soldiers". 3 shots per minute was a requirement during training. A good soldier could manage 4 shots per minute.
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Old 11-02-2019, 06:34 PM
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Hot damn! I love this forum!
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Old 11-02-2019, 07:09 PM
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Originally Posted by TGWATY View Post
Claim: The disqualifying code of 4F for military service dates back to the Civil War when recruits were required to have at least four teeth in front. They needed them for tearing open gun powder packages while their hands were busy loading their weapons.
This is of course false. In truth, the 4-F designation goes back to the Hundred Years War in which the French were said to amputate the middle fingers of captured bowmen. This left them with only 4 fingers, abbreviated as 4-F. When the French faced the English in battle, they would attempt to intimidate them with cries of '4-F', reminding that they stood to be maimed if captured. This term survived in French common law and was eventually codified as one of the 'Système Internationale' military readiness measurements, which the French shared with their ally the Continental Army, whose successor is of course the modern US military.

So now you know the rest of the story.
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Old 11-02-2019, 07:26 PM
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Wow. War IS hell.
My brother who is a re-enactor told the story about 4F being erroneously told about the civil war. He told me the truth as e-c-g told it upthread.
As he is a goofy brother of mine I wasn't sure I believed him. Happy to know my brother's not completely full of crap.
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Old 11-02-2019, 07:31 PM
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The Indian Rebellion/Mutiny of 1857 was triggered by a controversy over British paper ammunition cartridges which had to be bitten by the soldier. Indian soldiers were unconvinced that the grease in the cartridges was not animal fat that was unacceptable for either Muslims or Hindus.
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Old 11-02-2019, 11:53 PM
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So the soldiers in India were being issued with rifles 4 years before the American Civil war.

It's an interesting difference in military doctrine. FWIW, the Indian soldiers were employed by a corporation -- the East India Company.
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Old 11-03-2019, 01:47 AM
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So the soldiers in India were being issued with rifles 4 years before the American Civil war.
I might be misunderstanding you here, but I think you have some confusion about 19th century weapons.

The Model 1853 Enfield (which is one of the muskets I actually own) is what is commonly referred to as a "rifle-musket". This may seem like a contradiction of terms, since a rifle has a rifled barrel and a musket usually has a smooth barrel, but the term refers to a very specific class of weapons that were used from about 1850 until the end of the U.S. Civil War.

A rifle-musket is generally a weapon that is otherwise identical to a musket, except that it's barrel was rifled. In U.S. muskets, the change from smooth bore to rifle started with the Model 1842, which was also the change from flintlock to caplock. All 1842 muskets were produced with smooth bores, but they were intentionally made with barrels that were thicker than necessary under the assumption that they would end up getting rifled later. Many of them did end up getting rifled. Those that were rifled were called rifle-muskets. Starting with the Model 1855, all U.S. muskets were rifled when they were produced.

When you make a rifle, the rifling makes it more accurate, so it doesn't need to be as long as a musket. But militaries were still firing by ranks, and when you fire by ranks, having your rifle as long as a musket helps to make sure that the guys in the back ranks can't accidentally shoot the guys in the front ranks in the back of the head. So rifles were made in musket length, and were called rifle-muskets, or they were made in shorter lengths, which were just called rifles.

The Model 1853 Enfield, which was used by the British (and whose rounds were at least partially responsible for the Sepoy Mutiny, even though they didn't actually contain pig fat as was claimed) was a rifle-musket. It was not a cartridge rifle. Design-wise, it wasn't all that much different than the Model 1861 Springfield. The 1861 Springfield was the most widely used rifle-musket in the Civil War. The British 1853 Enfield was imported by both the North and the South, and was the second most widely used rifle-musket of the Civil War.

I happen to own a Model 1853 Enfield. I chose it over the Springfield because the Enfield has better sights, using a fancier ladder sight with 100 yard increments compared to the Springfield's flip up sights for 100, 300, and 500 yards only. The Enfield's sights also go out to 900 yards, though realistically if you manage to hit anything past 600 yards it's going to be mostly a matter of luck.

Rifle-muskets were all musket length, and all had a spear-type bayonet since they expected them to be used similarly to smooth bore muskets, just with slightly better accuracy. Bayonet fighting had been hugely important in previous wars, accounting for roughly a third of all battlefield casualties in the Napoleonic Wars and in the U.S. Revolutionary War. The greater accuracy of the rifle-musket and changes in battlefield tactics reduced bayonet casualties to less than 1 percent of battlefield casualties, and after the Civil War, they ditched the spear-type bayonets in favor of knife style bayonets that were primarily camp knives that could be used as bayonets in a last-ditch emergency type situation.

