The Appleseed Project: History, Character, and Rifles

By all accounts, farmer Samuel Whittemore wasn't looking for trouble. The 80-year-old veteran of three American wars had fought his battles and earned his peace, settling down in Menotomy, Massachusetts.

Still, on a day made famous for the battles in Lexington and Concord and Paul Revere's Ride, the grizzled warrior ambushed the Grenadiers of the 47th Regiment from behind a stone wall.

The octogenarian killed one Grenadier with his musket, then drew his dueling pistols and fired, killing two more before the Redcoats overran his position with fixed bayonets. One Grenadier leveled his musket at close range and fired, blasting a .69 caliber musket ball through Whittemore's cheek. The musket ball tore away part of the old man's face and threw him violently to the ground. Bleeding profusely from the horrible wound, the old man drew his saber -- taken from the body of a French officer more than 30 years before -- and fought the Regulars hand-to-hand before falling under the buttstroke of a Grenadier's Brown Bess. Whittemore was bayoneted 13 times and left for dead in a pool of blood.

Samuel Whittemore would have been the oldest Colonial fatality of the entire Revolutionary War -- but he refused to die. Horribly scarred but immensely proud, he lived to 98, as an American citizen.

The home range of the Revolutionary War Veterans Association (RWVA) lies just off the intersection of a pair of narrow country roads, amid the rolling green hills, cattle farms, and forests of Ramseur, North Carolina. Down a gravel path lies a 500-yard centerfire rifle range that stretches from the crest of one hill down through a valley and up the other side. A smaller well-used rimfire rifle range lies just beyond it. At this shorter distance range, I and almost three dozen showed up on a wet and muddy morning last week to learn of our shared American heritage that began on that day in April 19, 1775, through the Appleseed Project.

We were also interested in learning the skills that made Timothy Murphy the most famous marksman of his day and helped create the legend of Morgan's Riflemen. Sheltered on the firing line from a light rain and threatening thunderstorms, we learned the history of our founders, of the moral choices and civic duty that they knew would be the most important and most fragile elements of liberty. And we fired rifles. A lot.

We fired at "Redcoats" and "sighters" and "AQTs," or Army Qualification Tests, the scoring of which ultimately determines if you are a "rifleman or a cook." Most of us fielded some variation of a "liberty training rifle," which were inexpensive .22LR rimfire semi-automatic rifles retrofitted with Tech-Sights and slings, but Appleseed's instructor's aren't finicky. The RWVA's instructors believe in teaching you the basic fundamentals of shooting, no matter the rifle, and in reaching the peak of your ability. We saw dozens of .22s in every possible configuration: bolt-action hunting rifles with scopes, high-end AR-15s, and even a 50-caliber muzzleloader on the line -- though the latter wasn't intended to qualify.

When we first fired at our simulated "Redcoat" targets on Saturday, only a little more than half of us managed to put three shots into a a target simulating a Regular 100 yards away -- much less the 200, 300, and 400 yard targets. At the end of the day, that same test was repeated: the success rate  at the simulated 100 yard target jumped to 96%.

Throughout both days, we alternated shooting with listening to stories of our heritage dating back to the pivotal day in 1775 where Samuel Whittemore and thousands of other colonial militiamen made their mark on history. We watched our instructors as they showed us the fundamentals of marksmanship, and ran us through what they called the "AQT grind," as we strove to hit the black centers of ever-smaller targets simulating 100, 200, 300, and 400 yard targets from standing, sitting, and prone positions.