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In a Very Military Manner*

Discipline, Battle Tactics, Equipment


of
New England Militia circa 1775
Collected Essays
Herman Karl
Lincoln Minute Men
May 2016

* The title of this pamphlet echoes the report of Lt. William Sutherland,
38 th Regiment of Foot, to Sir Henry Clinton, relating the events of 18
and 19 April 1775the battles of Lexington and Concord. Sutherland
was accompanying a detachment of Marines on scouting duty when the
British column entered Concord. From his vantage point at the North
Bridge, Sutherland describes the colonial militia and minute companies on
the morning of 19 April as marching down on us by divisions from their
left in a very military manner.

Contents
Level of discipline of minute companies on the eve of 19
April 1775
Battle tactics of minute companies at Concord, Battle Road,
and Bunker Hill
Muskets, Fowlers, Fusils, and Rifles
What firearms were commonly available to minute
companies circa 1774-1775
Examples of firearms used by American militia circa the
Revolutionary War
Mixed firearms of the American militia: a problem?
Live fire discipline of a minute company
Musket accuracy
Accouterments carried by minutemen on the eve of 19
April 1775

Level of Discipline of Minute Companies on the Eve of 19 April 1775


Herman Karl
Lincoln Minute Men
August 2, 2015
The question of how well disciplined (trained or regulated) American minute
companies were on the eve of 19 April 1775 is controversial among historians and reenactors. Some people believe the citizen soldiers were well disciplined in the regulation
drill manual exercises and some believe that individuals fought without organization as a
rabblethe myth of the embattled farmer leaving his plow and running to engage the
regulars. Neither of these is true.
The Massachusetts Provincial Congress recommended in October 1774 that towns
form minute companies, and in a resolve of 10 December 1774 stated they be
disciplined three times a week, and oftener, as opportunity may offer. Many town
meeting warrants, however, stipulated musters to be held less often typically twice
weekly. The level of discipline attained undoubtedly varied from company to company.
Data as to the frequency and duration of training is scarce. That which I have found to
date indicates the number of hours a typical company trained from its formation to the 19
April alarm amounted to approximately less than one week to slightly more than three
weeks (40 hour week). Almost always commentators frame the amount of training in
months (such as Acton trained for five months) without noting how few hours the
companies actually trained during those months; the number of hours provides a new
perspective on the level of discipline possibly obtained.
The only record of the specific number of hours each soldier trained of which I
am aware is that of Captain Sawyers Haverhill minute company.1 They averaged 31
hours per soldier for musters attended in March and April 1775. The Acton minute
company formed in November 1774. It is not known when they last mustered for training
before 19 April. The company trained two days per week three hours per day.2 Assuming
they adhered to this schedule over five months (which is unlikely), we can infer they
trained a maximum of about 132 hours before the alarm. Israel Litchfields diary contains
twenty-five entries where he participated in exercise or training in the twenty-two weeks
between 8 November1774, and 19 April 19 1775, first as a militia soldier and then as a
minute man when Scituate formed its minute companies in January 1775. Only ten of
these, however, were at company strength. Assuming the company trained for 4 hours per
muster (even though in some entries it seems unlikely they drilled for that long for
instance when Litchfield drilled with a handful of men at the end of a day of work)
Scituate may have trained a maximum of 100 hours, but more likely fewer.
The drill manual practiced by most minute companies is not known with
certainty. Israel Litchfield, in his diary, records he and some other members of the
Scituate militia company began exercising with the 1760 Norfolk manual3 in
November 1774, but then soon switched to the 1764 manual.4 Today most re-enacting
companies practice the 1764 manual. These manuals trained soldiers in the manual of
arms, facings, close order maneuvers, and linear formation tactics practiced in Europe
(Figure 1). There is no record that Massachusetts minute companies practiced linear
battle tactics in battalion and regiment strength. There are only three occurrences of
which I am aware when several minute companies assembled as a battalion or regiment
1

on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Training at these reviews was minimal probably
consisting of the manual of arms and some marching exercises.

Figure 1. Attack of the Prussian infantry at Hohenfriedeberg 1745 as an example of 18th century line
formation battle tactic. Public domain image on the Internet

An indication of whether minute companies were well disciplined in the drill


manual exercises is if and how well they used the exercises in battle. The only instance I
have found where the citizen soldiers were described by observers as being disciplined in
this regard is when they advanced on the North Bridge, which was simply marching in
step in column, before they engaged the Kings troops. For example, from his vantage
point at the North Bridge, Lieutenant Sutherland, 38th Regiment of Foot, describes the
militia as marching down on us by divisions from their left in a very military
manner.5 Today many re-enactor companies muster about a half dozen times a year and
practice the 1764 manual of arms and simple marching maneuvers such as wheeling,
counter marching, etc. I daresay that any one of these units would be described as
marching in a very military manner during parades and re-enactments.
At North Bridge after the initial [exchange of fire] [m]ilitary order and regularity
of proceeding were soon after broken up.6 And later in the day as the citizen soldiers
pursued the regulars on their withdrawal to Boston [t]he minutemen were fighting
with no discipline or organization whatsoever. One of the provincial participants wrote,
Each sought his own place and opportunity to attack and annoy the enemy from behind
trees, rocks, fences, and buildings as seemed most convenient.7 They produced a
continual and effective harassing fire from along what is now called Battle Road (Figure
2).

