In this episode of the 18th Century Podcast we take a basic overview of 18th Century Muskets and Rifles. I threw in a little bonus segment too. Topics covered in this episode include: The Flintlock Mechanism, Brown Bess Musket, French Charleville Musket, The American Long Rifle, and our Bonus segment.
Welcome back to the 18th Century Podcast, I’m your host Cj. Today’s episode will be the foundation for many future episodes. We’ll be going over some of the Muskets and Rifles of the 18th Century. I’ll be going over the basics of the Flintlock mechanism, the Brown Bess Musket, the Charleville Musket, and the Long Rifle. As a bonus, I’ll also be covering the bayonet. Pistols and Artillery will be described at a later episode. If you’d like to read the transcript for this episode and its citations, go to https://18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, th, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get into the Flintlock mechanism!
PART 1: Flintlock Mechanism
I think the most important part of learning about the Flintlock, is to understand where and when it came from. The first real Flintlock has its origins in early 17th Century France. Though there are earlier models. The Flintlock Mechanism would become more popular over earlier models of firearms, such as the matchlock. Personally, out of the early firearms, the Flintlock is my favorite. I haven’t been fortunate enough to fire one yet however. Now I think the best way to describe the mechanism would be to go through a dry run of its operation. Just a quick warning, don’t take my description of this mechanism as instructions on firing it, learn from a real professional. Now, the mechanism begins as being uncocked. The first part would be to put it in a half-cocked position. To do this the hammer of the mechanism, which contains a small piece of flint, would be to a half-cock position. Essentially the hammer would be standing up and you’d hear a click. At this position, you would not be able to fire the weapon yet. Then a small amount of gunpowder would be poured into the pan, after which it would be closed. Then once the weapon is finished being loaded down its muzzle, the hammer would be brought to full-cock. To do this, it would be pulled all the way back, and now the trigger is able to be pulled. Now when the trigger is pulled, the hammer will fly forward and strike the frizzen. The frizzen is the piece of steel which stands once the pan was closed. The flint on the hammer will strike the steel frizzen creating a spark. When the spark drops down into the pan, it ignites the gunpowder resting inside. The ignited gunpowder will light the powder in the barrel of the firearm through a small hole, thus the gun has been fired. It’s a fascinating process, truly. And it’s no wonder that it remained so popular for over a century. There where different variations in the Flintlock firearms, hence different kinds of muskets in the 18th Century. We’ll first go over one of these muskets next, the British Brown Bess Musket.
PART 2: Brown Bess Musket
The Brown Bess Musket was standardized into the British Military in 1730. The Musket is a .75 Caliber Smoothbore Flintlock. Since this firearm was mostly used by the British military, I’ll be discussing it in that context. Before the standardization of the Brown Bess, each regiment’s colonel would obtain firearms for his troops. The barrel of the Brown Bess was 46 inches long. The stock was crafted from walnut wood. It came equipped with a 17-inch long bayonet, but as said before, bayonets will be discussed later in this episode. Though as decades went on, the design of the Brown Bess would change from its 1730 design. For example, the steel ramrod was introduced in 1756, and before that, it was wooden. Then only a year later there was another update. The barrel of the firearm was shortened to two different sizes, 42-inches, and 37-inches. Though the British Military chose to issue the 42-inch barrel, and it was issued to the infantry in 1769. As stated earlier, the firearm was .75 Caliber, the weight of the bullet, however, was approximately one ounce. The .75 Caliber was the standard throughout the Brown Bess’s history. Now, remember the 1768, 42-inch barrel I talked about? That version of the musket was called the Short Land Pattern, and it did make an early appearance in the 1740s, however, it was not initially intended for infantry. The original intent was for the British Dragoons. If you don’t know what a Dragoon is, all you need to know for now is that it was a type of cavalry unit. I find it as an interesting fun fact, that a weapon intended for cavalry, became the standard for the infantry. There was another model which began being issued in 1793, and it was designed by the British East India Company. This model would be called, the India Pattern. This version of the firearm had a shorter, 39-inch barrel. It was also considered to be of poorer quality. The actual name of Brown Bess is not the official name of the musket. It is, however, a nickname and it’s been more commonly referred to as a Brown Bess ever since. The Brown Bess would see action in the Seven Years War and The American Revolution. It remained in use into the 19th Century. Though it is an interesting weapon, now let’s turn our attention to the opposing sides own Musket. The French Charleville Musket.
PART 3: French Charleville Musket
A quick note before I do a deep dive into this musket, it was surprisingly difficult to find information on this musket. Take what I say about this one with a grain of salt, and I encourage you to do your own research on this one. Now then, the French Charleville Musket was initially standardized in 1717. The Musket was a .69 Caliber smoothbore flintlock. I should give a note about a smoothbore barrel. The smoothbore was less accurate than that of a rifle, so you had less of an idea where your musket ball was going to go. Like the Brown Bess, the stock was constructed from walnut. But here’s a difference, the Charleville’s butt was rounded a bit, so it could be used as a club in close quarters. The firearm was also equipped with a bayonet. Then in 1728, the firearm was improved upon it gained three barrel bands to help support the long barrel. You see the Charleville’s barrel was 46 and 3/4 inch long. In 1743, the steel ramrod was standardized. The firearm was then improved upon in 1746 and the 1746 model would be used in the French and Indian War. Then in 1763, the barrel of the Charleville was shortened. The muskets themselves were officially were called the French Infantry Muskets. They became known as the Charleville due to the American use of the firearm. The Charleville was used during the American Revolution. When the French allied themselves with the Americans during the war, a large quantity was shipped under the influence of the Marquis de Lafayette. Again I would encourage you, dear listener, to do some research on this firearm yourself. When I did research on this topic, many of the pages which came up were selling replicas and contained little information on the history of the weapon. My apologies for the shorter section. I’m going to take a short break here, and when I come back, we’ll continue our conversation with the American Long Rifle. Don’t go away.
