The Ambrose Bierce Site


My Hunt For Ambrose Bierce
by Leon Day

Finding Bierce's Will and the Dunnigan Papers

Meanwhile, I went back to work. Reavis and Snow went to Sierra Mojada to confirm our right to mess up their graveyard. And I missed it, busy doing stupid chores for silly people at low wages. But luckily, I was eventually fired for lack of reverence and got a chance to do more research.

In October 1995, I went to El Paso to look through the papers of Haldeen Braddy. An English professor at University of Texas, El Paso, Braddy made a better reputation as a historian of the border. I can't rate his work on Chaucer, but when he wrote about Villa, or the Columbus Raid, or the Punitive Expedition, folks paid attention.

I was dredging the archives because one of Braddy's lifetime projects was the disappearance of Ambrose Bierce. He started in the late 1920s and was at it until he died in 1980.

Braddy was a constant correspondent with Tom Mahoney, the El Paso newsman who did all the research for Carey McWilliams. Mahoney stopped his inquiry after meeting Gaston De Prida, who said he had checked it all out. It was not until the late 1960s that Mahoney turned up O'Reilly's tale in "Liberty" and sent copies to Braddy.

We know Braddy thought well of it, because he went to Sierra Mojada 29 May 1973. The photos he took are in his papers, box 39. But of his conclusions about the O'Reilly account, or the fate of the bones he got from the hoaxing deacon, I found nothing. Perhaps he didn't find anyone as helpful as Father Jaime, or talk to the right old man.

I turned to other mysteries. The biographers have not only left many, but have added quite a few over the years, as each re-mixes the basic work of Carey McWilliams with a little spice from his own prejudice. It's a pity that Bierce has never been written about by anyone who both liked and understood him -- conservatives are put off by his militant atheism, while liberals and socialists don't like his sour pessimism toward working-class power. Of course, Bierce had actually seen workers throw their weight around in the 1870s to no effect but riot, arson, and racism. So he could not look at it with any rosy, middleclass optimism -- he thought the line between honest protest and vicious anarchy dangerously thin. Bierce was right -- Americans are all too willing to use rifles and dynamite for improved political self-expression. Workers, bosses, or both, used to pick up these tools in every major strike. Our current disputes, fought with publicity and writs of law, are a recent and perhaps temporary achievement.

Bierce showed no reverence or respect for the rich of his times, either. He knew they ran the government, and saw they generally ran it unwisely. But he saw no clear alternative within the experiment we call democracy -- after all, fooling the dumbest half of the electorate amounts to "consent of the governed." His boss, William Randolph Hearst, had just shown how easy this was on questions so basic as war or peace, by conjuring a war with Spain out of atrocity tales.

So, when the question of votes for women arises, Bierce isn't interested in the justice or equity of the question.

If you think democracy itself an experiment -- inconclusive in his times -- why complicate it by doubling the number of voters? As it happened, none of the wonderful changes expected from letting women vote actually took place. There were no disasters either, unless you count Prohibition. It proved as simple to fool females as to dazzle their husbands and lovers. Wars were declared, treaties signed, and new navies built without a hitch. The women did not live up to the hopes of the left or the fears of the right, nor have they to date.

In modern times, Bierce would not qualify as an opponent of socialism. He thought it a logical way to organize production, awaiting only an electorate smart enough to run the system. We are still waiting. Every working class that has snatched power in this century has instantly searched for some clique of Mandarins or ideologues, surrendered their hegemony, and returned to the routine chore of raising their children. Is this good taste, or some terrible inferiority complex?

Here's an example of a writer-caused mystery. The mystified scribe is Roy Morris, Jr., whose Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company is the most recent bio. He is puzzled by an article clipped from the New Orleans States, and sent to his nephew's wife, Lora Bierce, November 5, 1913, from San Antonio. This is the text:

Traveling over the same ground that he had covered with General Hazen's brigade during the Civil War, Ambrose Bierce, famed writer and noted critic, has arrived in New Orleans. Not that this city was one of the places figuring in his campaigns, for he was here after and not during the war. He has come to New Orleans in a haphazard, fancy-free way, making a trip toward Mexico. The places that he has visited on the way down have become famous in song and story -- places where the greatest battles were fought, where the moon shone at night on the burial corps, and where in day the sun shone bright on polished bayonets and the smoke drifted upward from the cannon mouths.