Figure 2. Example of colonial militia and minute companies harassing from behind cover the British
regulars on their retreat from Concord to Boston. Skirmishingpracticing the skulking way of war is
characteristic of the American militia. Public domain image on the Internet

Citizen soldiers arrived on the scene along Battle Road throughout the day as
companies marching from their respective towns. Once in the fight each soldier took the
initiative, but we can imagine they communicated among themselves giving some
structure to their actions.
In a letter to General Harvey 20 April 1775 remarking upon the New England
soldiers harassing the redcoats on their retreat to Boston Brigadier Lord Percy stated,
During the whole affair the Rebels attacked us in a very scattered, irregular manner, but
with perseverance & resolution, nor did they ever dare to form into any regular body.
Indeed, they knew too well what was proper, to do so.8 In other words, Lord Percy
complimented the militia by crediting them with the intelligence to fight in a manner that
gave them the advantagethat is not in close order linear formations in which they were
unskilled, but as skirmishers as they had fought the French and Indians for more than a
century. Lt. John Barker, an officer with the British army retreating to Boston, reinforces
Lord Percys commentary. He noted the militia attacks diminished as they
approached the Charleston peninsula, for the rebels did not chose to follow up the hill
[i.e., Bunker Hill] as they must have fought us on the open ground and that they did not
like. 9
The bottom line is even though a few companies may have come together for a
few hours of training as a battalion they evidently were not prepared to fight as battalions,
regiments or even units of company strength using the tactics prescribed in the manuals
they presumably practiced. There was a regimental command structure, but it was
effectively in name only. Its clear there was no organized chain of command as citizen
soldiers harassed the British along their retreat to Boston. At this time, the militia greatly
out numbered the regulars and could have formed lines of battle cutting off the retreat.
This was especially true of the companies arriving from towns to the north and east later
in the day, when they could have formed up to block the British retreat toward Boston.
Instead, the citizen soldiers fought as New England citizen soldiers had since the mid-17th
century employing tactics of the skulking way of warthat is, firing at specific targets
at will from behind cover and not arranged in platoons and firing volleys on command.10
They showed initiative and resourcefulness in fighting the skulking way of war their
normal technique of battle at which they were very effective. It was only when the state
militias11 later in the war were forced to fight in linear formation over open ground that
they were ineffective.
Gen. Charles Lee, a British Crown officer who immigrated to America and was
appointed the third ranking general of the Continental Army, recollected that British
regulars became effective in the French and Indian War only after they had forgotten
everything they had learned on the parade ground at home.12 As a result of the British
army experience in the French and Indian War, Lieutenant Colonel Gage (later General
Gage) organized a light infantry regiment. Like the irregular ranger units a large number
of these soldiers resisted regular discipline.13 This characteristic mirrors the attitude of
the American, in particular New England, citizen soldier. Col. Henry Bouquet, a British
army officer, remarked that the light troops wanted in America must be trained upon
different principles [i.e., the linear formation tactics and drill manual exercises were not
appropriate for war in North America].14
Arguments about the level of discipline with respect to the exercises in the 1764
and other drill manuals may be inconclusive, until and unless we accumulate more
evidence. But, as I pointed out earlier, the effective training was in developing those
3

skills to prepare for the skulking way of war at which the militia excelled and not mastery
of parade ground exercises.
In conclusion when one asks, Were the minute companies prepared for war? I
would suggest no if the standard is mastery of the British drill manuals. However, if the
standard is that of skirmishers I would suggest yes. The discipline of the British drill
manual, and whether or not citizen soldiers were exercised using it, was irrelevant for
preparing a minuteman for the style of war he fought, which was adapted to the wooded
New England terrain. Perhaps though by mustering to practice parade ground exercises
those citizen soldiers unintentionally built what is called today small unit cohesion. In
the simplest terms they were strengthening the bonds that existed in a small town. If so,
what they practiced might be less important than the fact they trained with each other.
1

