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Rifles That Made America: Revolutionary War

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Though many weapons have been used by American soldiers over the centuries, few can argue that one style of rifle from the Revolutionary War is the weapon that made America. We’re talking about, of course, the flintlock musket.

The Revolutionary War was a unique period for many reasons. The newly founded United States had no weapon

production capability, so early dependence was on the weapons the British military utilized. This weapon was known as the British Short Land Service Musket, Caliber .75. That’s not a typo mind you; our forefathers were shooting rounds that looked like the gargantuan orb pictured to the right (the ball was .69 caliber). These rounds weren’t shaped to pierce flesh effectively like modern bullets; these bad boys would break bones and bounce around causing all sorts of mayhem in the body, and generally messing up one’s weekend (and every weekend thereafter). The worst part? Due to the inaccuracy of shooting these monsters, formations generally consisted of massing as many soldiers together in a group as possible and shooting at the other sides’ bunched up group. There was no cover and concealment back then; if you were lucky, you didn’t get hit by the volley of marbles being shot at your formation!

Many people today would scoff at the specs of the British musket, affectionately dubbed “Brown Bess.” The Brown Bess was a smoothbore musket, meaning there were no rifling grooves in the barrels. Modern rifled barrels have spirals that rapidly spin the bullet as it passes through the barrel, giving it a tight accurate spiral much like a quarterback throwing a football. Smoothbores on the other hand, were basically miniature cannons: pack gunpowder behind a ball and blast it out with as much force as possible. This resulted in a horrendous max range of 100 yards (notice I didn’t say accurately to 100 either).

Wait, it gets much worse. The rifle was an absolute board to carry around. At 10.5 lbs. with an overall length of 58.5 inches, this wasn’t your granddaddies’ M1 Garand! With all that rifle, surely it can at least put out some serious rounds.

Well, let’s just say that if you were the cream of the crop in your day you could squeeze out 3 to 4 rounds per minute. This was due to the infuriatingly slow reloading process. The standard reloading process was as follows:

 1. Tear cartridge with teeth and prime the pan directly from the cartridge;
 2. Stand the musket and pour the bulk of the powder down the barrel;
 3. Reverse the cartridge and use the ramrod to seat the ball and paper envelope onto the powder charge.

Did I mention you are out in the open being shot at while trying to do all of that? At least you fought in nice weather considering this weapon was inoperable in the rain. If this rifle was that bad, why was it the rifle standard in its day? For all of its drawbacks, the smoothbore musket fired in mass volleys could produce some devastating effects. In open plains battlefields like Europe where it originated, lining up thousands of soldiers and firing these massive lead storms at each other worked quite well!

In the next article, we will follow our great nation into the next century, where the Model 1812 Musket would once again lay down lead to defeat the British in the War of 1812. Stay tuned!