For Mr. Bierce was at Chickamauga; he was at Shiloh; at Murfreesboro; Kenesaw Mountain, Franklin and Nashville. And then when wounded during the Atlanta campaign he was invalided home. He "has never amounted to much since then," he said Saturday. But his stories of the great struggle, living as deathless characterizations of the bloody episodes, stand for what he has amounted to since then.

Perhaps it was in mourning for the dead over whose battlefields he has been wending his way toward New Orleans that Mr. Bierce was dressed in black. From head to foot he was attired in this color, except where the white cuffs and collar and shirt front showed through. He even carried a walking cane, black as ebony and unrelieved by gold or silver. But his eyes, blue and piercing as when they strove to see through the smoke at Chickamauga, retained all the fire of the indomitable fighter.

"I'm on my way to Mexico, because I like the game," he said. "I like the fighting; I want to see it. And then I don't think Americans are as oppressed there as they say they are, and I want to get at the true facts of the case. Of course, I'm not going into the country if I find it unsafe for Americans to be there, but I want to take a trip diagonally across from northeast to southwest by horseback, and then take ship for South America, go over the Andes and across that continent, if possible, and come back to America again.

There is no family that I have to take care of; I've retired from writing and I'm going to take a rest. No, my trip isn't for local color. I've retired just the same as a merchant or businessman retires. I'm leaving the field for the younger authors."

An inquisitive question was interjected as to whether Mr. Bierce had acquired a competency only from his writings, but he did not take offense.

"My wants are few, and modest," he said, "and my royalties give me quite enough to live on. There isn't much that I need, and I spend my time in quiet travel. For the last five years I haven't done any writing. Don't you think that after a man has worked as long as I have that he deserves a rest? But perhaps after I have rested I might work some more -- I can't tell, there are so many thingsä" and the straightforward blue eyes took on a faraway look, "there are so many things that might happen between now and when I come back. My trip might take several years, and I'm an old man now."

Except for the thick, snow-white hair no one would think him old. His hands are steady, and he stands up straight and tall -- perhaps six feet."

What puzzled Roy Morris? When Bierce wrote Lora enclosing this clipping, he said: "You need not believe all that these newspapers say of me and my purposes. I had to tell them something."

"But what had he told them?" says Morris. "Picking through the quotes in the short States article, one sifts the words for a runic message."

So I sifted them, too. But after two or three readings, I couldn't turn up any Runes. It was all English, rather good journalism, and in such close agreement with everything Bierce had said to his friends, relatives, and ex-lovers in his last year that I found nothing strange. Thus I put the chore aside.

Some months later, reading the correspondence held by Yale's Beinecke Library, it became plain to me that the States article was just one of three that he was sending to his friends. The other two were from San Antonio papers. One held nothing special, but in the last some tough scribe cornered Bierce and provoked a political opinion. I excerpt it:

"There is one thing about President Wilson's Mexican policy that ought to be, as it is, generally commended by Americans," said Mr. Bierce at the Menger last night. "I refer to his resolute stand that no government not bottomed on justice and right can expect to get the moral support of the American Nation.

When it becomes generally understood that governments that spring from assassination will never be recognized by the United States, this fact will become a powerful deterrent to men who think of murder as the basis for a change of government. I wonder that no American President ever sought to establish such an American policy before. The fact President Wilson has established it and is elucidating it in word and deed is all the more praiseworthy therefore."

No wonder he warned Lora! He's been backed into an endorsement of Wilson's Mexican policy. He's just been in Washington, and knows there isn't really any Mexican policy yet, just a general disgust for the murderer Huerta, from the professor Woodrow Wilson, and his Secretary of State, the preacher William Jennings Bryan. Both these men are heirs to a tradition, generations long, in which the US erected and deposed any Latin state it wished by transfer of bribes, mercenaries, and guns.

It shows wonderful political aplomb that Bierce could get through these two paragraphs with a straight face.

In fact, snubbing Huerta was about the last thing Wilson did right. A couple of months after Bierce's death, the US Navy occupied the Mexican port of Vera Cruz, followed by an Army expeditionary force. The pretext was an insult to the American flag, which turned out to be non-existent, but the US armed forces faced those of Mexico for eight months. In the meantime, many patriotic Mexicans joined the decrepit federal army, hoping for a chance to kill invading gringos. They never got it. Huerta sent them north to fight Villa, instead.

Survey our policy toward Mexico right into the 1920s, and you will have a catalog of error. It is only luck that the cautious Wilson avoided the worst choices offered him.