Alex Cain, Heads of families and men of substance and probity: the rise of the minute men in the
Merrimack Valley region of Essex County (unpublished manuscript: 2015).
2
Email communication Feb.12, 2015, Jamie Powers, Acton Minute Company
3
A plan of discipline compiled for the use of the militia of the county of Norfolk (printed for J. Shuckburgh,
at the Sun, next Richards coffee-house, Flint-Street, MDCCLX) Kessinger Publishings Legacy Reprint
edition
4
The Manual Exercise as Ordered by His Majesty In the Year1764. Together with Plans and Explanations
of the Method generally Practiced at Reviews and Field-Days. (The Second Edition. ECCO Print Edition)
5
Lieutenant Sutherland wrote two reportsone to Sir Henry Clinton on 26 April 1775 and one to General
Gage on 27 April 1775. These reports are transcribed in: Kehoe, Vincent J-R., We were there! April 19th
1775 (self-published, Chelmsford, Massachusetts, 1974), 139-150.
Based on the performance and behavior of the American troops in the French and Indian War, the British
military generally held them in low regard considering them ill disciplined, cowardly, and no more than a
rabble. Lieutenant Sutherlands observation may, in part, manifest his surprise that these soldiers did not fit
that stereotype.
6
Rev. Ezra Ripley, History of the fight at Concord on the 19th of April, 1775, with a particular account of
the military operations and interesting events of that ever memorable day; showing that then and there the
first regular and forcible resistance was made to the British soldiery, and the first British blood was shed
by armed Americans, and the Revolutionary War thus commenced (Allen & Atwill, Concord: 1827), 28.
7
A.B. Tourtellot, Lexington and Concord: the beginning of the War of the American Revolution (W.W.
Norton & Company, New York: 1963), 179.
8
Letter from Lord Percy to General Harvey 20 April 1775
http://archive.org/stream/hughearlpercybos00nortrich/hughearlpercybos00nortrich_djvu.txt
9
Matthew H. Spring, With zeal and with bayonets only: the British army on campaign in North America,
1775-1783 (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2008), 133-134.
10
P.M. Malone, The skulking way of war: technology and tactics among the New England Indians
(Madison Books, Lanham, Maryland: 2000)
11
The militia consisted of all able-bodied free men generally between the ages of 16 and 60. There was
also an alarm list, consisting of men older than sixty and invalids who were called out only for exceptional
circumstances. Service in the militia was an obligation as a citizenmilitiamen were not paidand almost
all towns had one or more companies. Minute companies were a select group of the militia and usually
compensated.
12
John Shy, A people numerous and armed: reflections on the military struggle for America (The
University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor:1990 revised edition 2000), 139.
13
Stephen Brumwell, Redcoats: the British soldier and war in the Americas, 1755-1763 (Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge: 2002), 229.
14
Ibid, 198

Battle Tactics of Minute Companies at Concord, Battle Road, and


Bunker Hill
Herman Karl
Lincoln Minute Men
August 2, 2015
Battle tactics during the 18th century evolved into massive armies confronting
each other in long, linear formations on the open plains and fields of Europe (Figure 1).
Soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder. When commanded they fired together in volleys. The
drill manuals were written to instruct soldiers in these tactics. Minute and militia
companies used these manuals to train at musters. Yet, as will be shown, they did not use
the disciplines and tactics prescribed in the manuals in battle.

Figure 1. Linear tactics and volley fire on the plains of Europe. Internet image

During the French and Indian War the British discovered that linear, close order
formation tactics were impractical, ineffective, and a detriment in the wooded terrain of
North America. The French, Canadians, and Indians fought using surprise and cover.
This way of fighting is called skulking. Linear formation tactics were worse than
useless against skirmishers hidden in the woods. The devastating defeat of General
Braddock in 1755 is but one example.1
American militia had adapted skulking tactics over more than a century of
fighting Indians and the French. As noted by Patrick Malone, about the evolution of
fighting style in King Philips War, by the end of summer [1676] soldiers from all the
New England colonies [instead of volley firing in massed formation] were shooting at
individuals, using cover when fired upon, and moving through the woods quietly and
carefully.2
At North Bridge (Battle of Concord) after the initial [exchange of fire] [m]ilitary
order and regularity of proceeding were soon after broken up.3 And later in the day as
the citizen soldiers pursued the regulars on their withdrawal to Boston [t]he minutemen
were fighting with no discipline or organization whatsoever. One of the provincial
participants wrote, Each sought his own place and opportunity to attack and annoy the
enemy from behind trees, rocks, fences, and buildings as seemed most convenient.4
They produced a continual and effective harassing fire from along what is now called
Battle Road (Figure 2).
In a letter to General Harvey 20 April 1775 remarking upon the New England
soldiers harassing the redcoats on their retreat to Boston Brigadier Lord Percy stated,
During the whole affair the Rebels attacked us in a very scattered, irregular manner, but
with perseverance & resolution, nor did they ever dare to form into any regular body.
1

Indeed, they knew too well what was proper, to do so.5 In other words, Lord Percy
complimented the militia by crediting them with the intelligence to fight in a manner that
gave them the advantagethat is not in close order linear formations in which they were
unskilled, but as skirmishers as they had fought the French and Indians for more than a
century.

Figure 2. Example of colonial militia and minute companies harassing from behind cover the British
regulars on their retreat from Concord to Boston. Public domain image on Internet

The Americans fought from behind cover at Bunker Hill and the British attacked
in linear formation. The Americans suffered 450 casualties and the British 1,054.6

American soldiers behind redoubt


British troops attacking redoubt
Public domain images on Internet

New England citizen soldiers were unsurpassed as skirmishers and very effective
against the regular British army when fighting from behind cover. Only later in the war
when state militia, as components of the Continental Line, were forced to fight in linear
formation were they an ineffective fighting force.
1

