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Rifle, Napoleonic

Rifle, Napoleonic

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Rifle, Napoleonic

The Napoleonic wars saw the start of the rifle becoming the main weapon of infantry. That is not to say that the rifle was the standard weapon by the end of the period, that was still a long way off. The rifles of the Napoleonic wars were still fairly rare and operated on the same principles as the smooth bore musket, but had a spiral groove or rifling inside the barrel so that the ball spun as it left the muzzle giving greater accuracy. This allowed specific officers to be targeted for the first time and fire against the crew of artillery batteries as at Badajoz. Stories abound of the accuracy of the rifles and data seems to support claims as shown by the famous British gunsmith Ezekiel Baker who fired 34 shots at 100yds and 24 at 200 yds and hit a man sized target every time. The Rifle was most popular in the German armies such as Prussian and Brunswick forces and these armies lead the way in rifle tactics with their 'Jager' or hunter units. In other armies the rifle was used by specialist troops or in the case of the French not used at all. This was because the rifle of the time had several disadvantages the main one being it was much slower than a musket to reload due to the tight fit of the ball in the barrel, also a good rifleman required considerable training. With German, Portuguese and British forces specific rifle units were created (95th and 60th rifles in British service) but in other armies such as the Russians the best shots in a unit were issued the new weapon. The few rifled muskets issued in French service were withdrawn in 1807, not surprising in an army based on quick training and mass formations. The rifles shorter barrel allowed riflemen to make use of natural cover and even prone firing positions and here we see the birth of what was to become the modern sniper. The most famous rifle of the period, the 'Baker, rifle was used by British riflemen and Portuguese Cacadores and by the end of the Napoleonic wars over 30,000 had been produced.

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The Lewis and Clark Expedition as depicted in a painting by Newman Myrah entitled “Bartering Blue Beads for Otter Robe”. A Girandoni Air Rifle was taken on the expedition and greatly impressed the Native Americans. Painting courtesy of the U.S. Army

The alpine region of Tyrol, a borderland between Italians and Germans, has long bred skillful hunters and tough mountain warriors. Around 1778, a Tyrolean master gunsmith, Bartolomeo Girandoni (1729-1799), invented the Girandoni air rifle, which attracted the attention of Joseph II, the Austrian emperor.

Air rifles had been used since the 16 th century, mainly to hunt small game. They were a favorite of poachers, because the lack of noise and smoke meant they could be used covertly.

Girandoni’s extraordinary design had two innovations that made it a formidable military weapon, rather than a sporting gun for wealthy nobles. First, it was a breech-loader, with a 20-round tubular magazine fixed alongside the barrel. To load the weapon, the user simply elevated the muzzle and pressed a spring-loaded slider, which picked up a ball and snapped it into place. To reload the magazine, the user opened a plug at the front of the magazine and emptied the contents of a “speed loader” into it. Second, it used very high pressure: 800 psi (54.4 atmospheres, or 5515.8 kPa) held in a riveted sheet-iron pressure flask that formed the weapon’s butt-stock. A fully-charged pressure flask was good for up to 80 shots.

Girandoni Air Rifle was an innovative design that was ahead of its time. The National Firearms Museum photo

The weapon’s advantages included a high rate of fire, no smoke, relatively low recoil, and less noise than a musket. With no black powder residue to foul the bore, it needed less cleaning. Shooters could load and fire while lying flat.

But there were significant disadvantages: The mechanism was complex and fragile. Like most rifles of the era, it was too fragile to mount a bayonet. It took 1,500 strokes on a hand pump (similar to a modern bicycle pump) to charge the air cylinder. The weapon became useless if the pump were lost or damaged. But above all, the Girandoni was simply incompatible with the tactical doctrine of the era. As much as weapons or terrain, doctrine shapes the behavior of armies.

In the late 18 th century, black powder rifles were precision sniper weapons. In battle riflemen targeted aristocratic officers, conspicuous in their gaudy uniforms. The officers found the whole idea repugnant, and unsporting. Brave soldiers stood up in the open and traded musket volleys at point-blank range. Napoleon Bonaparte actually disbanded the French army’s rifle units in 1807, because he considered rifles too expensive, and too slow to load and fire.

Issued to a few units of Tyrolean sharpshooters, the Girandoni served in combat against the Turks, but apparently never in Austria’s Napoleonic wars. By 1815, it was withdrawn from service. Around 1803, one of these weapons wound up in Philadelphia, Penn. An aide to President Thomas Jefferson, Capt. Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) acquired the piece. When Jefferson sent an expedition to explore the newly purchased Louisiana Territory, Lewis took the Girandoni along, to impress the native tribes he encountered. This is mentioned repeatedly in the journals of Lewis and Clark.

“My Air-gun…astonishes them very much, they cannot comprehend it’s shooting so often and without powder…”

-Meriwether Lewis Jan. 24, 1806

Somehow, this air rifle survived, and was eventually purchased by a collector. A gunsmith was commissioned to make some high-quality replicas. When the weapon was disassembled, he found that the main spring had been repaired exactly as described in the journals of Lewis and Clark. This historic weapon is now on loan to the museum of the National Rifle Association in Fairfax, Va.

The Girandoni air rifle is a might-have been a footnote to military history. Each one was hand-crafted by master gunsmiths, making them very costly. Probably no more than 1,500 were ever built. Some of the materials and techniques used were carefully guarded “trade secrets” that died with the craftsmen.

The Girandoni Air Rifle on display at The National Firearms Museum. The National Firearms Museum photo

At the very same time that the Austrian army was struggling to keep the Girandonis in repair, an American inventor, Eli Whitney (1765-1825) was trying to manufacture muskets with moving parts machined so precisely that they would be “interchangeable” between weapons of the same type. It was a revolutionary idea in a world where every complex mechanism was individually filed and ground to fit. The development of precision machine tools and gauges in the early 19 th century had not progressed far enough to make Whitney’s dream a reality until after his death. If Girandoni’s brilliant design had connected with Whitney’s interchangeable parts, armies equipped with mass-produced smokeless magazine rifles would have been quickly forced to adapt their tactics and doctrine, and subsequent history might have taken a very different path.

Royal Green Jackets [ edit | edit source ]

In 1948, for administrative purposes the KRRC was brigaded with the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry and the Rifle Brigade to form the Green Jackets Brigade.

In 1958 the Regiment was re-titled the 2nd Green Jackets, The King's Royal Rifle Corps, as were the two other regiments of the Green Jackets Brigade, re-titled 1st and 3rd Green Jackets respectively.

In 1966 the three regiments were amalgamated to form the three battalions of the Royal Green Jackets Regiment (RGJ).

In 1992 the 1st Battalion, Royal Green Jackets was disbanded, and the KRRC were renumbered the 1st Battalion, with the 3rd Battalion (former Rifle Brigade) becoming the 2nd Battalion.

In 2007, the two-battalion RGJ regiment was amalgamated with the remaining Light Infantry regiments, to form the five Regular and two Territorial battalions of The Rifles.

The regiment's traditions are preserved by the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, which is a redesignation of the 1st Battalion, Royal Green Jackets.

Rifle Brigade during WW1

Since 1815 the balance of power in Europe had been maintained by a series of treaties. In 1888 Wilhelm II was crowned ‘German Emperor and King of Prussia’ and moved from a policy of maintaining the status quo to a more aggressive position. He did not renew a treaty with Russia, aligned Germany with the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire and started to build a Navy rivalling that of Britain. These actions greatly concerned Germany’s neighbours, who quickly forged new treaties and alliances in the event of war. On 28th June 1914 Franz Ferdinand the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated by the Bosnian-Serb nationalist group Young Bosnia who wanted pan-Serbian independence. Franz Joseph's the Austro-Hungarian Emperor (with the backing of Germany) responded aggressively, presenting Serbia with an intentionally unacceptable ultimatum, to provoke Serbia into war. Serbia agreed to 8 of the 10 terms and on the 28th July 1914 the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, producing a cascade effect across Europe. Russia bound by treaty to Serbia declared war with Austro-Hungary, Germany declared war with Russia and France declared war with Germany. Germany’s army crossed into neutral Belgium in order to reach Paris, forcing Britain to declare war with Germany (due to the Treaty of London (1839) whereby Britain agreed to defend Belgium in the event of invasion). By the 4th August 1914 Britain and much of Europe were pulled into a war which would last 1,566 days, cost 8,528,831 lives and 28,938,073 casualties or missing on both sides.

