The American Revolutionary War started in 1775 and led to the formation of the United States of America, with hostilities between the Colonial Army and the British forces lasting until 1783. While a variety of guns, including pistols and long guns, were in common use during this period, the Colonial Army fought primarily with front loading muskets built with a flintlock firing mechanism.
How Muskets Worked
Muskets were large, heavy guns with wooden stocks, and required two hands to operate. Though they superficially resembled a modern rifle, they lacked the spiral carving on the inside of the barrel called "rifling" that gives the modern firearm its name. Rifling makes a bullet spin, giving it better aerodynamics in exactly the way a spinning football travels farther and more accurately than if it were not spinning. Between the lack of rifling, and the use of round balls instead of bullets, muskets were only accurate to a distance of approximately 100 yards.
Many modern rifles are loaded via clips or magazines, and their bullets are self-contained with their own powder. The muskets used during the American Revolution were loaded with the powder and projectile separately, and through the mouth of the barrel. A soldier first had to pour powder down the muzzle, then drop in a musket ball, and finally ram it all down to compact the load. A trained user could load a musket in about 30 seconds, which severely limited the rate of fire as compared to modern firearms.
When a soldier pulled the trigger on a flintlock musket, the mechanism scraped a piece of flint against the steel of the musket to generate a spark. That spark ignited the gunpowder the soldier had rammed into place, creating the controlled explosion that propelled the musket ball toward a target. Flintlock mechanisms replaced the earlier wheel lock and matchlock mechanisms, as the flintlock was more durable and reliable than those technologies.
Although the American Revolution took place before the era of mass production, specific styles of rifle were favored by soldiers fighting in the conflict. At the start of the war, both sides widely used the British Short Land Pattern, or "Brown Bess," musket which was standard issue for the British Army at the time. Once the colonial government allied with France in 1776, colonial fighters began receiving substantial shipments of the French-made Charleville musket. The Charleville was a smaller weapon -- 0.69-caliber versus the 0.71 of the Brown Bess -- and about 44 inches long as compared to the 61-inch long British weapon -- but both were flintlock muskets that were widely used by colonialists.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images