The Armies of the Revolutionary War
Chapter title – The Muskets
Soldiers on both sides commonly carried a gun called a musket, which was a type of gun also called a muzzle loader. To load, the soldier removed a cartridge from the cartridge box. The cartridge consisted of black powder and a lead ball wrapped in paper that had been twisted shut on the end. After retrieving the cartridge from the box, he tore the twisted end open with his teeth and poured a small amount of powder into the priming pan of the musket. Once he had primed the weapon, he removed a rod from the bottom of the barrel called the ram rod. He placed the cartridge, torn side down, inside the end of the muzzle, took the ram rod and pushed the cartridge and lead ball down into the gun’s breech. The paper at this point is called wadding and keeps the ball and powder from falling out of the end of the barrel. Once he had loaded the gun, the soldier cocked the lock, raised the gun to his shoulder, aimed and pulled the trigger. The musket had no sighting mechanism. The soldier just looked down the barrel and pulled the trigger. This released the flint, which snapped against the frizzen, which is a small piece of steel located in the priming pan. The contact created a spark, which ignited the black powder in the priming pan, which then ignited the powder in the breech. The resulting explosion drove the lead ball out of the muzzle at a high rate of speed. Soldiers drilled constantly on firing procedure until they could perform the operation flawlessly. A well trained soldier could fire a muzzle loader three to four times a minute.
Soldiers of both sides used a gun called the “Brown Bess,” by the soldiers that used it, though it was standard issue for the British Army. It was available in several types. The most common were the Long Land Pattern, the Short Land Pattern, the India Pattern, the New Land Pattern Musket and the Sea Service Musket. These guns used a .75 caliber musket ball and was used for over a century by British troops. The guns had an overall length of about 60 inches and weighed in at about ten pounds. Muskets could fire either a single ball or clusters of lead shot that had a shot gun effect. Each British soldier also carried a bayonet, which he could attach to the end of the musket. The bayonet was used for close in, hand to hand fighting. Soldiers fixed their bayonets and led with them during times of intense fighting when one side charged the other. The triangular shape of the weapon created a nasty wound that would become infected easily.
French artist and inventor Marin le Bourgeoys designed the first flintlock rifle for King Louis XIII in 1606. Over the next century French gunsmiths made a number of different weapons for use for the French army. In 1717 the French army standardized the design of the rifle, resulting in the production of a rifle that became known as the Charleville musket. Though it was produced at several armories in France, it received its name from the armory at Charleville-Mézières, Ardennes, France. This rifle underwent several modifications, 1728, 1763, 1766 and 1777 during its long life. It fired a .63 caliber ball using 189 grains of gunpowder at a speed of approximately 1200 feet per second. The Marquis du Lafayette brought 25,000 of the 1766 version of the musket with him when he arrived in the United States in 1777. This version was 60 inches long and weighed about 9.5 pounds. The French produced about 160,000 of this model, overall. Considered quite reliable on the battlefield, the gun misfired about one in nine times. Unburned powder left after firing often fouled the barrel. The gun only used about 55% of the powder when it fired, the remanding sludge could reduce the diameter of the barrel during a battle. To cool the barrel and clear the sludge soldiers often urinated down the barrel of the gun.
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