The Regiment formed a total of 28 battalions during the First World War, in addition to the pre-war establishment of two Regular and two Militia and two Territorial Battalions. The regiment lost 11,575 men who were killed during the course of the war and were awarded 52 battle honours including 10 Victoria Crosses.

1st Battalion
04.08.1914 Stationed at Colchester as part of the 11th Brigade of the 4th Division.
18.08.1914 Moved to Harrow School.
23.08.1914 Mobilised for war and landed at Havre and the engaged in various action on the Western Front including
During 1914
The Battle of Le Cateau, The Battle of the Marne, The Battle of the Aisne, The Attack on Ploegsteert Wood.
Dec 1914 This Battalion took part in the Christmas Truce of 1914.
During 1915
The Second Battle of Ypres.
During 1916
The German gas attack at Ypres, the Battle of Le Transloy.
During 1917
The Battle of Arras, The Battle of Broodseinde, The Battle of Poelcapelle.
During 1918
Battle of the Somme, Battle of Lyes, German withdrawal at Hinges, The Battle of Drocourt-Queant, Battles of the Hindenburg Line.
11.11.1918 Ended the war in France, Haspres N.W. of Solesmes.

2nd Battalion
04.08.1914 Stationed at Kuldana, Pakistan.
20.09.1914 Embarked for England from Bombay arriving at Liverpool 22.10.1914 and then moved to Hursley Park, Winchester to join the 25th Brigade of the 8th Division.
06.11.1914 Mobilised for war and landed in Havre and engaged in various actions on the Western Front including
During 1915
The Battle of Neuve Chapelle, The Battle of Aubers Ridge, the Battle of Loos,
During 1916
Battle of the Somme, the attack near Le Transloy,
During 1917
Attack near Gouzeaucourt, Capture of Gonnelieu, The Battle of Pilkem, Attack on Westhoek Ridge, The Battle of Langemarck, in trenches at Passchendaele.
During 1918
Battle of the Somme near Pargny and Morchain
11.11.1918 Ended the war in Belgium, Pommeroeul West of Mons.

3rd Battalion
04.08.1914 Stationed at Cork as part of the 17th Brigade of the 6th Division then moved to Cambridge and afterwards on to Newmarket.
12.09.1914 Mobilised for war and landed at St. Nazaire and engaged in various actions on the Western Front including
During 1914
The actions on the Aisne heights, Attack on Perenchies.
Dec 1914 This Battalion took part in the Christmas Truce of 1914.
14.10.1915 transferred to the 17th Brigade of the 24th Division.
During 1915
The Battle of Loos.
During 1916
Action of the Bluff, battle of Devlin Wood.
During 1917
Battles of Arras, Battle of Messines, The Battle of Pilkem Ridge, attack on Passchendaele.
During 1918
Battle of the Somme at Falvy Bridge and Vrely, attack on St. Aubert.
11.11.1918 Ended the war in France, Bavai.

4th Division
04.08.1914 Stationed at Dagshai, India and embarked for Engalnd from Bombay in October arriving at Devonport, Plymouth 18.11.1914. They then moved to Magdalen Hill, Wincghester to join the 80th Brigade of the 27th Division.
21.12.1914 Mobilised for war and landed at Havre and engaged in various actions on the Western Front including
During 1915
Action at St. Eloi (Ypres area), Battle of St. Julien, Battle of Frezenberg, Battle of Bellewaarde.
25.11.1915 The Division was ordered to moved to Salonika and engaged in various actions against the Bulgarian Army including
During 1916
The capture of Karajakois, The capture of Yenikoi, The battle of Tumbitza Farm.
During 1917
The capture of Homondos, The capture of the Roche Noir Salient, The passage of the Vardar river and pursuit to the Strumica valley.
30.09.1918 Ended the War in Macedonia, Rabrovo N.W. of Lake Doiran.

5th (Reserve) Battalion
04.08.1914 Stationed at Winchester at the outbreak of war and then moved to Minster, Isle of Sheppey and remained there until the end of the war.

6th (Reserve) Battalion
04.08.1914 Stationed at Winchester at the outbreak of war and then moved to Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey and remained there until the end of the war.

7th (Service) Battalion
21.08.1914 Formed at Winchester as part of the First New Army (K1) and then moved to Aldershot to join the 41st Brigade of the 14th Division.
Nov 1914 Moved to Farnham and then back to Aldershot.
20.05.1915 Mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne and engaged in various action on the Western front including
During 1915
The German gas attack at Hooge.
During 1916
The Battle of Delville Wood, The Battle of Flers-Courcelette.
During 1917
Battle of Arras, Engaged at Inverness Copse.
27.04.1918 Reduced to training cadre.
17.06.1918 Returned to England with the Division stationed at Pirbright and then absorbed into the 33rd Battalion of the London Regiment.

8th (Service) Battalion
21.08.1914 Formed at Winchester as part of the First New Army (K1) and then moved to Aldershot to join the 41st Brigade of the 14th Division.
Nov 1914 Moved to Farnham and then back to Aldershot.
20.05.1915 Mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne and engaged in various action on the Western front including
During 1915
The German gas attack at Hooge.
During 1916
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette.
During 1917
Battle of Arras, Engaged at Inverness Copse.
27.04.1918 Reduced to training cadre.
27.07.1918 Transferred to the 117th Brigade of the 39th Division.
03.08.1918 Disbanded in Desvres France.

9th (Service) Battalion
21.08.1914 Formed at Winchester as part of the First New Army (K1) and then moved to Aldershot to join the 42nd Brigade of the 14th Division.
Nov 1914 Moved to Petworth and then back to Aldershot.
21.05.1915 Mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne and engaged in various action on the Western front including
During 1915
The German gas attack at Hooge, The Battle of Loos.
During 1916
The Battle of Delville Wood, The Battle of Flers-Courcelette.
During 1917
Battle of Arras, Engaged at Inverness Copse.
27.04.1918 Reduced to training cadre.
27.06.1918 Transferred to the 117th Brigade of the 39th Division.
03.08.1918 Disbanded in Desvres France

10th and 11th (Service) Battalion
Sept 1914 Both formed at Winchester as part of the Second New Army (K2) and moved to Blackdown to join the 59th Brigade of the 20th Division and then moved to Witley, and on to Hamilton Camp, Stonehenge.
21.07.1915 Mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne and engaged in various action on the Western front including
During 1916
The Battle of Guillemont.
During 1917
Attack on Steenbeek, Attack on Rue Des Vignes, The Cambrai Operations.
05.02.1918 The 10th disbanded near La Clytte and personnel transferred to the 3rd 11th 12th and 13th Battalions. The 11th continued to engage in various actions including
During 1918
The Battle of St Quentin, The actions at the Somme crossings, The Battle of Rosieres, The Battle of the Selle, The Battle of Valenciennes, The Battle of the Sambre and the passage of the Grand Honelle.
11.11.1918 Ended the war in France, Jenlain west of Bavai

12th (Service) Battalion
Sept 1914 Formed at Winchester as part of the Second New Army (K2) and moved to Blackdown to join the 60th Brigade of the 20th Division and then moved to Witley, and on to Larkhill.
21.07.1915 Mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne and engaged in various action on the Western front including
During 1916
Battle of Loos, attack near Montauban,
During 1917
The Cambrai Operations.
During 1918
Battle of the Somme and captured the village of Mezieres.
11.11.1918 Ended the war in France, Bettignies north of Maubeuge.

13th (Service) Battalion
Oct 1914 Formed at Winchester as part of the Third New Army (K3) and moved to High Wycombe to join the 111th Brigade of the 37th Division and then moved to Andover.
31.07.1915 Mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne and engaged in various action on the Western front including
During 1916
Attack near Pozieres, Battle of Guillemont. Battle of Ancre.
During 1917
Battle of Arras, The Second Battle of the Scarpe, Capture of Achiet Le Grand and Bihucourt.
During 1918
The Battles of the Hindenburg Line, Attack near Briastre.
11.11.1918 Ended the war in France, Caudry S.E. of Cambrai

14th and 15th (Reserve) Battalions
Oct 1914 Formed at Southend as a service battalion for the Fourth New Army (K4) and to join the 92nd Brigade of the 31st Division.
10.04.1915 Became the 2nd Reserve Battalions in the 4th Reserve Brigade, moving to Purfleet.
From June to Sept 1915 moved to Belhus Park, Aveley on to Essex and the Seaford.
01.09.1916 Became the 19th and 20th Training Reserve Battalions of the 4th Training Reserve Brigade.

