round ball trajectory


4v50 Gary
April 20, 2003, 11:50 AM
OK, I loaned out my first edition of the Lyman Muzzleloader handbook. Can anybody tell me the trajectory of a 50 cal round ball? Let's assume gun is sighted in for 75 yards.

I'm trying to figure out why some riflemen missed Col. Webster as he was crossing Weitzel's Mill in NC. They were about 30 feet up (25 for bank & 5 for their own height) and 80 yards away. Using the pythagoreum (sp) theory, that's about 81 yards distance.

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April 22, 2003, 09:21 PM

The figures are for a .54 cal (.530 round ball), but they should be close enough.
BC of a round ball, questionable patch material, damp powder, shaking from the exertion of climbing the tree, etc,, all add up to plausible reasons for missing I imagine.

oops! forgot to add.

looks like you may be making the comon mistake of figuring the distance by using the flight path of the ball (the longer leg of the triangle), and not the actual distance between the gun and the target. (difficult to describe w/out a diagram)

The trajectory, and drop, is figured by the distace that the ball will fly where gravity will affect it (shorter leg of the triangle). That's why you aim low when shooting up or down hill.

Most dramatic example I can think of is to view old WWII film footage of fighters attacking ships. Even allowing for early fire to "walk" the shots onto the target, you can see how far off the first bursts usually are.

And again

You always ask questions that send me off on google searches that turn up the most interesting side lines :D :D
Here's a blub about the incident.Light Horse Harry Lee, in later years, recalled that on Reedy Fork he had posted twenty five of Campbell's sharpshooters in an old log schoolhouse with chinking gone. These men could split an apple held on the point of a ramrod by a comrade 150 yards away. They were to fire on 'particular objects'. An important looking officer, later found to be Colonel Webster, was spotted on a fat horse, making slow progress in deep water. All the marksmen had a shot at him, seriatim, some reloading for a second try, all seeing, not believing, as horse and rider passed the stream unhurt.

Looks like sometimes stuff just happens! Prolly wan't Webster's "time".

4v50 Gary
April 23, 2003, 11:45 AM
Thank you Hal for providing the link and the info.

Al Thompson was the first person who found Weitzel's Mill for me on a map. I learned from a Ranger at Cowpens that it is situated on private property and inaccessible. Presently I'm trying to contact the West Riding Regiment (33rd) to ascertain Webster's height (and if possible, height of his horse). If all comes to worse, I'll use the "basic" assumptions of height used by sharpshooters and artillerymen in the Civil War for range-estimation.

Those riflemen posted in the log school house were all veterans of King's Mountain (where Patrick Ferguson was killed). Webster was not only crossing slowly, but was probably impeded by his men who were holding onto his stirrups as they waded across.

That they missed somewhat dispels the myth of the American rifleman who had unerring aim. :o

April 26, 2003, 05:06 AM
Here's an interesting follow-up to Webster that I ran across.
The Weitzel's Mill incident took place March 6th or 7th 1781.
On 15 March 1781, at Guilford Courthouse, Webster was wounded an died a few days later. Here's a paragraph concerning his gravesite that I turned up. Thought you'd (and anyone else following this thread) get a kick out of it.

Gravesite, Elizabethtown, North Carolina
Don Hagist tells us:
The location of Lieut. Col. James Webster's grave is not known, but there is quite an interesting story concerning him and the grave. I read this in a publication from the 1800s (I think it was in an issue of "The Historical Magazine" from the 1860s or 1870s), but failed to write it down...
It seems that some time in the first half of the 19th Century, some folks located Webster's grave. The exhumed the coffin... The story is that when they removed the lid of the coffin, they were shocked to see the dashing Webster perfectly preserved in his full uniform, as though he had been laid to rest on that very day. They had just time enough to perceive this amazing site, when the body collapsed to dust and bones before their eyes; presumably breaking the seal of the coffin and exposing the body to open air caused the sudden decomposition. Fact or fantasy? I don't know, but the precise location of the gravesite has been lost to history.:what: :what:

Chuck Dye
April 26, 2003, 04:04 PM
My copy of Lyman gives the ballistic coefficient of a .495 roundall as .070, shows muzzle velocities between 2100fps and 2350 fps at the max loads for various barrel lengths, mostly centered around 150gr FFFg and 2150fps. The weight of the ball is 180 grains for a .498"er. I would expect the differences between the .495" and .498" balls in B.C. and weight to be negligible.

Try plugging those values into the "Define your own bullet" option at

and play with the sliders. Note that the sliders are red and don't miss the sliding target range on the trajectory graph (I did, for a stupidly long time, and missed out on one of the best features!)

4v50 Gary
April 29, 2003, 04:52 PM
Thanks guys.

BTW Huck, 150 grains of powder is a heckuva lot of powder. Gonna need a French-Indian War size horn to feed that gun.

April 29, 2003, 06:54 PM
Note that that is 150grs of FFFg, not FFg!!!!
Good grief, I get 2000 from 100grs of Pyrodex in my .50 T/C!

4v50 Gary
April 30, 2003, 11:42 AM
150 gr of FF is still a heckuva lot of powder for a round ball gun. I've never had trouble shooting Civil War muskets (over 60 rounds) but when I tried the Whitworth with about 90 grains, ouch!

Chuck Dye
April 30, 2003, 01:16 PM
I double checked. My copy of Lyman is from the sixth printing in 1985 of the edition copyrighted in 1975. I confirmed the numbers: the max charges actually go to 200 grains FFFg in a 28" test barrel. The pressures measured in that table are significantly lower than all the other tables, making the data suspect. As always, your milage may vary and max loads should be approached with caution after comparing with several reputable sources. My own blackpowder shooting is limited to a replica 1858 Remington New Army .44. We shoot relatively modest 20 grain loads behind roundballs. I say "we," but I only rarely get to shoot it since my best friends' kids discovered it-"I shot a .44, I shot a .44!" Works out just fine as the kids still view cleaning "the stinky gun" as a valued privilege.

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