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Response to 1-Old-Man (Reply #41)

Sat Dec 22, 2012, 11:41 AM

58. The rate of fire of a muzzle-loading musket and/or rifle at the time of the American Revolution....

....was about 2-3 shots per minute in the hands of someone who really knew what they were doing. That's assuming the shooter was not being shot at from close range which tended to cause problems with one's concentration while attempting to reload. Additionally, weather played a role because wet conditions tended to make exposed gunpowder unusable.

Here's a standard loading/reloading procedure during the 18th century as typified by a soldier using the English Brown Bess musket:

Upon the command "prime and load", the soldier would make a quarter turn to the right at the same time bringing the musket to the priming position. The pan would be open following the discharge of the previous shot, meaning that the frizzen would be tilted forward.

If the musket was not being reloaded after a previous shot, the soldiers would be ordered to "Open Pan".

Upon the command "Handle cartridge", the soldier would draw a cartridge from the cartridge box worn on the soldier's right hip or on a belt in front of the soldier's belly. Cartridges consisted of a spherical lead ball wrapped in a paper cartridge which also held the gunpowder propellant. The end of the cartridge opposite from the ball would be sealed by a mere twist of the paper. The soldier then tore off the twisted end of the cartridge with the teeth and spat it out, and continued to hold the now open cartridge in his right hand.

Upon the command "prime", the soldier then pulled the hammer back to half-cock, and poured a small amount of powder from the cartridge into the priming pan. He then closed the frizzen so that the priming powder was trapped.

Upon the command "about", the butt of the musket was then lowered and moved to a position against the soldier's left calf, and held so that the soldier could then access the muzzle of the musket barrel. The soldier then poured the rest of the powder from the cartridge down the muzzle. The cartridge was then reversed, and the end of the cartridge holding the musket ball was inserted into the muzzle, with the remaining paper shoved into the muzzle above the musket ball. This paper acted as wadding to stop the ball and powder from falling out if the muzzle was lowered.

Upon the command "draw ramrods", the soldier drew the ramrod from the musket. The ramrod was grasped and reversed when removed, and the large end was inserted about one inch into the muzzle.

Upon the command "ram down cartridge", the soldier then used the ramrod to firmly ram the wadding, bullet, and powder down to the breech of the barrel. The ramrod was then removed, reversed, and returned to half way in the musket by inserting it into the first and second ramrod pipes. The soldier's hand then grasped the top of the ramrod.

Upon the command "return rammers", the soldier would quickly push the rammer the remaining amount to completely return it to its normal position. Once the ramrod was properly replaced, the soldier's right arm would be held parallel to the ground at shoulder level, with the right fingertips touching the bayonet lug, and lightly pressing the musket to the soldier's left shoulder. The soldier's left hand still supported the musket.

(At no time did the soldier place the musket on the ground to load)

Upon the command "Make Ready". The musket was brought straight up, perpendicular to the ground, with the left hand on the swell of the musket stock, the lock turned toward the soldier's face, and the soldier's right hand pulled the lock to full cock, and grasped the wrist of the musket.

Upon the command "present", the butt of the musket was brought to the soldier's right shoulder, while at the same time the soldier lowered the muzzle to firing position, parallel to the ground, and sighting (if the soldier had been trained to fire at "marks" along the barrel at the enemy.

Upon the command of "fire", the soldier pulled the trigger, and the musket (hopefully) fired. A full second was allowed to pass, and the musket was then quickly lowered to the loading position, butt against the soldier's right hip, muzzle held off center to the left at about a forty-five degree angle, and the soldier would look down at his open pan to determine if the prime had been ignited.


Obviously, an individual shooter using a muzzle-loader is going to go through the steps noted above as quickly as possible without having to rely on someone giving the orders at each stage. Yes, the old weapons killed just like modern weapons, but the rate of fire, consistency of the gunpowder, ballistics, effects of each round, long-range accuracy, and muzzle velocity of a modern semi-automatic is VASTLY improved over the old weapons. Plainly speaking, the old 18th century musket with a sustained rate of fire of 2-3 rounds per minute under optimal conditions is definitely NOT comparable in any way to the modern semi-automatic rifle capable of firing 45-60 rounds per minute under any weather conditions.

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