16th (Service) Battalion (St. Pancras)
02.04.1915 Formed in St. Pancras by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee.
19.07.1915 taken over by the War Office and moved to Hursley Park, Winchester and joined the 117th Brigade of the 39th Division.
Sept 1915 Moved to Aldershot and the Witley.
08.03.1916 Mobilised for war and landed at Havre and engaged in various actions on the Western Front including
During 1916
Attack near Festubert,
During 1917
The Battle of Pilkem Ridge, Attack on Steenbeek, The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge.
During 1918
Attack on Wytschaete Ridge.
16.05.1918 Reduced to training cadre.
16.08.1918 Transferred to the 66th Division.
29.09.1918 Defending the Lines of Communication as part of the 197th Brigade at Haudricourt S.W. of Aumale.

17th (Service) Battalion
Oct 1915 Formed at Charrington Hall from the depot companies of the 16th Battalion as a local reserve Battalion and then joined the 26th Reserve Brigade.
Jan 1916 Moved to Banbury and then Wimbledon.
01.19.1916 Became the 112th Training Reserve Battalion of the 26th Reserve Brigade.

18th (London) 23rd (North Western) and 24th (Home Counties) Battalions Territorial Force
28.11.1915 Formed from Supernumerary Territorial Force Companies to make Territorial units under direction from the Army Council Instruction as part of Army Order 187.
These battalions were used for garrison duty of vulnerable points in India.

19th (Western) and 20th (Northern) Battalions Territorial Force
28.11.1915 Formed from Supernumerary Territorial Force Companies to make Territorial units under direction from the Army Council Instruction as part of Army Order 187.
These battalions were used for garrison duty of vulnerable points in Egypt and Palestine.

21st (Midland) Battalions Territorial Force
28.11.1915 Formed from Supernumerary Territorial Force Companies to make Territorial units under direction from the Army Council Instruction as part of Army Order 187.
These battalions were used for garrison duty of vulnerable points in Egypt and then India.

22nd (Wessex & Welsh) Battalions Territorial Force
28.11.1915 Formed from Supernumerary Territorial Force Companies to make Territorial units under direction from the Army Council Instruction as part of Army Order 187.
These battalions were used for garrison duty of vulnerable points in Egypt and then Salonika and joined the 228th Brigade under the command of the Greek Crete Division

25th (Reserve) Garrison Battalion Territorial Force
Aug 1916 Formed in Falmouth and remained there until the end of the war.

51st (Graduated) Battalion
27.10.1917 Formed at Welbeck from the 237th Graduated Battalion (previously the 19th Training Reserve Battalion and before that the 14th Rifle Brigade) and joined the 206th Brigade of the 69th Division.
Jan 1918 Moved to Aldershot and transferred to the 201st Brigade of the 67th Division at Ipswich.
June 1918 Moved to Foxhall Heath.

52nd (Graduated) Battalion
27.10.1917 Formed at Clipstone from the 241st Graduated Battalion (previously the 21st Training Reserve Battalion and before that the 11th East Surrey Battalion) and joined the 207th Brigade of the 69th Division.
Feb 1918 Moved to Colchester and transferred to the 202nd Brigade of the 67th Division at Ipswich.

53rd (Young Soldier) Battalion
27.10.1917 Formed at Northampton from the 18th Young Soldier Battalion (previously the 15th King`s Royal Rifle Corps) as part of the 4th Reserve brigade.

The Ferguson Rifle – The British Weapon That Might Have Changed the Outcome of the American Revolution

IT WAS THE rifle that could have won the American Revolution for the British. A technical marvel more than 50 years ahead of its time, this breech-loader received its baptism of fire at Brandywine Creek outside Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 1777.

Major Patrick Ferguson, the weapon’s inventor, put his experimental rifle to his shoulder and centered the sights on a high-ranking American officer in buff and blue. Considered to be one of the finest marksmen in the British army, Ferguson knew it was an easy shot — the target was just over 100 yards away and he had a clear line of sight. Ferguson had no idea who the enemy officer was since the man’s back was turned, but he was impressed by his enemy’s height and bearing. At the last second, Ferguson lowered his weapon, deciding the business of a proper British officer was honourable combat, not assassinating opposing commanders. George Washington would live.

Born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1744, Ferguson was respected as much for his humanity as his initiative. Growing up in Edinburgh in a family more distinguished for its pedigree than its fortune, he was familiar with many of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment and from adolescence displayed a penchant for things mechanical. Lord Cornwallis called him “brilliant” and felt the rifle named after him never received the recognition due it.

Ferguson developed his extraordinary weapon after beginning light infantry training in 1774. A veteran of fighting on the Continent, he had been impressed by the stubby jaeger rifles employed by allied German skirmishing units. Though deadly accurate, they were too slow to load. Unlike conventional smooth-bore muskets carried by ordinary soldiers, muzzle-loading rifles required wooden mallets to pound the ball down into the rifling grooves. Drawing on the designs of French gunsmith Isaac de Chaumette and English inventor John Warsop, Ferguson envisioned a breech-loading weapon that needed no ramrod, could be reloaded at the walk, and had more than twice the range of a common musket. While three shots a minute was good for a Brown Bess, a skilled operator of the Ferguson could do much better.

The secret of Ferguson’s rifle was a moveable breechblock. Unlike earlier breechblocks, his weapon incorporated a screw mechanism into the trigger guard with a handle that could not detach, become lost, or get in the way when not in use. He also developed a unique 12-thread screw for the breech plug. The screw was tapered and slotted: the diagonal threads allowed the breech to be fully opened with one downward counter clockwise turn of the handle. An upward clockwise turn sealed the breech. When the breech was closed, those same threads gave a good gas seal because matching threading was built into the barrel. Adding a mixture of tallow and beeswax to the threads further improved the efficiency of the seal.

When the breech was open, the shooter inclined the weapon slightly forward, and placed a .648-inch ball into the barrel. He then added powder and sealed the breech, letting any excess powder simply fall away. The ball needed no wadding it was held firmly in place because it was larger slightly larger than the .645-inch barrel. When fired, the ball compressed to fit the eight lands and grooves of the hexagonal barrel: giving one full twist in 60 inches.

Fouling caused by unburned powder was a problem for all black powder weapons, but the Ferguson enjoyed an advantage in this regard as well. When the breechblock was lowered most of the fouling fell away and the rest could be easily wiped off.

The weapon had front and rear sights calibrated for ranges from 100 to 500 yards, though 300 was probably its effective limit.

Though most rifles of the era did not take a bayonet, Ferguson’s accepted a socket bayonet of 30 inches.

Based on an enlisted man’s weapon in the museum at Morristown National Historical Park, the Ferguson weighed 6.9 pounds. It was 49 3/8 inches in length and had a 34 1/8 barrel. Its dimensions approximated those of the Baker Rifle, which won fame in the Napoleonic Wars. And like the Baker, the Ferguson was short enough to be reloaded from a variety of positions.

On Oct. 2, 1776, Ferguson gave a compelling demonstration of his rifle for King George at Woolwich. In a driving rainstorm that would have rendered muzzle loaders unusable, he fired four shots a minute for ten minutes. To conclude the demonstration, he picked up the pace and managed six rounds in a minute.

At one point he allowed the rain to fill the opened breech and was able to clear the water and get the weapon firing again in just a few moments.

As a reward for the King’s pleasure, Ferguson was allowed to form an experimental rifle corps of 100 men. Its debut was also its final performance. When Ferguson was badly wounded at Brandywine, the corps was broken up. The men found themselves reassigned to regular units and most of their weapons were lost to history.

Ferguson died heroically at the Battle of King’s Mountain in South Carolina in 1780. Though just over 100 Fergusons were manufactured, only five examples are known to exist in the U.S. today: the best preserved one being that of Captain Fredric de Peyster whose descendants donated it to the Smithsonian Institution. Should one in reasonable condition appear on the antique market in the near future, it would likely fetch seven-figures.

Two factors kept the Ferguson from becoming a revolutionary weapon in a revolutionary war: expense and conservatism.

The weapon was costly to manufacture and the British government was very concerned with frugality. The Ferguson stretched the limits of the technology then available and required a gunsmith with far more than average skill. A Brown Bess might be a crude weapon but armouries could produce 20 for the cost of one Ferguson.

