Friday, April 14, 2017

Woods Runner

I review Gary Paulsen books here quite a bit. That's because he always delivers. I've never read a book of his I did not like. Woods Runner is historical fiction.
It takes place at the start of the American Revolution - the War for Independence. Thirteen-year-old Samuel is out hunting when he notices a lot of smoke rising. He runs home to find it burned to the ground, with no sign of his parents. But he notices tracks indicating the British soldiers have taken his folks with them, so he sets out to track them down. I don't want to tell you the whole story, but Paulsen does something different in this book: Scattered throughout the novel are short explanations of sides that fought during the war, the weapons, the terrible state of medical knowledge at the time, "Frontier Life," and the difference between the Continental (regular) Army, the volunteer militia, and the Rangers (small groups of guerrilla fighters), plus other interesting facts from that period.

The firearm issued to the British army was called the Brown Bess musket. It was a smoothbore and fired a round ball of .75 caliber, approximately three-quarters of an inch in diameter, with a black-powder charge, ignited by flint, that pushed the ball at seven or eight hundred feet per second. when it left the muzzle (modern rifles send the bullet out at just over three thousand feet per second).

Because a round ball fired from a smoothbore is so pitifully inaccurate - the ball bounces off the side of the bore as it progresses down the barrel - the Brown Bess was really only good out to about fifty yards. The ball would vary in flight so widely that it was common for a soldier to aim at one man coming at him and hit another man four feet to the left or right...

The militia volunteers were usually used to supplement the Continental (soldiers), but were quite often not as dependable or steady as they could have been had they been trained better, and they often evaporated after receiving the first volley and before the bayonets came. Most of them were also issued smoothbore muskets and some had bayonets for them, but others had rifles, which were very effective at long range but could not mount bayonets.

Special Ranger groups, such as Morgan's Rangers, had an effect far past their numbers because of the rifles they carried. A rifle, by definition, has a series of spiral grooves down the inside of the barrel - with the low pressure of black powder, the rifling then was with a slow twist, grooved with a turn of about one rotation for thirty-five or forty inches. A patched ball was gripped tightly in the bore and the grooved rifling, and the long bore (up to forty inches) enabled a larger powder charge, which allowed the ball to achieve a much higher velocity, more than twice that of the smoothbores. And the high rate of rotation, or spin, stabilized the ball flight, resulting in greater accuracy.

I enjoyed Woods Runner. It's a good tale, and I learned a little bit about warfare in that time that was interesting. Give it a try!

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