Historical question regarding combat with muzzleloading rifles

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chiller

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I will add to Grenadier 1758s comment and say that during the French & Indian War time period, shooting smooth bore muskets during battle no patch was used. The men used rolled paper cartridges filled with measured powder with both ends twisted or folded closed. To load, they would tear off the top end of the cartridge with their teeth (hence the need to have at least two apposing teeth in there month to qualify for duty) place a little powder in the pan and dump the remaining powder down the barrel, followed by the ball that was dropped in, followed by the empty paper cartridge and then the ramrod was used to tightened the charge as usual. The paper kept the ball from moving in the barrel or rolling away from the powder if firing slightly downward creating a hazard condition. No barrel fouling issues with this method.
 

Billy Boy

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Hi,
With the right ball, patch, and lube combination you should not need to clean between shots. I use Balistol and water, 0.595 caliber balls and 0.020" thick patches in my 62 caliber guns. I shoot all day without cleaning or needing to hammer a ball down. During the 18th century, rifles used by American soldiers were not specially built for military use. They were civilian hunting guns. There were British and German military rifles in use but they loaded just like the civilian versions.

dave
After the first or maybe second shot it was bayonet time. Big problems for guys who didn't have the blade or the training..
 

Art Caputo

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I agree with comments about contemporary shooters loading PRB’s too tight. When I first started shooting I was luck to get two or three shots off without swabbing. Most all my rifles for the past couple of decades are loaded to achieve 10-20+ consecutive shots without swabbing with minimal trade-off in accuracy. My go-to lube in all weather conditions is TOTW Mink Oil.
 

tenngun

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Something I have been pondering is how it they fought with rifles back in the day. I know from experience with my rifle I can get two maybe three shots without cleaning. One time I did an experiment to see how many shots I could fire without cleaning. By shot number three the barrel was so fouled the bullet stuck halfway down the barrel and refused to move. Ended up having to use the ball puller.

With my personal experience I can't fathom how they fought with rifles effectively after the first shot. I doubt they had the luxury of cleaning the barrel In the heat of battle. How were they able to effectively use their rifles back in the day? I was using a gun ment for hunting. Could it be that a rifle meant for combat had looser tolerances inside the bore allowing for more fouling? We're Rifleman deployed in cover to allow them to service their weapons? I have many questions. I'm sure someone here has the answers and then some.
Although rifles were used by the armies in Europe before the AWI it wasn’t until after the war Europeans really started thinking about military rifles long and hard.
But their use was limited as they loaded with PRB and remained slow. The belt d ball and the Minie type were part of the search for a better way then PRB.
Rifles were so limited that the French during the Napoleonic wars abandoned them altogether.
Rifles in Europe and in the AWI were relegated to specific rolls where in:
1) only a few shots were fired at a time
2) scouting/recon
3) flanking guards
All rolls where a few shots could be fired and the shooter would have some time to wipe the bore if needed.
As said a loose combo could be shot. After the war America would provide army rifleman with two sized ball in patches sewn on a tight fit and a looser fit for a dirty bore. Even so, rifles were support troops not main line.
Weapons have changed since Troy but the army none to much. Chariots gave way to knights and tanks and air cav, artillery went from slingers to cannon to rockets and air support.
Archers-rifleman-modren Rangers or SAW and snipers
 

dave951

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Probably the pinnacle of muzzleloading rifle development and usage was the Minie bullet before the advent and wide use of breechloaders. The Minie was developed to specifically avoid the issue that you had with PRB. When properly balanced with the right powder and lube, it can be shot until you run out of ammo or shoulder, or enemies without the need to wipe. I've personally seen it done for nearly 60 shots straight without wiping.
 

Ian Straus

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Something I have been pondering is how it they fought with rifles back in the day......
With my personal experience I can't fathom how they fought with rifles effectively after the first shot. I doubt they had the luxury of cleaning the barrel ... We're Rifleman deployed in cover to allow them to service their weapons? I have many questions. I'm sure someone here has the answers and then some.
As others have noted, in regular armies of the 17th through 18th centuries the standard infantry arm was a smoothbore musket, not a rifle. These were normally loaded loose, the balls were not patched, so you could get fouling and still shoot. And they didn't shoot all that many rounds in usual combat: As bandoliers and cartridge boxes show, the individual ammo load was 12 in the matchlock era and increased to 20-24 by the late 1700s (AWI reenactors please correct me if that count is wrong.) The idea was to disorganize the enemy with a couple of volleys and then charge with the bayonet (or with the pikes, before the bayonet was invented.)

Riflemen were specialist troops in the 1700s, expected to be skilled marksmen, and deployed as skirmishers. If regular infantry in close order charged them, they ran away. If cavalry charged them, they died - or ran for refuge to a nearby close-order infantry unit.

