Author Topic: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War  (Read 86316 times)

Bob Smalser

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Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« on: February 25, 2011, 05:57:10 PM »
US Army Print:  Battle of Long Island

“…the riflemen were mostly spitted to the trees with bayonets (their weapons being so slow to load)…these people deserve pity rather than fear.”  -Hessian colonel after the Battle of Long Island, August 1776

The history books claim rifles took a full minute to load, while muskets only 20 seconds.  That’s understandable, given the time requirement to fit and drive a tight-fitting patched ball.  But the accuracy the greased patch provides doesn’t help in close engagements where speed was more important.   Don’t you think these riflemen dispensed with the patch inside of normal musket range, speeding up loading to a more comparable ratio?  The ball still won’t exactly rattle down the bore, but wouldn’t that change the rate of fire ratio between muskets and rifles to 2:1 instead of 5:1?  There were no shortage of rifles of the era like the Girandoni repeater that didn’t use a patch at all.  Nor would the evolution of Minie balls shortly thereafter.  Or did paper cartridges for muskets play a larger role than this line of thought?
« Last Edit: November 25, 2019, 09:53:49 PM by Dennis Glazener »

Offline TPH

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2011, 08:19:20 PM »
US Army Print:  Battle of Long Island

“…the riflemen were mostly spitted to the trees with bayonets (their weapons being so slow to load)…these people deserve pity rather than fear.”  -Hessian colonel after the Battle of Long Island, August 1776

The history books claim rifles took a full minute to load, while muskets only 20 seconds.  That’s understandable, given the time requirement to fit and drive a tight-fitting patched ball.  But the accuracy the greased patch provides doesn’t help in close engagements where speed was more important.   Don’t you think these riflemen dispensed with the patch inside of normal musket range, speeding up loading to a more comparable ratio?  The ball still won’t exactly rattle down the bore, but wouldn’t that change the rate of fire ratio between muskets and rifles to 2:1 instead of 5:1?  There were no shortage of rifles of the era like the Girandoni repeater that didn’t use a patch at all.  Nor would the evolution of Minie balls shortly thereafter.  Or did paper cartridges for muskets play a larger role than this line of thought?

The Hessian was right. The rare rifle armed troops of the American Revolution were almost always militia and were impossible to control - a raged volley was about all an officer could expect before they ran. It happened over and over. It would have been rare for a militiaman, no matter what his weapon, to stand up to a disciplined bayonet charge by British Regulars. Those that did were usually trapped and were unable to fight back when involved in hand-to-hand combat - a hatchet or even a long knife are useless to anyone confronting an enemy under strict discipline and well trained in the use of the bayonet.

As you said, when involved close in, the rifleman could and did use a naked ball to load. This helped for a very few rounds but the rifle used a ball closer to the bore diameter than the musket did. Fouling became a problem for the rifleman much more quickly than it did for the musket armed man. The British ball for the .75 Brown Bess was .66 - .68 in diameter and a soldier could load many more rounds than a rifleman making a similar attempt before the gun became fouled to a point making it nearly impossible to load. The musket armed soldier was then in close and had the bayonet and good training to fall back on, the rifleman didn't.

As far as ammunition, when the US Army adopted the M1803 Rifle for it's rifle regiment, the rifle armed regulars were armed with two types of ammunition: the traditional powder horn and patched ball for accurate, long range fire and paper cartridges just like the line infantry using the smoothbored musket for situations when things became close and fast. The bayonet, however, was not issued to the rifleman until the 1820s, and then it was withdrawn shortly thereafter as unnecessary. The value of the small number of riflemen was considered in probing, scouting and skirmishing and the extra weight was considered to hinder their ability to move rapidly and quietly, the knife was more important to them.

When used properly as skirmishers or in quick hit and run actions against the American Indian, rifle armed troops could be valuable, but until a fast loading rifled arm became available in the 1840s (and not common in the English or American armies until the late 1850s - early 1860s) the fast loading, bayonet equipped smoothbored musket remained the primary weapon of armies world wide. Until then, rifle armed troops had to fall back behind the line infantry in order to avoid massacre.
« Last Edit: November 25, 2019, 09:54:22 PM by Dennis Glazener »
T.P. Hern

Bob Smalser

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2011, 10:21:39 PM »
Thanks.  I didn’t have the background on the M1803 rifle.  I’ve never fired a muzzle loader and want to insure I have the technical details correct.  The Hessians had Jaeger and Chasseur units armed with rifles, and while I don’t believe all of them used patched balls, their leaders also avoided placing them in situations where they’d have to stand and fire until their barrels fouled.

Quote
The rare rifle armed troops of the American Revolution were almost always militia and were impossible to control - a raged volley was about all an officer could expect before they ran.

