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Old 1st August 2019, 10:32 PM   #10
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: California
Posts: 650
Default good or bad -- by what standards?

Originally Posted by Jim McDougall

With the firing of the Brown Bess muskets, in the original India pattern (Third pattern) that the Mexicans were using, it was given a rather poor review in criticism by Hans Buck about 1840s in "The Rifle and How to Use it" . The author claimed it was clumsy and worst contrived of any firelock in the world, and required the "largest charge of powder" and "its weight and windage were the greatest, its range the shortest, and its accuracy the least".

The Brown Bess had its fans and detractors on both sides during its day. Robert Held , in his classic The Age of Firearms (1957) quotes part of a report by a British officer complaining of the irregular bores and crooked barrels on many regulation-pattern guns (p 114); other writers mentioned soft steel on the frizzen faces resulting in erratic sparking and thus, misfires.

However, some things should be kept in mind. First, military muskets of any nation could never match the quality and performance of bespoke sporting guns for obvious pecuniary reasons. Moreover, the infantry tactics of the day did not call for great accuracy from the common soldier's weapon. The goal was for troops to load (as quickly as a muzzle-loading weapon could be) and fire in volleys at massed targets advancing at distances of well under 100 yd, more often as close as 50 or 30 before it was time to use the bayonet.

Given the relatively low bar to cross, it's not surprising that things like barrel quality might be uneven (this was a very demanding part of the manufacturing process in an age before advanced mechanization (still mostly by hand throughout the 18th cent). But the task of producing a large number of weapons at an affordable cost to the treasury was something faced by all states and there does not seem to be any evidence that the British with their Brown Besses were any worse at doing this than was any other Western power.

Historical documents and the experience of subsequent generations of shooters tell us that a well-made smoothbore musket loaded with a tight-fitting patched ball and good powder can bring down a deer at 120 yards without much problem. Not too shabby.

However, military drill of the first half of the 19th cent., and for the previous two centuries, didn't allow the leisure of careful loading with patched bullets. A somewhat loose ball (the differential in diameter was to compensate for the buildup of powder residue in the bore after repeated volley shots) was dropped "naked" down the bore atop the powder, with the crumpled up paper from the cartridge pushed down on top with the ramrod to seat the charge. Since the projectile could be expected to "rattle" its way down the bore upon firing, it didn't make much difference if the barrel was perfectly true or not. The soldier had to keep up with the drummer's cadence and fire when his buddies did, when ordered. Tardiness on the training ground was typically rewarded with a brutal flogging. The idea was for opposing forces to face a hail of lead before closing in with cold steel. Also, keep in mind that these guns usually had only a rudimentary front sight, on some models attached to the front barrel band, which could shift if there was any play in that component.

Regarding poor sparking, the face of the frizzen had to be surfaced with steel of sufficient carbon content, and the surface was usually laminated onto an iron base, or the unit was case-hardened. Excessive wear after a long period of service, even on an otherwise well made gun, would require refurbishing or replacement of the frizzen.

in short, the manufacture and performance of military weapons in a particular culture or age needs to be examined in context.
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