Sunday, June 26, 2011

Guns of the Revolution

In 1776 the United States was locked in war with Britain, the colonial power, and was desperate for muskets. In the spring of that year, the US Congress sent a secret agent to France to ask the king for help in the form of weapons, equipment and financial support. The 1766 musket, shipped over by France, would later be replaced by the home-produced US 1795 musket, made at the Springfield Armory.

Safety muskets
On 18 July 1775 the Continental Congress passed the following resolution: "that it be recommended to each colony to appoint a Committee of Safety to superintend and direct all matters necessary for the security and defence of their respective colonies, in the recess of their assemblies and conventions". Several colonies had already begun to acquire muskets from private contractors and builders. Many are signed, and others are attributed to known makers based on similarities to signed muskets or guns made by builders who had connections with the various Committees of Safety.
A re-enactor dressed as a civilian soldier in the War of Independence. His simple hunting clothes would have been comfortable and have given him a tactical edge over British troops dressed in the cumbersome uniforms favoured by European armies. He would also have been a skilled hunter and an accurate shot.

Genuine Committee of Safety muskets are rare, since they were mostly used up in the early days of the war. During the American War of Independence, a veteran militiaman armed with a Committee of Safety musket could load and fire three shots per minute.

French Model 1766 Musket
Three years after it was introduced in 1763, several modifications were made to the new French Infantry musket to create the French Model 1766 Musket. It was lighter in weight, with a smaller lock and a ramrod shaped like a flat button, known as the button-head ramrod design. Vast numbers of these muskets were produced for the French Army by an arsenal in Charleville in the Champagne-Ardennes region of north-eastern France.
The French were responsible for supplying many of the muskets used by the colonists against the British in the American War of Independence. Their Model 1766 was a simple and reliable weapon that was copied by the US Armory at Springfield, Massachusetts.

When the request for arms came from the United States, the French, happy to wage a proxy war with Britain, provided the rebellious colonists with shiploads of muskets. Since France was not at war with Britain, various ploys were adopted that now seem very modern: a fake corporation had to be set up to mask the French government's direct involvement; in addition to this, ship's logs were falsified to conceal the ultimate destination of the muskets. Because the Royal Navy dominated the high seas, some French ships sailed to the West Indies and dropped off their cargo of muskets, where American vessels then collected them.
At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, a grenadier of Napoleon's Imperial Guard protects the emperor. The grenadier has a Charleville 1777 musket supported in the crook of his arm.

The Model 1766 had a powerful influence on the United States. Most of the surviving French-made muskets that have US markings are the Model 1766 and, in 1795, the United States used this musket as the template when it started mass production of its own at the Springfield arsenal.

The US 1795 musket
Colonel Henry Knox of General George Washington's staff decided that the area near Springfield, Massachusetts would be an ideal location for an ordnance depot to store arms and ammunition during the American Revolution.

A small depot was created in 1776, and Congress established it as a national armoury in 1794. The Springfield Armoury went on to produce arms for the United States for nearly 175 years.
When it began operations, Springfield had only 40 workers available, but in its first year managed to make 245 muskets. The first musket produced was the Model 1795, which was almost a direct copy of the French Model 1766 Charleville musket. Eventually, Springfield Armory would make 80,000 muskets and the armoury at Harpers Ferry in eastern West Virginia a further 70,000. The Model 1795 was carried during the ground-breaking Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803-06 and used in action during the 1812 war between the United States and Britain.

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