Guns of the Grunt 1776-2020


This article is from and it follows the history of US service rifles. Link for full article will be at bottom.

Colonial origins

Going as far back as the matchlocks carried by settlers at Sir Walter Raleigh’s short-lived Lane Colony in 1585, America had a gun culture. According to early militia laws established in the 17th Century, able-bodied men in the colonies had to keep “a good musket or firelock, or rifle, knapsack, shot pouch and powder horn” at hand to use in their role in the common defense.

By 1775, at the outbreak of the War of Independence that would see the original 13 Colonies sever their relationship with the British throne, each community had its local militia force. It was such as the force that met the King’s men at Lexington and Concord on that fateful day that sparked the American Revolution, and the citizen-soldiers were armed with a variety of “fowling pieces”– early muzzleloading shotguns– Pennsylvania rifles, and a surplus military arms such as French M1728 and British Pattern muskets.Stand Your Ground by Don Troiani Lexington

“Stand Your Ground” by Don Troiani, portraying the 77 volunteers, aged 18 to 63, of Captain John Parker’s company of militia that met the 700-strong British force on April 19, 1775. (Photo: U.S. National Guard)

It was these sorts of guns that formed the Colonial Army with the Continental Congress deciding on June 14, 1775, to establish a force of “six companies of expert riflemen” drawn from throughout the colonies. Today the U.S. Army cites that day as its birthday.

Moving past those initial guns, the growing force under Gen. George Washington became more professional and used a mix of then-modern military arms such as the British Sea Service or Commercial Contract Long Land “Brown Bess” musket and French-supplied Charleville muskets.Charleville Flint Lock Musket bayonet U.S. on plate at rear of cock. Crown over HB hallmark followed by Manuf Royale de St. Etienne Springfield 1795 1950-SA.A.1

Charleville flintlock musket produced at the Royale de St. Etienne Arsenal. The Springfield Model 1795 musket was based on the design.  (Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)

Modern tests on French and British military muskets of the Revolutionary War period show that the .662- and .69-caliber spherical lead balls of the day could penetrate a superb 32-inches of modern ballistics gel at close range (25 yards) but would rapidly slope and, at ranges of anything over 150 yards, hit the ground.Revolutionary War weapons such as British Brown Bess and French 1777 Charleville muskets along w Pennsylvania rifles.

Revolutionary War weapons such as British Brown Bess and French 1777 Charleville muskets, top, along with their bayonets, and a Pennsylvania rifle on display at the Indian State Military Museum. Note the power horn and cartridge pouch. (Photo: Chris Eger/ Guard Washington Life Guard Brown Bess Commander-in-Chief’s Guard

Today at least one active-duty element of the U.S. Army– the Old Guard’s Commander-in-Chief’s Guard– still carries Brown Bess flintlocks. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Past Yorktown

Established by George Washington in 1777 to make artillery carriages, the Springfield Armory as it became known, made the nation’s first muskets in 1795.

Based on the design of the French Charleville, the Springfield was a 10-pound smoothbore flintlock with a 42-inch barrel and an overall length of five feet. With the 16-inch long spike bayonet fitted to the end of the musket, it stood taller than the men who carried it. Firing a .69-caliber ball it was accurate only to about 75-yards but could still cause damage 100 yards away making the gun more of a volley than a precision (or even accurate) weapon.The guns of the War of 1812 such as the 1795 Springfield and 1801 Harpers Ferry rifle

Moving past the M1795, the Model 1801 Haper’s Ferry Rifle was both downright handy and accurate, with a 33-inch long .54-caliber octagon barrel firing a small (for the time) .525-caliber ball. These proved effective in the War of 1812. The M1795 is on top in the above display, with the shorter M1801 below it. (Photo: Chris Eger)

19th Century innovation

Throughout the 1800s, small arms technology rapidly matured and the U.S. Army had to update their rifles regularly to keep ahead of the curve.

By 1819, the .54-caliber Springfield flintlock was adopted.

(Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)

In 1842, the Army moved from flintlocks to more reliable percussion cap-fired rifles, with more than 170,000 produced.Springfield rifled musket 1842 percussion lock 1962-SA.A.1

(Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)

In 1855, the .58-caliber Springfield rifle was the new standard, able to use the devastating Minié ball. Using the interesting but ultimately unsuccessful Maynard tape primer, it was replaced by the tried and true percussion cap lock in the Model of 1861, a design that was tweaked throughout the Civil War in the follow on models M1863, M1864, and so forth.


  1. I look at the pictures of our founders and by that I mean every man that carried a musket in defense of their homes against the British and I think of the immense hardships and sacrifices that they endured to birth our nation. These were men that were strong of mind and resolve. They believed in a nation and government that had never been tried before. A risk, to be sure but one worth their very lives and fortunes. They handed this experiment down to future generations with the hopes that their sacrifices were and would be worth it and not in vain.
    They handed down a system of government that had only one real requirement; that men would be educated in their government and be of honorable intentions to govern it. They would never have stood by and watched dishonorable people tear it down. They would have fought for it.
    I love this country and have fought for it. I wonder what our founders and forefathers would think of us now that we seem to lack the resolve to fight and defend her now.
    Blame that first picture for this diatribe and have a great July 4th.


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