PART 4: The American Long Rifle
Welcome back to the show, and we’ll be continuing with the American Long Rifle. The American Long Rifle has its origins with Germanic immigrants. The rifles brought over by these immigrants were .45 to .60 Caliber, however as time went on, the rifles in America changed to .40 to .45 Caliber. The models which the immigrants brought were larger and heavier. But yet again as time went on, they became smaller and lighter. Around 1750 the American Rifle was very accurate for its time. The rifle was approximately five to six feet long. Since it was manufactured in many different areas, it received regional names. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Kentucky Long Rifle. On the frontier, these Rifles were primarily used for hunting game and defense. During combat, as stated previously, the British favored the Brown Bess musket, it was quicker to reload, but far less accurate. The American Long Rifle was way more accurate, but it had a slower reload time. Due to its accuracy, it’s easy to deduce that the Riflemen during the American Revolution were essentially snipers. Early on, it was clear that Riflemen would be important to the coming American Revolution. In the Summer of 1775, The Continental Congress established ten companies of riflemen. The positions were filled quickly and Congress had to create two more companies to keep up with volunteers. Though the majority of the Military would consist of infantry using muskets, Riflemen had their fair share of action too. During the battle of Saratoga, Sergeant Timothy Murphy was tasked with sniping a British Brigadier General Simon Fraser. To get a better shot, Sergeant Murphy was perched up in a tree, and visible, approximately 300 yards away from General Fraser. The General was perched on top of his horse, practically a sitting duck. Sergeant Murphy took aim and fired. He missed his target, only grazing the General’s horse. Now it would have taken a while to reload, but Sergeant Murphy was firing no ordinary rifle, no it was a rare double barrel rifle. The Sergeant lined up his second shot and fired… again he grazed the horse. Sergeant Murphy began the process of reloading his rifle, which took about half a minute at best. He lined up his third shot and squeezed the trigger. The bullet flew across the field. And this time, found it’s mark. General Fraser was hit in his gut. When the British General fell on the field, his men broke ranks and retreated. This action would help the Americans gain victory at Saratoga. The American Long Rifle is truly an exciting firearm. Now that I’ve covered the Brown Bess, the Charleville, and the American Long Rifle, I think it’s time we get to our bonus segment, the bayonet.
PART 5: The Bayonet
Getting on with our final segment for today, the Bayonet. The Bayonet has a bit of an interesting history. It originates from 17th Century France. The earliest bayonets were described as having a double edge, and being about a foot long. The early designs would be inserted into the musket’s muzzle. I think it’s obvious enough to say, you’d have a bit of a hard time firing your weapon. This 17th Century design is called a Plug Bayonet. Then during the latter half of the 17th Century, a new type of Bayonet arose. This new Bayonet would also have its origins in France. This newer and improved model would be called, The Socket Bayonet. The difference arises here, with the Plug Bayonet being jammed down the muzzle of the musket, you were unable to fire, but with the Socket Bayonet, it had a 3-4 inch long tube which could be locked onto the muzzle instead of being shoved down it. So, with the Socket Bayonet, it was still possible to fire your musket. Around 1715 the design changed once more, it went from its double edge to a more triangular shape. The triangular shape of the Socket Bayonet is what we would most likely recognize as a bayonet today. The Socket Bayonet was the standard for infantry across Europe and the Americas during the 18th Century. So you would have seen the Bayonet in action during the French and Indian War, The American Revolution, The War of Austrian Succession, or the Great Northern War, and among many other conflicts which will be covered in future episodes.
Alright guys, this brings us to the end of the episode. Like I said at the beginning, the transcript and citations for this episode, and all other episodes can be found at https://18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, th, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. This episode again was just a basic overview of some of the Muskets and Rifles of the 18th Century. I know these first few episodes are a bit on the shorter side, but as this series continues, I have a feeling some of these episodes will start increasing in length. If you’d like to support the show, please share it. I’ve been your host Cj, and thank you for listening to this episode of the 18th Century Podcast.
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“How Did WE Win the Revolution and the Freedom to Invent That Wonderful Institution Called The United States of America? And for That Matter, Just Who Were WE, an Unlikely Crew to Take on the Armed Might of the Greatest Military Power on Earth. Most of Us Were Tradesmen and Farmers, with a Few Trained Soldiers Who Had Served in Colonial Regiments. And the WE Has to Include Our French Friends Who Supplied Us with Arms and Equipment and Manpower without Which We Could Not Have Won.” Revolutionary War – Longrifles, http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/longrifle.html.
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