Do you see how easy it was for Morris to make his mistake? He didn't know about the other clippings, so Bierce's innocent cautions to Lora became an enigma. I'll try to avoid similar goofs, but chances are that I will add some useless mysteries, too. When some future scholar shoots them down, it will be no sort of personal affront -- it will be progress.

It is remarkable that so many critics work so hard to find tricks in the life and work of Ambrose Bierce, one of the most honest, open, and simple literary figures of his time.

But it becomes boring after a while to discover mere error -- there is so much of it. Far more stimulating to discover a bold lie, for lies show motive.

The papers of Carey McWilliams are sheltered in the Special Collections of the University Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles. I found here a letter from the Recorder of the District of Columbia to McWilliams, explaining how he had been reading Carey's bio at work when one of his clerks remarked, "Oh! Ambrose Bierce! We have something from him here --" And she promptly retrieved AB's will, dated 5 Jan 1909. The records showed it had been dropped off at the office sometime in 1916. The Recorder made a photocopy and sent it with his note. Here it is:

In case of my death it is my wish and will that all my property of whatsoever kind, whether owned by me now or hereafter acquired, shall pass to the possession and ownership of Miss Carrie J. Christiansen, who for many years has been my best and truest friend and in all ways as a daughter to me. I hereby name her as executrix of this my last will and testament and request that no bond or security be required of her for performance of the duties so imposed.

The said Carrie J. Christiansen being fully informed of my wishes regarding my daughter, Helen Bierce Cowden, and my brother, Albert S. Bierce, will give to them out of my personal belongings such souvenirs and mementoes of my affection as she may chose to bestow, both my said daughter and my said brother being without need of further benefit from this will."

We omit the rest, as it is just legal form and the statements of the witnesses. After a while, I blundered into the story of why it got to the Recorder's office so late. The will, Bierce's pension papers, assignments of royalties to Carrie, and some of her own papers and jewelry were all in a safe-deposit box at Union Trust Company. Carrie went to court to have it opened on January 8, 1916. An alert bureaucrat at the US Bureau of Pensions noticed the story in the Washington papers, noted also that Bierce hadn't picked up his pension since September 4, 1913, and dropped him from the pension rolls February 5, 1917. When I got the pension files from the National Archives I had only been looking for a detailed description of his Civil War wounds, in case we ever got a chance to dig where O'Reilly had pointed. But this clumsy probing had led to an authentication of the will -- what scholars call "provenance" and detectives call "chain of custody."

Note again that the will does not give Helen Bierce anything except such personal souvenirs as Carrie Christiansen decides to bestow. Helen is a most unlikely choice for a literary executor. How then does she come into the possession of the valuable material that Carey McWilliams so frantically screened? She told Paul Jordan-Smith that it "fell into her hands." This can hardly describe any sort of formal agreement with Carrie's heirs, who we know got all of Bierce's money. Should they have got, as well, the letters and papers that proved to be worth as much or more when McWilliams and Zeitlin arranged their sale to Mrs. Marion Getz?

Some of us practiced cynics think a well-shown lie is a far better sign of reality than a sworn statement.

I found, with a great deal of trouble, the papers of Vincent Starrett. The University of Minnesota had them, under the care of Mr. Jamie Hubbs. He explained to me that some of the nicer parts of Starrett's collection had been sold off by the executor to pay his own fees. That this man had kept no record of these sales to private collectors! And that he was now safe from my vengeance, being dead himself. But in spite of these handicaps, Hubbs was able to find immensely useful correspondence between Starrett and Helen Bierce, Starrett and Carey McWilliams, Starrett and Adolphe Danziger (AKA De Castro).

Of course, this wasn't what I was looking for. I was still probing for some letter where O'Reilly might admit that his Bierce story was just another tall tale. It is a lot simpler to resolve historical disputes with documents, rather than skeletons. But I didn't find it. There were letters showing that Starrett noted and passed to McWilliams O'Reilly's interview with the NY Times. Carey gave the clippings to Helen Bierce, but told Starrett "I sense his basic insincerity. " This struck me interesting -- how do you "sense" things over 2800 miles with just a press clipping in your hands? Again, there was nothing to show that McWilliams ever bothered to get O'Reilly's story in greater detail. This didn't help much.