Please comment if I have this wrong, but to my knowledge, there were only two rifle regiments (with 700-900 riflemen each) raised in 1775 and early 1776.  Thompson’s Battalion (with 9 companies, really a regiment) and Miles’s Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment.  Neither were militia.  Thompson’s was the one of the first Continental Army unit of regulars and Miles’s was raised under the auspices of Pennsylvania but all members were on 18-month active-service enlistments.  There was also three or so independent rifle companies raised in Virginia (Morgan’s Riflemen) and Maryland as Continental Army units, all on 12-month enlistments.   There may have been other rifle units as part of the various state militias, but I’m unaware of them.

Nor were they misemployed.  Thompson’s Battalion provided two companies of scouts attached to Morgan for Arnold’s Quebec expedition while the remainder of the regiment performed as snipers/skirmishers/recce for the Siege of Boston in 1775 and later in the New York and New Jersey campaigns of 1776-7.  Nor did they run….that’s why Miles’s 400 riflemen screening Putnam’s left flank took 50% casualties after being outflanked by General Howe with a maneuver force of 10,000 regulars.  The Army painting above depicts Miles’s unit being forced to stand and fight when their role was early warning and delay.


However I certainly agree that rifle units were rare, nor did they last long.  The skill levels in marksmanship and field craft they brought with them couldn’t be sustained as their ranks were thinned by casualties and expiring enlistments.  They soon devolved into units with less unique skills armed largely with muskets.  

In their original form, however, the frontier rifle units were formidable.   In Nov 1775, “20 boats” containing British regulars supported by three artillery batteries and a frigate raided Lechmere Point during the siege of Boston to seize cattle.  Opposed by only six riflemen from Thompson’s Battalion, the result was 17 British killed to only one American, and no cattle taken...

…Hessian diaries from the New York battles in 1776 describe officers cutting the rank insignia from their uniforms so as not to become early casualties.  

…Hessians arriving on Staten Island in July 1776 were forced to change their bivouac plans when they discovered the Kill Van Kull channel, 350-500 yards wide, was no obstacle to the reach of Thompson’s (then under the command of Col Edward Hand)  riflemen.  

…A rifleman named George Merchant (from Lancaster County) was captured in Quebec and sent with his weapon back to England to give demonstrations intended to aid recruiting by showing what formidable antagonists British forces were facing in America.  His demonstrations had exactly the opposite effect.  

…Thirty riflemen under Hand stopped a 10,000-man British landing force in its tracks at Throg’s Neck in October, 1776 delaying their offensive by forcing them to land elsewhere. Hand’s riflemen would do similar on multiple occasions at Trenton and Princeton in December and during the winter battles over forage and rations in northern New Jersey in early 1777.  

…“Nest of hornets”…”galled by fire”… and men “dropping fast” became common phrases in British and Hessian correspondence.  

...In spite of the disaster at Long Island in 1776, by the following spring the myth of British invincibility was permanently broken, with frontier riflemen and their distinctly American rifles playing a role disproportionate to their numbers


« Last Edit: February 25, 2011, 10:51:38 PM by Bob Smalser »

dannybb55

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2011, 03:28:56 AM »
I believe that the Hall's came out at the turn of the century and was in general issue for thirty years or so. Even the Common rifle dates to 1814 does it not? The Hall's is mighty fast, I have seen Dragoons laying down covering fire at skirmishes from prone faster than we could return with our caplock rifles, when I worked on the Santa Fe Trail. The 69 cal muskets were a step back in 1842.

loco219

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2011, 05:35:00 AM »
These quotations are found in many history and reference books. I kept this data from a paper I wrote years ago, I always thought it was pretty blunt:

« Last Edit: November 25, 2019, 09:54:52 PM by Dennis Glazener »

Bob Smalser

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2011, 06:11:23 AM »
...I always thought it was pretty blunt:

Except I’m not sure how much of the last letter quoted was accurate.  

Sure those frontier-raised riflemen were good.  But few.  Very few.  When a rifle cost two to three times the price of a military musket and half the price of a horse, there likely weren’t as many out there as the legends state.  Nor were there as many people out there, for that matter.  Today’s historians say the period’s population estimates were off by as much as a fourth.  So while there were fowlers, muskets and trade guns, there weren’t all that many real riflemen out there.  Perhaps 2000 out of a population of 220,000.  Nor were there all that many muskets and trade guns either for that matter, as the first real militia (other than some volunteer units previously) wasn’t organized in Pennsylvania until 1777.  

For example in 1763 after the Whitehall Massacre, Whitehall and Allen Townships needed an additional 50 guns and a half wagon-load of ammo just to arm the (estimated) 100-man defense company they hastily formed.  That's roughly half of the volunteers who were either unarmed or poorly armed.

