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American Revolution: "Brown Bess" Musket

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American Revolution:

Brown Bess Musket

Photograph Courtesy of the US Army

Origins:

Though firearms had become the predominant weapon on the battlefield by the 18th century, there was little standardization in their design and manufacture. This led to increased difficulties in supplying ammunition and parts for their repair. In an effort to solve these problems, the British Army introduced the Land Pattern Musket in 1722. A flintlock, smoothbore musket, the weapon was produced in large quantities for over a century. In addition, the musket was fitted a socket allowing a bayonet to be fitted to the muzzle so that the weapon could be used as a pike in close fighting or defeating cavalry charges.

"Brown Bess":

Within fifty years of the Land Pattern's introduction, it had earned the nickname "Brown Bess." While the term was never used officially, it became the overarching name for the Land Pattern series of muskets. The origins of the name are unclear, however some suggest that it may be derived from the German term for strong gun (braun buss). As the weapon was commissioned during the reign of King George I, a native German, this theory is plausible. Regardless of its origins, the term was in colloquial use by the 1770s-1780s, with "to hug a Brown Bess" referring to those who served as soldiers.

Specifications:

The length of the Land Pattern muskets changed as the design evolved. As time passed, the weapons became increasingly shorter with the Long Land Pattern (1722) measuring 62 inches long, while the Marine/Militia Pattern (1756) and Short Land Pattern (1768) variations were 42 inches. The most popular version of the weapon, the East India Pattern stood 39 inches. Firing a .75 caliber ball, the Brown Bess' barrel and lockwork were made of iron, while the butt plate, trigger guard, and ramrod pipe were constructed of brass. The weapon weighed approximately 10 pounds and was fitted for a 17-inch bayonet.

Firing:

The effective range of the Land Pattern muskets tended to be around 100 yards, though combat tended to occur with masses of troops firing at 50 yards. Due to its lack of sights, smoothbore, and usually undersized ammunition, the weapon was not particularly accurate. Due to this, the preferred tactic for this weapon were massed volleys followed by bayonet charges. British troops using the Land Pattern muskets were expected to be able to fire four rounds per minute, though two to three was more typical.

Reloading Procedure:

  • Bite the cartridge.
  • Push the frizzen forward to open the pan and pour a small amount of powder into the flash pan.
  • Snap the frizzen back to position covering the flash pan.
  • Hold the musket vertically so that the muzzle is up.
  • Pour the remaining powder down the barrel.
  • Insert the bullet in the barrel.
  • Push the cartridge paper into the barrel
  • Remove ramrod from pipe under the barrel and use to push wadding and bullet down the barrel.
  • Replace the ramrod.
  • Raise musket to firing position with the butt against the shoulder.
  • Pull back the hammer.
  • Aim and fire.

Usage:

Introduced in 1722, the Land Pattern muskets became the longest-used firearms in British history. Evolving over its service life, the Land Pattern was the primary weapon used by British troops during the Seven Years' War, American Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars. In addition, it saw extensive service with the Royal Navy and Marines, as well as with auxiliary forces such as the British East India Company. Its principal contemporaries were the French .69 caliber Charleville musket and the American 1795 Springfield.

In the early 19th-century, many Land Pattern muskets were converted from flintlocks to percussion caps. This change in ignition systems made the weapons more reliable and less apt to fail. The final flintlock design, the Pattern 1839, ended the Land Pattern's 117-year run as the primary musket for British forces. In 1841, a fire at the Royal Arsenal destroyed many Land Patterns that were slated for conversion. As a result, a new percussion cap musket, the Pattern 1842, was designed to take its place. Despite this, converted Land Patterns remained in service throughout the empire for several more decades.

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