musketTHE BROWN BESS

The main weapons of the American Revolution were the muzzle-loading flintlock musket, its attached bayonet, and the cannon. Secondary weapons were the rifle and pistol, swords and other cutting weapons. By far, the most common weapon was the smoothbore flintlock musket, of a large caliber, .62 to .75 inch bore (equal to 11 to 16 gauge shotguns). A musket has no rifling to spin the ball. It is smoothbored and will shoot both ball or shot, or a combination of the two. The firearms during the revolution used blackpowder. Since blackpowder left residue in the barrel, the balls used by the military were undersized to allow troops could quickly seat the next load down the barrel. The two most prevalent muskets used by the colonists were the British musket, the Brown Bess, and the French musket, the Charleyville, supplied by the French.

The Brown Bess is the nickname of the British Army's Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives. Many variations and modifications of the standard pattern musket were created over its long history. The earliest version was the Long Land Pattern of 1722, a 62-inch (160 cm) long (without bayonet) and with a 46-inch (120 cm) barrel. It was later found that shortening the barrel did not detract from its accuracy but made handling the musket easier. This resulted in the Militia (or Marine) Pattern of 1756 and the Short Land Pattern of 1768, which both had a 42-inch (110 cm) barrel. Another version with a 39-inch (99 cm) barrel was first manufactured for the British East India Company, and was eventually adopted by the British Army in 1790 as the India Pattern. The Short Land Service Musket (New Pattern) is displayed at the museum.

The accuracy of the Brown Bess was fair, as with most other muskets. The effective range is often quoted as 175 yards (160 m), but the Brown Bess was often fired en masse at 50 yards (46 m) to inflict the greatest damage upon the enemy. The combination of the large caliber projectile and the heavy weight of its iron construction contributed to its low effective range. Military tactics of the period stressed mass volleys and massed bayonet charges, instead of individual marksmanship. The large soft projectile could inflict a great deal of damage when it hit and the great length of the weapon allowed longer reach in bayonet engagements.

The rate of fire for the Brown Bess was approximately one shot every twenty seconds (3 shots per minute). The standard military loading procedure from prepared paper cartridges containing ball and gun powder in an elongated envelope were: 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 envelop onto the powder charge.