Quote


"NORTHAMPTON TOWN, the 10th, this instant, October, 1763.

To the Honorable JAMES HAMILTON (1710-1783), Esq., Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief of the Province of Pennsylvania…

… and we found the inhabitants that had neither Guns, Powder nor Lead, to defend themselves, and that Colonel Burd  (James Burd 1726-1793) had lately spoke with his Honor. He had informed him, that he would assist them with guns and ammunition, and he requested of me to write to your Honor, because he was just setting off for Lancaster, and the inhabitants of the town had not chose their officers at the time he set off, so we, the inhabitants of the said town hath unanimous chose George Wolf, the bearer hereof, to be Captain, and Abraham Rinker (1741-1820, later brother-in-law of John Moll I) to be Lieutenant; we whose names are underwritten, promise to obey to this mentioned Captain and Lieutenant, and so we hope his Honor will be so good and send us 50 guns, 100 pound of powder, and 400 pound lead, 150 stands for the guns…

JOSEPH ROTH, Minister ”

Further, many histories make the comment that "the Pennsylvania regiments and separate battalions" of the Continental Line and militia were armed with "rifles".  They weren't.  Only the few I mentioned were, and those not for long, as the riflemen were replaced by whatever they could find after they were used up.

« Last Edit: February 26, 2011, 06:53:55 AM by Bob Smalser »

dannybb55

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2011, 03:15:25 PM »
I think that more than 2 thousand rifles or more were confiscated from Scottish loyalists in one sweep through the Scotland County, NC area after the Battle of Moores Creek. Just because the rifle cost as much as a car did not mean that men would not buy one. I may not be rich but we own two trucks. Needs must when the Devil drives. Militia Laws, even down here, required a firelock in every mans hands, and excepting the coastal towns and some frontier forts, rifles were what men carried here. Sometimes all that a man owned was a rifle, a mule and a small cabin and made his living on a few acres of tobacco , corn, making naval stores, timber or hide hunting. Down here, where the Rev war was won, rifles played a large part throughout the conflict.

loco219

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2011, 04:51:04 PM »
I agree. Thats the beauty of history, at some point all it is is the path we choose to beleive when several paths have been laid down.  I do not mean that in an argumenative way, it just the truth. After researching things like these for over 25 years now, I have concluded that most of the time there is no 100% correct answer. Even though we find bits of info. that seem promising, we were not there and we do not really know if it happened that way. One thing for sure is that by the summer of 1777 Morgan and Cresap had command of over 1000 hand-picked riflemen, this is entirely documented. They were not all Pennsvlvania men, but they were chosen for their rifle skills, and were put to use for that purpose. Their subsequent "sniping" of British officers severely dampened British morale in the following months, and had a huge contribution in the following few years.

Bob Smalser

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2011, 04:58:50 PM »
Down here, where the Rev war was won, rifles played a large part throughout the conflict.

You bring up another interesting point.  Probably the best modern authority on the immigrant groups that made America is David Hackett Fischer.  If you haven’t read Albion’s Seed, you would enjoy it, as it traces German and Quaker Pietist and British and Scots-Irish Borderer values and politics from the 1500’s to present across the different regions of colonial America.  For example, there are reasons why Southern and small-town/rural young people comprise the bulk of today’s armed forces…and those reasons date to the 1500’s and earlier.

Popular history.…including Fischer…says that the warriors were the British Borderers, and the German-Americans  were more closely aligned value-wise with the pacifist Quakers.  If that were accurate, then reading the names on the actual rosters of the 1775-6 frontier rifle regiments should show Scots-Irish/British names disproportionate to their numbers in Pennsylvania’s population.  They don’t.  German-Americans were about a third of the population and comprise a third or slightly more of Thompson’s and Miles’s Rifle Regiments.

« Last Edit: February 26, 2011, 05:00:58 PM by Bob Smalser »

Offline blackdog

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2011, 05:59:12 PM »
I have a first hand account of how riflemen were meant to be used.  It is a bit long and english crude but its well worth the read not only the reference to rangers but the attitude of the fighting in general.  It is the account of my ancestor Capt. Joeseph Hodgkins (and the mass. militia) on Manhattan.