The Board of Ordnance chiefs of the time were skeptical of innovation, preferring to stick with tried and tested weaponry. Adoption of the Ferguson in large numbers would have required a wholesale and exhaustive reevaluation of the tactics and maneuvers of the day: an exceedingly difficult thing to do in wartime. It should be remembered that the repeating Colt revolver was initially rejected by the U.S. Army for much the same reasons that the Ferguson never won general acceptance.

The Ferguson was the remarkable creation of a remarkable man. Today it is remembered as a curiosity: a what-might-have- been that gives National Parks rangers a story that tourists at King’s Mountain find endlessly compelling. Though a footnote to history rather than a game-changer, we should not fail to see it for what it was: a great leap forward in the development of firearms.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Danielski is the author of the Tom Pennywhistle series of novels about a Royal Marine officer in the Napoleonic Wars. Book five of the series, Bellerophon’s Champion: Pennywhistle at Trafalgar was published by Penmore Press in May. For more, visit: www.tompennywhistle.com or check him out on Amazon.

As a melee fighter, heavy cavalry would have depended on armor to block melee weapons once they got in range, and that alone would justify its use. As far as effectiveness against firearms the best I've ever found is that quality armor of the time was somewhat effective against small arms and muskets at range, though muskets could easily penetrate at close range. While I haven't been able to find exact distances, I would expect this also gave Heavy Cavalry a range where musket fire was ineffective and they would be able to close before infantry could reload.

Rifles of the period had longer range and took longer to reload, which would indicate they were more effective against armor though it may have been a wash due to longer reload times, but I can't conform that. Rifles and rifle companies were also far less common at the time so the decision to wear armor was likely based more on fighting musket armed soldiers as that was the more common opponent.

Without getting too involved in a discussion of terminal ballistics, the Napoleonic period armour certainly offered some protection against firearms, but it was only effective up to a point. This picture shows a a French cavalry cuirass (a breastplate worn as body armour) from Waterloo on display in the Musée de l’Armée:

A cannonball from a British 9lb cannon can do a lot of damage!

Further down the scale, a simple musket-ball could also kill an armoured cavalryman at that time. This is the cuirass of Lieutenant Colonel Achambault:

Looking at the state of his cuirass, you probably won't be surprised to learn that he was killed while leading the 9th Cuirassiers during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

Now, I've also seen plenty of cases where Napoleonic period armour shows dents from musket balls that didn't penetrate. In those cases it most definitely saved lives and prevented serious injury. The guy in this cuirass probably survived this shot:

Without the armour, he would certainly have had a much worse day.

Just to add a note about cannons: fragmentation is a very common source of injury -- be it wood splinters, bone, rocks, or shrapnel from the shell -- link, graphic images of wounds. This could have impacted the desire to wear armour. However, wikipedia and Body Armor: Cuirass and Helmet seem to indicate that fragmentation/shrapnel was not a factor at all in wearing armour.

If this link works, see picture of a Napoleonic era Cuirass (armed cavalryman's breast plate) with what appear a hole in it made by a cannon ball, apparently on entry and exit:

I doubt the cuirassier wearing it survived.

As for muskets, I have certainly read of how at the battle of Waterloo, when French heavy cavalry, with armoured breast plates like the cuirass above and metal helmets, confronted British infantry, men noticed a distinctive rattling sound of musket balls bouncing off the metal armour, suggesting that it did protect against small arms fire.

However, as far as I know, unlike in the Middle Ages men, were never armoured head to foot nor did horses have armour. My guess, only, is that armour in this period was particularly although not exclusively for protection against the swords and lances of enemy cavalry.

The latter, attacking from roughly the same height, and keeping their guard up against counter-blows, would most often land blows on the upper part of the cavalryman's body, hence armour being mainly on chest, back and head. The arms were presumably less protected because they needed to be freer to hold the reins and wield a sword.

Eric W. Edwards Pitt Rivers Museum Library Assistant


The Baker Rifle in the Pitt Rivers Museum

The displayed rifle in the Gun Case has a label that states the weapon is a Baker Rifle of circa 1800 that was issued to specialist rifle regiments at the beginning of the 19 th century. Further stating that, with the technology of the day, it was too costly for general army issue. Furthermore, it was the first British military firearm to be rifled. It has an Accession Number of 1884.27.39. The rifle was donated by Augustus Henry Lane Fox in 1884 (and therefore part of the Founding Collection) but was collected prior to 1874. It was originally displayed in Bethnal Green and Kensington Museums (V&A).

Stamped on the silver coloured metal lock of the rifle is 'Tower' and 'GR with crown'. Also on the lock is a lock proof mark of a crown over an arrow or chevron pointing downwards. On the brass butt tang is stamped '14/9"CRR'. The weapon is noted as being 1165 mm in length. As will be shown later the rifle on display is, in fact, an 1806 Tower Pattern Infantry Rifle (made after 1806) and possibly issued to the Ceylon Rifle Regiment (CRR) who were formed in 1817, dressed in green, and supplied with a rifle that also used a sword bayonet. Regimental marks were often stamped on the butt tangs of rifles.

Stamped on the barrel (see illustration) is a set of proof marks. The crown and GR always appears uppermost to the crown and crossed sceptres symbol. The symbols combined on the barrel of this Baker Rifle indicate that these are Georgian Government proofs from 1815 to 1830 (Bailey, 1986). The barrel is government manufactured. If the barrel had been made privately, and only proofed by the Ordinance proof house, the crown and sceptres would be stamped twice. This proof mark sequence always occurs in conjunction on rifles made and proofed by the government ordnance. This also shows that, by its proof marks, this rifle was made after 1815 and before it was supplied to the Ceylon Rifle Regiment (CRR) circa 1817.

The Origin of the Baker Rifle

The first breech-loading rifle made for the army use was the Ferguson rifle designed in 1774. Rifles had been employed by some units of militia in a number of actions with noted success. The Board of Ordnance had bought, in 1796, some rifles from the famous gunmaker Durs Egg. This weapon looked like a musket and had a 39 inch barrel with 0.704 inch bore. It was this fact that came to the notice of the British Board of Ordnance. The late 18 th century Board of Ordnance was a separate department to the British Army that researched procurement of the best weapons, and established in offices in Horse Guards. They had the overall responsibility of determining which weapons regiments used, as well as naval artillery requirements. As such the Board was a scientific and professional organisation. It was their intention to obtain the best rifle to equip an elite and specially trained rifle corps as well as already existing rifle units such as the 5 th Battalion of the 60 th Regiment of Foot.

In January of 1800 Colonel Coote Manningham received a letter, from the Adjutant General of the Army, which informed him that the Duke of York intended to give him command of a Corps of detachments from 14 Regiments of the Line. This was for the express '. purpose of its being instructed in the use of the Rifle and in the System of Exercise adopted by soldiers so armed.' (WO 3/21 cited in Blackmore, 1994). This Corps of Riflemen, at Woolwich, as Manningham was informed was not a distinct or permanent unit but was a '. Corps of Experiment and Instruction.' (WO 3/32 cited in Blackmore, 1994).

During the first week of February a series of rifle experiments were conducted at Woolwich near London. Apart from the words of Ezekiel Baker, and the recorded travel expenses of the Master Furbisher, no report of the rifle tests exists. The trials of many submissions resulted in Ezekiel Baker's barrel being adopted as the first issue British rifle. As Baker himself opined 'In the year 1800 the principal gun makers in England were directed by the Honourable Board of Ordnance to procure the best rifle possible, for the use of a rifle corps (the 95 th Regiment) raised by the government. Among those who were selected on this occasion, I was desired to attend: and a committee of field officers was appointed for the purpose of examining, and reporting according to their judgement. There were also many rifles from America and various parts of the continent produced at the same time. These were all tried at Woolwich when my barrel, having only an quarter of a turn in the rifle, was approved by the committee.' (Baker, 1823). The initial design was not innovative but reflected the better features of continental examples. Baker's first two submissions were rejected by Manningham because they were of musket size and bore and believed too cumbersome, but the third model was approved and this eventually became the first rifle pattern adopted by the British army. As Baker himself said 'When the 95 th Regiment was first raised, I made some rifles of equal dimensions of the muskets, in order that they might be supplied with ammunition, if necessarily supplied, from any infantry regiment that might be near them. They were, however, strongly objected to by the Commanding Officer, Colonel Manningham, as well as all the officers of the Regiment, as requiring too much exertion, and harassing the men from their excessive weight. They were consequently immediately relinquished, and twenty to the pound substituted.' (Baker, 1823).

