Although the long rifle was renowned for its role on the colonial frontier and its use by the scouts and hunter-marksmen of the Continental Army, another weapon was the standard gun of army regulars on both sides of the Revolutionary War: muskets. The National Park Service Museum calls the flintlock musket “the most important weapon of the Revolutionary War."
Bayonets and Volleys
Flintlocks used loose black powder or gunpowder, ignited within the barrel by a spark created when the trigger caused a flint to strike a steel. Unlike rifles, muskets have smoothbore barrels, making them less accurate at distance; the North Carolina Museum of History estimates that a Revolutionary-era musket was accurate to about 100 yards. Muskets were superior to rifles at close range, however, due to their bayonets, long knives affixed to the barrel. Muskets also loaded faster than rifles, yielding a fire rate of up to four shots a minute, according to the North Carolina Museum of History. Their shorter range called for a specialized tactic: the volley. Ranks of soldiers lined up with one row of men on their knees with others standing behind them. Their massed fire had better chances of hitting enemy targets. After two to three volleys, according to the North Carolina Museum of History, soldiers charged and engaged the survivors with bayonets. The British army used a heavy musket nicknamed Brown Bess; after the French allied with the Americans, the French provided the colonial army with a lighter continental musket.
- Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images News/Getty Images