"...on the monday morning thay thought thay would attak us with about six thousand men and drive us all over kings bridge but they were much mistaken. But however as soon as we heard thay were advancing towards us the Gen. sent 200 rangers who met the enemy and fired on them and fought then on the retreat till they got pretty near us, then the enemy halted.  Back of the hill and blood a french horn which was for reinforcement (was heard) and as soon as thay got it thay formed into two columns.  But our brigade was posted in the eadge of a thick woods and by some climbing uo a tree could see the enemys motion and while that whar aforming the general sent a party to attak them which answered the end for which they were sent.  For our people made the attack and retreated twards us to the place whare we wanted them to come and then the enemy rushed down the hill with all speed to a plain spot of ground.  Then our brigade marched out of the woods then a very hot fire began on both sides and lasted for up to an hour.  Then the enemy retreated up the hill and our people followed them and fought them near an hour longer till they got under cover of their ships which was in the north hudson.  Then our people left them the loos.  On our side is about 40 killed and 60-70 wounded.  One corp. was badly wounded through his knees but I hope he will do well.  The lose of the enemy is not sarting but according to the best accountsthat we have they have nearly 500 killed and near as many wounded.  They whare seen to carry off several wagon loads besides our people burryed a good many that they left.  We whare informed buy two prisoners that they found they had not the milisha to deal with at this time. (which indeed was not the case)  They said the surgeon  (british) swore that they had no militia to day. This was the first chance we had to fight them and I doubt not if we should have another oportunity but we should give them another dressing..."
« Last Edit: February 26, 2011, 06:03:54 PM by blackdog »
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loco219

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2011, 06:41:41 PM »
Blackdog, I love to read accounts like that, you can almost feel the passion in it. Obviously it was important enough to him to write it down, and the fact that you have it today is priceless. If you have any more I would love to read it.

Offline Dphariss

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2011, 07:43:08 PM »
The riflemen, when used as they should have been were a formidable force on the battle field.
But I suspect that they, correctly, thought that standing on an open field in a shower of musket balls to fight the British on THEIR terms was stupid. The frontier rifleman knew how to fight and when some fool made them stand out in a field to be shot down they probably had "morale problems" I would have. For all I know "online sweeps" may still be a military tactic. But I never liked it much. It is a good way to find out where the bad guys are though, when they start shooting....

When used as Morgan's riflemen were used at Saratoga they were battle winners.
But the American officer corps wanted to fight with muskets and bayonets and were too !@*%&@ dumb to see how to use the rifle to its maximum. They were supposed to stand in ranks. The American officer Corps by and large was pretty poor. Even Washington was a slow learner and not much of a tactician it would seem.
We will never know what effect the rifleman had in the American Revolution except to point out that the British Army lost a LOT of officers and NCOs at that crippled a units ability to function properly.
At Saratoga they not only blinded Burgoyne by causing his scouts to flee permanently, they deprived him of key officers, the Fraser killing was especially demoralizing, they destroyed his artillery, the gunners could not man the guns. Its arguable that without Morgan the battle may have had a different outcome.
The Battle of King's Mountain was a rifle fight and it was the key battle in the south since it stopped British recruitment it changed the face of the southern campaign completely.

There is a lot of wishful thinking by the British about pinning riflemen to trees with Bayonets etc. And it likely happened at times. But it was not the norm. One on one a man who had been in a few fights with the natives would give a bayonet armed opponent all the fight he needs and will likely win. When in ranks the bayonet is hard to counter since you may get stuck from the side.

The "funny" part is that by the end of the war the Americans had removed virtually all rifles from the Army while the British had ADDED a rifle company to every Regiment.
The British had been seriously looking at military rifles since the 1740s.

Dan
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northmn

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2011, 09:56:20 PM »
I have thought that we may also be a bit mistaken about the availability of riflemen in general.  Daniel Morgan used riflemen very successfully in Saratoga but they did get taught a lesson when they pursued a unit of British troops they had shot up.  They were led into a unit of grenediers.  Francis Marion was said to use them very effectively in gurellia warfare tactics. 
When inducted into the army, a soldier was given a uniform and a musket.  Most were young men as today and showed up unarmed.  Old Hickory ran into this in the war of 1812 where young southren men showed up anarmed. they ran into trouble at Brandywine I believe because the French muskets were issued with ammunition that did not always fit. Rifles were expensive and may have belonged to an individual that was already established in life.  These individuals did not show up in great numbers to serve.  Daniel Morgan recruited 500 riflemen from several colonies.  Also just because someone owned a rifle does not mean he could shoot it that well.  When I used to help run our Rondys I used the 2 foot square rapid fire pistol targets so that some could at least shoot a satisfying score.  There were a few good shots but many more that had trouble with the 2 foot target.  Even off of x sticks, some were not all that good.   Morgan knew this and called Timothy Murphy to shoot Fraser at Saratoga when Fraser was rallying the british troops.  The German troops armed with rifles did not equalize the field as our riflemen outdistanced them.
When the British organized the 95th regiment and armed them with rifles they used them to their best as a special forces unit.  They sniped Napoleons officers and other important targets and were always backed by regulars with muskets and bayonets.  They only recruited those that could shoot  them, but note that they were an issue arm. 

