Sunday, June 26, 2011

Three special muskets

The Kentucky rifle was made famous as the weapon carried by "Hawkeye", the colonial trapper Nathaniel Poe, in James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Last of the Mohicans. The blunderbuss was a short-range weapon that fired a load of heavy gauge shot (not scrap metal, as has been suggested). In the 18th century the British Army received the "Brown Bess" musket, a reliable weapon that would serve it well through the Napoleonic Wars and the colonial campaigns around the world.

The Kentucky rifle
The American Pennsylvania Kentucky rifle, produced in 1700, was much longer than an ordinary musket and very cumbersome to load while in battle. An expert rifleman could load and fire a shot in 1.5 minutes. However, the rifling provided greater range and accuracy and made the Kentucky ideal for sniping.
The Kentucky long rifle might have been cumbersome but its rifling and long barrel made it very accurate. The settlers in North America found it an invaluable weapon for hunting, though it was also a very effective military arm.

The blunderbuss
In the early 18th century, the blunderbuss (also called the blunderbess) was a popular weapon for close range fighting. Like a shot gun, it produced a lethal blast of shot or ball. In the mid- 1700s, it was in widespread use by soldiers, sailors and civilians for close-quarter defence and its popularity lasted for nearly forty years. It is reported that George Washington proposed that instead of the carbine, Continental Dragoons should carry a blunderbuss because this weapon was not only easy to handle but actually more accurate with its spread of shot.
The blunderbuss, with its short barrel and bell-shaped muzzle, delivered the same sort of lethal punch as a sawn-off shotgun. As such it was favoured by naval boarding parties for its shock effect at close range.

Blunderbusses were manufactured with both brass and steel barrels during the 18th century. On board ship, often the steel barrels were japanned (covered with a heavy black lacquer); this protected them against salt corrosion. A typical Royal Navy boarding blunderbuss was 775mm/30.5in long with a 370mm/ 14.5in brass barrel, 64mm/2.5in diameter at the muzzle. In the American colonies, settlers armed themselves with blunderbusses. Across the Atlantic, by the late 18th century the blunderbuss had gained fame as the weapon carried by British coachmen to thwart attacks by highwaymen. It was also the weapon of choice of pirates and privateers at sea.

The Brown Bess
The origin of the nickname "Brown Bess" is unknown but it was the affectionate name for the British Army's Land Pattern musket and its derivatives. It entered British service in 1722 and became as important symbolically as it was in practical terms in the field, since this was a period of global expansion. The Long Land Pattern musket and its derivatives, all in .72 and .705 calibre flintlock, were the standard infantry weapons from 1722 until 1838, although there were many incremental changes in its design. These version include the Sea Service musket, New Land Pattern, Short Land Pattern, India Pattern and new Long Land Pattern musket. The earliest models had iron fittings but after 1736 these were replaced by brass, which did not rust. Wooden ramrods were also replaced by more robust iron ones. However, up until 1765, muskets with wooden ramrods were still issued to troops on American service and those fighting for the Crown in the Revolutionary War. Wooden ramrods were also used in the Dragoon version produced from 1744 to 1771 and to reduce problems of corrosion for the Royal Navy and Marine muskets.
A re-enactor from the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards in the uniform of the late 18th century takes aim with his "Brown Bess" musket. With some minor modifications the Brown Bess would be a great survivor, remaining in service into the early 19th century.

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