AIR-GUN, a pneumatic engine resembling a musket, for the purpose of discharging bullets by means of compressed air. It consists of a lock, stock, barrel, and ramrod. The stock is made hollow, and provided with proper cocks for filling it with compressed air by means of a force pump. The lock is nothing but a valve which lets into the barrel a portion of the air compressed in the stock, when the trigger is pulled. The gun is loaded with wadding and ball in the ordinary way, and the air suddenly introduced from the stock propels it with a velocity proportional to the square root of the degree of compression of the air. There are many ways of arranging air-guns, and there is no doubt that if the discovery of powder had not been made at an earlier date, these instruments would have reached a point of excellence little suspected. The last improvement is duo to a scientific gentleman, J. Cornelius Borda. It consists in loading the reservoirs in the gun with a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen in the due proportion for producing water, or more practically, with a mixture of air and ordinary gas-light. The gun is besides provided with a small electric battery, so connected with the trigger, that at the moment a portion of the gas is let out, an electric spark is produced, which determines the instantaneous combustion of the mixture into steam at a very high pressure, in consequence of the excessive heat resulting from the chemical transformation. This air-gun may propel a ball as far as a musket, while an ordinary air-gun propels it only 60 or 80 yards.
1861- Hand-book for the War.
THE MYSTERIOUS FOE.
" Tramp ! tramp! tramp!—tramp! tramp! tramp!"
Company — was returning from a scouting expedition. The road they were pursuing led directly to the camp, the illuminated tents of which they could see gleaming out distinctly in the moonlight about a mile ahead.
Captain prided himself upon the orderly manner in which he always led his command into camp; so as they approached the promised haven of rest and repose for the night, the men, who had hitherto been marching on the " route step," were ordered to form into four ranks, and to " right shoulder shift arms."
Soon the steady, regular tramp of a hundred feet striking the earth simultaneously, announced that each man was in his place, and " keeping step" to perfection, while the voice of the captain was heard chiming in harmony with the sound.
"Now — you've — got — it — d—n—it—keep—it. Left—left — left! Now—you've—got—it—d—n — it — keep—it! Left — " .
" Halt! What in the devil was that ? A bullet ?
The men stood still, turning their eyes in every direction. Behind them, and upon their left extended a tract of open country, which was illuminated by the beams of a full moon; but as far as they could see—a long distance—not even the outline of a human figure could be discovered, while on looking to the right, they saw nothing but a wide stream of water, beyond which stood a few tall pines and several oaks, scattered promiscuously together.
"D'ye see anything, Tom?"
" Nothing; do you, Jack ?"
" No: guess it was only a bird going past."
" If it had been a bullet we'd have heard the report of the gun."
" I think I saw the bird's wing as it flew by," exclaimed a fifth.
" Forward march!" ordered the captain.
" Tramp! tramp! tramp! tramp! tramp! tramp!"
" Now—you've—got—it—d—n it—keep—it. Left—left— left! Shoulder arms! Now—you've—got—it "
" Buz-z-z-z-zween—woo-o-o-o-rip !"
"Halt! That's a bullet!"
Again the men stood still, looking about them with the same result as before.
" I think it came from the right," said the captain. " Front ?" he continued, drawing his sword.
The company obeyed.
" Fix bayonets!"
This was done.
" Shoulder arms! Forward march!" And led by their officer, away went the company in the direction of a group of trees on the right.
They hunted the little grove thoroughly, even looking up into the branches of the trees. But it was labor thrown away. No enemy was in sight.
"This is strange," said the captain, "the noise was certainly that of a bullet."
" But what surprises me is that we didn't hear the report of the gun," remarked one of the men.
An Irishman belonging to the company was seen to cross himself.
" Whist! it's the devil's own bullet, shure I" said he.
"Fall in, men! fall in!" ordered the captain, "this must be reported to the colonel. It's a strange business!"
