Sort of doubt that this will stay up on Youtube so you guys might want to take a peek. Ran across this link on the webpage for the Blue Book of Airguns. Sat down with a drink and listened to it. Beeman had so many "slips," I just had to reply.. a little snarky at the end but.. that's what I believe: Beeman is an incompetent historian. Doesn't mean he's not a nice guy. Well, never thought that he would reply, but, he did.
Thought a bit about how to reply and then did so with the one Beeman "slip" that bothered me the most: Staudenmayer. See the Youtube page for what I wrote. What I didn't write on Youtube is that there is a very practical reason for Beeman to push Staudenmayer later than he should be. That's because if Staudenmayer was in business by, lets say, 1799 then the air gun that M. Lewis purchased in Phil. PA in 1803 could well have been made by Staudenmayer. By the means of this one little "slip," Beeman gets to completely ignore the possibility that copies of the Girandoni air gun were being produced in London ( which is right at the start of the Industrial Revolution) for at least 4 years before M. Lewis stepped into that Phil. store and air gun history.
This message has been edited by DTFletcher on Jun 15, 2012 6:52 AM This message has been edited by DTFletcher on Jun 15, 2012 6:46 AM
Out of the entire expedition's equipage, the only thing that seems to have miraculously survived is this air rifle which has no solid provenance. From what I understand, there is no exact description in the expedition's journals or, at least, one sufficient enough to positively identify this gun from among several similar air guns of the period.
Beeman puts a lot of credence in coincidence. For example, he cites his gun's repaired lock as final proof positive. While the mainspring from the Beeman gun does seem to tie in to an account of a repair to the expedition's gun, it is pure conjecture on Beeman's part. Is his spring even the result of a repair? Beeman asserts that the spring came from a farmer's file due to some faint cross-hatchings that appear to be a tooth pattern. I'm not sure if a file from that time period would serve in a metallurgical sense. Would it have the temper and flexibility to be used as a spring? I do know that 'smiths often fashioned knives from files. A knife blade might have been a more readily available, not to mention dispensable, source. (Files didn't grow on trees but everyone had a knife and there were probably some to spare.) At any rate, there is no evidence as to when or where Beeman's spring was made, be it on the journey or in some shop on either continent.
I just skimmed Beeman's "New Evidence on the Lewis and Clark Air Rifle an Assault Rifle of 1803". He makes a good many assumptions. For example, he cites a repair to his gun attributed to damage rendered when a canoe ferrying the expedition's gun was swamped. All that is mentioned in the journals is that the gun was put out of order and the sights knocked. Any gun with sights so misaligned would have been called that. He also disputes an eye witness account of the gun being demonstrated, calling the author's credibility into question, thereby eliminating contradictory testimony. A historian would have to include that information, if only as a qualifier.
What is most troubling about the article is its attempts to strengthen Beeman's argument. There are even pictures of stock decorations with the accompanying captions -
(Describing several little flourishes carved on either side of a crudely inletted brass decoration, etc.)
"Underside of the forearm of the Beeman Girandoni, showing the carved "lightning bolt" lines which may have been added during the Lewis & Clark expedition. Cowan reports that Indian experts indicate that such marks very likely were made to increase the powerful magic effect of the airgun to the Indians."
That's reading a whole LOT into what is, frankly, six short wiggly lines, not at all the traditional zig-zags used in many cultures to symbolize lightening.
(Here we have another example, this time a braided line pattern.)
"Middle underside of forearm of Beeman Girandoni, showing "string of beads" carving of unknown significance. The "lightning bolt" and "string of bead" lines shown in the above two figures are not found on other known specimens of the Girandoni military repeating air rifles. Note, especially in places like the bottom of the carved loop and the defect in the "string of beads" shown in Fig. 19 above, and the tiny gouge marks around the lower left lightning bolt in Fig. 19, that these extra decoration marks clearly were not made by a master gunstock worker with fine stock carving tools, but rather they are the nature of carving that one would expect from someone very good with a very sharp, ordinary field knife - as on a wilderness expedition.
Even these special carvings have been very carefully copied by Ernie Cowan onto the four museum copies of the Beeman Girandoni."