The 1853 Enfield and the 1855 (and later) Springfields all fired Minie Balls. Both the Enfield and the Springfields were .58 caliber.

Since many of the Model 1842 muskets were rifled, many U.S. soldiers were issued Springfield rifle-muskets before the soldiers in India were issued Enfield rifle-muskets.
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Old 11-03-2019, 03:05 AM
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This is of course false. In truth, the 4-F designation goes back to the Hundred Years War in which the French were said to amputate the middle fingers of captured bowmen. This left them with only 4 fingers, abbreviated as 4-F. When the French faced the English in battle, they would attempt to intimidate them with cries of '4-F', reminding that they stood to be maimed if captured.
And the English replied with "Pluck-yew".....
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Old 11-03-2019, 03:48 AM
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Originally Posted by HMS Irruncible View Post
This is of course false. In truth, the 4-F designation goes back to the Hundred Years War in which the French were said to amputate the middle fingers of captured bowmen. This left them with only 4 fingers, abbreviated as 4-F. When the French faced the English in battle, they would attempt to intimidate them with cries of '4-F', reminding that they stood to be maimed if captured. This term survived in French common law and was eventually codified as one of the 'Système Internationale' military readiness measurements, which the French shared with their ally the Continental Army, whose successor is of course the modern US military.

So now you know the rest of the story.
But then wouldn't the term be 4-D? The French term for finger is doigt.
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Old 11-03-2019, 04:00 AM
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But then wouldn't the term be 4-D? The French term for finger is doigt.
Yes, but since royal permission was required for a French peasant to train as an archer, the English referred to them as having Fingers Under Consent of the King.
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Old 11-03-2019, 06:39 AM
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But then wouldn't the term be 4-D? The French term for finger is doigt.
Not sure I understand. The fingers were English fingers.
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Old 11-03-2019, 07:49 AM
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Originally Posted by HMS Irruncible View Post
This is of course false. In truth, the 4-F designation goes back to the Hundred Years War in which the French were said to amputate the middle fingers of captured bowmen. This left them with only 4 fingers, abbreviated as 4-F. When the French faced the English in battle, they would attempt to intimidate them with cries of '4-F', reminding that they stood to be maimed if captured. This term survived in French common law and was eventually codified as one of the 'Système Internationale' military readiness measurements, which the French shared with their ally the Continental Army, whose successor is of course the modern US military.

So now you know the rest of the story.
Setting aside that this particular origin story sounds like complete bollocks to me, as you note they were English fingers that were amputated. However, you're also saying the term survived in the French penal code, not known for its adoption of English terminology.
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Old 11-03-2019, 09:12 AM
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Not sure I understand. The fingers were English fingers.
I quiver at your logical prowess.
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Old 11-03-2019, 10:28 AM
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This gets to be a bit challenging when your enemy is constantly shooting at you while you are doing all of this.
As demonstrated in Glory.
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Old 11-04-2019, 01:31 PM
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It's an interesting difference in military doctrine. FWIW, the Indian soldiers were employed by a corporation -- the East India Company.
Well, yes, but the EIC didn't handle the Sepoy Rebellion very well, and lost its right to raise private armies (and to administer India) shortly afterwards.
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Setting aside that this particular origin story sounds like complete bollocks to me, as you note they were English fingers that were amputated. However, you're also saying the term survived in the French penal code, not known for its adoption of English terminology.
Whoosh.
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Old 11-04-2019, 09:11 PM
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Originally Posted by engineer_comp_geek View Post

Here's how a Civil War era musket was loaded when using paper cartridges.
...
Here is a decent video showing the process:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLkCjIRjDJ8
Why is the rammer set up so that it has to be flipped end-for-end every time you use it and stow it? Pull it out, flip it, ram, pull it out, flip it, put it back. It looks like one end has a broad knob while the other end is just the narrow rod. Did the narrow end have another specific purpose?
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Old 11-05-2019, 06:24 AM
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Why is the rammer set up so that it has to be flipped end-for-end every time you use it and stow it? Pull it out, flip it, ram, pull it out, flip it, put it back. It looks like one end has a broad knob while the other end is just the narrow rod. Did the narrow end have another specific purpose?
The musket has a slot in the stock. The ramrod slides into this slot, and is held in place by friction between the ramrod, the slot, and the barrel bands. The stock is already there and the barrel bands are already there, so doing it this way doesn't require any additional parts, and only requires cutting a slot into the stock which is easy to do.