It seems that Manningham, the father of the thinking rifleman, had a vital role in the decision making process of the Board. It was Manningham who provided Baker with a German Jaeger rifle with the recommendation that he copy it. The final selection therefore of Baker's pattern was one with the Jaeger barrel of 30 inches length. The rifle commissioned by the Board had also a 'carbine bore' of 0.625 inches with a quarter turn seven groove rifling. The rifle did indeed resemble the German Jaeger model, as well as other continental rifles, but the real innovation given the rifle was Baker's quarter turn rifling which was claimed to give greater accuracy. Selection of Ezekiel Baker's third rifle pattern to be the weapon of choice for the new Rifle Corps was a process lasting two years.

In October 1800 another matter was concluded after much argument. The elite Corps of Riflemen was officially established on August 25 th with their accoutrements and distinctive green uniforms approved and authorised for eight companies, and they were equipped throughout with the Baker Rifle. In March the Board of Ordnance had provided Ezekiel Baker with a request for his pattern barrels and rifles. This first batch was for 800, especially for the 95 th Regiment of Foot, and were ordered from gunsmiths in London and Birmingham. This Board of Ordnance manufacturing system established a network of contracts for barrels and locks from gun-makers Egg, Nock, Baker, Pritchett, Brander, Wilkes, Bennett, Harrison and Thompson. The first rifles cost 36 shillings for those with patch boxes in the butt and 32 shillings for those without.

Ezekiel Baker and his Rifle

Ezekiel Baker originally served his apprenticeship with the gunmaker Henry Nock and subsequently worked for this master. However, in 1794, Baker became gun contractor to the British Board of Ordnance. Established in a small workshop in the London Minories he was employed on producing locks and barrels. For a while Baker was in partnership with a lock maker called James Negus. Baker also had government contracts for smooth bore muskets and pistols and supplied the Honourable East India Company.

The specimen rifle made to his specifications and submitted for experiment was chosen in 1800 for the then newly raising Rifle Corps. It was afterwards that he wrote and published his 'Remarks on Rifle Guns.' Indeed, as is known Baker '. demonstrated his inventions superiority in competitive trials organised by the Board of Ordnance.' (Urban, 2004). Further to this, for what eventually became seen as the essence of the Baker Rifle, it '. was also remarked, that the barrel was less liable to foul from frequent firing, than the whole, the three-quarters, or half-turns in angles of the rifle, which was considered of great advantage to the corps, particularly when engaged, as they would not require so often sponging out as the greater angles would and yet possess every advantage of the other rifle in point of accuracy and strength of shooting at three hundred yards distance. For all these reasons the committee gave mine a preference, and recommended to the Honourable Board of Ordnance to have their rifles made upon a similar construction.' (Baker, 1823). From this it can be seen that the rifling twist rate had only one quarter of a turn in the rifle. Such rifling endowed a far more rapid spin to the round lead ball and, in theory, imparted greater accuracy. The barrel of Baker's rifle was only 30 inches in length and therefore one turn in 120 inches. As elements of continental rifles had been incorporated into the pattern it was, as Baker himself pointed out, only the innovative rifling system that he claimed as his own. Bakers main improvements were to reduce barrel length and overall size and weight, and also to reduce the rifle bore to a standard for the time of 0.625 inches.

In 1805 Ezekiel Baker established his own production facilities at 24 Whitechapel Road in London. On one side there was Size Yard and at the rear a large warehouse which he converted into a factory and his own proof-house. Baker had come to the attention of the Prince of Wales and this Royal patron, as Colonel of the 10 th Dragoons arranged the adoption of Baker's cavalry rifle for that Regiment. Soon Baker was appointed court gun maker. Further encouragement by the Prince of Wales led to Baker establishing his own proof house whereby he subjected his guns to his special 'Fire, Water and Target' proof and special proof mark stamps. Ezekiel Baker's private shop and factory developed into a rival to the other gunmakers proof house.

Ezekiel Baker was responsible for improvements in firearms that included bayonet design and fitting, pistol grips, special locks, barrel rammers. The Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Manufactures gave him three silver medals for his developments in safety locks and his bullet moulds. Not only had Baker's rifle shown its improved and reliable accuracy it had also '. managed to overcome the prejudice against such weapons by being robust enough for field service.' (Urban, 2004).

The Development of the Baker Rifle

As the Baker Rifle was, under the terms of the Government contract, made in many gunsmith shops in London and Birmingham, it is not surprising that there are subtle variations to be seen between individual weapons. In addition the rifle was subject to certain modifications throughout its life as a service rifle.

The progress of the Napoleonic War led to changes in the Baker Rifle. A Second Pattern was fitted with the 'Newland' lock and a Third Pattern appeared in 1806 with a pistol grip trigger guard. In addition it had a four and a half inch butt box (or patch box) with a characteristic rounded plain front. This is the type displayed in the Pitt Rivers Museum gun case. Also notable in the Pattern 3 was the 5 inch long flat lock plate, a raised semi-waterproof pan, a sturdy safety bolt, and a flat ring neck cock. By 1809 riflemen were equipped with the Third Pattern introduced in 1806, which by 1823 had become standard issue. As with the Pitt Rivers example the furniture (e.g., butt tang, escutcheon, side plate, trigger guard) of the rifle was made of brass. A sling was fastened to the rifle and it was sighted for 200 yards.

However, Baker Rifle quality varied. This depended on the type of flintlock fitted, on whether they were made in Birmingham or London, but nonetheless service reliability ensured production until 1838. Most of the rifles made between 1800 and 1815 were produced under the Tower of London System, not by Ezekiel Baker. The System meant that Baker subcontracted out production to some 20 or more gunsmiths. For the period 1805-1815 Baker made only 712 rifles. A number of variations included the 1801 Pattern West India Rifle (a simplified version minus a butt box) the 1809 Pattern with its 0.75 inch musket calibre and 1800/15 Pattern Rifle that had been altered to accept a socket bayonet instead of the usual sword-bayonet.

Between 1805 and 1808 the Board of Ordnance took into its stores some 10,078 English made Baker rifles. This had increased to 14,000 by the end of the Napoleonic War. It was from 1813 that the Baker cavalry carbine had been issued to the 10 th Light Dragoons, whereas a cavalry carbine made by Ezekiel Baker was issued to the Life Guards in 1801. An average of 2,000 Baker Rifles of various patterns were produced in London and Birmingham gun shops between 1804 and 1815. Of these Birmingham supplied 14,615 complete rifles plus 32,582 barrels and 37,338 rifle locks.

Technical Aspects

The Baker Rifle and its pattern variations was in service with the British Army between 1801 and 1838. The weapon was a standard rifle with a calibre (ammunition size) of 0.625 inches (15.9 mm) or 'carbine bore'. It weighed about nine pounds (4.08 kg). Designed between 1798 and 1800 it was 43 and three quarter inches in total length (1162 mm) but the camouflage browned barrel was only some 30 inches (762 mm) long. The Pitt Rivers Baker Rifle measures 1165 mm in total length. Muzzle-loaded, it fired by flintlock ignition a lead ball of 0.615 inches diameter (hence the need for greased linen or leather patches), but later ammunition supplied was ball cartridge. Ignition was provided by a TOWER marked lock (firing mechanism) which was also marked with a crown over GR forward of the lock. A proficient rifleman could achieve a rate of three rounds per minute, and a semi-skilled man could be credited with two rounds per minute. Baker rifles, like Brown Bess muskets, were fully stocked with the wood extending the length of the barrel.

The Baker Rifle stocks were made from English walnut and comprised two class types. Earlier versions have large and two compartment butt box. The second type of stock is not drilled but slit to accommodate a housing for the rammer, and has a smaller butt box. The Pitt Rivers Museum Baker Rifle is of this second type. The butt box of the second type was covered by a 4 and a half inch brass plate or lid. This covered a single compartment for the tools required for regular and essential maintenance. This feature also suggests that in the later version the butt box was no longer a patch box but could contain the new integral ball cartridge.