Offline blackdog

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2011, 09:58:53 PM »
Loco219,
I agree, the passion is remarkable.  I have 4 years of his letters and I can't read them long without my eyes getting wet.  The funny thing is he penned the his entire action at princeton starting with the delaware crossing and yet didn't go into great detail of the Saratoga victory other than casulties.  If you would like to hear anything in particular let me know.

Back on subject here, clearly the American command knew and what Capt. Hodgkins saw that day they knew exactly the job of riflemen and led the british into a trap and  transfered the battle from riflemen to the mititia infantry when the trap was sprung.  "For our people made the attack and retreated twards us to the place whare we wanted them to come and then the enemy rushed down the hill with all speed to a plain spot of ground.  Then our brigade marched out of the woods then a very hot fire began on both sides and lasted for up to an hour."
Sorry to offend but this action was not an accident.  The british knew riflemen couldn't stand and fight and pursuit was the key to not getting picked off.  In this case they pursued into a ambush and paid for it.  What I find especialy funny is that the Brits didn't even know they were fighting militia.  Does that tell us that Americans didn't know what they were doing???
Ei Savua Ilman Tulta

loco219

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #14 on: February 27, 2011, 12:49:53 AM »
Throughout our history Morgan is one of our most colorful characters. I have researched him extensively because his life was so interesting.  He was a teamster( at that time driving wagons) and at a young age had his own rig. He was a notorious drinker and brawler. He had a reputation for being one of the strongest and toughest men in the colonies. By all rights he should have died from a 500 stroke lashing he received as punishment for beating up a British officer, but as the personal accounts go he was " Too tough to die". This whipping left his back grotesquely scarred, and his hatred for the Brits raw. Personal accounts vary, but there are more than one that say he briefly pondered on killing Frasier, then proclaimed it must be done, and sent Murphy up the tree to to the deed.  His brilliance at Cowpens proved his tactical prowess. He not only tricked Tartleton into the trap, he put his own militia in a place where they could not run away, in a sense tricking them too. I feel personally that without the riflemen who served him so faithfully he would have accomplished none of it. The longrifle and the men who mastered it saved our liberty, my humble opinion.

Offline Dphariss

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #15 on: February 27, 2011, 12:55:47 AM »
I have thought that we may also be a bit mistaken about the availability of riflemen in general.  Daniel Morgan used riflemen very successfully in Saratoga but they did get taught a lesson when they pursued a unit of British troops they had shot up.  They were led into a unit of grenediers.  Francis Marion was said to use them very effectively in gurellia warfare tactics. 
When inducted into the army, a soldier was given a uniform and a musket.  Most were young men as today and showed up unarmed.  Old Hickory ran into this in the war of 1812 where young southren men showed up anarmed. they ran into trouble at Brandywine I believe because the French muskets were issued with ammunition that did not always fit. Rifles were expensive and may have belonged to an individual that was already established in life.  These individuals did not show up in great numbers to serve.  Daniel Morgan recruited 500 riflemen from several colonies.  Also just because someone owned a rifle does not mean he could shoot it that well.  When I used to help run our Rondys I used the 2 foot square rapid fire pistol targets so that some could at least shoot a satisfying score.  There were a few good shots but many more that had trouble with the 2 foot target.  Even off of x sticks, some were not all that good.   Morgan knew this and called Timothy Murphy to shoot Fraser at Saratoga when Fraser was rallying the british troops.  The German troops armed with rifles did not equalize the field as our riflemen outdistanced them.
When the British organized the 95th regiment and armed them with rifles they used them to their best as a special forces unit.  They sniped Napoleons officers and other important targets and were always backed by regulars with muskets and bayonets.  They only recruited those that could shoot  them, but note that they were an issue arm. 


Like many things in Colonial America there are assumptions to be made. But there is some stuff written down.
Rifles are reported in use by militia by the 1680s in NY.
Rifles were far more common in native hands than many want to admit by the 1740s.
In 1743 Conrad Weiser reported meeting " twenty Shawanese each with a rifle, two pistols and a sabre". The Deleware were also rifle armed by this time.
John Bartram 4 February 1756; "...they commonly now shoot with rifles with which they will at a great distance  from behind a tree...take such sure aim as seldom misseth their mark."
Edward Shippen wrote in April 1756; "The indians make use of rifled guns for the most part..."
Dewitt Bailey  further writes in discussion of the Pennsylvania Indian Stores at Shamokin and Ft Augusta "What is particularly interesting about these official Pennsylvania store records  is than neither trade-gun nor fowling piece appears to have crossed the counters."