One must, upon examination, agree with Beeman that these embellishments were not the work of a professional wood carver. Especially not the work of one who was "very good with a very sharp, ordinary field knife"! In fact, they are typical of folk art and can be found on any number of guns from the period. They appear, to my eye, to be the usual amateurish attempts at personalizing or decorating guns, usually performed at some later point in time when a gun has lost much of its original value and is in the hands of a subsequent owner. The interpretations by Native American "experts" smack mightily of finding reasons to support a conclusion. ("Tell me the answer and I will create the explanation.") Actually, in this respect, his article reminded me of Eric von Daniken's Chariot of the Gods.
The upshot of all this is that Beeman's gun might have been the one taken with L&C and that's about all you can truthfully and unequivocally say. Within the small community which has digested and regurgitated his claims and "proofs", it might pass muster but, if this were, say, the helmet of Alexander the Great or the Holy Grail, the majority of his assertions would never be accepted.
Here's a question - Has he ever had the wood carbon-dated to see how old the gun is? Some place used to offer this service to owners of antique firearms. At least it would rule out a later copy, etc.
I've read all of Beeman's writing most carefully and the number of items unsupported by any sort of documentation is huge. As I recall 40 to 50 distinct issues. However, the single issue that best shows Beeman's lack of professionalism is his treatment of Staudenmayer. Shaun Brown, a resource that Beeman lists in his work, provides the absolute proof (City of London tax records) that Stuadenmayer was at work by 1799. What Beeman is doing is nothing less than fraud. This is not a "slip." This is not a simple mistake. He's doing this for the sole purpose of protecting his conclusion that M. Lewis carried, not a common English copy, but a true Austrian Military Girandoni. Sadly, this is all too typical behavior for Beeman.
Generally, I try not to go after Beeman on this forum. If I was concerned enough about the longterm impact of Beeman's misinformation to point out all the errors in his work, it would be a full-time job. However, when I saw his video on Youtube, jammed packed with basic historic errors (Leupold II?!), I made the decision to respond. The general public has the right to know that at least some air gun history "experts" completely disagree with his conclusions. Besides myself, one of the most widely agreed upon air gun history experts, Eldon Wolff, wrote, "There are no undisputed examples of the Girandoni." So, this is not just a private, personal grudge match with Beeman.
First candidate was one of the Kunsler air guns made in Phil. which now reside in the VMI collection. Beeman did a couple of articles on these guns and probably spent 5 years or more researching on them. Note that even when it was shown by irrefutable original documentation that Kunsler was not in business early enough for M. Lewis to have purchased them, Beeman utterly ignored that and continued on. Ignoring information and people who do agree with him is classic Beeman behavior.
Then, when the Thomas Rodney dairy entries were discovered (not by Beeman) he wrote the infamous "16 Reasons the L&C Air Gun Cannot be a Girandoni." This was the article were my relationship with Beeman ended. The 16 Reasons article was just the biggest bunch of BS I've ever seen written and the way he treated Thomas Rodney was despicable and inexcusable. Note that, when it served his own purpose to refute the 16 Reasons, Beeman found it effortless to dismiss all 16 in a few paragraphs. So, even though Thomas Rodney, by Beeman's own writing, was now vindicated, Beeman continued with his disgraceful treatment of this very fine and noble person.
Then, from his own collection, a gun with no provenance, on the slimmest of evidence is now the chosen one.
My argument with Beeman on this one is not so much that this gun is the one carried by L&C, because I also believe that they indeed did carry a gun almost identical, instead, my argument is about this gun being a Austrian Army Girandoni. I'm convinced that it was snstead made in London, England along with a bunch of others just like it. Some are marked Staudenmayer, some are marked Mortimer, some are completely unmarked, some have been booger'd up by London Dealers to fool collectors into paying a premium for a rare Austrian Military Air Gun. For me, the clincher is that all of these guns are essentially the same thing. Same caliber, same stock inletting, same hammer, same external latch guide screw, etc, etc, etc.
Fundamentally, Beeman is not an honest broker of information. Because of this, his work is unreliable and not worthy of serious consideration.
Wrote Kunsler, should have been Lukens. Some folks cling to the idea that M. Lewis air gun was made in Philadelphia by Lukens. see the Lewis and Clark link on http://www.bryanandac.com/
It was Michael Carrick who uncovered the information on Lukens business history in Philadelphia, which makes it impossible for the Lewis and Clark air gun to have been made by Lukens. Of course, the Lukens airguns are single shot only. Which conflicts directly with the firsthand report written by Thomas Rodney.
I was there at the Reno Airgun show, where you were so GaGa over Dr. Beeman you were like a teenaged girl swooning over the Beatles! Yes, the "good Dr" made his presentation to PROVE beyond all doubt the L&C gun was a Lukens, and you backed it 100%!