Thomas E. Crocker, Braddocks march: how the man sent to seize a continent changed American history,
(Westholme Publishing Company, Yardley, Pennsylvania: 2009)
2
P.M. Malone, The skulking way of war: technology and tactics among the New England Indians (Madison
Books, Lanham, Maryland: 2000), 91
3
Rev. Ezra Ripley, History of the fight at Concord on the 19th of April, 1775, with a particular account of
the military operations and interesting events of that ever memorable day; showing that then and there the
first regular and forcible resistance was made to the British soldiery, and the first British blood was shed
by armed Americans, and the Revolutionary War thus commenced (Allen & Atwill, Concord: 1827), 28.
4
A.B. Tourtellot, Lexington and Concord: the beginning of the War of the American Revolution (W.W.
Norton & Company, New York: 1963), 179.
5
Letter from Lord Percy to General Harvey 20 April 1775
http://archive.org/stream/hughearlpercybos00nortrich/hughearlpercybos00nortrich_djvu.txt
6
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bunker_Hill

Muskets, Fowlers, Fusils, and Rifles


Herman Karl
Quartermaster of Muskets and Armorer
Lincoln Minute Men
July 30, 2014
All the firearms described herein are muzzle-loading flintlocks. Black powder is
poured down the muzzle and a ball (bullet) seated on top of the powder. The lock, which
consists of a cock that holds a flint (sharp, hard rock), a frizzen (also called steel or
hammer), and a pan, is the mechanism that fires the gun. The cock is placed on half cock
(safety), the frizzen opened, and a small amount of black powder is sprinkled into the
panpriming chargeand the frizzen closed. The gun is cocked fully by pulling back the
cock. When the trigger is pulled it releases the cock and the flint scrapes against the
hardened steel of the frizzen throwing small shards of red-hot steel into the priming
powder igniting it. The heat generated by the exploding priming charge is directed
through the touchhole setting off the main charge and firing the ball.

Lock at full cock ready to be fired; cock in green oval, flint in red
rectangle, orange arrows show frizzen, orange line marks face of
frizzen, blue lines outline pan; frizzen is closed

Position of lock components after firing; frizzen is open

Touchhole in green oval

Priming charge

Musket is the term for a smoothbore, muzzle loading black powder firearm. Muskets are
generally robust, heavy firearms used by the military; however, the term is also used for
civilian arms. A fowler and fusil de chasse is lighter and more slender than a musket. It
is a civilian arm used for hunting. It is called a fowler, because it is used to hunt wild
fowl. It can also be used for small furred game, such as rabbits with shot, and larger
game with single ball. A fusil or fusee (fuzee} is a light musket. Light infantry might
carry fusils; officers might be armed with fancy fusils.
Rifles are guns that have spiral grooves cut into the bore to make the bullet spin. A
lubricated cloth patch is wrapped around the ball for a tight fit in the bore. They were
common in the middle and southern provinces circa the Revolutionary War period. Rifles
were virtually unheard of in New England. Indeed, when the middle colony rifle
companies arrived at the encampment outside Boston, the New Englanders were amazed
at the accuracy of the firearms -- even John Adams remarked upon it. New Englanders of
the Revolutionary War period almost assuredly used fowlers and smooth bore muskets as
hunting and militia firearms.
When hunting, powder was carried in a powder horn (a hollow cow horn fitted
with an end cap and removable plug at the tip that made the horn water tight) and ball,
shot, and accessories carried in a shot or hunting pouch. The powder was poured from
the horn to a powder measure and then dumped down the bore. During militia duty
powder and ball were contained in paper cartridges carried in a cartridge or cartouche
box, which enabled quicker loading. However, accounts of the time indicate that many
militia and minute companies were not fully equipped with cartridge boxes and that many
men carried powder horns and shot pouches.

Ball and patch

Cartridge box

Powder horn

Powder measure

Cartridges in box

Shot pouch

Cartridge

What firearms were commonly available to Lincoln


Minute Men circa 1774-1775?
Herman Karl
Lincoln Minute Men
July 30, 2014
The mixed-pattern muskets used by American Colonists to win our independence
testify eloquently to the can-do spirit that made possible our ultimate victory
and our freedom.
(Neumann, 2001)
This note examines the firearms that would likely have been commonly available
in eastern Massachusetts and Lincoln during the time before April 19, 1775. It is not an
exhaustive study of all the firearms available at the time. A bibliography is provided for
those wishing to learn more for themselves about the firearms of the period of the French
and Indian War and Revolutionary War. For a concise account of the arms carried by
patriots April 19, 1775 see Bohy and Troiani (2010).
Military Arms
British army First Model Long Land Service muskets (patterns, 1730, 1742, 1748,
and 1756) commonly and collectively known as Brown Bess could have been
available. These were used during the F&I War and the older patterns (1730, 1742, and
1748) issued to provincial militia companies (see Bohy and Troiani, 2010).
Massachusetts militia companies could have brought these muskets home to the eastern
part of the state. Note that when new models, such as the 1756 and 1769 pattern, were put
into service they were never issued to provincial troops who were equipped from stocks
of older models until those stocks were exhausted.