The fat end of the ramrod can't fit into the slot, so you'd have to come up with some other arrangement to hold the ramrod in place if you wanted it facing the other direction.

Some older muskets had tubes that the ramrod would slide into, but the Springfield and Enfield muskets of the Civil War just slid the ramrod into a slot under the barrel bands.

The fat end does double duty as both the part that rams the musket ball down into the musket and also holds cleaning patches for when you clean out the musket. Black powder (at least the real stuff back then) contains sulfur, so if you don't clean your musket after every use, the powder will absorb moisture from the air, combine the water with the sulfur, and will create sulfuric acid which will eat away at your musket barrel. Not a good thing. Some ramrods have a slot in the fat end so you can stick a patch through sideways, but for most cleaning, just wrapping a patch around the end works well enough.

The skinny end of the ramrod is threaded. A soldier back then would typically carry a screw-type ball puller and a worm to retrieve any cleaning patches that end up getting stuck down inside the barrel. These accessories just screw onto the skinny end of the ramrod.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musket...ccessories.jpg

The tampion on the left side of the picture is just a plug for the end of the barrel to keep dirt and water out while the soldier is marching somewhere.

The ball puller literally just screws into the soft lead musket ball so that you can yank it out. Usually if the musket doesn't fire you can take off the cone and put a small bit of powder under it, put the cone back on, put a new percussion cap on it, and get it to fire at least well enough to push the ball out of the barrel. If the musket is really stubborn, or the soldier did something stupid and forgot to load the powder in his rush to load the musket quickly, then the ball puller is the only way you're going to get the musket ball back out of the barrel. Remember, the back end of a musket barrel doesn't open. If a musket ball is stuck, the only way it's coming out is through the front end of the barrel.

The soldier would also carry a cheap musket wrench that they could use to completely disassemble the musket (except for the lock).
https://www.antiquesnavigator.com/ar...2183996501.jpg

I couldn't find any decent pictures of how the ramrod is held into place. If you want more details, let me know and I can take some pictures of my muskets.

Last edited by engineer_comp_geek; 11-05-2019 at 06:27 AM.
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Old 11-05-2019, 09:40 AM
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Rejections for dental problems was a significant issue in WWI. You needed at least twelve serviceable teeth (out of 32 ) and a lot of recruits didn't make the standard. It was a factor in the later push for fluoridation, which got going in 1945.

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Old 11-05-2019, 09:52 AM
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Rejections for dental problems was a significant issue in WWI. You needed at least twelve serviceable teeth (out of 32 ) and a lot of recruits didn't make the standard. It was a factor in the later push for fluoridation, which got going in 1945.

Regards,
Shodan
Corrected link

They left out the part about the commie plot.

Last edited by TriPolar; 11-05-2019 at 09:54 AM.
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Old 11-05-2019, 05:19 PM
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The musket has a slot in the stock. The ramrod slides into this slot, and is held in place by friction between the ramrod, the slot, and the barrel bands. The stock is already there and the barrel bands are already there, so doing it this way doesn't require any additional parts, and only requires cutting a slot into the stock which is easy to do.
...
Thanks for this. I can see how the simplicity of the storage arrangement might trump the ergonomics.
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Old 11-05-2019, 05:37 PM
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The first step is to put the butt of the rifle down on the ground, and pull out a cartridge. Your hands being "busy" is the fact that your left hand is holding the rifle and your right hand is holding the cartridge. Since you don't have a third hand, you tear the end off of the cartridge with your teeth.
Could you just tear the cartridge open with your fingers? I think this was suggested to the Indian soldiers in 1857. Of course, you need some dexterity to hold a long and heavy rifle while tearing the cartidige open.
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Old 11-05-2019, 06:07 PM
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Military Medical Enlistment Standards for Dental Issues
Chapter 2

Physical Standards for Enlistment, Appointment, and Induction

2-5. Dental

a. Current diseases of the jaws or associated tissues that prevent normal functioning are disqualifying. Those diseases include, but are not limited to temporomandibular disorders (524.6) and/or myofascial pain that have not been corrected.

b. Current severe malocclusion (524), which interferes with normal mastication or requires early and protracted treatment, or a relationship between the mandible and maxilla that prevents satisfactory future prosthodontic replacement is disqualifying.

c. Current insufficient natural healthy teeth (521) or lack of a serviceable prosthesis that prevents adequate incision and mastication of a normal diet and/or includes complex (multiple fixtures) dental implant systems with associated complications are disqualifying. Individuals undergoing endodontic care are acceptable for entry in the Delayed Entry Program only if a civilian or military provider provides documentation that active endodontic treatment will be completed prior to being sworn into active duty.

d. Current orthodontic appliances for continued treatment (V53.4) are disqualifying. Retainer appliances are permissible, provided all active orthodontic treatment has been satisfactorily completed. Individuals undergoing orthodontic care are acceptable for enlistment in the Delayed Entry Program only if a civilian or military orthodontist provides documentation that active orthodontic treatment will be completed prior to being sworn into active duty.


