The Smoothbore Musket

In the Revolutionary War, the standard weapon of both British and American armies was the smoothbore musket. Approximately four and a half to five feet in length, its caliber ranged from .69 to .80 (about ¾ of an inch in diameter). Powder was made up in paper cartridges and carried in a wooden/leather cartridge box to protect them from dampness. The musket ball itself weighed around one ounce and could wreak havoc on a human body. Since parts weren't standardized, a musket with a broken part had to be turned in to the armorer, who hand made a new part to fit that particular gun.

A recruit was trained in loading and firing until he could deliver three rounds per minute. Since tactics of the time dictated that firing be done in volleys, the complicated loading of the musket was done on command, with twelve separate orders required between each fire. Upon firing, the maximum range was about 100 yards, with the best range for the average soldier between thirty and forty yards.

With a weapon of such limited range and efficiency, the only way to achieve concentrated fire was to concentrate the soldiers. The standard method of delivering an attack was to advance in line to within forty yards of the enemy, deliver a fire, and then charge with the bayonet. The defenders would only have time to return fire once, and the attack was usually very effective, especially against new or handicapped troops.

The Rifle

This is the second, and most overrated, weapon of foot soldiers in the war. The bore of a rifle is grooved so that the bullet spins, causing it to move in a straight line and resulting in a much improved accuracy and range. Those carrying a rifle, because of this greater accuracy and longer range, were superior to musketeers under certain conditions; but certainly not under all.

Rifles of the time took longer to prepare between shots, and thus had a slower rate of fire. In a real battle, riflemen stood no chance against those carrying muskets, and it should be understood that Americans heavily imitated the British when it came to soldier tactics, equipment, and weapons.