But the loading speed problem was what led to the development of the rifled musket in the mid 1800s. It was a time of great mechanical invention, remember the cotton gin? Before that, everyone WANTED the accuracy and effective range of a rifle. They just didn't want to give up the ability to stop an organized enemy's charge using what was then a high rate of fire.

The rifled musket was and is loaded loose but shoots tight. The winning rifled musket system is the Minie (which is named after Captain Minie, not a cutesy contraction of "miniature".): A hollow based conical bullet, loaded loose, the base expands under the pressure of the powder gasses and then grips the rifling. It also tends to scrape out part of the fouling from the previous round. Not to say that they don't foul to the point of being un-loadable, but with a good lube that happens only after firing the 40 rounds that fit in the cartridge box.

And yes, units in battle were sometimes pulled out of line to clean and to resupply ammo, or cleaned during lulls in battle.

One of the losing rifled musket systems was "a tige", meaning "with a spike": With that system, there was a sturdy steel spike on the breech plug. An ordinary round ball was loaded loose, then beaten down with a heavy ramrod until the spike expanded the ball to fit the rifling. Don't ask me what they did if they dry balled or otherwise got a misfire. But this system did have the advantage of loading loose and shooting like a rifle.
 

tenngun

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And they didn’t have long times under fire.
Men walked all over and in formation could go about three miles an hour on road half of that off. Most battles were part of one day and most of that time was moving troops.
Actual time where units exchanged fire was just a few minutes.
If rifleman were opposing your unit you just didn’t stand there and watch your men get shot. You sent a troop of cavalry after them, or turned some artillery on to them, withdrew or advanced as the terrain dictated.
Rifleman could not face a bayonet charge, and grape (canister) out ranged rifle fire.
A look at causulties reveals ten to fifteen percent in most battles. Compared to the thirty percent or more seen in WTBS or Crimea war battles, till generals learned how to deal with new weapons.
During the Revolution decision often were made very quick, and the loser was worried about getting his army off the battle field and out of range as quick as possible
 

smoothshooter

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Hi,
With the right ball, patch, and lube combination you should not need to clean between shots. I use Balistol and water, 0.595 caliber balls and 0.020" thick patches in my 62 caliber guns. I shoot all day without cleaning or needing to hammer a ball down. During the 18th century, rifles used by American soldiers were not specially built for military use. They were civilian hunting guns. There were British and German military rifles in use but they loaded just like the civilian versions.

dave
The problems you pointed out are some of the reasons smooth ore muskets and fowlers were preferred by most military men and civilians.
A rifle is a specialty weapon ( and a delicate one, too ).
A smoothbore is much better suited for military use, in lots of ways.

I would imagine that when things got hot and heavy, and close, the rifle shooters dispensed with the patches and shot bare balls; sometimes multiple balls in each shot.
If one or more Indians, French, or British soldiers were coming st you, or had you in their sights, you would not be fumbling around with a patched ball.
Dump in some powder, slap an are ball in the muzzle and smack the buttplate on the ground to more or less seat the ball, prime, throw the gun to your shoulder
and slap the trigger.
Then run like Hell!

Riflemen had their place in specialized situations, but also presented a host of other problems when used on a large scale in combat operations.
Washington came to the same conclusion.
For day-in day-out military operations as part of an organized, uniformed army, the smoothbore musket was by far the better weapon.

The musket was easier to clean, maintain, and could take a bayonet, and be loaded with paper cartridges containing a single large ball, or buckshot, or a load od u kshot and single ball.
It had a stronger stock that was far less prone to breakage. It was a lot easier to pull the load at the end of a stint on guard duty.
The list could go on.
 

smoothshooter

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As others have noted, in regular armies of the 17th through 18th centuries the standard infantry arm was a smoothbore musket, not a rifle. These were normally loaded loose, the balls were not patched, so you could get fouling and still shoot. And they didn't shoot all that many rounds in usual combat: As bandoliers and cartridge boxes show, the individual ammo load was 12 in the matchlock era and increased to 20-24 by the late 1700s (AWI reenactors please correct me if that count is wrong.) The idea was to disorganize the enemy with a couple of volleys and then charge with the bayonet (or with the pikes, before the bayonet was invented.)

Riflemen were specialist troops in the 1700s, expected to be skilled marksmen, and deployed as skirmishers. If regular infantry in close order charged them, they ran away. If cavalry charged them, they died - or ran for refuge to a nearby close-order infantry unit.

But the loading speed problem was what led to the development of the rifled musket in the mid 1800s. It was a time of great mechanical invention, remember the cotton gin? Before that, everyone WANTED the accuracy and effective range of a rifle. They just didn't want to give up the ability to stop an organized enemy's charge using what was then a high rate of fire.

The rifled musket was and is loaded loose but shoots tight. The winning rifled musket system is the Minie (which is named after Captain Minie, not a cutesy contraction of "miniature".): A hollow based conical bullet, loaded loose, the base expands under the pressure of the powder gasses and then grips the rifling. It also tends to scrape out part of the fouling from the previous round. Not to say that they don't foul to the point of being un-loadable, but with a good lube that happens only after firing the 40 rounds that fit in the cartridge box.