A few years ago when I thought I might lose my teeth I lurked for a while at a denture support group message board. I think I recall someone posting there that they enlisted with pretty bad teeth and the military (don't remember the branch) pulled his teeth and fitted him with full dentures almost immediately. Just my recollection of some random person on the internet so don't hold me to it. I think the relevant term from what I posted above is "serviceable prosthesis".
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Old 11-06-2019, 04:04 AM
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The Selective Service has used a bunch of different classifications for whether someone is qualified for service. Wikipedia lists the ones that were used during World War II. As you can see, there were four broad categories, with "1" meaning "acceptable for military service," and "4" meaning "unacceptable for military service." The letter code that followed was a sub-class, so that "4-F" meant "rejected for military service, physical, mental, or moral reasons" (e.g. the subject had been arrested for littering).

So the 4 and the F were part of a system, with lots of other number and letter combinations possible. 4-F had nothing to do with four teeth, or any teeth, or four of anything. It was just one classification code among many.
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Old 11-06-2019, 10:46 AM
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The ball puller literally just screws into the soft lead musket ball so that you can yank it out. Usually if the musket doesn't fire you can take off the cone and put a small bit of powder under it, put the cone back on, put a new percussion cap on it, and get it to fire at least well enough to push the ball out of the barrel. If the musket is really stubborn, or the soldier did something stupid and forgot to load the powder in his rush to load the musket quickly, then the ball puller is the only way you're going to get the musket ball back out of the barrel.
(UL mine)

I recall reading somewhere that after Pickett's charge, discarded muskets from both sides were retrieved with as many as eight bullet-and-powder combos jammed into the barrel. I would guess that in the heat of the battle, the soldier was not noticing the ramrod was stopping farther and farther out until it was really obvious.
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Old 11-06-2019, 11:50 AM
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I recall reading somewhere that after Pickett's charge, discarded muskets from both sides were retrieved with as many as eight bullet-and-powder combos jammed into the barrel. I would guess that in the heat of the battle, the soldier was not noticing the ramrod was stopping farther and farther out until it was really obvious.
I have read the same thing. A lot of the multi-loads were probably just mistakes, but the ones where the barrels were almost completely packed full are thought to possibly have been intentional. The thinking is that maybe they needed to abandon a handful of muskets while they were preparing to retreat, and rather than leave perfectly functional muskets for the enemy to use against them, they packed them with multiple loads, knowing that the enemy probably didn't have time during the battle to clear out each load one by one. Or maybe they hoped that an enemy soldier would pick it up and fire it and end up with the barrel exploding in his face. There is also the theory that the soldier screwed up and double loaded, and rather than admit his mistake, he just kept loading and pretending to shoot (probably didn't bother to load the percussion cap) so that he wouldn't get chewed out for screwing up.

I have also read two different accounts of ramrods being fired at the enemy at Gettysburg.

In the first case, a Confederate soldier fired his ramrod at Union troops. Nobody knows why. Most likely he was just in a hurry and goofed. Whatever the reason, the Union troops thought it made a funny sound, so a small group of them gathered up a few ramrods from the battle and fired them back at the Confederates a few times just for the amusement of the sound it made.

In the second case, a soldier was dealing with a badly fouled barrel (black powder fouls barrels quickly) and the bullet got stuck while trying to reload. To make things worse, the ramrod also somehow got stuck while he was trying to fully seat the round. Out of sheer frustration, he pointed the musket at the enemy and pulled the trigger.

He was kinda surprised that the barrel didn't explode. When you don't fully seat the round like that, you create a chamber where the gases from the powder exploding can build up to excessive pressures, basically exploding the barrel like a pipe bomb. He had been so frustrated that he knew that the barrel could basically explode in his face, and he had pulled the trigger anyway.
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Old 11-06-2019, 05:33 PM
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I agree with previous posts mentioning that '4F' is at best a loose anachronism for describing the issue with missing front teeth and paper cartridges.

