RIFLE-SHOOTING IN THE UNITED STATES.
[FROM OUR SPECLAJ. CORRESPONDENT.]
New York, July 28, 1865. A BRITISH officer, who when he was here got the reputation of having "rifle on the brain," wrote to me in a letter which I received only yesterday that your great Wimbledon meeting was to take place in a week or two. It occurred to me therefore that a letter about rifle-shooting in this country would not be so long after the fair as to be quite untimely. If my friend should read this letter, he will be reminded of a certain trial of rifles upon Long Island, at which he and other British officers were present, and which was full of interest to all riflemen. Long Island, as perhaps my readers know, stretches eastward from New York harbour all along the southern coast of New England. It is for the most part flat and sandy, but it is fertile, and used to be called the Garden of New York, before the city and its suburbs became too large to be supplied with fruit and vegetables from a little garden patch only 115 miles long, and between 10 and 20 broad. One autumn afternoon a small party of us crossed the East River, which is really a short, deep, narrow, strait, connecting the bay of New York with Long Island Sound, and which, because it cannot be bridged, is traversed between New York and the Brooklyn—i. e., the Long Island—side by seven- teen steam ferries, the boats on which are about 500 tons' burtheu, and which ply ceaselessly all day, a boat being always in at each ferry on each side of the river while two are making the passage. These ferries are in fact but mere continuations of the streets on either side of the river, which is as much a metropolitan thorough- fare as the Grand Canal at Venice. Brooklyn (which has nearly 300,000 inhabitants) and New York are really but one city, and although they are in different counties they are legally but one port. Of the constant and multitudinous passing back and forth between the two sides of the river a proximate notion may be ob- - tained from the fact that the records of the Union Ferry Com- pany, which controls five of these seventeen ferries, show that an average of 90,000 persons, besides vehicles of all sorts (i. e., 45,000 each way) • cross daily throughout the year on those five ferries. Indeed it was said by a man who visited Brooklyn once In the morning that he walked through it and met only two
• old women and a cow. This was some years ago, but Brook- lyn, notwithstanding its rapid increase in population, is still a • deserted place between ten o'clock in the morning and five in the evening. You may walk there in business hours through miles of streets filled with beautiful houses and not meet a man once in 200 yards. I have walked there at that time of day half a mile without meeting a living soul. The men are all at their offices and counting-houses, in what they call "the city," where the women also do their shopping. Our little party take a horse car upon a street railway, and passing through this vast dormitory we find that, like New York, it is environed with a thick belt of Irish shanties, sat down, with leave or without leave, upon the waste laud in the outskirts of the city. We soon leave these behind, and find our railway laid upon a broad, well-paved, well- kerbed avenue, which, from the entire absence of houses and the lowness of the land on both sides, seems, as its monotonous length stretches straight before us, like a city street projected into infinite • space. Patience and a steady trot soon take us over two miles of this, and the paved avenue at the corporation limits passes suddenly into a dusty road, upon which the track is continued. The engineers of this road had easy work, for the land has become as flat as a floor. Four milea from Brooklyn we come upon a village appropriately called .Flatbush. It is chiefly made up of the pretty villas of merchants and professional men who do business in New York, and of men of wealth and leisure. Few of these houses are plainly visible from the real, and some are entirely concealed, so thickly are the inter
vening spaces filled with fine old trees and shrubbery ; and the country is so level that even the roofs and chimney-tops do not appear above the foliage. The land about these villas varies in extent from four or five acres to four or five hundred, or even twice that number. At the farther side of the village our railway comes to an end. Two of us have three miles farther to go, to a village called Flatlands, and we start off for it on foot. But we have walked only a short distance when we are met by a barouche, from which a bright blonde face under a straw bonnet greets us with graceful heartiness. We ascend, and in a few minutes are in Flatlands. Here there is no wood or bush. The land lies all open to the sky, and the houses, after we pass the village proper, are scattered at such wide intervals that only three or four are in sight. They are all farm-houses, and the fields are under high cultivation. But the view is uninteresting. Little grain is raised here, and only pasture enough for the necessary cattle. Cabbages, turnips, potatoes, and the various market- garden vegetables stretch before us in vast fields and in intermin- able succession. This tillage is very profitable. A clear profit of 300 dole. the acre is common, and 500 are sometimes obtained. The land is so fiat and low that there seems no visible reason why the great blue ocean in the distance should not come rolling in upon us. We approach what seems to be a patch of woodland left untouched in the clearing, but as we turn into a gate and pass up a short avenue we find that these trees, many of which are exotics, have all been planted with taste and cultivated with care. We descend at the porch of an irregular woolen house, low, and shaped something like an L, and the main part of which has evidently received additions at different times. It stands upon a farm of 100 acres, which the owner, who was bred to the law, but. who works it for profit, has brought to such a pitch of cultivation that he takes the prize offered by the State Agricultural Society for the best farm of 100 acres whenever he chooses to enter the list as a competitor. We enter the parlour, which differs in size and in general appearance from city parlours only by a certain look of comfort and ease, mingled with elegance, which with us is found oftener in the country than in the city. Soon, however, by unexpressed general consent we find ourselves in the library, a large apartment nearly square, and which is the pleasantest room in the house, and the one in which the family most do congregate. Low cases of richly moulded black walnut stretch all around it, and the mantle-piece is of the same material, and what Caleb Balderstone would call "conform." Over the bookcases bang pictures—family portraits, some Flemish landscapes, with a Cuyp among them, a Hogarth, and others. In a little cabinet, which I have often opened, is a silver bell carved by Benvenuto Cellini for Pope Clement VII. It came here from Stowe. But to me the great attraction of the room is our hostess—not the lady who drove to meet us, but her mother. She is called grandmamma by a. stout boy and a coquettish girl, but her blooming cheek, her bright blue eye, the natural silver curls which fall somewhat carelessly from under her cap (the only careless thing about her) a dimpled and exquisitely shaped hand, a manner the perfection of simplicity and grace, and withal a comfortable matronly plumpness which stops far short of stoutness, make me rejoice in the presence of this New England woman, for such she is. After the manner of New England women, she is a thorough housekeeper, and though her hand is often set off by lace worthy of it, and is soft as a rose-leaf, there is no household ditty that she does not thoroughly understand, nor any household office which, if there were need, she would hesitate to perform, doing it much better than any servant.