And yes, units in battle were sometimes pulled out of line to clean and to resupply ammo, or cleaned during lulls in battle.

One of the losing rifled musket systems was "a tige", meaning "with a spike": With that system, there was a sturdy steel spike on the breech plug. An ordinary round ball was loaded loose, then beaten down with a heavy ramrod until the spike expanded the ball to fit the rifling. Don't ask me what they did if they dry balled or otherwise got a misfire. But this system did have the advantage of loading loose and shooting like a rifle.
There is not a lot of evidence that the rifled musket was that much of an improvement over the smooth ore musket in the Civil War. The rifled musket had a lot more INTRINSIC ACCURACY, but not many soldiers were good enough shots to take advantage of the improvements. I would make the case that the old .69 caliber smoothbores caused more casualties at 0 to 100 yards, the distance where most casualty-causing engagements were fought, than the rifles did.

(Excuse me while I put on my flame retardant suit)😎
 

Johnny Tremain

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So far my rifle's string was 78 shots, but that was the end of the trail for three of us.
Coulda kept going cept nuttin more to shoot at.
 

Trooper

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Hanshi , you mentioned using Mink oil as a patch lube. Is that the same mink oil used to waterproof boot leather?
 

Trooper

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Thanks, Grenadier1758. I had to ask, we have two tins sitting here gathering dust. Can deer tallow be used? I have lots of that as well.
 

Col. Batguano

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Just about anything can be used as a lubricant, but they come from 2 groups;
1.) water based
2.) oil based
 

J. Paul

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At one of our club shoots we used to do a timed fire to see who could reload and fire the most shots on target in 2 minutes. In case of a tie the targets were scored based on group size.

Some could get 3 or 4 shots on paper, others 5 or 6, but there were 2 that would average 12 to 13 patched roundball shots on target and a 3rd that was usually only 1 shot off pace. Those 2 were a father and son who set up side by side . The 3rd was one that those 2 had taught to shoot. They would tell you, "Fast is slow, Smooth is fast"
 

stephenprops1

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And they didn’t have long times under fire.
Men walked all over and in formation could go about three miles an hour on road half of that off. Most battles were part of one day and most of that time was moving troops.
Actual time where units exchanged fire was just a few minutes.
If rifleman were opposing your unit you just didn’t stand there and watch your men get shot. You sent a troop of cavalry after them, or turned some artillery on to them, withdrew or advanced as the terrain dictated.
Rifleman could not face a bayonet charge, and grape (canister) out ranged rifle fire.
A look at causulties reveals ten to fifteen percent in most battles. Compared to the thirty percent or more seen in WTBS or Crimea war battles, till generals learned how to deal with new weapons.
During the Revolution decision often were made very quick, and the loser was worried about getting his army off the battle field and out of range as quick as possible
I enjoyed your informative post. I understood everything except WTBS. What does that stand for?
 

tenngun

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There is not a lot of evidence that the rifled musket was that much of an improvement over the smooth ore musket in the Civil War. The rifled musket had a lot more INTRINSIC ACCURACY, but not many soldiers were good enough shots to take advantage of the improvements. I would make the case that the old .69 caliber smoothbores caused more casualties at 0 to 100 yards, the distance where most casualty-causing engagements were fought, than the rifles did.

(Excuse me while I put on my flame retardant suit)😎
Even with the improver range and accuracy of the rifled musket much of the fighting during the WBTS took place at smoothbore range. Wilson Creek, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove are good examples of close by fighting. Shiloh had its long open field before the sunken road, but much of the fighting there was in the woods. chanchcellyrsville and Wilderness also had mostly close by fighting. Gettysburg had its long open lands to cross, but the ‘whirlpool’ was in wooded land. The Wheat-field and Devils den along with the flank of little round top was fought also in smoothbore range.
While the deadly ground of Fredericksburg or the Richmond defensive line the rifle could really show off much of the fight then the rifle held no special advantage.
 

kyle_kalasnik

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Even with the improver range and accuracy of the rifled musket much of the fighting during the WBTS took place at smoothbore range. Wilson Creek, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove are good examples of close by fighting. Shiloh had its long open field before the sunken road, but much of the fighting there was in the woods. chanchcellyrsville and Wilderness also had mostly close by fighting. Gettysburg had its long open lands to cross, but the ‘whirlpool’ was in wooded land. The Wheat-field and Devils den along with the flank of little round top was fought also in smoothbore range.
While the deadly ground of Fredericksburg or the Richmond defensive line the rifle could really show off much of the fight then the rifle held no special advantage.
I’m going to beat a dead horse here, but I believe that many people are misinformed about the American Revolution.

They seem to think that the Patriots had rifles using cover and concealment while the British used smoothbores, and linear tactics.
 

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