The ranks were soon formed, and the men again upon the road moving toward the camp. They had not gone more than ten' yards, however, when " whiz-z-zip!" came another of the mysterious bullets. This time one of the men clapped his hand to his leg just above the knee, and fell in the road, writhing with pain.
Three of his comrades were detailed to carry him to the camp, while the rest of the party instituted another search for the foe. The result of their efforts, however, was the same as before. No enemy was to be found, and though they strained their eyes over the open country beyond, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some retreating figure, not even a shadow or outline of the kind was to be seen.
Astonishment was depicted upon every face, while a few of the men who were superstitiously inclined, turned pale, and shook their heads ominously.
Leaving a guard of six men under the charge of a corporal, to watch the grove, the captain formed the rest of his company, and again marched toward the camp, this time without interruption. The news of the singular affair having already been circulated through the regiment by the three men who had been deputed to take charge of their wounded comrade, the Zouaves had turned out to a man to witness the arrival of the party, and no sooner did the " heroes" make their appearance and break rank, than they were plied with questions on all sides. The captain lost no time in making his report to the colonel, and a few moments afterwards, the latter mounted his horse and rode to the grove. But his efforts to solve the mystery were rewarded with no better success than that which had attended the exertions of his inferior. He returned to camp half an hour afterward, with a puzzled countenance, and having ordered a guard to the relief of the six men left at the grove, he retired to his quarters.
For three days the place was closely watched by small details of armed men, who relieved each other at regular intervals ; but no enemy was seen, nor were the mysterious bullets again discharged during that period.
Accordingly, believing that the foe, by some means or other, had effected his escape, on the first night of his " debut," the colonel ordered the guard, which was much needed for other duties, to be withdrawn. Shortly afterward, the stream near the grove became a favorite resort of the men, who sought its cool, clear waters to refresh themselves with a bath. One morning, about ten days from the time of the withdrawal of theguard, Tom K and Bill T left their tent for the purpose of enjoying a good wash in the stream before reveille. A brisk walk of twenty minutes' duration enabled them to reach the bank, and they were soon after sporting together like "young gods," in the refreshing element. Presently, plunging into the water,, side by side, they struck out for a race, and Tom, who was the most powerful swimmer of the two, had passed a few yards ahead of his companion, when his ears were suddenly saluted by a whizzing noise, followed by a sound something between a gurgle and a groan. The latter noise evidently proceeding from his companion. Tom hastily turned himself around. The arm of his friend was alone visible, raised above the surface of the stream, the water of which, at that place, was stained with blood. Surprised and horrified, he lost no time in making his way to the spot, when, with a quick dive, he grasped his sinking comrade about the waist, and bore him to the surface just in time to receive his farewell gasp, as the poor fellow's soul fled into eternity.
The temple horribly torn and shattered proclaimed that he had been struck by a bullet—the mysterious bullet of the unseen foe!
Having gained the bank, Tom deposited the dead man upon the ground, and looked around him. But he could see no sign of an enemy.
At the same moment, he heard footsteps approaching along the road, which he surmised were those of a picket guard which had been sent out on the day previous, and was now probably returning to the camp.
Hastily dressing himself, Tom eagerly awaited the approach of his comrades, in order to acquaint them with that which had just taken place, while he continued to keep his eyes fixed keenly upon the grove.
Presently, the guard made its appearance, and Tom lost no time in relating his story to the horrified listeners, who gazed upon the body of the dead man with feelings of mingled grief and indignation, which the fate of their comrade, who had been a great favorite with all, was well calculated to excite.
"By heavens!" exclaimed the captain, fiercely, "that 'bloody reb,' whoever he is, must be concealed somewhere about this grove, and we'll see if we cannot find some means to unearth the rascal. Front!" he added, drawing his sword.
"Are your pieces all loaded ?"
The Zouaves answered in the affirmative.
" Now, men, aim straight for the grove. We will see what virtue there is in cold lead for rousing this invisible fellow. Ready!—aim!—fire!"