But at this rate we shall never get to the shooting ground. We have had a glimpse of this Yankee interior through the kind- ness of Colonel Berdan, for the trial of whose rifle the shooting to-day is chiefly arranged. Colonel Berdan, three years ago plain Mr., owes the military rank, which he has just laid aside without being able to divest himself of the title, to the fact that he has the reputation of being the best rifle shot in the country. The curious in such matters soon after the outbreak of the rebellion instituted a search into our sporting records, and it was found that although there was proportionately more rifle-shooting at the South than at the North, the Northern men were the best shots, and that at a match in a Slave State—Kentucky, I believe— Mr. Berdan had borne off the honours, and made a succession of the best shots ever made and recordedia the country. Therefore to him was committed the formation of a body of sharpshooters. He raised two regiments, which had an organization of their ovni, but which were distributed by companies through the army of the Potomac • and did excellent service,—in fact made movements possible which but for them would have been impossible. No man was admitted into this corps who did not make in the presence of appointed judges a certain shot at a distance of 250 yards, and the standard was very rigidly maintained. One day, when the Colonel himself was on the trial ground, two or three men who had failed to come quite up to the mark, and who were therefore rejected, said grumblingly that the Colonel himself, unless he were in full practice, might fail sometimes. He had not fired a shot for years, but he at once loaded a rifle, and asked where he should hit the target, which was in the shape of a man in uniform. The forehead was named. He put the ball in the centre of the forehead. At call he then perforated the right eye, and afterwards the left. When he asked where he should put another the reply was, "What good of picking out work for you, pick it out for yourself?" "Well," he said, "let him look out for his nose." He fired and put the ball right through the point of the nose, so that a line through the centre of the bullet hole in the middle of the forehead fell vertically through the centre of that in the nose. I took with wet paper, and have kept, an impression of the target with the shots. As the war went on the great desideratum in arms was found to be the same which has been so eagerly sought of late all over the world,—a breech-loading rifle, trustworthy for fine shooting, and which should be safe, reasonably clean, and not too heavy to be carried on a march. Colonel Berdan, who had a high reputation as a mechanician and a mechanical inventor, when his skill with the rifle was entirely unknown except to a few friends, set himself to work to supply this want, and he disappeared from the field and from the sight of men. After some months he came to light again, bearing a rifle which he expressed a willingness to have tested and compared with any other on all the important points just named. A trial was made, many riflemen and various rifles entering the lists. The target was set up at 1,200 yards, and at that distance Colonel Berdan put six balls out of seven into the bull's eye. No other man and no other rifle did anything worth mentioning. At this trial I was not present ; that to witness which we went down to Flatlands was made to bring the new rifle to the attention of our Ordnance Bureau, some of whose officers were present. The shooting ground lay about two miles away from the house, near a low range of sandy hills, which runs through the island about midway between the shores, and which is called the Backbone. Upon the first rise of one of these hills the target was set up, at a distance of three-quarters of a mile, measured with a surveyor's chain. To the great disappointment of those of us who had not a professional interest in fire-arms, we found that the trial was to be one of rifles, and not of riflemen. The rifles of all the celebrated makers and inventors in the world were there. There were more than twenty of them, British and American, including the Whit- worth muzzle-loader, and the Whitworth with Weatley Richards's breech-loading attachment, confessed on all hands then and there to be the best breech-loading rifle in existence. As guns were to be tested and not men, the officers all agreed that the rifles should be fired by one man, a foreign expert, and from an iron standard or carriage made for the purpose. It was dull business watching this work, done by the aid of screw elevators, telescopes, and human specks in the distance carrying little red flags. But the result was that with the Berdan rifle balls were put into the bull's eye, while with the others it was impossible to hit the target at all; the shot from the best of them falling almost vertically, either just before or just behind it, owing to the necessary elevation of the piece. On trying the penetration of this rifle it was found that while the most powerful of the others penetrated twenty-seven inches of deal board, this pierced thirty-two inches. As it was a breech-loader the inventor had of course provided for it fixed ammunition, and this was used without a par- ticle of grease, and, what seemed to please the officers quite as much as anything else, after all the firing the gun was just as clean at the breech, and from breech to muzzle, as it was just after the first shot. This result of course is due to the construction of the cartridge. The gun is of the size and weight of the ordinary full-sized Enfield rifle. I remember that in the Spectator's comments upon the last great rifle match in England it was remarked that the fine shooting was all done with pea rifles, and that for effective service a heavier ball was necessarY. This seemed to me an important point, and I therefore mention that this breech-loading rifle with which Colonel Berdan put six shots out of seven in the bull's eye at 1:200 yards carries a ball which weighs considerably more than an ounce. The war ended before this rifle could be introduced into the army. I wish that my correspondent had-had an opportunity of beating it or beating with it at Wimbledon.