The Dunnigan File at Yale [John S. Dunnigan, clerk of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors] contains a letter from JSD to Franklin K. Lane, Wilson's Secretary of the Interior, dated 1 September 1914:

My Dear Frank,

Ambrose Bierce went to Mexico last year and his friends have heard nothing from him since last December. We are very anxious to learn whether he is living and the only way we know of to get any trace of him is through the State and War Departments. Won't you be good enough to have Mr. Bryan and Mr. Garrison make confidential inquiry to trace Bierce.

Bierce went into Mexico at Juarez sometime last Fall. He had credentials permitting him to pass through the Constitutionalists' territory and was accredited to the Villa forces. He did not enlist and did not take part in the activities of the campaign so far as we know. It was his intention to join with the Cavalry and go along as an observer. He had a considerable sum of money with him. The last any of us heard from him was a letter dated December 26th and posted at Chihuahua. In his letter he said that his subsequent addresses would be indefinite -- that he intended to go horse back and by rail, when possible, through to the west coast of Mexico and from there to South America. He expected to be gone a year or two. [I found that letter. Will present it later, as it is the only note in public record written from inside Mexico ‚ Leon Day]

Bierce was 71 years of age, and when he left Washington last Fall was feeling exceedingly strong and healthful. We are fearful that his health might have given way from exposure to the arduous life of campaigning in Mexico, or possibly he may have met with death at the hands of someone who knew he had money about him.

A plan of inquiry suggests itself that the State Department and the War Department make inquiry of the Constitutionalist officials and through the Consular service. Bierce being an American of striking appearance, his presence with the Villa forces would certainly have attracted attention to his identity- some one must have become acquainted with him.

You know Bierce's extreme sensitiveness and all along he has cautioned all of us who were in his confidence not to give publicity to any of his movements. Therefore we want to observe his wishes should he be alive, and for that reason I know you will have this inquiry made without publicity.

The rest of the letter is compliments to Lane and the Wilson presidency.

Of course, this round -- about beginning for the official search has nothing to do with Bierce being touchy. Carrie Christiansen is a DC schoolteacher who has to pretend virginity to keep her job. That's why the official search for Bierce was started through Dunnigan and Lane, not herself. The first logical question from State or War would have been "Who are you, really?" Bierce's daughter wasn't looking, his brother wasn't either, nor were his old girlfriends. Just Carrie.

We are indebted to her alone for whatever slim clues the US Government dredged up. But as Starrett put it, "The search has been lax, to say the least." Of course, by suggesting discretion, Dunnigan almost invited State to make a shallow inquiry. Publicity was exactly what was needed to bring out the reports of O'Reilly and Husk, which are probably buried in the debris of WWI paperwork.

It is also disappointing that the Dunnigan letters to Carrie Christiansen have been waiting at Yale for about thirty years, ignored by at least three biographers. Yale also holds six Mexican Revolution postcards which M.E. Grenander assumed were included with a letter to Helen Bierce from Laredo, 4 November 1913. But this can't be so. because some of them show the Tierra Blanca battle, which didn't happen until November 22. As you try to master the sadly dispersed collections of Bierce documents, it becomes obvious that much of this stuff comes from Carrie's personal papers -- and that her papers have been screened by someone hoping to stifle any scandal. Helen Bierce, or her agents, have done a good job -- maybe a much better one than Paul Jordan-Smith could promise in the early 192Os.

It has been a thorough job. As I write, I have before me an affidavit from the Clerk of the Superior Court, Los Angeles County, California. He explains that the records of Ambrose Bierce's divorce are missing from his files. The folder where they ought to be is empty. So how or if Ambrose responded when his wife sued him for divorce in late 1904 is hidden from us.

He could have said, "Mary Ellen Day and I have been about equally faithless to each other since we returned from England in 1875." And he could have said something more polite. But nobody knows what he did say, as the records are gone. Of course, lawyers know better how to censor public record than laymen do. Carey McWilliams, the lawyer, wrote the first good biography of Bierce under the aegis of Helen Bierce, who as we have seen, wanted no scandal.

Of course, I wouldn't dare suggest that McWilliams might razor-blade public records -- except that I already caught him lying to Starrett about Bierce's will. Someday, a really good historian will figure out this stuff -- somebody who has the patience to confront more than the simple problem of Bierce's absence. I decline.