1730 Pattern Long Land Service Musket

Modern manufacturers most frequently replicate the 1769 Short Land Service
musket (Brown Bess) and many re-enactors use it and the 1763/1766 French Charleville.
It is highly improbable that either of these was available to American militia ca.
1774/1775. The French & Indian War ended before the French were equipped with the
1763/1766 Charleville and, thus, provincial soldiers could not have obtained these as war
trophies. Recall, prior to the Revolutionary War the American colonies were bitter
enemies of the French. These muskets would not have been available to the colonists
until the French had become allied to the American cause in 1777.
As discussed below it is most unlikely that American militia could have been
equipped with significant numbers of either 1756 or 1769 Land Service muskets. There is
documentation that a few British soldiers sold their musket to individual Americans and a
very few may have been obtained this way and picked up during battles.
1

At the beginning of hostilities, the royal forces had at least 5,200 muskets in
storage, mostly in New York and Quebec (Bailey, Ref. 1, 2). They were
primarily wooden ramrod Long Land 1730s and 1742s. Most active British
regiments were equipped with the later 1756 version having the steel ramrod.
Through the wars first two years, the Long Land remained the primary British
arm in America and earlier wooden ramrod patterns were normally given to
Loyalist units or as replacements to Hessian Troops. Some Short Land muskets
arrived early with a few of the new regiments from Britain, and they became the
British armys principal arm after 1777 (emphasis added).
(Neumann, 2001, p. 9/12).

Colonial Arms
The majority of American militia and minute companies at the beginning of the
Revolution were equipped with a mix of civilian muskets and fowlers, many of which
were their personal arms (Neumann, American-Made Muskets).
Various European-made and American-made muskets, fusils, and fowlers would
have been commonly available in eastern Massachusetts and throughout the colonies.
Many of the American-made muskets were assembled from a mixture of parts reused
from other muskets, which could include English, French, German, Dutch components,
and forgings by American gunsmiths.

A fowler documented to have been carried by Jacob Man, a Wrentham, Massachusetts militiaman, at the
Battle of Concord 19April 1775. It is constructed of mixed Dutch, French, British, and American parts.

Most militia and minuteman companies were equipped with such a hodge-podge
of weapons. Three good source references for the weapons available to colonials are
Battle Weapons of the American Revolution by George C. Neumann, Muskets of the
American Revolution and French and Indian Wars by B. Ahearn, and "We Meant to be
Free Always!": The Guns of April, 19, 1775 by J. Bohy and D. Troiani.
Bibliography
Ahearn, B, 2005, Muskets of the Revolution and the French & Indian Wars, Andrew Mowbray Publishers,
Lincoln, RI, 248 p.
Bohy, J. and Troiani, D., 2010, "We meant to be free always": the guns of April 19, 1775, American
Rifleman, July 2010, v. 158, n. 7, p. 48 ff.
Darling, A.D., 1971, Red Coat and Brown Bess, Museum Restoration Service, Bloomfield, Canada, 63 p.
Gale, R.R., 2007, A Soldier Like Way: The Material Culture of the British Infantry 1751-1768, Track of
the Wolf, Elk River, Minnesota, 137 p.
Grinslade, T., Flintlock Fowlers: The First Guns Made in America, 2005, Scurlock Publishing Company,
Texarkana, Texas, 248 p.
Mullins, J., 2008, Of Sorts for the Provincials: American Weapons of the French and Indian War, Track of
the Wolf, Elk River, Minnesota, 185 p.
Neumann, G.C., American-Made Muskets in the Revolutionary War, American Rifleman,
http://www.jaegerkorps.org/NRA/American%20Made%20Muskets%20in%20the%20Revolutionary
%20War.htm
Neumann, G.C., 2001, The Redcoats Brown Bess, American Rifleman, http://www.11thpa.org/Bess.html.
Neumann. G.C., The Revolutionary Charleville, American Rifleman,
http://www.jaegerkorps.org/NRA/The%20Revolutionary%20Charleville.htm
Neumaan, G.C., 1998, Battle Weapons of the American Revolution, Scurlock Publishing Company,
Texarkana, Texas, 393 p.
Thayer, C.W., U.S. Government Made Muskets of the Revolution, 1780-1783, University of Pennsylvania.
The Rifle Shoppe Catalog; this is a superb reference for historically correct firearms.

Mixed firearms of the American militia:


A problem?

Herman Karl
Revised July 3, 2016


It is not in dispute that American militia on the eve of the Revolution carried
a wide assortment of firearms (see, for example, Neumann, 1998; Ahearn, 2005;
Bohy and Troiana, 2010). The variety of guns seemingly would pose a major
problem for the Continental Armythe caliber of the bores varied thereby
requiring balls of different diameter, which could present a supply problem.
However, as will be discussed, although complicating supply of ammunition it was
not an insurmountable problem.
The bore diameter (caliber) of forty-three American Revolutionary War
muskets and fowlers described by Neumann (1998, 121-166, guns 77.MM -109.MM,
113.MM-116-MM) ranges from 0.88 to 0.58 with a mode of 0.70, an average of
0.72, median of 0.73, and population standard deviation of 0.069 (Sample 1).
Grinslade (2005, 33-76) describes 40 New England fowlers of the Revolutionary
War period and earlier. The caliber of these guns ranges from 0.80 to 0.54 with a
mode of 0.63, an average of 0.65, median of 0.63, and population standard
deviation of 0.058 (Sample 2).
In preparation for possible hostilities, towns began to secret significant
stockpiles of supplies that included barrels of balls at various locations as early as
1774. Clearly, all the balls could not have been the same caliber as the militias
firearms varied in caliber. Citizen soldiers of the militia were usually expected to
provide their own firearms and accouterments. Towns stipulated the required
items among which were balls and powder. It is noteworthy the stipulations often
stated balls were to fit the gun, in recognition that individuals guns likely differed in
caliber. Because the caliber of the firearms in a town was known, stockpiling only a
few calibers could supply the majority of guns.
For military firearms to help ensure loading, as the bore fouled, balls were a
much smaller diameter than the bore. The difference between the diameter of the
bore and that of the ball is called windage. The British issued balls of .69 caliber for
Brown Bess muskets with bores as large as .78 caliber. Casting balls of .62 and .72
caliber would be the minimum necessary to fit more than 77% of guns of Sample 1
without excessive windage. Likewise, for Sample 2 a .58 caliber ball could be used
for more than 68% of the guns.
A Philadelphia Association Committee of Safety report 29 May 1776
considered a proper mode of providing Cartridges for the different bores of FireLocks carried by the Associators. They directed that forty- four sets of Formers
(dowels to form cartridges) be supplied for the seven calibers
(.71, .68, .65, .63, .61, .58, .54) of guns (Force, 1846). Gang molds with cavities of
different size enable fast production of balls of different caliber.