Rifle Corps officers permitted their men to load their rifles after their own fashion or preference. This allowed on the condition that they could demonstrate it was accurate to set standards. Live ammunition was used in practise and riflemen could achieve ranges of 150 to 200 yards firing twice a minute. This is a previously unknown level of accuracy compared to the standard issue musket's unreliability beyond 75 yards. Rifle accuracy was required in order to strike an enemy soldier, at a distance greater than that of the enemy musket, somewhere about his person. Certainly with the intention of rendering him hors de combat, if not dead or mortally wounded. The rifleman, who could accurately shoot birds and rabbits for food at some range were naturally expected to shoot moving French, or other troops, with a good measure of accuracy and regularity. For this purpose the Baker Rifle had brazed to its barrel two sights, front and rear. The rear sight consisted of a block situated 7 inches forward of the breach and which was cut with a V notch. The front sight was made from an iron blade on a thin rectangular base. The front sight of the Pitt Rivers Museum example appears to be made of brass. The barrel shows the camouflage browning that was intended to prevent glare from exposing the positions of sharpshooter riflemen.

Following the German style the Baker Rifle was designed to accept a sword-bayonet of some 24 inches long. Therefore the first bayonet for the Baker Rifle was a single-edged flat sword of 23 inches length. It was brass handled with a knuckle bow and clipped onto a muzzle bar. It weighed 2 pounds and, as later reports confirmed, created difficulties of for firing when it was attached to the rifle muzzle. Production of the sword-bayonets was contracted out to the Birmingham sword cutler Henry Osbourne. The sword-bayonet was a feature of the rifle during the Peninsular War but was replaced after 1815 with a lighter socket bayonet. Contemporary diaries and letters of riflemen suggest that they liked their little sword even though it was rarely used for hand to hand fighting for various reasons. The sword-bayonet was a weapon of last resort, it was too short to be effective, especially as riflemen by definition were sharpshooters. The sword bayonet was, however, very useful for chopping wood, digging holes, cutting and toasting meat, and many other tasks.

The sword-bayonet became an inevitable concomitant of the Baker Rifle's development. It continued unmodified until 1815 with the length of the sword-bayonet conceived as a rifle and sword to parallel the musket and bayonet concept. The Pitt Rivers Museum sword-bayonet (Accession Number 1884.28.43) is stated to belong to the Baker Rifle displayed (1884.27.39). Although it is not displayed, the weapon is described as a sword-bayonet, straight and flat, single-edged, brass handle and cross-guard forming a bow guard, plate from guard over with spring and button. It states it was made in Birmingham in 1801 although the Baker Rifle on display was made after 1806.

The Baker Rifle, the British Army, and Other Units

Skirmishers were a feature of the early battles fought during the French Revolution. Accordingly, the British Army considered expanding those of its units able to fight in dispersed order. It followed that such units would need to be supplied with a rifle.

The Baker Rifle was initially issued to Manningham's Experimental Corps of Riflemen in 1800. Demand for more Baker Rifles soon outgrew the initial order for 800 to equip the single battalion of the 95 th Regiment of Foot. An additional two battalions each for both the 60 th and the 95 th Regiments had Baker Rifles by 1806-1810. The Baker Rifle was supplied officially only to rifle regiments, their use restricted to those units considered to be elite units. These included the 5 th Battalion of the 60 th , and rifle companies of the 6 th and 7 th Battalions of the 60 th Regiment of Foot. Rifles were issued to the 3 battalions comprising the 95 th Regiment of Foot (which served between 1808 and 1814 in the Peninsular War under Wellington). Baker Rifles were used by the 3 rd Battalion of the 95 th in the War of 1812 as well as at the Battle of New Orleans. Again by the 95 th who stood their ground at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The Baker Rifle was also distributed to the Light Troops of the King's German Legion when they formed in 1804. Other German units such as the Brunswick Oels received Baker Rifles, as did the Portuguese Cacadores. Volunteer Units also, as did the Honourable East India Company in receiving its first order in 1802. Variants of the Baker Rifle (in its carbine pattern) were issued to the 10 th Hussars. After the end of the Napoleonic War Baker Rifles were issued to other light regiments of foot. The 21 st Royal Scots Fusiliers were using Baker Rifles when stationed in Australia between 1833 and 1840. Indeed, the Baker Rifle was eventually used in many countries during the first half of the 19 th century, including by Mexican troops at the Battle of the Alamo.

As far as the rifle regiments were concerned their recruits were chosen for their qualities. Most riflemen could read and write and surviving diaries and letters bear testament to this. In addition, each rifleman carried a bag for tools containing a ball puller, worm, tommy bar and turnscrew, as well as spare flints and greased patches if required. It is notable, compared to the structure of other Line Regiments, that rifle officers often dined with their men and thus came to know them well. In the field Skirmisher riflemen using Baker Rifles often faced their opponents in pairs. More experienced riflemen had trained and practised in techniques to enable them to shoot running soldiers. This was aided in the field by their ability to practice shoot and hunt rabbits and birds. Riflemen also used specially made moving targets to increase their proficiency in hitting moving soldiers at range. Whereas the Baker Rifle could achieve an average accuracy of 1 in 20 shots hitting the target, in the field this compared to 1 in 200 for the musket.


Designed as a soldier-proof military weapon for ease of mass-production, the Baker Rifle proved to be a very successful and long-serving gun. It was eventually issued to units across large geographical distances - as the Pitt Rivers Museum Baker Rifle indicates it may have seen service in the Ceylon Rifle Regiment some time after 1815, after being made some time after 1806.

There were basic requirements that needed to be met by this rifle. These were: (1) it accepted an existing and established military calibre ball (2) its rate of fire was reasonably fast for battlefield conditions (3) it was generally accurate in battle up to (and frequently beyond) 150 yards, and (4) it was robust enough to withstand the rigours of battle and campaigning military service. The accuracy of the Baker Rifle can be attested by the actions of one Rifleman Plunkett of the 1 st Battalion of the 95 th Regiment. During the retreat to Corunna Plunkett shot through the head and killed the French General Colbert at an estimated range of 600 yards. On denying it was a lucky shot he thereupon shot an aide-de-camp going to Colbert's assistance.

Even though it is thought that the friendship of the Prince of Wales aided Baker's success with his Infantry Pattern Rifle now named after him, nonetheless the gun had much to recommend it. The Baker Rifle was a major improvement on the smoothbore musket nicknamed the Brown Bess, which had become standardised as the army's flintlock firearm for over a century. Compared to the 57 inches long Brown Bess the specialist issue , relatively short Baker Rifle proved to be an innovative and handy weapon.

From the time of its 1800 introduction the lock of the Baker Rifle underwent several improvements until the end of the Napoleonic War. This was in common with most other arms of the period. The advantages of the Baker Rifle over its rivals was that it was simple to reload and was less likely to foul after about 25 shots. The Baker Rifle was also sighted along its shorter barrel which ostensibly allowed for greater accuracy over longer ranges.

Recently a series of novels and television series telling of the exploits of a fictional 95 th Regiment Officer - one Richard Sharpe - and his riflemen companions during the Peninsular War, has popularised the history of the Baker Rifle and the 95 th Regiment of Foot under Lord Wellington. The rifle carried by these men in the television series is a replica of the 1806 Third Pattern Baker rifle. It is identifiable by its later pattern butt box with rounded brass plate front. As such the replica is almost identical, if not identical, with the Baker Rifle displayed in the gun case of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Further Reading

Baker, E. Remarks on Rifle Guns. 8 th ed. London, 1823.

Bailey, D. W. British Military Longarms, 1715-1865. London (1986)

Blackmore, H. L. British Military Firearms 1650-1850. Greenhill, 1994

Haythornthwaite, P J. & Hooke, C. British Rifleman, Osprey, 2002.

Arming the Rifleman. Regimental HQ. Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester, 2000.

Peterson, H. L. 'Encyclopaedia of Firearms', The Connoisseur, London, 1964.

Firearms [ edit | edit source ]

As for the infantry soldier himself, Napoleon primarily equipped his army with the Musket Model 1777 Charleville—a product of perfection from older designs and models. Used during the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, the Charleville was a .69- caliber, (sometimes .70 or .71) 5-foot-long (1.5 m), muzzle-loading, smoothbore musket. Properly trained French infantry were expected to be able to fire three volleys a minute. A trained soldier could hit a man sized target at 80 yards but anything further required an increasing amount of luck, ΐ] the musket was wildly inaccurate at long range. French officers were usually armed with a .69 pistol as a secondary weapon to their sword. This still had to be muzzle loaded and fired with a flintlock before reloading. Besides guns, soldiers used a variety of swords, bayonets and pikes for close range, or melee combat. Cavalry, officers, sergeants and other higher-ranked officials mainly used swords, while the bayonets were equipped to the majority of infantry soldiers. Despite the fear they generated in opponents, bayonets were somewhat impractical and used as a last resort. The cavalry and engineers of the army essentially carried the same musket as the infantry. At 10 inches shorter, the carbine and the musketoon were less cumbersome, making them more suitable for the mobility that horseback riders required but at the expense of accuracy. Besides the usage of the firearms, the light-cavalry typically wielded curved sabers with a 33-inch blade (840 mm), and the heavy-cavalry, straight sabers with a 38-inch blade (970 mm). Ώ] Both firearm and sword provided the necessary carnage that Napoleon's cavalry dealt with their attacks.