This is mentioned as something men would sometimes do to themselves, knock out their own front teeth, in Imperial Russia in the 18th/early 19th century where there was peacetime conscription of a limited % of the eligible male population for up to a lifetime of service, term gradually reduced over the 19th century and eventually made theoretically universal at 6 yrs.

I've heard of it less in the context of US Civil War. Although conscription is infamous in that war, both for the system of paying substitutes and the NY draft riots, only 2-4% (depending on source*) of Union and around 10% of Confederate soldiers were personally drafted, as opposed to men paid to substitute for draftees, and not counting men paid bonuses by state/local authorities to meet volunteer quotas particularly later in the war. So the whole situation was not one of a relatively uniform draft system producing a large % of the force as in US effort in WWII, Korea, Vietnam. And WWII also illustrates that 'most soldiers were draftees' doesn't necessarily mean 'the war was deeply unpopular'. There could easily be social pressure that made it seem suboptimal to be self-marked as evader by maiming oneself permanently, even though there actually needed to be a draft, or threat of one, to fill out the ranks. That might have applied particularly in Confederate society. Anyway I don't recall reading much about this draft evasion tactic in the USCW.

*this and other sources agree something like 50k actual Union draftees, this source counts around 1.2 mil as having served on Union side, but others more like twice that number.
https://www.essentialcivilwarcurricu...scription.html
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Old 11-07-2019, 09:35 AM
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My father's side of the family arrived after that little fracas, but my mother's side was already on the continent. Family legend had it that the guy in the northern branch paid someone to substitute for him when he was drafted and the guy in the southern branch had a hollow log to hide in when the levy gangs showed up.
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Old 11-07-2019, 10:00 AM
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Originally Posted by engineer_comp_geek View Post
I have read the same thing. A lot of the multi-loads were probably just mistakes, but the ones where the barrels were almost completely packed full are thought to possibly have been intentional. The thinking is that maybe they needed to abandon a handful of muskets while they were preparing to retreat, and rather than leave perfectly functional muskets for the enemy to use against them, they packed them with multiple loads, knowing that the enemy probably didn't have time during the battle to clear out each load one by one. Or maybe they hoped that an enemy soldier would pick it up and fire it and end up with the barrel exploding in his face. There is also the theory that the soldier screwed up and double loaded, and rather than admit his mistake, he just kept loading and pretending to shoot (probably didn't bother to load the percussion cap) so that he wouldn't get chewed out for screwing up.
I asked a similar question once, many years ago, on another message board, and don’t recall getting a response.

Is there a cite for that? Not someone repeating the claim, but a primary source that comes from, or at least provides identifying information for, the person or organization that went around collecting muskets and taking the time to tabulate how many had multiple rounds?

I will say, your explanations for why this might have happened certainly seems more plausible than what was offered as an explanation at the time, and what in turn led me to question the whole account (I believe the poster was using it as "evidence" in favor of some of the dubious conclusions SLA Marshall came to about soldiers, even confronted with the enemy, refusing to fire deliberately at the enemy due to "reasons").
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Old 11-07-2019, 10:44 AM
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Here's the actual answer to the OP- there have been multiple classifications for draftees historically - there's a whole series of them prefixed with "4"- for example, 4-A means "Registrant who has completed service, or sole surviving son". 4-B means "Official Deferred by Law". And they go down the list to 4-F, which is "Registrant Not Qualified for Military Service". There's a 4-G ("Sole Surviving Son") and a 4-D ("Minister of Religion -exempted from military service") as well.

https://www.sss.gov/Classifications

My suspicion is that it's very unlikely that there's any deeper meaning to the term 4-F than that. If anything, the listing of 1-A as "Available for Military Service" is probably more likely to have been chosen because of the associations of "A", "1", "A1" and "A-Number One" as indicators of excellence or primacy.
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Old 11-07-2019, 03:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ASL v2.0 View Post
Is there a cite for that?
From the Annual Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Ordinance of the Navy Department:
Quote:
On the field of Gettysburg there were twenty-seven thousand five hundred and seventy-four guns picked up, and of these twenty-four thousand were found loaded, and half of them were double loaded. One-fourth had from three to ten loads in, and many had five or six balls to one charge of powder. In some cases, powder was above the ball, in others the cartridges were not broken at the end, while in one musket twenty-three balls, sixty-two buckshot, and a quantity of gunpowder were all mixed up together."
This excerpt is reprinted in the 1866 issue of the United States Service Magazine, Vol. 5. which can be found on google books.
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