Forensics on a musket wound- need help


Apple a Day
December 12, 2003, 06:25 AM
I wasn't sure if this one should go in the general forum or blackpowder. Mod's, please move if necessary.
I recently read a report on a grave found in Jamestown. The body was found in a typical casket but with an odd wound:
The right leg was broken below the knee with a 15mm ball still stuck in the leg. There were also 21 small shot in the back of the leg with a spread of about 5 inches. It appears that the man was shot in the BACK of the leg and died from blood loss as a result. There were no other apparent insults to the deceased. The grave style is typical of Revolutionary war era.

What kid of weapon was used to shoot the dead man?
At what range would the shot spread to 5"?
Was the shot leaded behind the ball?
What is your theory as to why he was shot in the BACK of the leg?

There aren't trick questions, I have no idea of the answers. I have been thinking about it and thought I'd see if there are any technical experts who can help.
Thanks in advance.

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December 12, 2003, 06:52 AM
Most likely Grapeshot from a cannon.

December 12, 2003, 07:28 AM
I'm thinking "BUCK and BALL". One way to load a musket was to load a large ball along with shot. This was a fairly common first shot military load. I'm no expert but this is what comes to mind from your description.

Take care,


December 12, 2003, 09:11 AM
I was thinking Buck and Ball too.

December 12, 2003, 09:17 AM
I'm not sure how this was done though. Was the ball loaded first with shot on top? This would require wadding on top to keep it together. It could be powder, wad, shot and then ball. Does anyone know how this was done?


December 12, 2003, 09:18 AM
Sound like a "buck & Ball" load to me, too. Unless the deceased was unlucky enough to have been on the convergence point of fire from 2 different weapons.

December 12, 2003, 09:26 AM
The buck and ball loads that I've seen a description of used 3 or 4 large buckshot with the ball, with the buck loaded over the ball and all of the projectiles in a twist of paper or cloth. Not that you couldn't use smaller shot with the ball (I guess) , but you would lose effectiveness by going smaller.

Also, 21 shot plus a ball in a 5" circle -- sounds like he was shot at fairly close range. If he hadn't bled to death he probably would have lost the leg.

As for being shot in the back of the leg, maybe he was running away. If someone leveled one of those .69 caliber muskets at me, I might do the same.

Mike Irwin
December 12, 2003, 10:50 AM
He was found during archaeological excavations a few years ago after William Kelso refused to believe that James Fort had been washed away into the river.

Some people think it was an accidental shooting, others thing it points to murder -- probably not a farfetched theory given the turmoil in the early days of the colony.

This wasn't a Revolutionary War grave -- it predates that period by nearly 200 years. Jamestown was founded in 1607 -- IIRC this person is thought to have died in 1607 or 1608 during the first year of colonization.

The load was a fairly common one, probably coming from a roughly 60 to 75 caliber matchlock musket of the day, using 1 large ball and a number of smaller shot -- essentially the buck and ball load TerryBob and others mentioned.

The angle of the wound -- upwards -- indicates that he may have been standing on the palisade wall that surrounded the early fort to give it protection against Indian attack.

Archaeologists and historians working on the site even think that they have an identification of the man -- Stephen Caltrop, one of the first 104 settlers. Tests have indicated that the man was shot at a range of about 15 feet.

Here's a good website with some more information...

December 12, 2003, 11:41 AM
At Gettysburg there is a monument featuring an enlarged buck and ball load on top of a pillar. I forget to what unit the monument is dedicated, but I think it was a New York or New Jersey regiment. I think the buckshot are on top of the ball.

Mike Irwin
December 12, 2003, 12:07 PM
That's the monument to the 12th New Jersey Infantry.

The ball sits on top of 3 buckshot.

Crappy photo, but best I could find on the web on short notice...

