As might be expected, the new system was strongly opposed and then deliberately ignored. Nevertheless, the board’s patient yet focused efforts finally resulted in a new musket design in 1722 called the “King’s Pattern.” Resistance to the new discipline along with the absence of wartime pressures delayed its production until 1728. The new standard musket that ushered in England’s organized ordnance control was first issued in 1730 as the “Long Land” pattern. It was the beginning of the famed “Brown Bess” series that would become a legend through its contribution to the winning of Britain’s empire and to America’s eventual freedom.
The 18th century musket was essentially a large smoothbore shotgun. After loading from the muzzle with loose blackpowder and a round lead bullet from a cylindrical, paper-wrapped cartridge, the musket was fired by the flintlock action above the trigger. A rotating cock holding a piece of flint snapped forward to strike a pivoting L-shaped frizzen or “steel.” That action created sparks that ignited a small portion of priming powder in a projecting flashpan sending flame through the barrel’s touch hole to reach the main charge. Obviously, it would not perform in the rain and depended upon a sharpened flint and properly hardened steel frizzen for reliability.
The real problem, however, was the blackpowder quality. Follow-ing each firing, roughly 55 percent would remain as a black sludge that built up inside the barrel clogging the touch hole and coating the lock. To cope with this fouling residue, the average ball was four to six hundreds of an inch smaller than bore size. Upon ignition, the undersized ball bounced and skidded up the barrel and proceeded in a direction determined by its last contact with the bore. Beyond 60 yards, the ball would lose its reliability to hit a man-size target.
These limitations determined 18th century battle tactics, which employed long lines of men trained for speed of loading rather than accuracy. They were expected to average four rounds per minute. The soldiers typically pointed their arms and fired in controlled volleys at enemy troops positioned 50 to 60 yards away. The typical battle was decided by a disciplined bayonet charge ending in a hand-to-hand melee.
To meet these combat conditions, the new British Brown Bess standard musket was designed to deliver a large bullet at low velocity. It employed a sturdy stock for use as a club in close fighting and had an overall length that combined with a long, socket bayonet to create a spear or pike for impacting an enemy’s line. It was also designed to be durable and to withstand the rigors of years of active campaigning. The Brown Bess was to successfully fulfill all of these demands.
Brown Bess Photo Gallery