What changed everything, for all of us, was the diaries of Thomas Rodney. Even Beeman no longer believes anything that he presented at the Reno show. Today, Beeman and I are in complete agreement upon what type of air gun that M. Lewis carried. The big story is settled: the air gun described in Baker/Currie (the Beeman/Girandoni) is exactly the same type of air gun carried by M. Lewis.
Beeman and I certainly have our disagreements, but these are only about some the back story details of history. He thinks his air gun was made in Austria, I think it was made in England. That's it. We both agree that the Baker/Currie design is correct.
...I think the way Dr Beeman has gone about 'proving' that his own rifle is the actual Lewis & Clark gun exposes a tension between the former scientist; a marine biologist versed in the scientific norm of advancing a hypothesis and setting out to disprove it, and the airgun collector. The collector's desire to own what nobody else can hope to own must test any commitment to scholarly objectivity.
Having followed Dr Beeman's career over the years, I see someone very focused on achieving his goals. Building a successful company founded largely on re-packaging existing products for a different market suggests to me someone who understands the persuasive force of marketing. Entering and aggressively developing the niche pioneered by Robert Law and turning high-end German match rifles into must-have objects of desire for US consumers was the work of someone who really knows how to sell a message.
I see the Blue Book of Airguns as evidence of Dr Beeman's transformation from scientist to businessman/collector. Rather than set out to produce a book with the academic rigour and pursuit of completeness of, say, John Griffiths' Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, Dr Beeman appears to have conceived the BBoA (with its 'price guide' a powerful tool to influence the marketplace) as an extension of his brand.
For all the BBoA's good points, errors in content that persist edition after edition undermine its credibility as a work of record. Marking up the value of German-made products carrying unusual Beeman company markings says a lot to me about his attitude to collecting. Half-hearted attempts to record variations in the production of certain models of air rifle, despite collectors expert in such details being active on this forum and others, also do little to help the BBoA's credibility as a reference work.
I suspect Dr Beeman will go down in airgun history as a innovator, salesman and collector of note. But as an airgun scholar...?
Robert Beeman introduced me to airguns about 25 years ago through his catalogs. From them, I built a body of knowledge about a FEW things in the airgun world. Granted, that body of knowledge was skewed in the direction of me thinking, for a time, that his products were inherently superior to those of the competition (and, strangely, even to the exact same product sans his brand name), but it was more knowledge than I had previously.
Fortunately, I came across Tom Gaylord, the Airgun Letter, the Yellow Forum and many other sources of information that expanded my horizons and built a fuller, more complete body of knowledge. Still, I can't help but be grateful for the work that Beeman did. In my own field of airgun knowledge, Beeman was the seed planter. Gaylord watered and the entire airgun community (through forums, etc.) gave the increase. I honestly don't know if I would have ever experienced this bounty had it not been for those initial seeds planted by the old Beeman catalogs.
Huckster? Maybe, but that seems a bit strong.
Whatever, Beeman was and is, he played a major role in my becoming an airgun enthusiast. For that alone, I'm inclined to cut him a great deal of slack.
As for the Lewis and Clark gun . . . how many of us would even know Lewis and Clark carried an airgun if it were not for the writings of Beeman?
This message has been edited by McEowen on Jun 17, 2012 3:33 PM
I'm thinking that information came to light with the publishing of their journals.
All that aside, you have only to read Beeman's website where he tries to substantiate his claim. He starts out reasonably well with the broken, repaired mainspring and then it goes completely downhill. What he has is a gun which someone got ahold of and crudely embellished. It could just have easily been done by a ten year old boy in a barn as by someone sitting by the expedition's campfires. Ditto the various bumps and bruises the gun has suffered in it's two-hundred years of existence. You simply cannot point out a dent and say unequivocally that it was made at a certain time and place if you don't have an eye witness report. There is absolutely nothing in the record to tie in any of the carvings and damage to Lewis and Clark.
Here is another question that seems answerable. Where was this gun made? If a true Austrian-manufactured gun and not an English-made copy, it should have a stock carved from a continental tree. That, I believe, is a reasonable supposition. It is not without the bounds of the current technology to determine the origin of that wood. Different areas of the globe have tell-tale elements which become incorporated into plants and animals so that you can, within some reasonable certainty, tell their origin. Beeman could submit it to that and a dating test, either carbon-dating or one which may prove more exact and reliable. These are the kind of things which he should be pursuing instead of examining folk art incising and then finding non-expert witnesses to support his theory.