Apple a Day
December 12, 2003, 07:25 PM
Thanks guys, esp. Mike, for the additional info.
I was trying to figure out how he caught one in the back of the leg like that... the only workable explanations I could some up with were:
a) His girlfriend's husband caught him doing the horizontal hustle and blasted him where he lay
b) I'd misread, thought he'd died a century n' a half or more later and been a Revolutionary war soldier, perhaps had been in a line kneeling with left foot/right knee down, and gotten plugged by a guy in the rank behind him.
I reckon it makes at least as much sense if he was on an elevated position and got shot from below. That sounds like more of an AD.

So, if you pack shot behind a ball, will it spread out more or less that just shot? Will the shot get kicked out farther because of the wake of the large ball or get sucked in more of a straight line in the low-pressure area "drafting" behind the large ball like NASCAR racing? Can any blackpowder shooters out there answer that one for me? I'm really curious.

I suppose you wouldn't want to do this with a modern round, at least not on a battlefield... too random. Could you manage it with, say, a large handgun cartridge: put a light hollowpoint in front or a narrow penetrator with a trio of shot behind it? Would you have to make the shot so light and small it wouldn't penetrate worth a hoot?

Just pondering.
Thanks again for the info

December 12, 2003, 08:21 PM
I have tried this in my tradegun.....62 cal. smoothbore flintlock.

If you put the shot in front of the ball, the ball will tend to plow through the shot and blow the pattern. It is best to put the shot in first followed with a patched ball.

Buck and ball loads are not perfect. But in an age where a follow up shot was hard to do and the fighting could get up close with the enemy dodging in and out of the brush and worked!


Travis McGee
December 12, 2003, 08:36 PM
Could have been a hunting accident too. A blunderbuss could have been dropped, resulting in that pattern of shot to the back of the leg of the man in front.

Vern Humphrey
December 12, 2003, 08:37 PM
Buck and ball were traditionally American -- George Washington ordered that all cartridges contain shot. Of course, the use is much older than that -- as this finding proves.

For combat use, paper cartridges were used -- a tube of paper glued or tied shut at one end. The ball was inserted first, then the shot put on top (which was actually the base, since at this point the cartridge is being held upside down.)

A threat is tied around the cartridge above the shot, then the rest of the tube is filled with a charge of powder, and the open end tied shut.

In action, the soldier bit the ball (and shot portion) off and held it in his mouth as he poured the powder down the bore. He then spat the ball (and shot), still in the paper wrapper, down the bore. You can see that at this point the shot is below the ball.

Finally, any left over paper was usually put down on top of the ball, and the charge rammed home.

Travis McGee
December 12, 2003, 08:58 PM
[Imagine this badboy blunderbuss loaded with a pound or two of shot or rusty scrap iron. Look at the bore, it's about 1.5" D. What could it hold, several dozen 000 size buckshot?

Anytime someone says we need gun control because "guns are much more dangerous today" tell them they are full of ********. Given the medical care at the time, any penetrating torso wound caused death after hours or days of screaming agony. Most limb wounds led to amputations, and half of the time death from sepsis anyway.


Travis McGee
December 12, 2003, 09:02 PM
Whoops! Let's try that blunderbuss again.

Vern Humphrey
December 12, 2003, 11:27 PM
Point of order here -- if this guy was shot during the time the Jamestown fort was occupied, he was NOT shot with a blunderbus -- blunderbusses didn't come along for about another 125 years or so.

Note that the illustrated blunderbus is a flintlock -- and this was the era of matchlocks.

Travis McGee
December 13, 2003, 01:40 PM
Vern: good point about the matchlock era. But weren't there matchlock scatterguns? Didn't they also have accidental discharges? I don't think you can assume every shot wound was a product of a war casualty.

Vern Humphrey
December 13, 2003, 03:07 PM
Any muzzleloader can be loaded with multiple balls -- about 30 years ago, when the Dixie .40 Caliber rifle was so popular, it was common to load this rifle with two balls for deer hunting.

Certainly matchlocks were used interchangeably with shot, ball, and buck-and-ball. And certainly they had accidents in those days -- in fact, if you look at a drill manual from that era, you see the elaborate precautions they had to go through just to load -- since BOTH ends of the match burned, and had to be held out of the way when loose powder was about.

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