The founding fathers of the United States of American fought hard for our independence from British rule. They fought to secure our freedoms such as free religion, free speech, free press and, of course, the right to bear arms. “Free,” however came at a steep cost. Many men lost their lives on the battlefield. As we celebrate America’s birthday this 4th of July, let’s take a quick look back at the Revolutionary War weapons these brave soldiers used in battle. The main weapons of the war were the flintlock musket, the attached bayonet and the cannon. The flintlock pistol and the long rifle were secondary weapons.
The musket was the soldier’s best friend and a technological miracle for the time. The smooth bore musket was the primary weapon for thousands of British and Continental Army soldiers. The most effective was the Brown Bess and could be loaded with a single shot or grape shot of multiple balls. Inaccurate and built for short range, the weapon had a flintlock mechanism. This relatively inexpensive system was hugely popular. Colonial America depended on these weapons for food, protection and warfare.
The firearms of the period used blackpowder. Blackpowder leaves fouling behind when fired. For this reason, the balls used by the military were undersized in order to allow troops to quickly seat the next load down the barrel. The Brown Bess was 75 caliber and they used a 69 caliber ball. The armies used paper cartridges to speed the loading process and reduce the risk of loose powder being around sparking guns. To load, a soldier grabbed a cartridge, bit off the end to expose the powder and poured a small amount into the pan of the lock. After closing the pan, the soldier dropped the cartridge which included the ball and the remaining powder into the barrel. The final step was to remove the rammer and “ram it home” so you could “make ready” to shoot by cocking the lock. There were no sights. To aim a solider simply looked down the barrel. Soldiers were expected to be able to fire a shot every 15 seconds for at least 4 minutes before needing to slow down due to fouling.
The bayonet was an important part of the musket system. The length of the musket, with the long bayonet, was designed to defend against horseman and as a close range weapon. Early in the war, the Americans had a shortage of bayonets. When France joined the war, they supplied muskets with bayonets. Bayonets were some of the most dangerous weapons of their time. A bayonet charge at the right time could easily scare away the opposing force. This triangular shaped weapon would more often tear into a body instead of a clean cut making it an even deadlier weapon. If the bayonet injury did not puncture a vital organ, the enemy would more than likely bleed to death or die from an infection.
The flintlock pistol was used primarily as a secondary weapon by soldiers. Considered more of a personal weapon, the weapon was used in close quarters combat. This type of pistol is the foundation for modern handguns as it was one of the earliest types of trigger-activated guns. It was popular in early American duels during the 18th century.
Rifles used during the American Revolutionary War were much more accurate than muskets or flintlock pistols. The musket was a smooth bore firearm while the rifle had groves which sent the tight fitting ball down the barrel improving accuracy. The rifle, however, was not effective in 18th century combat due to the slow loading process. It took almost 30 seconds to load the weapon and in addition it was not equipped with a bayonet. Used by some sharpshooters during the war, the rifle was most commonly used for hunting. The Pennsylvania Rifle and the many variations were first developed during the early 18th century before the war. The Long Rifle was one of the first completely American designed firearms. It was made by the Germans who had colonized Pennsylvania and based the design on the Jaeger Rifle.
The flintlock weapons of the American Revolutionary War are incredibly important historically and at the time were probably the most technologically advanced device that anyone commonly owned. Colonists used the guns for hunting to provide food and for protection not only from hostile foreign armies but animal predators as well. The founding fathers fought for our independence and soon after secured our freedom and liberties with the Declaration of Independence signed on July 4th, 1776 and soon after by ratifying the Constitution.
Remember these final words in support of the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights as you celebrate this holiday weekend. Thomas Jefferson in the proposed Virginia Constitution in 1776 stated that, “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” James Madison protected our freedom when he wrote, “Americans (have) the right and advantage of being armed, unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust their people with arms.” And in closing the words of Samuel Adams who expressed, “The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms…”