The volley of musketry crashed upon the air; and at the same moment we all heard a wild, unearthly cry, which seemed to proceed from the bowels of the earth, directly ahead.
" Forward!" shouted the captain, exultingly,. and the next moment we were all in the grove. But no enemy nor even the trace of one could be discovered.
" Boys!" said the captain, " the devil himself must have a hand in this business. I can make nothing of it."
We returned to camp carrying the dead body of poor Bill T between us; and the whole regiment was again roused to a pitch of wonder and excitement when our story was told to them.
By the colonel's orders a guard detail was again dispatched to the grove with orders to maintain a most vigilant watch—particularly at night.
Bill T was buried that same afternoon, and in the
evening, Tom wrote a letter to the brother of the deceased, giving an account of his melancholy fate.
" Boys," said our company cook next morning, as the men stood clustered near his fire, discussing the melancholy affair of the previous day, " I am short of wood, and as the logs have all disappeared hereabouts, I know of no place so handy where any can be got, as at that very grove about which you are all talking. Suppose you take three or four axes and knock over some of those oaks. They'll make capital firewood."
Knowing that our dinner depended upon the cook's supply of fuel, we cheerfully complied, and shouldering three or four axes, we were soon on our way to the place of which the cook had spoken.
The guard, of course, offered no objection to our entrance, and we were soon plying our axes vigorously.
"Halloa, boys, this tree is hollow!" suddenly exclaimed one of the men, as he struck his axe against the trunk, which was of very large circumference.
We looked towards him as he spoke, and saw him repeat the blow, when, to the surprise of all present, a piece of the trunk, which it was evident, had carefully been sawed from that part of the tree and afterward fitted in so as to be taken out and replaced at will, fell to the earth, revealing an aperture about the size of a man's hand.
" Good heavens! look here!" exclaimed the Zouave, as he peered through the hole, " here's a sight, boys!"
We advanced, and each man in his turn peered into this novel contrivance, when a spectacle was revealed, which was well calculated to excite feelings of horror and astonishment.
As we have previously remarked, the tree was of large circumference, and found to be hollow. In this hollow we now beheld the white ghastly visage of a corpse, with staring eyeballs and face smeared with blood! Two or three bullet holes in the trunk of the tree proclaimed the manner of his death, for it was evident that the volley of the picket guard on the day before had accomplished the work.
The hiding-place of our enemy was discovered!
With our axes we soon laid bare enough of the trunk to reveal the whole person of the rebel, who stood in an upright position, and still held clutched in the stiffened fingers of his left hand a curious looking weapon, which, upon examination, was found to be an air gun! Through the aperture in the trunk, he had taken aim and discharged this noiseless rifle upon our men, replacing the slide in the opening when they approached.
Over his shoulders was slung a haversack, which was found to contain enough provision to last for nearly a week, and it was thus made evident that the rebel had remained in those close quarters during the time the grove was so vigilantly guarded on the occasion to which we have alluded. After the withdrawal of the guard, he had made his exit, but only to return again with a fresh supply of provision and ammunition. The result is already known to our readers.
We will now inform them that the trunk of the tree, owing to a lightning stroke or some other cause, was hollow from the base to the top, and was not more than fifteen feet in height. Two or three gnarled and crooked limbs projected outward near the opening in the summit, around one of which the rebel had fastened the end of a slender rope, which extended to the bottom of the cavity, thus affording him the means of entering the retreat or of making his exit from the same. The formation of the branch, covered as it was with a thick growth of leaves, had prevented our men from seeing the end of the rope where it was fastened.
Thus secure from observation in his curious quarters, the rebel had been enabled to send forth the messenger of death by means of a gun which gave no Warning note of its presence save the spiteful whiz of the bullet it discharged.
Pen-pictures of the war: Lyrics, Incidents, and Sketches of the Rebellion, 1864