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Topic: Black Powder Weapons

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20 SEP 2006 at 1:08am

streets2311

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That thread on the Civil War FPS reminded me of something. I am taking a class on the Revolutionary War in the South and one of the cool parts of the class is going to the range to shoot a brown bess and a pennsylvania rifle. I am a good shot with modern weapons but can anyone give me any pointers on shooting these particular longarms? My professor did a segment on battlefield detectives on the History Channel which featured longarms and cannons from the period, and he seems to think no one will shoot well. BTW we will be shooting buck&ball from the musket. (Gotta do the Corps proud he is former Army)

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20 SEP 2006 at 1:48am

jacknastyface

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I once fired a Hawken .54 cal (in smoothbore, from Dixie Gun Works?). I think the Hawken has a shorter barrel than the brown bess or the pennsylvania rifle, which I also believe is properly rifled. I couldn't hit anything at 100 yards, but was fairly deadly on a silhouette target at 50 yards. I am told that powder load is very important in these things. Interestingly, this concurs with something that I once read from a Napoleanic British commander that stated something like "nobody has been hit at 200 yards from a shot which was purposefully aimed at them". Unless of course you're that badass Colonel Tavington from [i]The Patriot[/i] who could hit a rider at 75 yards with a dragoon pistol. The only thing I know about the brown bess is that the brass stud on the top of the barrel at the muzzle was not the front sight - it was actually a guide for the bayonnet. Of course moderm firearms makers may not follow that trend. Take some pics and share them. And go easy on any British Tourists who may be in the area. They may not understand that the rounds flying over their head is for educational purposes, only. Best regards, Jack Nastyface

  


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20 SEP 2006 at 3:59am

spacecowboy67

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I was in an army unit where we used the brown bess musket, no I'm not that old [
], for ceromonial use and reenactments. We also trained extensively in the formations used during the same era. My take on the smoothbore musket is that with discipline, a formation of musketmen can cut to shreds any unorganized group within 100 yards. That is the genius of the volley, you don't have to be accurate when so many are shooting at once. I certainly reflected often on the .75 caliber hole it could put in someone[/align] [/align]

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20 SEP 2006 at 4:25am

keithrose

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I think theres a statistic floating around somewhere that says that only around 5-6% of musket shots hit anything. This was partly the reason for Britains small army enjoying such success - we realised this & hence British musket drill taught shooting in formation at close range. Its interesting to read the accounts of French soldiers who faced the British - they get closer & closer, all the while expecting a volley, getting more nervous as they approach, frightened by the eerie silence of the British line - then as they seem almost close enough to touch them the British open fire, with absolutely devastating results. Usually at this stage the French (or anyone else for that matter) would turn and run, having just seen their first few lines scythed down. Regards Keith
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20 SEP 2006 at 7:04am

Tobimo

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hence British musket drill taught shooting in formation at close range
It was part of the doctrine in many armies to wait until one can make out the white in the eye of the enemy. But on average I think only very battle-hardened troops were able to do this. In combat quite often soldiers did not have the nerve to wait for the enemy to get close enough and shot prematurely disregarding the orders of the officers. Premature fire was ""contagious"" (and still is today btw) and caused whole lines to join in and thereafter the battlefield was rapidly obscured by smoke of the gunpowder. Therefore the military prefered to concentrate on improving the rate of fire instead of accuracy. With some technical innovations the Prussians were able to perfect the art of rapid reloading. Under most ideal circumstances some very skilled Prussian grenadiers were said to obtain a fire-ratio of 9 shots per minute !!! (one shot every 6-7 sec. - almost unbelievable).      

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20 SEP 2006 at 8:09am

billg

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Keith & Tobino, The 5% figure is correct and comes from BG B.P Hughes' classic work Firepower where he analyzed the casualty rates of several Napoleonic battles in Spain. Its usually accepted as accurate. However, the concept of British firepower superiority has pretty much been dispelled as myth. Because it factored in so heavily for my own miniature rules (see http://ageoffeagles.com ), there was a HUGE discussion on this on my supporting Yahoo Group, where eyewitness acounts flew faster than footballs at Packers game where Bret Favre has a good day. The concensus seems to be that British success was due to SYSTEM where reverse slope deployment supported by a heavy skirmish screen confused French commanders as to when they should deploy into line, followed by one or two short range volleys with an immediate bayonet charge to disperse the French before they could recover. According to Nosworthy in his Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his Enemies and others, this technique was developed primarily because the French were far more likely to use musketry (particulary at longer ranges to goad an opponent into firing) and seemed to be better at it in the sense of being able to continue firing over longer periods of time. To quote Andrew Leith Hay at Salamanca: "The 6th Division suffered very much from having been halted when advanced about half way - which is a system that never will answer, the only way is to get at them at once with the Bayonet, that they can never stand, but as to firing, that the French will do as long as you like AND FIRE MUCH BETTER THAN WE DO!" What we also found was 1) this system was not used nearly as universally as one might think, 2) was not universally successful and 3) was used quite often by the French themselves, often with good results. One example specifically mentioned a British brigade wheeling into the flank of an advancing French formation, only to have the flank battalions pivot, form line, deliver a short range blast of musketry followed by a bayonet change that sent the English packing. Fascinating. Nosworthy in his Anatomy of Victory also provided some interesting eyewitness comments as regards Prussian firepower. That the Prussians fired far more quickly than any other country is confirmed, but many felt that because of this emphasis the Prussians did not properly level their muskets and this made them less accurate. They also seemed to suggest that this caused their muskets to foul much more quickly thus putting these doughty lads at a disadvantage after the first few volleys. Also fascinating stuff. My two shekels, YMMV.

