Rifles and cannons of the Napoleonic Wars....

Discussion in '1800-1914' started by Lucky13, Apr 25, 2014.

  1. Lucky13

    Lucky13 Forum Mascot

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    How do they compare?
     
  2. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    Rifles?

    99% (or more) of the small arms were smooth bore muskets with flintlock firing mechanisms. While there was some variation in length, weight, and exact shape and caliber they were functionally identical. Rate if fire of around 3-4 shots per minute and capable of hitting a man sized target (most of the time) at ranges under 100 yds. The Ball was a loose fit in the bore to allow loading after the barrel began to foul, which in damp weather could be just a few shots.

    Cannon showed a bit more variation but that was due to individual countries ideas of allowable weight and carriage design. A 12pdr 'gun' was pretty much identical in effect from one army to another. Some armies preferred 6 pounder field guns or 8 pdrs or 9pdrs. Anything much heavier than a 12 pdr was seige artillery.

    Some armies did employ a few regiments of riflemen but this was before the invention of the Minie ball and rifles pretty much required the rifleman to hammer the "ball" down the barrel making for slow loading.
     
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  3. Lucky13

    Lucky13 Forum Mascot

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    Rifles isn't maybe the right word here.... :lol:
     
  4. tyrodtom

    tyrodtom Well-Known Member

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    The Bernard Cornwell books, Sharpe's Rifles. and the BBC series made from them probably give a inflated impression of the use of rifles in the Napoleonic wars.
     
  5. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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  6. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

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    Yes they all pretty much used the same class of weapons. There was probably more variation in the quality of powder than in the muskets. British powder improved greatly from about 1770 to 1814 and the corresponding service charge reduced accordingly. Unwary reenactors relying on early specifications and using oversized ball for the period and modern powder complain the recoil hurts. It would, as the pressures are more like the proof load than the service one. Plus they don't always allow for the powder in the cartridge that was used for priming before loading the rest down the barrel. At least 10 per cent and more lost in transition to the barrel in the stress of actual battle.

    Modern shooters decry the lack of effective range of muskets but the range limit is set by visibility. After the first volley the smoke limits your vision to barely more than 100 meters at best and it gets down to less than 25 metres after several volleys by several thousand men. So many shots were fires into a wall of smoke by guesswork. Shots to hits have been variously calculated from 1 in 250 to 1 in 2,000. Plus a misfire rate in actual battle of perhaps 1 in 6. Even with the heaviest charge the ball will become unstable as it transitions from supersonic to subsonic speed at 150 metres at best. there are tricks like a piece of string fixed to the ball to keep it aimeable to nearly 300 metres under ideal range conditions but 150 metres is the absolute maximum battlefield aimed range. Volley fire will hit an area beyond this but you are aiming at a battalion generally with little control of elevation. At 400 metres the holdover is measure in multiple metres above the target and all you have to aim with is a coarse front lug. No rear sight.

    What the generals wanted was rapid massed fire in the last 150 metres. Good trained troops will easily do 3 shots per minute. The best can reach 5 per minute with tricks like self priming pans, for 1 minute. Excitable poorly trained conscripts will barely manage 2 per minute under stress. Especially if advancing and will be almost incapable of dealing with a misfire under battle conditions. After these have fired twice possibly a third of the muskets will have failed and they are left with a poor half pike.
    We laugh at Napoleonic period tactics but they were the right ones for the weapons of the time.

    Actually there was more variation in the 2nd American Civil War. By the end the rebel forces had almost entirely gone over to muskets rather than rifles to allow rapid massed fire in disciplined formation. Whilst the loyalist forces had increased their proportion of light infantry and rifle armed many of them, to allow flexibility in engaging with the enemy in depth and from mobile positions. Of course popular american history ignores these minor details of fact for the preferred myth of the american rifleman.
     
  7. tyrodtom

    tyrodtom Well-Known Member

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    I've read that muskets were recovered from civil war battlefields that had 5, 6, sometimes even more, unfired loads in the barrel.

    The men were so stressed they never even noticed their weapons weren't firing, never noticed their ramrods not going as far down the barrel with each reloading.
     
  8. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    There was little difference between the muskets and cannon at this time but there was a huge difference in how they were used and the training the troops received. Rifles were used by the UK rifle regiments and that was unique. The were very expensive to produce and considerable training was needed to get the best out of them.
    The French certainly could have had them but made the decision not to spend the money.

    Cannons were very overrated both then and now looking back, being more impressive instead of effective. I was told once that nearly all the major battles of the Napoleonic era were won by the side with the least cannon. I didn't look them all up, but the ones I did supported that statement.
     
  9. Lucky13

    Lucky13 Forum Mascot

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    In the days of lace-ruffles, perukes, and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise -
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes -
    At Blenheim and Ramillies, fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.


    —Rudyard Kipling, "Brown Bess," 1911
     
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