1776: Militias, Battle Rifles & Hunting Rifles?


August 20, 2003, 05:08 PM
Not knowing anything about guns made before the year 1911, were the rifles of the American revolutionaries considered battle rifles, hunting rifles, or both? Were the 'military style' guns of those days identical in design, function and form as the 'sporting' guns?

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August 20, 2003, 05:41 PM
Rifles for hunting and defensive/battle as used by the 'minutemen' of revolutionary days were one and the same. Frontiers rifles were expected to put meat on the table first and then keep indians, Frenchmen and BGs at bay. The most famous American rifle of this period would be the Kentucky rifle. Each one handmade by a gunsmith and lovingly cared-for by it's owner. This was not a militia-issue firearm.

Prior to the Napoleanic Wars, military rifles were only issued by the Austrians, Russians and French -I believe.
The English learned from their experiences fighting the colonists and created their first groups of riflemen from outcast loyalists returning to England after American Independence.

The most typical 'military style' weapon was the smoothbore Brown Bess musket. Secondary might have been Charleville muskets bought from the French. Any weapon issued would have been one of these.

August 20, 2003, 06:44 PM
Did the militias issue weapons or was it Bring Your Own Boomstick?

Navy joe
August 20, 2003, 07:07 PM
Some of both depending on what militia as far as the weapons issue.

I think of the typical self provided rifle as an early day 870. It got used for everything. It's myth that every man in America showed up with a rifle, first off only about 30% of the colonial population fought or actively supported the war. Second, there were plenty of fowling pieces, battlefield pick-ups, and armory muskets going around.

I'd say overall the rifle over the mantle would be a "sporter" in our eyes. Capable of many things, but slower to load than a musket and no bayonet. As the firearms industry wasn't all cookie cutter then you gotta figure that in some villages the resident idiot and blacksmith were the same guy. Those served by him showed up with the Pennsylvania rifle equivalent of a Lorcin I guess. :p

Maybe Gary will drop in and enlighten us all.

August 20, 2003, 07:12 PM
The first standardized "infantry" rifle was the Model of 1763 which became known as the Charleville Musket. It was adopted by the French Army and had a 44" barrel in .70 caliber. A great many of these were given to the Revolutionaries in 1776. The American Springfield Musket of 1795 was based on it and was also known as the Charleville Pattern Musket.

During the 1700s, the "militia" was armed by both personal firearms and firearms purchased by their respective states. The colonial governments of each state had formed and supplied the state's militias. Benjamin Franklin actually formed one of the earliest private militias in 1747 and generated money for equipment by running a lottery.

August 20, 2003, 08:08 PM
the guns used by line infantry of united states and european countries were large bore muskets sans rifling
these muskets had bayonet lugs, an important feature

militia arms of the period varied greatly...... most were of a large bore similar to the brown bess and charleville issued by the brits and frogs to their line units

many were copies of military arms (made in America or elsewhere) and as such had bayonet lugs, many were unequipped with bayonet lugs.......a militia musket with no bayonet lug could be called a fowler, even though the only difference between it and the "battle rifles" of the day, charlevilles and brown bess' was the lack of bayonet

any smoothbore gun back then could be loaded like a shotgun and shot as such, or in the military fashion with a ball slightly smaller than bore size to speed loading and prepared in cartridges

i would call any large bore full size musket with a bayonet lug a battle rifle, and a militia or farmer's gun of similar design w/out bayonet lug i would label a fowler, militia musket, or similar label....it is very hard to label these as a militia/famer's gun might have a large bore similar to a battle rifle, but could be cheaply made and have a stock and furniture unsuited for battle and campaign......

continental line units were generally armed with battle rifles, or at least they tried to arm them with such so they could all have bayonet capability

milita units, who could tell, militia acts of the time mandate bayonets, but hey, if your musket didnt have a bayonet lug, stick a knife in the bore
(the first bayonet- plug bayonet)

rifles of the time were the equivilent of a moder, accurate, hunting rifle pressed into service as a sniper's weapon
they were relatively rare, but effective in the hands of skilled users.....despite this, continental establishment tried to purge them from line units late in the war (very few had them anyway), instead preferring faster fire to accurate fire......

rifles were harder to load and took longer to load because the rifling made it harder to push the ball in the bore, and powder fouling built up after repeated use, increasing the difficulty of the reloading

it is interesting to note that at that time they had the equivilent of the M4 carbine today....british officers (and im sure some US ones) would purchase "officer's fusils", which were basically lighter, shorter, and handier versions of the muskets their men carried
they did this so they had an effective offensive and defensive weapon, much more versatile than a spontoon (a long lance type weapon used as a badge of rank) that didnt point them out to the enemy as a great target because they DIDNT have this huge spear in their hands saying "please shoot me Im in charge"
officers fusils were generally macked out with engraving and such if the officer could afford it too


4v50 Gary
August 21, 2003, 12:19 AM
When the "militia" marched off to war, they took with them arms that were stored in arsenals including the older Queen Anne Muskets with a club stock, fowlers (smoothbores that did not take bayonets) and some rifles.

Military muskets were pretty much alike. While the caliber may vary, they were universally smoothbore and they could take a bayonet. The lengths could vary with the standard infantry musket of the Revolution having a barrel length anywhere from 42" to 46". Mind you, shorter guns were issued to officers, sergeants, and light infantrymen. Calvary had even shorter guns (20" or so bbls). Muskets could be fired anywhere from 3 to 5 times a minute. While accuracy was wanting, the linear tactics of the day maximized its effectiveness against another line of battle (think formation of troops standing in dense formations ready to exchange volleys against one another).