This message has been edited by RedFeather on Jun 17, 2012 8:15 PM
Wrote the first articles that I'm aware of on the Lewis and Clark Air Gun in 1956. Been meaning to scan and post his suff, for a while. Will try and get it done this evening.
Charter's work is just too early to have benefited from the information gained over the last few years, especially the Thomas Rodney diaries. But, in his opening he had what I have always thought was a very insightful thing to say.
"The ideal man to do research into this subject would be one who was well versed both in the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the times and who also knows the history of air guns. Since the combination probably does not exist, the writer, who knows air-guns and has a smattering of knowledge about the expedition will contribute what he can."
The part I have taken to heart is the "well versed.. of the times." Because of this, I've worked hard on the general history of this era. By understanding the larger context of what's going on, it's possible to sometimes see things that others miss.
Most important, especially since we learned that the L&C gun was made in Europe, is what's the history of foreign trade to the U.S.A. circa 1800? Where was the U.S. getting foreign goods from? Where did those goods come into the U.S.? As it turns out, there are some very clear answers to these questions. Foreign manufactured goods came to the U.S. from England. England effectively had a trade monopoly on manufactured goods going to the U.S. and guarded them jealously. The war of 1812 was partially the result of this, but, in 1802/03 when Merriwether Lewis purchased his air gun, basically all foreign manufactured goods came to the U.S. from England. England was in the middle of it's Industrial Revolution and foreign export was a vital element of it's economy. On the other hand, Austria had no foreign export trade that I can find any evidence of. Austria would not enter the Industrial Revolution until much later, circa 1830 or so. Unlike England, there were few roads in Austria at the time. All the rivers in Austria flow to the south so it was difficult for it to trade with other European countries.
Goods from England typically came to Philadelphia, so, if you wanted some high tech equipment for your expedition in 1803, you went to Philadelphia. There's even a record of the stores the M. Lewis shopped at. One of which was "Thomas of London," where he purchased some precision instruments (sextons, etc.) Of all the stores M. Lewis went to, this is the most likely where he would have purchased his air gun.
This message has been edited by DTFletcher on Jun 17, 2012 10:38 PM
I realize the air rifle was described previously . . .
June 17 2012, 10:52 PM
that's not the point. It's unlikely the average airgunner . . . . much less the average non-airgunner . . . would have ever heard of it were it not for Beeman.
BTW, I'm not defending Beeman's position on the L&C airgun. I just refuse to gang up on the guy too much. I've watched him write about the L&C gun as long as I've been involved in airguns. It was always pretty clear to me that he was talking out his . . . well, let's just say his conclusions have always seemed "tentative" to me.
I understand how historical purists would take offense, though.
This message has been edited by McEowen on Jun 17, 2012 11:00 PM This message has been edited by McEowen on Jun 17, 2012 10:58 PM
I fully understand the feeling of not wanting to "gang up" on Beeman. Overall, Beeman has done much more good for air guns in the US than anyone else. Prior to our break, Beeman was extremely helpful, generous, entirely supportive of my work. Without Beeman, there is almost no way that I would have ever undertaken the work of researching the Girandoni. I never would have read the entire Thomas Rodney diaries otherwise. Which is one of the reasons that I generally try to defer from Beeman-bashing on this forum. It was only after his Youtube video and his wildly incorrect information and that he actually responded to my comment that I brought the subject to this forum.
Where things get a bit more difficult is when it comes to Europe. I've communicated to a fair number of folks in Europe and they firmly believe that Beeman is the infallible, ultimate resource on the antique air guns. I don't know if they are blinded by his collection, wealth, or whatever. Most of us in the US understand that Beeman, when it comes to his history work, is little more than a bag of hot air, but, not over there.
Don't know how it fits in the scheme of things here but I heard of the Lewis & Clark airgun about 1/2 century ago, near exactly 50 years. By circumstances I was schooled in a rather upper level 'accelerated' scholastic program of Academic endeavor, though in a Public School environment. Simply put, relatives had 'connections' and used them in my behalf.
