A friend recommended a television show titled Sleep Hollow. The plot concerns an upper crust British officer who, after turning coat in order to work for George Washington as his personal hatchet man, is forced into a mystical sleep which lasts for more than two centuries. He awakes in modern times, bewildered by the technology and customs that surround him, but ready to take up the fight against dark supernatural forces that threaten to destroy all of Mankind.
Hmm. After re-reading the above paragraph, I have to admit that it doesn’t really do much to incite a passion to see the series. All in all, I would have to say that the show is both better and worse than it sounds.
One of the more engaging elements is how the aforementioned military officer constantly struggles to adapt the reflexes and assumptions from his own time into the situations he encounters in the world of today. Since the show is an adventure tale there is a fair amount of gunplay, and the way the character handles firearms is at least plausible.
Below are two screen shots from an episode where our hero is attacked by villains wielding fully automatic weapons. Click on a picture to access the largest version.
(Sorry for the quality of the pictures, but it was the best I could do.)
The handgun in question is a 1911 that had been supplied to the character by an ally, so it is certainly capable of multiple shots without requiring to be reloaded after every round like a handgun from the 18th Century. Having observed modern handguns in action in previous episodes, the character continues to fire until the fight comes to a close. Score one for the writers, who at least treat the man from the past as being smart enough to discard old habits when faced with a new reality.
But note the stiff and formal shooting stance that the actor has assumed. Is this a realistic portrayal of how people from the late 1700’s fired handguns? As is the case with most things, the answer is ambiguous.
It seems that people would stand so if they were engaged in a formal duel, as there would be time to carefully brace oneself in order to gain the maximum accuracy from the one-shot handguns that were most often used.
If there is only one shot allowed, then you had better make it count. Hold the gun out at arm’s length, assume a wide and stable stance, and try your best to keep the gun as steady as possible.
The stance is not too far off from that employed by modern bullseye handgun competitors, where the trophy is awarded to the person who shoots the best score at a leisurely pace.
But there seemed to be times when the dueling pistol was held closer to the face, as seen in the following two contemporary drawings depicting the famous duel fought in 1892 by Georges Clemenceau.
(Both pictures were found here.)
Although there were certainly modern revolvers available at the time, it appears that the combatants are using percussion single-shot pistols. The guns shown below are flintlocks, but they would be very similar in function to the pistols used by Clemenceau and his opponent.
Both pairs of guns have surprisingly effective sights. The front sight is a shiny brass bead instead of the prominent post or fin that modern arms have, but those old guns are certainly accurate enough to punch a hole in a villain at twenty paces.
So why did Clemenceau and his opponent hold the guns in towards their face, instead of at full extension? It could be that they were suffering from nearsightedness, and simply wanted to get the guns in close enough so they could aim.
So would an upper crust military officer stand out in the open during a firefight, assume a stiff and stead stance, and present his gun towards the enemy before letting a shot off? Dunno, but it certainly would be something he would find familiar.