All along, I was on the lookout for references to the truthfulness and reliability of Tex O'Reilly. When Tex first presented his Pecos Bill stories, J. Frank Dobie, the top Texas scholar, wrote in the margins "More invention than folklore." When I read this scribble at the University of Texas, Austin, Special Collections, it set me thinking how similar the Pecos Bill tales were to the Irish folk -- stories that O'Reilly probably heard sitting on his father's knee. Same sort of thing, really, just a wolf- raised Western cowboy instead of an Irish giant.

Anyhow, Dobie didn't feud with O'Reilly. Perhaps he reflected that Texas is a new country, and a big one, with a severe folklore shortage that Hollywood hadn't begun to supply in 1923 when O'Reilly went to print in Century Magazine. Another critical comment came from Dr. Ira J.Bush, the El Paso physician who was a witness to much of the Mexican Revolution and a player in part of it. He wrote in Gringo Doctor,1939: "Another legionnaire was Tex O'Reilly, a happy-go-lucky, fighting Irishman, known as the biggest liar in the legion. Judging from stuff he has written for some of the magazines since then regarding the important part he took in the revolution, "Tex" can yet qualify. According to his story of the affair, it was fortunate that Madero had him in his army, else he would never have won the revolution."

But I had read O'Reilly's books. He made no claims to being decisive in any battle -- or any campaign -- much less any entire revolution. Tex was more likely to relate the times when his legs saved his brains than those where his brains saved the battle. So what had he said that especially annoyed Dr. Bush?

Ira Bush's most flamboyant accomplishment on behalf of the Madero Revolution was the theft of a Civil War cannon from City Hall Plaza in El Paso. With a few friends, Bush stole it, hid it, had ammunition made for it, and then smuggled it past Army patrols into Mexico, along with a Colt-Browning machine gun, two hundred Mauser rifles and plenty of ammo. It was a feat of not just daring, but organization. Bush proudly reports that the cannon did noble work at Ojinaga and Camargo, terrified the forces of Porfirio Diaz, and hastened Madero's victory.

But as with modern weapons, the reports of the supplier may differ from those of the user. Across the border, O'Reilly was not charmed by the chance to manage a 12-pounder Napoleon:

"Who's going to fire it?" I asked them.

Jimmie Bulger and I were the only men in the bunch who knew anything about artillery, and Jimmie had the machine gun. They told me, "You are."

"The hell you say! That cannon hasn't been fired for fifty years."

They said, "It's a cannon, isn't it? We heard you needed artillery."

O'Reilly's caution was reasonable. The gun had been cast in 1846,first served in the Mexican War, and was later captured from Union forces at the battle of Valverde, New Mexico. The Confederate invaders were pretty decisively smeared by Colorado Volunteers at Glorieta Pass, and then made a threadbare and hungry retreat to EL Paso. And they were so proud of seizing a whole battery of cannon at Valverde that they dragged them back through the mountains west of the Rio Grande. Other ordnance they hid or destroyed, but these guns were trophies of their best fight, and when they left EL Paso and regrouped to San Antonio, 600 miles east, they took the Yankee cannon.

Except one, some think. This gun had been nicked in the axle by a Yankee cannonball at Glorieta Pass. It was left behind, fell into the custody of the US Army, and was later given to the McGinty Club Democratic Party machine as a ceremonial piece. With a couple of home-made cannons, it made joyful noises to the Lord and the voters at many rallies and barbecues. When the McGinty Club disbanded, they donated it to El Paso, and it was displayed on City Hall Plaza, awaiting Dr. Bush.

It was thought that the McGinty Cannon was the same gun named "Blue Whistler" by the Confederates. One gun in the Union battery spouted darker smoke than the others, and made a funny sound -- signs, perhaps, that it was already worn out by Civil War times.

Anyway, Tex was working with equipment that hadn't shot anything but newspaper wads for fifty years.

After we came back to Ojinaga with Villareal we planned an attack with our artillery -- the machine gun and the McGinty cannon. Fighting had been almost continuous for two months, but we had not been able to get into the town.

We planned to attack at daybreak a point where the Federals held a little chapel and a group of adobe houses. Opposite them we had four or five houses connected with trenches and an arroyo.

After dark Jimmie Bulger moved up with his machine gun, and a little breastwork of adobe bricks was made for him. About a hundred yards from him I was to go into action with the old McGinty cannon. The plot was that at the first light of dawn I was to fire at the chapel. The shot was a signal for a feint attack on all sides of the town, and simultaneously Jimmie was to open up with his machine gun and we were to attack and take the chapel and houses. One hundred Mexicans were lying in the arroyo, ready to charge.