Like many young boys I was fascinated with various expeditions and adventures, particularly the Lewis & Clark explorations. As kids in rural California we'd pal up on weekends and venture out alone in the fields [in complete safety back then!] reliving those things we'd read in books and having grand adventures of our own. A key point is that at this exact time I had just received my first, very own airgun, a marvelous Sheridan Blue Streak. Of course that little gun was the center of my attention in every way, long before more complicated things of life invaded my consciousness: would they never had!
In that Public School education in History Class we studied Lewis & Clark among others. No idea what account was used, no memory of that, but in those books and readings the fact of the Lewis & Clark airgun was plainly written. To say it leaped off the page would be an understatement! I was sure I now had one so very much like it of course, and the weekend and vacation adventures took on special meaning. That was about 50 years ago and it was then readily available information in the public record.
The issue of what kind of air gun that M. Lewis carried was settled when the diaries of Thomas Rodney were published and recognized. Rodney describes an air gun demonstration that could only be a Girandoni-style air gun.
Beeman published a regrettable article basically calling Rodney a liar on this, but, as we all know, later changed his mind when he came to the conclusion that a gun from his personal collection might be the original M. Lewis gun.
My argument with Beeman is his calling these air guns original Austrian Military Girandoni air guns, when it is pretty clear that they are later English copies.
So, was the air gun carried by M. Lewis a Girandoni-style air gun? Yes. There is no serious debate about this.
Is the Beeman example the original M. Lewis air gun? Debatable. In my view, a more serious candidate would be the Girandoni-style Staudenmayer in the Miwaukie Public Library collection. This Staudenmayer actually was used in the traveling Smithsonian exhibit celebrating the 200 year anniversary of the Lewis and Clark. I saw this gun, when the exhibit came here to Portland. What impressed me about this gun is the extreme amount of use it got. It is almost entirely black from use. It looks like it was hand carried in the field for years. Unlike Beeman's gun, this Staudenmayer looks the part, based on wear alone.
I also noticed that the Staudenmayer has something missing: the rear sight. Which matches what M. Lewis wrote in his journals about the rear sight of his air gun falling off all by itself.
My suggestion has been that this Staudenmayer should be scientifically examined. If it was carried by L&C then there should still be residue (pollen, etc) inside the air tank. That residue should have samples of pollen from across the country.
I, personally, don't think there is any single "front runner". At any rate, if Beeman's gun is, indeed, the ONE, he has done it a bit of disservice in his attempts to explain (to his ultimate advantage) every scratch, dent, ding and blemish. It comes off like the old story of the three blind men and the elephant. Each "saw" what he wanted to see. Isn't it better, all the way around, to say that, among a handful of remaining examples of the correct vintage, one could have been the gun carried by L&C? The trouble with Beeman's assertions are, so far as I can tell, he is saying that his gun is that one. Those not wishing or knowing enough to look deeper will accept it upon face value. And publishing such statements on the WWW, vouchsafed by the editors or the BBOAG (which publication is in no wise independent of the good doctor)is not right. The statements should be subject to peer review.
Clear this up for me, if you will. Is the Beeman gun a military Girandoni? (Please excuse the schpelling, I can never remember that guy's name.) If so, it being 1803, how could L&C have gotten what was still an experimental, secret Austrian army weapon? That would be like me walking into a local gun shop and buying the very latest rifle supplied to elite Marine units.
Both Robert Beeman and I agree completely that the airgun carried by M. Lewis is exactly like the one he shows. Period. End of story. Zero disagreement by either party.
Ignoring any of Beeman's claim.
All I claim is that the Staudenmayer, in the Milwaukee Public Library collection, could have been the gun, since we know that Staudenmayer was in business by 1799 public records. I have absolutely no idea if Lewis ever saw this gun. Staudenmayer sold lots of air guns from 1799 to the 1830s. But, what I do know without question is that it COULD have been. Could it have been the Beeman gun? Absolutely! There's no debate about that. Again, no disagreement of any sort. M. Lewis could have carried the Beeman gun. Period. End of story. We agree.
In the long run, it makes no difference to me if it's the MPL gun or Beeman's. They're the same gun. Beeman calls his an Austrian Military Air Rifle by Girandoni, The MPL gun is a Staudenmayer. Same gun. Different markings.
It's sort of like the difference in religion sects. While we disagree on just about everything possible, we still agree on the only really important point: M. Lewis carried a Girandoni style air gun on his expedition.
