Behold, Les dernières cartouches, a glimpse at the battle of Bazeilles. Alphonde de Neuville painted this majestic work in 1873. The battle had been fought only a few years before and had changed the world. It was this vision that blazed vividly in my mind while out on an excursion.
I was seeing this painting in the curling smoke of my Pietta made .44 Navy Colt from Cabela’s. I was squirrel hunting in the foothills of Colorado and slinging lead into trees like Doc Holiday on a bend. My hammer clicked and I began to reload. Doing that with a gun designed in 1851 isn’t easy. It’s what got me thinking about the painting and the battle that went with it.
The battle Alphonde painted was fought in Bazeilles France, a little town just a few kilometers from the modern border with Belgium. On September 1, 1870, a division of French Troupes de Marine ambushed an attacking Bavarian army. The battle was a defensive reargard to slow the Northern German juggernaut. Napolean III and his army were encircled in Sedan and Bazeilles was on its flank. Beginning before dawn, a battle took place that saw the town change hands four times. At the end of the day over 5,000 Bavarians and 3,000 Frenchman lay dead. The Marines fought to the last bullet, in the last house, on the way to Sedan. Ultimately the battle was a loss for the French and Sedan fell. Napolean III was captured and the French Second Republic ended. Paris fell the following January. While the embers of Paris still burned, the triumphant German Confederation met at Versailles. Several German duchies and municipalities merged with Prussia to create the modern German state. Alphonde’s painting shows the inside of the last house in Bazeilles. A weary soldier from the colonies stares into the afternoon longlight. His comrade fires his Chassepot at the Bavarians in the street. A bearded veteran is kneeling in the middle ground, reaching into the last box of bullets. If the French could massacre 5,000 of Bavaria’s finest with bullets made of paper, maybe I could shoot a squirrel or two.
Paper cartridges have been in use since the firearm became portable. They are simple to make and save time down the road. This method is designed for my revolver. It probably won’t work for long gun cartridges.
I use only the finest quality French cigarette papers. Zig-zag 1 1/4 inch are the easiest to work with. The ‘light’ zig-zags are too fragile and tear when rolling. To begin, set your powder measure to how many grains you want to throw. Consult your guns’ manual to see how much powder to use. Once you have your powder measure set it’s time to begin rolling. Simply set a wad and ball on top of the powder measure and wrap the paper around it.
Twist the paper around the top and hold the ball in place. Wrap the paper around the powder measure and moisten it. Don’t lick it. After a few rolls you’ll have lead and gunpowder all over your fingers. You don’t want to be licking that. Once the paper is wet, turn the whole setup upside down and let the powder fill the paper tube.