Multi-cavity mold to cast balls of different sizes (authors collection)

In contrast to civilian arms, national military weapons of the period were
bored to the same caliber (for a specific type). Although production standards and
tolerances were not uniform, the caliber of individual arms was fairly close. For
example, the bore diameter of British Long and Short Land Service musketsthe
Brown Bessvaried from 0.76 to 0.78 (Ahearn, 2005, 176). Such small variation
in caliber did not cause any difficulty because as explained above balls issued for the
Brown Bess were .69 caliber for ease of loading.

During the first two years of the war Continental Army soldiers were
predominantly armed with a variety of firearms that required different sizes of ball.
As stated earlier the variety of calibers presented a difficulty in supplying the troops
with the correct ammunition, but the problem was readily tackled and mitigated as
the three remedies that follow show (Risch, 1981, 348). Potential mistakes of
sending the wrong size cartridges assembled in laboratories were obviated when
soldiers made their own cartridges to fit their musket; when balls of the correct size
where not available, lead was sent to the unit so that balls of the correct size could
be cast using molds; and lists of the number of muskets of each caliber were
exchanged among brigades to determine if any unit could be outfitted with sufficient
arms of one caliber.
American common sense, flexibility, and can do spirit enabled work around
solutions to ammunition supply mitigating the complication of mixed calibers so
that it did not fatally cripple the Continental Army and militias during the
Revolutionary War.

References cited

Ahearn, B, 2005, Muskets of the Revolution and the French & Indian Wars, Andrew
Mowbray Publishers, Lincoln, RI, 248 p.
Bohy, J. and Troiani, D., 2010, "We meant to be free always": the guns of April 19,
1775, American Rifleman, July 2010, v. 158, n. 7, p. 48 ff.
Force, Peter; "American Archives: Fourth Series." Volume VI. Washington, 1846.
Grinslade, T., 2005, Flintlock fowlers: the earliest guns made in America: Scurlock
Publishing Co., Texarkan, Texas, 248 p.
Neumaan, G.C., 1998, Battle Weapons of the American Revolution, Scurlock
Publishing Company, Texarkana, Texas, 393 p.
Risch, E., 1981, Supplying Washingtons army: Special Studies Series, Center of
Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 486 p.

LIVE FIRE DISCIPLINE OF A MINUTE COMPANY


Herman Karl, Lincoln Minutemen
(revised 10/5/16)
Soldiers of the Lincoln Minute Men, a Revolutionary War re-enacting group in
Lincoln, Massachusetts, conducted two live fire experiments the primary purpose of
which was to test Col. George Hangers statement:
A soldier's musket, if not exceedingly ill-bored (as many of them are), will strike
the figure of a man at eighty yards; it may even at 100; but a soldier must be very
unfortunate indeed who shall be wounded by a common musket at 150 yards,
provided his antagonist aims at him; and as to firing at a man at 200 yards with a
common musket, you may just as well fire at the moon and have the same hopes
of hitting your object.
The soldiers shot at a life-size group of three of the Kings regulars at distances of
from 140 to 25 yards.

Redcoats at 140 yards

Redcoats at 25 yards

For the first volley firing experiment soldiers were aligned in a rank and given
commands: Make Ready! Present! Fire! All the soldiers fired at the same time at the
opposing force also firing by volley.

During more than 100 years of fighting Indians prior to 1775 the New England
militia developed tactics firing from behind cover at individuals. They were not
accustomed and not practiced in volley firing. The second experiment simulated this
tactic, which the militia and minutemen employed during the withdrawal of the British
back to Boston after the battle at Concord, 19 April 1775 and the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Our results clearly support Colonel Hangars assertion. Hitting a human-size target
purposefully aimed at 200 yards away with a smooth bore musket would be mere chance.
Volley fire resulted in no hits of 13 shots on the target redcoat at 130 yards and
independent fire resulted in no hits of 10 shots at the target redcoat at 140 yards. In
contrast, at 25 yards volley fire resulted in 11 hits for 11 shots and independent fire
resulted in 8 hits for 10 shots at the target redcoat.