Not great photos of gun but clearly it's the same type of gun as the Beeman Girandoni. Has all the same attributes. Marked Staudenmayer. Catalog says Berlin but we now know that Staudenmayer is London. Not sure if it's marked London or not. This is the same gun that's in Wolff and is correctly identified as London. Since Staudenmayer started in business in 1799, M. Lewis could have owned this air gun Low collection serial number indicates part of the early collection. Will have to hunt for the exact reference. This catalog was published in 1928. This means that this air gun is from1800s America and not a later import. No millionaire can own this air gun. But, when they put together the Smithsonian 200 Year Lewis and Clark celebration this is the air gun that went on the exhibit. Could it be the actual gun? Looks like a good choice to me.
Seems to me that absent some extremely definitive, yet currently unknown, documentation, no one will ever know. Maybe it would be best if everyone stuck to what is known and provable (which doesn't sound like much). Isn't it sufficient to say "Lewis carried an airgun, we think it might have been something like this . . . "
There simply is no question about it, the eye witness, detailed written description given by Thomas Rodney is definitive, M. Lewis carried a Girandoni style air gun. All the top experts (including both Beeman and Fletcher) are in complete agreement on this point.
the EXACT specimen that Lewis carried. That seems to be the bone of contention, doesn't it?
I don't have a dog in this fight so if the experts agree that the expedition traveled with a Girandoni pattern rifle, who am I to question that? You say both you and Beeman agree that it was a Girandoni, and yet there remains a dispute about whether it was an Austrian military rifle or an English copy. Again, I'm no expert, but that distinction seems to be covered by a "something like this" sort of blanket statement.
Can't you guys just agree to agree and leave it at that?
This message has been edited by McEowen on Jun 19, 2012 11:38 AM This message has been edited by McEowen on Jun 19, 2012 11:37 AM
is the book that came out with the 200th anniversary of the expedition in conjunction with the Smithsonian traveling display. This book takes a scientific look at anything that may have been carried on the journey. One thing that the book makes very clear is that it is very difficult to pin down any one item as being on the expedition. Lots of could be's and maybe's but very little "this is the real deal."
It was from some of the scientific testing undertaken of the items in this book that I got the idea about testing for pollen inside the air tank of any L&C air gun. But, even if an air tank was tested and found to contain all the expected pollen from both sides of the country and everything in between, the only thing it would prove is that a tank could have been on the expedition. How we can ever get further than "could have been on the expedition," I have no idea.
There were a lot more firearms on the expedition and all the experts agree that no specific gun can be identified as having been on the expedition. The only authority I'm aware who claims to have any specific arm of any sort from the expedition is Beeman. Most everyone agrees that Beeman is really stretching things to make this claim. However, we all now agree that the M. Lewis air gun was a Girandoni-style air gun.
Are the air reservoirs sufficient for 8 full power shots at mortal wound velocities in .47 calibre?
The one shown with a ball flask air reservoir on TOP of barrel says that some folks should never have even bothered trying to build airguns. Accuracy to 'Minute of Guesstimate' and a wetted finger in the wind? Amazingly stewpeddd.
There are plenty of videos on Youtube showing shooting demonstrations of reproduction Girandoni-style air guns. Ernie Cowen, while I disagree with some of the history details provided, but, still, his reproduction gun is spot on as are his shooting demos. My biggest complaint is that he doesn't demonstrate how these air guns will discharge when trying to decock the gun.
I have a very early article by L. Wesley that goes into mind numbing detail about pumping up and shooting one of these air guns. will try and get that scanned and posted this evening.
As we all know there are certain basic requirements for any airgun to even be considered as a possible candidate for consideration. The size of the air reservoir and ability to deliver at least 8 shots at a deadly velocity on one charge are just such requirements and that's of course why I asked. Looking forward to any other info, thanks...
I have seen the YouTube videos and read how these were "assault guns". From all I can gather, both as to projectile and velocity, they would be classifieds as a relatively light powered gun compared to contemporary firearms. The .54 Harpers Ferry rifle far outclassed any military air rifle, probably then or now. The air gun might well have been used as a small game rifle and to impress the various native tribes which were encountered. That might be one reason it was taken in the first place. Resupplies of powder were not guaranteed. A small game rifle which needed nothing save air and elbow grease would have made sense.
Upon reflection, these might be considered assault type weapons. The modern assault rifle is not designed to kill. Instead, it is intended to put the enemy out of action, hence the small caliber or short cartridge case as compared to pre-WWII military long arms. In such a role, the air rifle would have been effective.
This message has been edited by RedFeather on Jun 19, 2012 9:55 PM