The Accuracy of the Smoothbore
Flintlock Musket? By Josef Klefman, Bowan’s Co’y
Why, when I pick up a book on the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812 or the British Peninsula War does the author state that main weapon used, the smooth bore
musket, was not accurate.
The armies during these periods almost exclusively used the smoothbore as the main infantry weapon. The idea was to lay down a large area of fire against an oncoming enemy fast. For this job the smoothbore musket was ideal. New recruits were still taught to shoot straight. They were not just supposed to point in the general direction of the enemy and fire. I will give some idea of being on the receiving end of musket fire also. In the essay below I will give the reader many examples quoted from primary sources.
“When within about five rods of the rear of the retreating foe, I could distinguish everything about them. They were retreating in line, though in some disorder. I singled out a man and took my aim directly between his shoulders. (They were divested of their packs) He was a good mark, being a broad shouldered fellow. What became of him I know not; the fire and smoke hid him from my sight. One thing I know, that is I took as deliberate aim at him as ever I did at any game in my life.” (Private Yankee Doodle J.P. Martin page 130 the battle of Monmouth. A rod equals 5 1/2 yards of 16-1/2 feet, so 5 rods 27-1/ 2 yards.)
“15th Jany’ The Regiment are frequently practiced at firing with ball at marks. Six rounds p man at each time is usually allotted for this practice. as our
regiment is quartered on a wharf which pr ejects into part of the harbor, and there is a very considerable range without any obstruction, we have fixed figures of men as large as life, made of thin board, on small stages, which are anchored at proper distance from the end of the Wharf , at which the men fire, Objects afloat, which move up and down with the tide, are frequently pointed out for them to fire at, and premiums are sometimes given for the best Shots, by which means some of our men have become excellent marksmen.” (Diary of First Lieutenant Frederick Mackenize of the Royal Welch Fusiliers January 15, 1775 page 28)
Henry Hamilton on his journey from Detroit to Vincennes had his soldiers practice shooting at the mark:
“12th exercised the Cannon and small arms at Marks-The arms in very good order”
This last statement tells me that the soldiers weapons were inspected after qualifying.
“In action he will pay the greatest attention to the commands of his officers, level well, and not throw away his fire.” (Baron Von Steuben Drill manual page 150).
“…skirmishing through woods, loading and firing in different attitudes at marks.” (Cuthbertson’ System for management of s a Battalion of Infantry page 191).
“The only time that the issue of ammunition is issued to the limit is on active service. The yearly amount of ammunition is small, so in practicing to fire by Battalion which is necessary for improvement,” (Cuthbertson page 118)
“When powder is first given to the recruits they are to be taught to load and fire singly that each man may be distinctly instructed in the proper methods of using a cartridge and be encouraged to proceed without dread or confusion; They are then to be fire by files and so on by degree until the number of them may be ventured together; they should be taught to fire at the marks at different distance and be fully instructed in the use of their bayonet.” (Cuthbertson page 163-164 article 9)
As for being on the receiving end of musket fire Captain Thomas Rodney describes the battle of Princeton where he was involved:
“About 15 of my men came to this post, but I could not keep them all th.ere, for the enemies fire was dreadful and three balls, for they were very thick, had grazed me; one passed within my elbow nicking my great coat and carried away the breech of Sargeant McKnatts gun, he being close behind me, another carried away the inside edge of one of my shoesoles, another had niched my hat and indeed they seemed as thick as hail.” (Diary of Captain Thomas Rodney 1776-1777 page 35 the battle of Princeton on January 3rd 1777).
Robert Rogers in his orders for Ranging states in article VII:
“… fire, fall, or squat If you are obliged to receive the enemy s down, till it is over, then rise and discharge at them.”
Rogers knew that a musket volley could be devastating and cause considerable damage
to personal, not only their moral.
After reading this treatise I think that enough evidence was presented to see that the flint Lock smooth bore musket was indeed a formidable weapon.