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muskets and bayonets
aboard the frigate Grand Turk

A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth-bore long gun. Its user fires from the shoulder, except in the case of the rare wall guns. The date of the origin of muskets remains unknown, but they are mentioned as early as the late 14th century. Muskets became obsolete by the middle of the 19th century, as rifles superseded them. Typical musket calibers ranged from .50 to .75 inches. A soldier primarily armed with a musket had the designation of a musketman or of a musketeer.

As bullets, muskets used spherical lead balls packed in a paper cartridge which also held the black powder (gunpowder) propellant. The balls, slightly smaller than the bore, came wrapped in a loosely-fitting paper patch which formed the upper part of the cartridge.

The lower part of the cartridge contained the gunpowder: musketmen separated the two sections with their teeth. They loaded the gunpowder first, followed by the paper from the lower section of cartridge used as wadding. Then they loaded the ball and the upper piece of cartridge. Finally, a ramrod served to compact the ball and wadding down onto the gunpowder.

When musketeers loaded flintlocks, they either filled the pan from a powder flask after loading the ball, or from the paper cartridge before pouring the bulk of the gunpowder down the barrel. Following the invention of a fulminating powder in 1807, muskets started to use percussion caps which offered much more reliability than flintlocks and worked in the rain without special design or care.

A very experienced user could load and fire at a maximum rate of around 4 shots per minute, but the average soldier fired 3 rounds per minute.

Muskets took time to reload, so army tacticians typically deployed musket-men in formations two or three lines deep. One line would fire in unison, then drop to their knees to reload, while the next line behind them fired.

By today's standards, muskets are very inaccurate due to the windage (gap) between the projectile and the barrel, with the result that the bullet will not spin towards the target, whereas a rifle bullet will spin towards the target, thus ensuring accuracy. Owing this inaccuracy, officers did not expect musketmen to aim at particular targets. Rather, they had the objective of delivering a mass of musket balls into the enemy line.

Soldiers expected to face musket fire learned disciplined drills to move in precise formations and to obey orders unquestioningly. British soldiers in particular acquired a reputation for drilling until they could perform coolly and automatically in the heat of combat. Use of musket infantry tactics was manipulated to the fullest by Frederick Willam I king of Prussia. Prussian troops under his leadership could fire in some cases 5 rounds per minute with unrivaled discipline.

See also

ja:マスケット銃 pl:Muszkiet ro:Muscheta sl:Mušketa fi:Musketti


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