I thought the old cannon would fall to pieces before I could get it into position. The wheels and tailpiece were of wood, probably as old as the gun, cracked and split and held together with wire and nails. But we eased it along and got it set up, and then I started to load it.

It was an old smoothbore, of course. We had some solid iron shot for it, and black powder, and the old-fashioned friction primers. I put in a charge of powder and tried to ram home one of the iron balls. The ball did not quite fit; We couldn't get it back to the powder. An open space was left between powder and ba11, and that was dangerous. We worked all night, trying every ball we had, and none of them would fit. Time was running short; it was almost dawn. I took a piece of paper, made a funnel and poured powder through the touchhole of the gun till it filled up the space. That made a heavy charge, too heavy. It took a braver man than I am to stand behind it and set it off.

There was a ten-foot cord with which the old-time gunner yanked fire through the hole in the primer, sending a shower of sparks down into the primer. I got a thirty-foot lariat and tied it to this cord, and I got back at the extreme end of the lariat.

Just as the sky began to show the first sign of dawn I gave the lariat a jerk. There was a terrific explosion, and that old McGinty cannon flew up in the air and turned a complete back somersault. And our Mexicans were so scared that they wouldn't charge. We couldn't get them to.

Firing began all around the town. Jimmie Bulger opened up with the machine gun, but the Mexicans wouldn't budge. The noise and the sight of that leaping cannon had shocked them almost out of their wits. They just lay there, loading and shooting mechanically, and shaking.

The cannon ball had dropped about twenty feet from the muzzle, and the wheels and carriage of the old cannon had fallen into hundreds of pieces of old rotten wood. Death Valley Slim came running over and yelled, "O'Reilly, for Christ's sake load that gun and keep it firing." Okay," I said, I will if you can find her?" So that attack failed.

Afterward we picked up the iron pieces of the McGinty cannon, and we got the iron wheels of a cultivator, and we carved wooden parts out of a cottonwood tree and put it all together again. That's the condition it is in now. It went all through the revolution with us, and then I returned it to El Paso. But we never fired it again."

So there's the historian's best friend, a direct contradiction. Dr. Bush and soldier O'Reilly can't both be right about the career of the McGinty gun across the border. But in this case there was a tie-breaker close at hand. An El Paso photographer, Homer Scott, joined the Americans who were fighting for Madero just after the collision O'Reilly reports. Scott left us with about a dozen good pictures of the McGinty gun being patched together with iron cultivator wheels and a chunk of cottonwood to replace its broken trail- -just as O'Reilly said. The photos are in the Otis Aultman photo collection at the El Paso Public Library.

After their victory, the Maderistas returned the McGinty cannon to El Paso. There wasn't much left of its original carriage, so they threw in one of their own home-made cannon, designed and built by Guiseppe Garibaldi, grandson of the liberator of Italy.

Bush's bad feeling for O'Reilly was explained. A Texan may smile if you say his wife is chubby, and smile again perhaps if you note that his children are homely, and only frown a little when you throw rocks at his dog. but if you make fun of his pet cannon, that hurts.

The sad state of the McGinty Gun's carriage was simple to understand -- it had been drying out in West Texas for fifty years with only politicians to care for it. But why didn't the cannonballs fit? Dr. Bush had been immensely careful about everything else.

The answer came from Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War, Hazlett, Olmstead, and Parks, 1983:

By the definitions we accept, every Napoleon was produced with 4.62-inch bore diameter, that of the traditional 12-pounder. Today oversize bores may be found up to 5.25 inches, apparently tapering to normal toward the bottom of the bore.

We speculate that the use of canister projectiles, increasing toward the end of the Civil War, may have produced the taper. Gas pressure and inertia could have caused the canister shot -- twenty-seven iron balls in a sheet metal can for the Napoleon- to jam and wedge outward. Increased jamming and increased velocity toward the muzzle reasonably accounts for the taper observed.

So if your gun is worn, and you have your projectiles made to fit bore diameter at the muzzle, you can't ram them down against the powder- just as Tex told us. If O'Reilly hadn't been in such a frantic hurry, he could have filled up the dead space with old newspaper, or even sand, and fired McGinty with better effect. Of course, the gun's carriage probably would have fallen to flinders anyway, but that turned out to be a mercy to the using forces.

Thus O'Reilly's story checked out again.


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