Throughout the Napoleonic Wars rifles were also introduced into the battlefield. Rifles were substantially more accurate at a maximum range of 200 paces, because the barrel put spin on the bullet. ΐ] Despite this advantage, rifles were more expensive and took longer to load—something Napoleon was not fond of and a reason why he did not incorporate them into his army. Instead, he settled for speed of the musket, as it allowed for his rapid maneuvers. The British did utilize the rifle, most notably with the creation of an entire elite rifle regiment, the 95th Regiment (Rifles). Rifles were also utilised in smaller numbers by Jäger companies in several German states. One reason for the aversion to rifles, not shared on the American side of the Atlantic, and perhaps influencing British usage, was that they tended to be deliberate "targeted kill" ("marking their man") weapons. The deliberate killing of officers was frowned upon in Europe, especially as the officer class was considered an elite social class. However, this did not stop the British 95th Rifles from picking off French General Auguste François-Marie de Colbert-Chabanais in 1809 during the Peninsular War. The British themselves were to lose General Robert Ross, himself a veteran of the Peninsular War, to American rifle fire in 1814.

The Austrian Army introduced the Girandoni air rifle as a specialist weapon and used them in the Napoleonic Wars. A multi-shot breech loader, it only had an effective full charge range to about 150 yards. However as it was nearly silent and made no smoke or noise, it also had a stealth component. However, it was complex and needed a significant infrastructure to support it, so it fell out of use after 1815 as more conventional type weapons proved superior overall and in only a few more decades, all soldiers would be rifle equipped.

Martini-Henry: The Rifle That Helped Make the British Empire a Reality

Many shots have been heard around the world. And each time it was fired from a different rifle. During the Victorian era that rifle was the Martini-Henry.

At the end of the 1964 film Zulu, which chronicled the events of the almost infamous frontier outpost of Rorke’s Drift along Zululand where approximately 100 British soldiers fended off an attack by some four thousand Zulu warriors, Stanley Baker replies that the victory wasn’t merely a miracle, but rather, “a short chamber Boxer Henry .45-caliber miracle.” Whether the real Lieutenant John Chard ever said such a statement is certainly lost to history, but the fact remains that the cartridge and the weapon that fired those bullets played a very decisive role in determining the outcome.

In many ways, the British conflict with the Zulu has become symbolized by the rifle of the day as much as the red jackets and tropical sun helmets worn by the European combatants. This rifle is the Martini-Henry, and today it has become a favorite among collectors.

More importantly, if it was the Colt Peacemaker that tamed the American West, then it was the Martini-Henry that could be seen as the weapon that maintained order around the globe. From the dark continent of Africa to the jewel of India to the Far East the sun never set upon the British Empire or its warriors wielding the Martini-Henry during the second half of the nineteenth century.

It was very much the “Guardian” of the Empire—as by the time it was introduced the British Empire was already reaching its zenith.

Age of Rifles

Following the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars the age of the smoothbore musket was coming to an end, and over the course of the next fifty years, firearms with rifled barrels and breech-loading operation would transform modern warfare. Likewise, this was a time of great expansion by the European powers, and none so great as the mighty British Empire.

Introduced in 1853, the Enfield Rifle was a muzzle-loading, rifled musket that had a range of about 1,000 yards. Updated in 1867 as the Snider-Enfield Rifle, it incorporated a breech system that was invented by Jacob Snider of New York. This involved the removal of two-inches of the butt end for a breech-loading system utilizing the new brass cartridge ammunition. The space behind the cartridge was closed with an iron breechblock, hinged to the right side of the barrel.

The 1860s and early 1870s were a time of great conflict and the British closely observed the wars around the world including the American Civil War (1861 to 1865), the Danish-Prussian War (1864), the Austro-Prussian War (1866), and of course, the Franco-Prussian War (1870 to 1871). The adoption of the Prussian needle-gun and the French Chassepot Rifle were indicators that the aging Enfield Rifle needed to be updated. The result was the stopgap Snider-Enfield as an interim measure, and made good use of the huge stockpiles of P53s that the British possessed. While these weapons are considered classics to gun collectors today, it was clear to military planners of the day that a suitable replacement was needed.

That replacement would be the Martini-Henry, a rifle that some argue should be properly designated the Peabody-Martini-Henry. It is actually a Peabody pattern—an American designed rifle, which was first patented in 1862, but was fully developed too late to have an impact in the American Civil War—that was further modified to a self-cocking hammerless design of Friederich von Martini of Frauenfeld, Switzerland, along with the rifling design of Edinburgh gunsmith Alexander Henry.

The firearm is a breechloading central-fire weapon, meaning that the cartridge (or bullet) is loaded into a chamber at the rear of the rifle. This enables the soldier to reload quickly and fire more rounds than the previous muzzle loading methods that required that the projectile be loaded down the barrel. A small lever operated and lowered the breechblock, and allowed a cartridge to be inserted into the chamber, which returned the lever to the former position and closed the breech. The breech is centrally pierced to accommodate the firing pin, which was driven forward by pulling the trigger. Lowering the lever would then eject the fired cartridge and a new one could be placed. Thus several more rounds a minute could be fired, and a soldier could remain in the crouched or prone position, which offers a benefit over the traditional muzzle-loading firearm.

The Martini-Henry weighs about nine pounds and is just over four feet in length. It fires a hardened lead bullet with a muzzle velocity of 1,350 feet per second, and the weapon is sighted for up to 1,000 yards. Unlike the Snider-Enfield it was also the first English service rifle designed as a breechloading rifle. Later versions of the Martini-Henry improved upon the design by incorporating other rifling patterns, including the Metford System and even a system designed by Enfield. These later versions are often referred to as Martini-Enfields and Martini-Metfords.

The first true Martini-Henry, which was adopted for service in the British Army and designated the Mark I entered service in June 1871. Three additional rifle variations were introduced and include the Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV, as well as an 1877 Carbine version, with its own variations. These include a Garrison Artillery Carbine, as well as Artillery Carbine Mark I, Mark II, and Mark II. There were even versions, smaller in size, designed as training rifles for military cadets.

Originally the British adopted the Short Chamber Boxer-Henry .45-caliber black powder cartridge—the one that Stanley Baker’s Lt. Chard seems to have so much faith in—and later this was replaced by .402-caliber ammunition, and even the later .303-caliber. Because of upgrades of existing stockpiles of rifles and conversions these weapons are found today in a variety of calibers. And as these rifles tend to be well over 100-years old, firing them today should be done with extreme caution. As with any antique rifle, a competent gunsmith should inspect the weapon to certify that it is safe to shoot.

Defending the Empire

What has made the Martini-Henry such a durable and even collectible piece is the fact that it was an extremely well-designed firearm for its day. It was not revolutionary but firearms don’t have to be so to be successful.

While it didn't really usher in any major technological strides in terms of firearm design, it did ease the manufacturing process. The British were sticklers for easing the production, and the Martini-Henry is the result of opting for a design that used the least amount of moving parts as possible. The simplistic design made these rifles cheaper and easier to build, and more importantly offered an improved rate of fire and superior accuracy.

By the time of the Martini’s introduction into service, repeating rifles such as the Winchester were widely available, but the British military found the popular American rifle too complex and unreliable to consider for widespread military issuance. The British military leaders also did not care for the puny ballistic characteristics of these repeaters.

For Queen Victoria’s little wars around the globe the rifles, single-shot as these were, would be suitable against the various forces that the British Army faced in the field. After the Martini-Henry the nations of Europe turned to smaller caliber mass-produced weapons that could fire at a faster rate but lacked the big heavy rounds.

It was the end of the era.

The Martini-Henry saw service around the world, but mostly under the Union Jack, as the rifle was exclusively in the service of Great Britain. The shortlist of conflicts includes Afghanistan, Austria, Belgium, Turkey, Japan, Romania, Nepal, Egypt, and Sudan.