If you have a native shooting from behind a tree 150 yards out how do you effectively deal with him with a musket and bayonet? With a 150 yard start you will never catch him and unless you can cover 150 yards before he reloads  getting closer to him would be a bad idea.
Shippen further indicates that rifles of the 1750s were effective to 150 yards.
The above quotes in Chapter 6 of Bailey's "British Military Flintlock Rifles 1740-1840"
Muskets of the day were considered too inaccurate to hit a man with any certainty much past 50 yards. This from actual testing in the early 19th century (see "Firearms of the American West 1803-1865"). I assume that this was the reason for the US Army using far more "buck and ball" cartridges than "ball" IIRC the ratio is 2:1 or better.

Then we have to ask where the natives LEARNED of the rifle and its advantage in accuracy? Had to be from Colonists .
Then we have to ask...
If only the rich/established people had rifles why was it that the rifle companies seemed to come from the frontier where the poor tended to gravitate? They did not seem to recruit riflemen from Williamsburg or New York.
I don't think that the "rifle was too expensive and most people didn't know how to shoot" argument is valid.


Most people DON'T know how to shoot nor do they particularly care to learn. There have always been gun owners, shooters and serious riflemen. Based on people I have met a lot of folks even in the Kentucky rifle community fall into the first category and a minority in the last. Today there are Kentucky rifle types who shoot but don't use the bench for load development since they can't shoot well off the bench? What does this mean? Most of the rifle matches in Colonial America appear to have been rest matches. People who shoot but never shoot from the bench are not even sure if they have an accurate load or not.
I never shoot offhand for serious shots, hunting etc unless there is no other option or the rules require offhand.

There is an account of Breed's Hill from a British officer who felt that most of the officer and senior NCO casualties were from a man who stood on the rampart and shot officers for 15-20 minutes before some British unit fired a volley at him and got lucky. It was stated that he fired and men passed "muskets" up to him. But if the British were advancing then we must assume that he was firing before the British got within range since once within range he was put out of the fight. Shooting officers, apparently at beyond the effective range of a musket, sounds like rifles to me. I would assume he was the best shot and had no respect for enemies effectiveness. Or he thought it was the thing to do. On the ramparts may have given him the ability to shoot over the ranks at the officers and NCOs behind. All we really know is what was related so these are assumptions. But the evidence is pretty good.

The British complained bitterly about officers being "taken off" with a single rifle shot.

We have an account of 1790 on the Ohio where the man captured Charles Johnston states the natives that attacked them were all rifle armed.

Gotta run

Dan
He who dares not offend cannot be honest. Thomas Paine

northmn

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #16 on: February 27, 2011, 01:19:30 AM »
Part of Washington's supply problem was getting arms so he could arm the Revolution. He got some from the French.  I think it was Brandywine where one problem occurred when the soldiers using French muskets had ammunition problems.  Were they using French muskets and British styled ammo?  Possibly.  Ones a .69 bore and ones could be as high as 77.  The revolution had many fronts. The battle of Kings Mountain was a rifleman's battle, but was against American Loyalists.  The primary battles were not fought by a lot of frontiersmen but by individuals from the more settled established areas.  The battle of Saratoga was an interesting study in that it really was not the result of a single battle but a series of skirmishes brought forth because Burgoyne was supposed to meet up with another British General that did not show (can't remember off the top if it was Clinton or Howe).  Burgoyne captured Ticondoroga and was marching South.  the battle of Oriskany (Drums along the Mohawk) was one of the more famous skirmishes which lead to Burgoyne's defeat.  Morgan's riflemen helped win the battle but Benedicts Arnold's refusal to follow Gate's orders is also credited with the win.  By Saratoga we had Burgoyne outnumbered 1500 or so to his 5000.  Bugoyne was also very low on supplies. 
Morgan's win at Cowpens was the result of the use of decoying Tarleton into a group of American Regulars by using the militia to retreat.  I am still wondering as much as he was hated why Tarleton did not fall to a rifle ball.
I am not denying that a lot of rifles were made and used at this time, but I do not think they were as common as some think.  Riflemen supported by the regulars could do a lot fo damage, just like the modern sniper.

DP

Bob Smalser

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #17 on: February 27, 2011, 02:50:32 AM »
Here’s another graphic of the 1776 disaster at Long Island on a larger scale with more detail.  Nothing wrong about those dispositions for either open or closed-order tactics…they could be a present-day school solution from Leavenworth or Camberly.

Hand’s riflemen met the landing and screened the front, and Miles’s riflemen screened the exposed left flank.  Exactly where riflemen should have been used.  No dummy laid that out.  The remainder of the regiments and separate battalions were armed largely with muskets.