MUSKET ACCURACY and EFFECTIVENESS


Herman Karl
Lincoln Minute Men
September 28, 2015
Colonel Hanger, a British army officer during the Revolutionary War, succinctly
characterized the accuracy of the musket of the era:
A soldier's musket, if not exceedingly ill-bored (as many of them are), will strike
the figure of a man at eighty yards; it may even at 100; but a soldier must be
very unfortunate indeed who shall be wounded by a common musket at 150
yards, provided his antagonist aims at him; and as to firing at a man at 200
yards with a common musket, you may just as well fire at the moon and have the
same hopes of hitting your object.

The accuracy reflected both the qualities of the muskets and ammunition and skill
of the soldiers. Whereas accuracy decreases substantially beyond about 100 yards, the
ball is still lethal in excess of 150 yards. At that distance the ball could penetrate at least
two soldiers; when elevated the ball can travel about 3000 yards (Roberts et al., 2008).
Live fire experiments by the Lincoln Minute Men support Colonel Hangers
assertions. Life size targets of three British redcoats standing side-by-side were placed at
distances of 130, 100, 75, 50, and 25 yards. The minutemen always aimed at the middle
target. Hits on the target redcoat were 0 for 13 shots (0/13) at 130 yards, 1/12 at 100
yards with 3 hits on other redcoats, 2/11 at 75 yards with 2 hits on other redcoats, 7/12 at
50 yards, and 11/11 at 25 yards.
Re-enactors debate the distance at which opposing troops first began firing.
Different countries had different doctrines. British army battle doctrine evolved in the
18th century for infantry to withhold fire until coming within about 20-30 yards of the
opposing troops and to take deliberate aim (Blackmore, 2014). At that distance their first
volley was devastating and a bayonet charge put the enemy to rout.
In evaluating the accuracy and effectiveness of the 18th century musket, we must
consider the inherent (that which is possible) and the actual (that which was attained on
the battlefield). The true measure of the effectiveness of the military musket is its
performance in battle and not on the target range.
The inherent accuracy of the smoothbore musket has been tested by several
experiments. One such experiment in 1779 at the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich
eliminated human error by fastening the barrel onto a thirteen-inch mortar service bed
(Seymour, 2013). The firing was done with tightly fitting greased bullets. Twelve shots
grouped into a 3x4 rectangle. I conducted an experiment with a smoothbore fowler
firing ten shots from a bench rest at a target placed at 100 yards. The shots grouped
within a 16x33 rectangle. I used tightly fitting balls enveloped in a lubricated cloth
patch. The potential of this inherent accuracy was never realized on the battlefield.
The British military musket of the time, commonly called Brown Bess, had a bore
diameter of nominally 0.75 (.75 caliber). To facilitate loading, especially as the bore
fouled with powder residue, the ball used with the musket was nominally 0.69 in
diameter. The loose fitting ball (the space between the bore and ball is called windage)
contributed to the poor accuracy. Eighteenth century battle doctrine emphasized volume

of fire over accuracy, which put a premium on rapidity of loading and firing. Soldiers
endeavored to fire four times in a minute. Even though this rate was rarely attained in
battle, the speed of firing was not conducive to careful aiming. Whereas British soldiers
did practice marksmanship, it appears that the focus was more on teaching the soldier to
level his musket at the opposing force and not necessarily to take aim at an individual.
Moreover, marksmanship practice was not sufficient to develop highly skilled marksman
(although undoubtedly a few individuals attained a high level of skill).
The greatly undersize ball combined with below par shooting skills of the typical
soldier contributed to the poor accuracy of the military musket. Results of the Norfolk
(England) Militia in 1779 are informative of the level of marksmanship in general. A
battalion of the militia fired 632 shots at a 2x8 target at a distance of 70 yards only 20%
(126) of the shots hit the target (Houlding, 2002). By modern standards this is abysmal.
Yet, their colonel was quite satisfied considering his soldiers good marksmen.
Maj. Gen. B.P. Hughes states controlled tests indicate that, in theory, a battalion
500 strong firing two volleys during an attack by infantry over 100 yards of ground might
expect to obtain 500-600 hits from 1000 muskets that could have been fired during the
attack. This is almost three times the percentage of hits achieved by the Norfolk Militia.
However, he goes on to point out battlefield casualties on such a scale have never been
inflicted stating Lauerma, quoting Rouqerol, estimates that between 0.2 and 0.5 per
cent of the bullets fired hit their targets. One battlefield factor that limits the
effectiveness of musketry is the cloud of smoke generated by firing hundreds of guns that
envelops the field and obscures the combatants making aiming impossibleyou cant hit
what you cant see.
The theoretical effectiveness of the musket was never fully realized in battleif it
were, annihilation would likely have been the result. The many variables that include
environmental, tactical, technical, and the soldiers mental and physical condition of
actual combat combine in unpredictable ways to create the chaos of war. It is this, which
must be kept upmost in mind, when interpreting the potential not only of the weapon but
also of the soldier.
Although the smoothbore musket is capable of good accuracy with proper loads in
the hands of a skilled shooter, Colonel Hangers statement accurately characterizes its
practical effectiveness in combat.
Selected Bibliography
David Blackmore, Destructive and formidable: British infantry firepower 1642-1765 (London: Frontline
Books, 2014)
J.A. Houlding, Fit for Service: the Training of the British Army 1715-1795 (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
2000)
M. Willegal, The accuracy of black powder muskets, online: http://www.scribd.com/doc/76363586/TheAccuracy-of-Black-Powder-Muskets-Mike-Willegal; viewed 2/17/14.
Maj.-Gen. B.P. Hughes, Firepower: Weapons Effectiveness on the Battlefield, 1630-1850 (New York:
Sarepon, 1974, 1997).
9. N.A. Roberts, J.W. Brown, B. Hammett, and P.D.F. Kingston, A detailed study of the effectiveness and
capabilities of 18th century musketry on the battlefield (Journal of Conflict Archaeology, 4 (1-2), 2008), 121.
Joseph Seymour, A chart showing the results of a 1779 Woolwich ballistic test (Military Collector &
Historian, vol. 65, no. 4, winter 2013), 373-374