As touched upon the Martin-Henry underwent several caliber adjustments during its service in the Queen’s army, and the final change came about when the Martini was converted to the smaller .402-caliber ammunition. In fact the final version, the Martini-Henry Mark IV actually started out as Enfield-Martini .402-caliber rifles, when the British saw the benefits of the higher velocity, smaller caliber rounds over the massive but slow-moving .450 bullets. As a result, the British were faced with having to worry about supply for .303, .402, and .450. So the decision was made to convert the Enfield-Martinis back to the .450-caliber and supply these Martini-Henry Mark IV’s to non-front line troops in the far-flung colonies.

Following the first Sudan War the decision was made to provide a smaller caliber, but higher velocity rifle to the troops. In 1887 the Lee-Metford Rifle was adopted. It featured a magazine that held eight rounds, while the Mark II version would increase the magazine capacity to 10 rounds. The Lee-Metford would be replaced in 1895 by the Lee-Enfield, the Metford system being the final British rifle to use a black powder propellant.

While it never was a frontline weapon against another European army, it will likely be remembered as one of the most important tools that held the Empire together and served the Soldiers of the Queen.

The Enfield Pattern 1853 Rifle Blasted Its Way Into the History Books

Between 1853 and 1867, some 1.5 million Pattern 53 Rifles were produced.

Here's What You Need to Know: From Crimea to India, this rifle proved effective against infantry, cavalry and even artillery positions alike.

The Enfield Pattern 1853 Rifle was developed in time for use by the British Army in its first great war in decades and was arguably the catalyst of another conflict that nearly destroyed its colonial empire. While its use as the main service rifle was short-lived, lasting just thirteen years, it was a proven weapon that earned a reputation for reliability when it was used by both sides during the American Civil War. This rifle didn't build the British Empire but it helped maintain the foundation and paved the way for future firearms development.

The Shots Heard Round the Empire

As the saying goes, the sun never set on the British Empire. And from the cool, damp British Isles was built the largest empire by landmass the world had ever known. The First British Empire (1583–1783) saw great technical innovation in naval development and small arms. It was during this time that “Brown Bess”—less commonly known as the Land Pattern Musket—was introduced.

This particular musket and its derivatives fired a .75 caliber ball and remained the British Empire's standard long gun from 1722 until 1838. It was the musket that was used during the American Revolution and in the conflicts against Napoleon Bonaparte. It was thus the weapon that helped build the Second British Empire (1783–1815) and usher in Britain's Imperial Century (1815–1914).

After more than 125 years of use, the Brown Bess was superseded by percussion cap smoothbore muskets. Many of these older flintlocks were converted for use with the new percussion system that became known as the Pattern 1839 Musket. However, a fire at the Tower of London in 1841 destroyed many muskets before these could be converted but it was clear the age of the musket was fading into history.

As the British Empire became more global, the Brown Bess continued to see use around the world. At the same time, the technical advances of the Industrial Age ushered in new methods of production and this led to the development of what would be one of the most important firearms in the history of the British Empire—the Enfield Pattern 1853 Rifle.

The origins of the rifle actually go back to the earlier era of the British Empire, when the European military designers suggested that a barrel with grooves inside would improve accuracy. In 1567 these grooves were added—first to ease loading and to provide crevices for the gunpowder residue. Within a few decades, it was determined that the grooves, or rifling, could make the ball fly straighter.

For the next century, most refinements in firearms were limited to more expensive “sporting” or hunting rifles, and the common soldier was left with cruder firearms. Even the long-used Brown Bess, which served British “Red Coats” around the globe for more than 100 years were smoothbore. While the advantages of rifling were established and understood there was a long-held view in the British Army after the fall of Napoleon that “what was good enough at Waterloo is good enough now.” By the 1840s, that could no longer be accepted.

Ironically, even throughout the Napoleonic Wars, there was ample evidence that the musket was really not good enough, but British military planners were not quick to change even when the evidence suggested that there was room for improvement. Contemporary studies indicated that at the Battle of Salamanca some 8,000 enemy soldiers were wounded or killed—yet some three and a half a million cartridges had been fired. Just one shot in 437 had any effect clearly, there was room for improvement.

The inadequacy of the smoothbore musket was further brought to attention in the trials carried out when the Pattern 1842 musket—one of the post-Brown Bess percussion cap muskets to be adopted—was tested by Captain McKerlie of the Royal Engineers in 1846. This is noted in Lt. Col. H. Bond's Treatise on Military Small Arms and Ammunition, where he noted that the testing found that the rifle “should never be opened beyond 150 yards, and certainly not exceeding 200 yards.”

As a result, many Pattern 1842 muskets were converted into rifles while the British Army adopted the Regulation Pattern 1851 Minié rifle, which was a major technological step forward yet looked only slightly different from Pattern 1842 musket. After further refinements the Pattern 1853 Rifled Musket arrived. This came to be because the original idea was to have two different sighting arrangements, one for 'ordinary' soldiers and one for rifle regiments. The term “rifle-musket” was also used as it meant that rifle was the same length as the musket it replaced.

This was done because a longer rifle was at the time thought to be necessary enable the muzzles of the second rank of soldiers to project beyond the faces of the men in the front, while also ensuring that the weapons would be long enough to be fitted with a bayonet to be of effect against cavalry. This most certainly played into the British use of squares that had proven so successful against cavalry attacks at battles such as Waterloo.

The Pattern 53 Design

Between 1853 and 1867, some 1.5 million Pattern 53 Rifles were produced. The weapon was designed by RSAF Enfield, and it weighed 9.5 pounds unloaded and was about 55 inches in length—taller than many soldiers who carried it into battle. It featured a 39-inch barrel that had three groves with a 1:78 rifling twist. The barrel was fastened to the stock by three metal bands, which is why the rifle is still sometimes referred to as a “three band” model. The use of iron bands to retain the barrel had been common with French weapons since the middle years of the eighteenth century and is why this model is often noted for having French influences.

The rifle featured an adjustable ladder rear sight that had steps for 100 yards, which was considered the “battle sight range,” 200 yards, 300 yards, and 400 yards. For greater distances, an adjustable flip-up blade sight was graduated from 900 to 1,250 yards.

British soldiers of the era were trained to hit a target six feet by two feet with a two feet diameter bull's eye from ranges of 600 yards. Another target was used from 650 to 900 yards and it offered a three-foot bull's eye. Any man who scored seven points with 20 rounds at that range was designated a marksman!

The rifle featured cartridges that contained 68 grains of black powder and had a ball that was typically 530-grain Pritchett or Burton-Minié. The Pattern 53 Rifle has a velocity of about 850 to 900 per second.

Another French influence on this model was found in the bayonet. While British socket bayonets had relied upon a so-called “zig-zag” slot to fix them to the muzzle—which often blocked the foresight - the Pattern 53 adopted a French method that included a rotating locking ring on the socket of the bayonet. This allowed for the bayonet to be easily fitted and with a slight turn secured in a way that prevented it from detaching.

From Crimea to India

The Enfield Pattern 1853 rifle arrived just when it was needed, and it was clear that what worked at Waterloo would not suffice in the coming conflict. Great Britain found itself drawn into war with Russia and numerous regiments shipped off to the Crimea equipped with the Pattern 1851 Minié rifle, yet many still carried the 1842 pattern smoothbore musket. The British War Department had approved the Pattern 53 just as the nation headed to war, but it wouldn't have its official baptism of fire until February 1855, more than five months after the first British troops began to arrive on the southwestern coast of the Crimean peninsula.

The Pattern 53 proved effective against infantry, cavalry and even artillery positions alike. The era of the smoothbore musket—which had been "good enough" at Waterloo—was truly a weapon whose time had passed. The age of the rifle had begun.

As the dust settled in the Crimea thousands of miles away another war was simmering and ironically the rifle that was part of technological advancement served as the catalyst in the Jewel of the Crown that was the British Empire.

The story has been told countless times the Indian Munity began as Sepoys—the Indian soldiers serving in the Honourable East India Company—were issued with cartridges that were greased with beef tallow or lard and revolted. The truth is that there were many other factors well beyond the cartridges, but it is true that this did play a significant role in starting the rebellion that nearly destroyed the British Empire.

The Enfield Pattern 53 rifle, which had served the British Army well in Crimea, was introduced to the Indian troops serving in the East India Company. It is first worth noting that the company began based on trade, but into the early nineteenth century the unique geopolitical situation actually required that three independent armies of the company's Presidencies were formed. While these units were made of British soldiers this army was not at the time part of the British Army. British officers trained at the company's own Addiscombe Military Academy.


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