The problem was in execution on the night of Aug 26-27.  Hand’s riflemen apparently let go of Howe’s nose, allowing his 10,000-man maneuver force to slip by.  Their column was two miles long.  And Miles’s riflemen on the Stuyvesant Heights didn’t detect them going around, allowing them to reach the rear of Sullivan’s Division at daybreak without any warning.  The Brits reported chasing off a 5-man patrol at Jamaica Pass, but it’s unclear who they belonged to.  Regardless, Miles, Sullivan and Putnam weren’t alerted.

Edward Hand seems to have escaped criticism by historians for this action, but Samuel Miles has been thoroughly pilloried.  While obviously he blundered, the disparity in numbers, professionalism and training point to a similar outcome even if Miles had detected and attempted to block Howe in a night action.  General Howe had learned hard lessons about frontal assaults and rebel marksmanship that cost irreplaceable casualties at Bunker Hill and during the siege of Boston.  Howe with his 10,000-man maneuver force combined with General Von Heister’s 5000-man force fixing General Sullivan’s Division in place by applying pressure from the front, and loyalist guides finding additional routes further to the east, would have continued to outflank and eventually surround Miles with 400 and Sullivan with 1500 troops respectively.  

Whether earlier detection would have caused fewer casualties is also arguable, the disparities were so overwhelming.  Tactical excellence is applying the greatest available force against an opponent’s most profound weakness at the time least expected, and Howe simply couldn’t have done a better job here.
« Last Edit: February 27, 2011, 03:20:37 AM by Bob Smalser »

Bob Smalser

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #18 on: February 27, 2011, 04:36:01 PM »
  If you would like to hear anything in particular let me know.


Is there a date on that Hodgkins letter about that fight in Manhattan?  It's a great quote.  I'd like to identify the general and pin it down to a specific engagement.

Here's the order of battle then, to provide some insight into CPT Hodgkin's heirarchy:

https://www.bookrags.com//wiki/Long_Island_order_of_battle
« Last Edit: November 25, 2019, 09:55:38 PM by Dennis Glazener »

Offline blackdog

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #19 on: February 27, 2011, 07:14:18 PM »
Bob, He wrote the letter on Sept. 30 '76 in Fort Constitution about the action on Sunday the 15th.  He describes the movement to stop the brits who had landed in Furtal bay and 3-4 miles from their position they had moved to from "the hill" in Harlem.
As for the heirarchy at the time it was called the "Ipswich militia reg." led by Col. Little, Capt Wade, (at the time) Lt. Hodgkins, Ensign Perkins. 4 sgt. 4cpl, 1 drummer, 1 fifer and 51 pvts.  Col. Littles superior was Gen. Nathial Greene.  Later when the army was reformed at valley forge Hodgkins accepted the commission  for Timothy Bigelow's 15th Mass. Battation of the 9th cont.
Hope that helps paint the picture better.
Ei Savua Ilman Tulta

Bob Smalser

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #20 on: February 28, 2011, 01:02:28 AM »
Bob, He wrote the letter on Sept. 30 '76 in Fort Constitution about the action on Sunday the 15th.

Wonderful material.  You should publish those letters.

It was the Battle of Harlem Heights, and the "French Horn" was  a fox-hunting call of "Fox Away with Hounds in Pursuit" intended the the British to insult George Washington.  It had exactly the opposite effect and the Brits lost that day.

The "200 Rangers" were the Knowlton's Rangers reconnaissance unit led by Thomas Knowlton reinforced by three companies of the 1st Virginia Regiment under Major Andrew Leitch.  Some accounts say these were riflemen but that doesn't appear to be correct....I believe all were armed with muskets.

The landing was at present-day Kip's Bay, and the reference to "King's Bridge" was the original toll bridge across the Harlem River.



https://www.1va.org/history-1776.html

https://books.google.com/books?id=MTdCAAAAIAAJ&dq=battle+of+harlem+heights+johnston&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=JGDSZUSPpS&sig=I0pp7my-raPOM1B_j_CVPxn0Qpk&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result#v=onepage&q&f=false

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Harlem_Heights
« Last Edit: November 25, 2019, 09:56:14 PM by Dennis Glazener »

Offline blackdog

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #21 on: February 28, 2011, 06:32:56 PM »
 I was always under the impression that the 200 Rangers were riflemen volunteers from Connecicut. But we'll never know for sure what they all carried.  Hodgkins mentions Knowlton many more times in "special forces" roles, burning buildings, capturing prisoners, covering retreating etc... never engageing the enemy directly.  Thats why many people believe they were riflemen I think.  The letters were published by Princeton university in 1958 called  "This Glorius Cause" but I do agree that should be brought into mainstream light again.
Ei Savua Ilman Tulta

Bob Smalser

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #22 on: February 28, 2011, 06:51:38 PM »
Rifles came late to New England.  I don't think any Connecticut units were armed with rifles in 1776.