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20 SEP 2006 at 9:10am

streets2311

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According to my professor, "whites of the eye" range is 20-25 yards and sometimes less. 35 yds was pretty much the max effective range vs a point target. He says it was standard practice amongst the backwoodsmen to load buck&ball (1 round ball and three buck shot) when fighting Indians. This was apparantly made standard by George Washington after seeing the overall poor marksmanship of his troops. The rifle was a little better, having a good hit probability at 6o yds, the tradeoff of course was given the rate of advance for a formation at the time, this only allowed 3 shots before the enemy was on you. The other drawback, of course, NO BAYONET!......YIKES

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20 SEP 2006 at 9:38am

UKyank

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[link=http://www.wargamer.com/forums/showProfile.asp?memid=3327][b][color=#333333]billg[/color][/b][/link]
  That is extremely interesting because for everything that i've ever known is that the Brits were consistently able to beat the French because of their superior rate of fire (much as a result of training with live ammunition as opposed to everyone else).

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20 SEP 2006 at 10:07am

Onion

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I've been shooting RevWar weapons at least once a year in a friendly competion and my experience (and observation of other longtime shooters) is that (at least Repro wise) the Charleville is more accurate than the Brown Bess and it is defintiely easier to maintain. Thats why in the the first US army weapons produced in 1803 were copies of the charleville. Load consistancy is important. I've been told that there is a breakpoint of a load being sub-sonic or not and to choose your load between 100 and 125 grains of ff and stick with it. I use 100 grains and a .625 ball in my Charleville and am pretty good at 30 yards and can hit a man sided target at 50. I once cut a candle in half at 30 yards, unfortunatly I was aiming at something 2 feet above it. I've also seen guys shoot 6 aimed rounds a minute doing the complete manual of arms (ie not sticking the rammer in the dirt next to you) and its pretty crazy. I know rifle shooters can hit a frying pan gong at 100 yards consistantly, and I think at the range I shoot at they do it at either a 150 or 200 yard target and keep going until someone hits that. Incidentally they use measured powder not horn poured. The biggest problem is fouling. Generally in competition we have to clean the gun every round (average 15 shots). A lot of people use some version of bore butter, lard, or beeswax on the cartridgebut I've found the slightly smaller round works for me.

"The problem with quotes found on the internet is that they're not always accurate." - Abraham Lincoln


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20 SEP 2006 at 10:16am

cambronne

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First, I have a charliville 1777 model and have done some target shooting with it. Second, I'm a crappy shot. Anyway, the ball tends to travel in an arc towards the target. It will not travel in a straight line. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how far the ball will travel before beginning its downward part of the arc.

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20 SEP 2006 at 11:17am

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Onion is correct.  I own several black powder weapons, including a Kentucky rifle built from a kit (it's easier than you think - I built it in a couple of hours with a Swiss Army knife and some sandpaper).  Before going out and shooting, I purchased a black powder loading manual.  The author peformed fairly comprehensive tests on muzzle velocity on dozens of black powder weapons.  There is an ideal powder load for each weapon, and in most cases it is not the maximum load.    The best thing you can do for accuracy is to play around with the loads, take four or five shots with a particular load, and see how accurate the shot is.  Repeat that up and down the scale until you find an ideal load for a particular weapon, then stick to it.   To my knowledge the tests were only performed with the musket/rifle load - I don't have any flintlocks, but I don't believe that the amount of powder in the pan has any relevance.

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20 SEP 2006 at 12:29pm

tomasek1000

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The accuracy of musket balls is a simple physics question. The ball is going to drop over time as it's velocity is not that high. Add to that the ball does not come out of the musket perfectly straight and that slight angle is magnified over distance. It's clear that close range and the more weapons firing the better made the difference when guns (rather than cannons) were the main defense in a line.   I thought the French (Napoleonic era) advantage was in superior formations, their modifed column (I've forgotten the name) that got enough firepower up close, and then punched the opposing lines with the mass.
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20 SEP 2006 at 2:00pm