Accouterments Carried by Minutemen on the Eve


Of 19 April 1775
Herman Karl
Lincoln Minute Men
August 8, 2014
In addition to his firelock many towns required that a militia soldier and
minuteman equip himself at minimum with an edged weapon, a cartridge box, pouch,
powder, bullets (balls), and a knapsack.1 How well outfitted individuals and companies
were with these items varied from town to town. Inventories of accouterments are very
scarce and it is often not possible to establish the set of accouterments carried by a soldier
with certainty. Local historians might uncover data to allow a more accurate depiction of
a town company. There is a basic set of equipment needed by every soldier. It is
important to keep in mind that this synopsis addresses the equipment of the militia
(citizen soldiers) and irregular troops and not a regular, professional army.
First and foremost a citizen soldier must carry the accessories that allow him to
fire and maintain his firelock.2 The most common container for powder is a cows horn
made watertight. Balls and shot would be carried in a shot (hunting) pouch, which also
would hold extra flints and items to maintain the firelock. During militia duty powder and
ball were contained in paper cartridges carried in a cartridge or cartouche box, which
enabled quicker loading. However, accounts of the time indicate that many militia and
minute companies were not fully equipped with cartridge boxes and that many men
carried powder horns and shot pouches.

Powder horn and measure

Cartridge box

Shot pouch

Cartridge box interior

Ball, flints, shot, tow,3 and cleaning worm

Cartridge

A bayonet, sword, hatchet, ax, or tomahawk satisfied the edged weapon


requirement. Several lines of evidence converge to suggest that few militia and minute
companies were fully equipped with bayonets on the eve of the Revolution.4 Many reenactors, however, desire a bayonet. If it can be documented that their company
possessed many bayonets or, conversely, few or none, they should emulate what is
known of their unit.

American bayonet

Hand ax (hatchet) and tomahawk

Light cavalry saber and short sword

Drum canteen (Internet)

Rundlet canteen (Internet)

A canteen would likely be carried and citizen soldiers going on campaign would
add a knapsack to hold a blanket, extra clothing, food, cooking and eating utensils, and
other items necessary for camp life. Like much of the material culture of the militia the
style, size, shape, and material of knapsacks and canteens are debated.5 Many re-enactors
carry a wood drum or barrel (rundlet) canteen. Less than a handful of documented
Revolutionary War militia knapsacks exist. Most militia knapsacks apparently were
simple rectangular pockets made of linen such as that of Capt. David Uhl, New York
militia and Benjamin Warner, Connecticut militia; re-enactors favor these. Another
attributed knapsack, made of bearskin, belonged to Elisha Grose, Massachusetts militia.

Uhl knapsack (Internet)

Warner knapsack (Internet)

Grose knapsack (Internet)

Although a few towns may have attempted to standardize accouterments, it is


likely that they varied as much as did the firearms and clothing of the citizen soldiers.
Each soldier probably equipped himself with that which was readily available and
worked for him.
1

Cain, Alexander R., no date, Equipment of Massachusetts militia and minute men in the 18th century:
http://www.18cnewenglandlife.org/18cnel/equipment_of_mass_militia.htm
2
Karl, Herman, in review, Accouterments of militia soldiers on the eve of the Revolutionary War: part 1,
powder horns and shot pouches: Military Collector and Historian
3
Tow, a by-product of processing flax to make linen, was used both as wadding to secure the ball on the
powder charge and to scrub the bore during cleaning.
4
Karl, Herman, Accouterments of militia soldiers on the eve of the Revolutionary War: part 2,
bayonets and cartridge boxes
5
Neumann, George C. and Kravic, Frank J., 1975, Collectors illustrated encyclopedia of the American
Revolution: Rebel Publishing Co., Inc., Texarkana, Texas
Rees, John U., 2014, Cost of a knapsack complete Notes on Continental army packs and the soldiers
burden: https://www.scribd.com/doc/210794759/This-Napsack-I-carryd-through-the-war-of-theRevolution-Knapsacks-Used-by-the-Soldiers-during-the-War-for-America

Several chapters in this pamphlet are abstracted from longer, thoroughly


researched essays, which can be downloaded at Scribd.com