A narrative from August, 1775:

Quote

“Rumor reached Boston about a peculiar kind of a musket called a ‘rifle’ which was carried by these new Continental soldiers from the South.   In August, Washington held a review of his troops on the Cambridge Common….  There were over a thousand riflemen there…spare, rangy men with the independent manner of the western wilderness. Uncouth they were in their fringed hunting shirts; their breech-clouts and snug-fitting buckskin leggings; wearing moccasins instead of shoes. There they stood, their gunstocks resting on the ground, one hand around the longest barrel anyone in Cambridge had ever seen.”

“A sergeant, far out in the Common, was just finishing supervising the setting of a row of poles, each averaging seven inches in diameter, into holes previously dug for this purpose. He then paced away from the poles….The sergeant stopped at two hundred and fifty paces and the men with the hunting shirts walked out to where he stood. Then they moved out into a rough line of companies…  The crowd watched them uproarious; it was an amusing game….no gun ever dreamed of could carry two hundred and fifty paces. The riflemen aimed, and… the shots hit the poles; they were destroyed before the firing stopped.”

“If there is a record of what the generals in Boston said when the British spies got back, it has not been found.  We know that Howe (British Major General William Howe) wrote home later about the ‘terrible guns of the rebels.’ We are told that Howe presently offered a reward for the capture of a rifleman with gun” (Bolton; Klein 7-15; Sawyer; Stroh Thompson’s Bn 19-20).


« Last Edit: February 28, 2011, 06:53:03 PM by Bob Smalser »

Offline TPH

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #23 on: February 28, 2011, 07:53:24 PM »
I believe that the Hall's came out at the turn of the century and was in general issue for thirty years or so. Even the Common rifle dates to 1814 does it not? The Hall's is mighty fast, I have seen Dragoons laying down covering fire at skirmishes from prone faster than we could return with our caplock rifles, when I worked on the Santa Fe Trail. The 69 cal muskets were a step back in 1842.

The Hall Rifle, M1819 did not come to be issued until after 1819 and was never a common weapon in US (or any other) military service, it was, when issued at all, considered a weapon mostly for state militias, the Regulars rarely received them. They were justifiably considered unreliable - the 1819 flint Hall rifle as well as the M1841 Hall Rifle were both equipped with a ramrod for a good reason; they tended to become fouled quickly, especially in damp weather in Florida where it was first used in combat, and the breach would lock or freeze up so subsequent rounds had to be rammed from the muzzle - a hard task since the standard issue ball was larger than the bore. The Hall Rifle was the first instance of a US Rifle of any type being equipped with a bayonet as standard, though the M1817 Common Rifle was, for a short time, issued with bayonet but it was found to be unnecessary for riflemen who normally received the Common Rifle rather than a Hall.

There were Hall's carbines issued to regular Dragoons as early as the mid to late 1830s and they were the standard weapon of the US Dragoons but had the same problem as the rifle. Not to worry, all US Regular Cavalry at the time were Dragoons, very well trained to fight dismounted as well as mounted, and would not need that many rounds, especially when in a mounted fight. The Dragoons were not that fond of the Hall either - that came from practical experience of the ranks, not due to old fashioned thinking by their senior officers.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2011, 07:57:54 PM by TPH »
T.P. Hern

Bob Smalser

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Re: Military Use of Rifles in the Revolutionary War
« Reply #24 on: March 28, 2011, 06:17:14 AM »
I think that more than 2 thousand rifles or more were confiscated from Scottish loyalists in one sweep through the Scotland County, NC area after the Battle of Moores Creek...

The number was apparently 1500 muskets and 300 rifles from around 2000 families.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Moore%27s_Creek_Bridge

That's significant on several levels.

1)  Unlike the Palatines, these people had been warring with each other at the clan level for generations, and had an affinity for up-to-date weapons still seen today.  (Hence guys named Jackson, McCain and Webb never finding a war they didn't like.)  That's around one gun per family...a figure probably never achieved by Pennsylvania Germans, who unless they had been a forstmeister or served in the Army, arrived with zero experience with firearms.

2)  The ratio of fowlers/muskets to rifles rings true.  Fowlers were more practical on the farm by far.

Add to the cultural differences the general lack of precision in terminology...i.e., calling all guns "rifles" when most of them weren't...and we have the basic American myth of every frontier cabin having the owner's trusty rifle and possibles bag hanging over the mantle.  It was more likely a shotgun...more likely hanging over the front door...and more likely still a feature much more common in Scotch-Irish households.