Rifles featured a groove barrel that could propel a bullet farther and with greater accuracy. The disadvantage was twofold: slow to load and when fouled from repeated firing, very difficult, and; most could not take a bayonet. This meant that while the rifleman could delve death from afar, once the musketman (especially light infantry) got close enough, they could bring the bayonet to bear and chase the rifleman for miles. Riflemen generally fled and those who didn't were impaled (ouch!). BTW, the fastest I've heard of a rifle being shot with accuracy with about 3 rounds per minute. This was through the use of a loading block (held patch & ball) and through plenty of practice.

Most rifles during the Revolution were hunting arms made by the numerous gunsmiths throughout the colonies (predominantly Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and a scattering in New England). While there is no "pattern" for these guns, several "schools" developed and evolved through the years.

The Germans and British also issued rifles. The British made about 1,000 Pattern 1776 rifles (about 30" long, octagon barrel) and 100 Fergusons (breech loaders - yeah!) during the war. The latter was the most advanced firearm of its time. It could rival the musket in its rate of fire, had the accuracy of a rifle and could also take a bayonet.

For further reading, try George Shumway's Rifles of Colonial America, DeWitt Bailey's British Military Flintlock Rifles and British Military Longarms 1715-1865. Howard Blackmore's British Military Firearms is also a standard reference and don't overlook Harold Peterson's classic work (now reprinted in paperback) Arms and Armor in Colonial America: 1526-1783. George Shumway's German Jager Rifles has good info, but the pictures are pathetic as it is xeroxes of his articles published in Muzzle Blasts magazine.

August 21, 2003, 09:55 AM
It is interesting to note that the military arms followed the trend set by the American civilian hunters of the day (rifles), such that by the time of the Civil War, the rifled musket and rifle had replaced the unrifled musket. (Still not sure the difference between rifled musket and rifle).
Compare that to the recent conflicts/wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we are beginning to see the military make wholesale use of scopes on their rifles, something American hunters have been using for over 50 years.

Brian Williams
August 21, 2003, 10:12 AM
CWL Although they are called a Kentucky the real name is either a Pennsylvania rifle or a Jaeger rifle. Kentucky was still just a gleam is someone's eye back then. The Pennsylvania rifles worked very well but the style was made all over the Northeast.

August 21, 2003, 10:14 AM
i think (could be wrong just a guess) that rifled musket was more of a term used instead of just plain rifle or could refer to a musket that had been rifled.....again just a guess
kinda like saying battle rifle instead of rifle
cause a rifle has rifling, you cant get around that

August 21, 2003, 12:57 PM

A rifle isn't a rifle unless it's rifled. A smoothbore musket is just a musket. A rifled musket is a rifle... or a rifled musket.

The term musket changed over time. In the revolutionary war era, it meant any long gun at all, as above, but particularly those designed for solid shot (rather than a Fowler or some such).
Later, after the introduction of cartridges, it came to mean any fully stocked "military style" arm. That's why some lever action and single shot cartridge rifles designed for military use are referred to as "musket" models.

It's only confusing when we look back. They knew what they meant back then!


August 21, 2003, 04:53 PM
pretty much
"rifled musket"
rifle = has rifling
musket = doesnt
oh well, it made sense to them

4v50 Gary
August 21, 2003, 08:26 PM
Confused BowStreetRunner?

Well, how about a smoothbore rifle? :confused: What? Yup. We guess that the rifle bore was shot out and then it was bored out and left land-less. It was still called a rifle because it once was, but was no better than a musket (probably worse because it was heavier).

Concerning the name of the American rifle, I think they were called "longrifles" and Kentucky Rifle wasn't applied until after the 1812 War. In fact, a lot of Kentuckians came unarmed (they served on the south side of the river) and most of the riflemen were from Tennessee. There was one very notable rifleman, Brank and if you pick up this August 2003 edition of Muzzle Blasts, there's an article on his role in the Battle of New Orleans.

August 21, 2003, 09:13 PM
no confusion just blabbing

August 21, 2003, 10:09 PM
Alot of the rifles in that time period were called 'jaeger' rifles which I believe in german means hunter. The majority of gunsmiths that produced the 'pennsylvania long rifles were German decent and new how to make an accurate rifle for hunting as well as defense. Unfortunately a good rifle was beyond most colonials means at the time and they had to rely on fowling pieces and muskets.

4v50 Gary
August 21, 2003, 10:28 PM
Not quite. Cost of a rifle was dependent on the embellishments desired by the purchaser. Relief carving, engraved patchbox, wire inlays, inlays or hardware was available even back then. How much or how little help determine the price. During the Siege of Boston, Howe was offering $10 to every rifleman who defected with their rifle. Apparently several took advantage of his offer and it is possible that there was a "profit" if said rifle was old and purchased back in the '60s (Mark Baker's book, Sons of a Trackless Forest cites reciepts for 150 shillings a rifle in 1766, or $7.50). $10 may also be a loss as Congress reimbursed some riflemen for guns lost during service with the army ($12 or so, depending on the embellishments).

The Germans settled in Pennsylvania and the rifle tradition really started there and spread to Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky & Tennessee. In spreading throughout the new world, the jager rifle became slimmer, longer and smaller caliber - the American Longrifle. The New Englanders on the other hand were largely of English, Scotch-Irish, Irish or Scottish descent and for the most part relied on fowlers. The quest for more destructive fire was somewhat satiated by the use of buck n' ball (one large diameter ball and three buck shots) load. Good for deer hunting and good for warfare.

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