Weapons That Won the War of Independence

By Plaster, John L. | VFW Magazine, June/July 2011 | Go to article overview

Weapons That Won the War of Independence


Plaster, John L., VFW Magazine


The standard French Charleville musket and the famed colonial-made Kentucky Long Rifle were the shoulder arms that prevailed on the battlefields of the Revolutionary War.

The "shots heard £round the world" at Lexington were fired by a hodgepodge of squirrel guns, Brown Bess muskets and family hand-me-downs - not the arms of a true field army. Gen. George Washington soon realized that if his fledgling Continental Army were to stand a chance against Britain's professional Redcoats, his troops needed a standard, reliable musket.

Charleville Musket

In Paris, Benjamin Franklin persuaded King Louis XVI to secretly provide these weapons. The first shipment - 37,000 Charleville musket muzzleloaders - arrived in early 1777, with more shiploads to follow.

Thus, the American army's standard musket became the French Model 1763 and 1774 Charleville, a smoothbore that measured 60 inches in length and weighed approximately 11 pounds with its bayonet. It fired a .69-caliber lead ball, similar in size to a modern 12-gauge shotgun slug. Incorporating a flintlock action, when the musket's hammer fell, its flint showered sparks into a powder pan, with the resulting flash entering a tiny hole to ignite the internal powder charge and propel a ball down the barrel.

Like all smoothbore muskets, the Charleville was not very accurate - only capable of hitting a man-size target at about 70 yards. However, it was quite effective when fired in elbow-to- elbow volleys, with two lines reloading while a front line fired. Not until German Baron Von Steuben trained Washington's soldiers at Valley Forge did American infantrymen perfect these drills, advancing and firing three or four rounds per minute.

Kentucky Long Rifle

By contrast, the American soldier's other shoulder arm - the Kentucky or Pennsylvania Long Rifle - had a snugfitting rifled bore, requiring two tedious minutes to reload. What the rifle lacked in rate-of-fire, it compensated with accuracy: man-size targets could be hit at 200 yards, and in the hands of a crack marksman, to 300 yards. …

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