billg

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This traditional paradigm really began to be questioned in 1974 or whenever Hughes first published his book. The issue was whether the British two-rank line was significantly more powerful than the French three-rank line or column. Technically the answer was yes, but given the low % of hits to begin with (smoke, 20% misfire, etc), the difference was not as great as previously perceived. At the 1811 battle of Albuera, for example, Hughes calculated only a 2 1/2% hit ratio for one engagement, with a 5 1/2 % ratio for both British and French in another. Hughes noted, however (and this is important, especially given one of the origins of the two-rank line was that British battalions were normally woefully understrength), that the larger, denser French formations were able to continuously able to fill in the front ranks from the rear. Thus while British firepower started off greater, it consistantly decreased while French musketry stayed constant. Thus the two (very) short range volleys plus bayonet became the solution for avoiding a portracted fire fight with the French, one the Briths felt they would lose. Nosworthy and most recent scholars tend to support this, and in his book it is very evident Nosworty believes that the French relied more heavily on musketry than the British, that French musketry really wasn't that less effective than the British, and that the bayonet was at least as important to British success as was the Brown Bess. For right now, anyway, the revisionists are triumphant.
ORIGINAL: UKyank
[link=http://www.wargamer.com/forums/showProfile.asp?memid=3327][b][color=#333333]billg[/color][/b][/link]
That is extremely interesting because for everything that i've ever known is that the Brits were consistently able to beat the French because of their superior rate of fire (much as a result of training with live ammunition as opposed to everyone else).


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20 SEP 2006 at 4:01pm

Dco2US

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I am certainly no expert but I have live fired a variety of black powder, military longarms. In response to Streets request for advice I offer this:   When firing a flintlock, there is a delay between the flash in the pan and the discharge of the load in the breech. Be patient and maintain your aim until after the barrel discharges. I for one have never really gotten used to this and so I rarely hit anything I'm aiming at, even at close range!   

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20 SEP 2006 at 6:04pm

streets2311

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ORIGINAL: Dco2US When firing a flintlock, there is a delay between the flash in the pan and the discharge of the load in the breech. Be patient and maintain your aim until after the barrel discharges. I for one have never really gotten used to this and so I rarely hit anything I'm aiming at, even at close range!
Thanks Dco2US That is practical advice. I appreciate it and will try to focus on doing that. I will try to take some pics and post them when we go.

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20 SEP 2006 at 9:32pm

LongBlade

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Please do post some pics!

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20 SEP 2006 at 10:51pm

Dan Verssen

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Here's a great site to figure out the bullet drop...   [link=http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Hbase/grav.html#bul]http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Hbase/grav.html#bul[/link]   -Dan Verssen www.dvg.com

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21 SEP 2006 at 7:44am

Besilarius

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For those who think this is a new question, you might enjoy checking out the pertinent sections in "Battle of the Thirty Year's War" by WP Guthrie. The whole problem of effective firepower was the driving force behind the infantry formations of that war. When the war began in 1618, there were two basic weapons, the arquebus and the musket. The arguebus was a short ranged weapon with a high rate of fire. The musket had a longer range, but much slower reload. It seemed that most armies were heading toward some amalgam of the two weapons in the dense infantry formations. However, the Dutch, who had to face the morally superior Spanish infantry, did not wish a simple, stand up fight. They developed a system of fire in which the infantry unit retired while maintaining a steady fire. To get the most from his troops, the Dutch stadtholder, William, equipped his troops with the musket and was the first to form his units ina linear formation. (Still too dense to be called a line.) Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden reformed his army to fit the dynamic tactics he wanted to use. He developed a medium musket that did not have the long range of the bigger, heavier muskets, but had a faster reload. The arquebus was dropped. He wanted to break enemy units, not merely wear them down in a prolonged firefight. To do this, he developed the concept of the volley. Instead of large bodies of gunmen firing as they were prepared, his troops were three ranks deep and fired on command ALL AT THE SAME TIME. This was revolutionary at that time. The effect of a single voluminous fire, with all the casualties at the same time was a great stress to units. (Gustavus intended to demoralise his enemies this way and then aggressively use his pikes to break the wavering enemy. Unfortunately, due to various problems, he never had enough men for the pikes, and then after his death the idea was dropped.) It seems that the volley did not cause more casualties, it may have actually caused less. But to the men in the ranks it seemed worse because all the hits were made at the same time instead of over a long wearing firefight. Gustavus recognized the weakness of the musketry of his time, but tried to increase the effect by adapting his formations.
"When I must choose an officer to perform an act that requires a good brain, everything else being equal, I choose the one with the biggest nose." - Napoleon "If you'll believe that, you'll believe anything." - the Duke of Wellington

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21 SEP 2006 at 4:01pm

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It seems that the volley did not cause more casualties, it may have actually caused less. But to the men in the ranks it seemed worse because all the hits were made at the same time instead of over a long wearing firefight. Gustavus recognized the weakness of the musketry of his time, but tried to increase the effect by adapting his formations.
Good point. Much of warfare rests on psychology, and the ability to inflict sudden & significant casualties on an enemy is an important factor. I believe that when the British forced the Imperial Guard to retreat at Waterloo that most of the Guard actually didn't know what was happening - they took their cue to retreat from their comrades on the front line(s) who had taken a catastrophic loss from British volley fire, and fled in panic through their relatively untouched collegues. Regards Keith
Regards Keith [i]I started out with nothing & I've still got most of it.[/i]

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