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Re: [WarOf1812] Brown Bess Accuracy

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  • Bill Sharrette
    To All: Allow me to introduce myself, I am Bill Sharrette and I have been following the question of Brown Bess Accuracy with some interest and I will take this
    Message 1 of 34 , Sep 21, 2005
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      To All:

      Allow me to introduce myself, I am Bill Sharrette and I have been following the question of Brown Bess Accuracy with some interest and I will take this opportunity to make a few comments regarding the topic. First my qualifications.

      1. I have been shooting round ball competition since 1963, using only flint muskets and rifles, this is my passion and interest.

      2. I have studied the Napoleonic period extensively and hold a Master of Arts degree in history.

      3. I have wide ranging "practical military experience" of modern American service weapons used in combat. I served with a Marine infantry unit as an artillery forward observer during the wildly horrific combat in "Leatherneck Square" during the Vietnam war (1966-1967).
      Believe me guys it was hell up there at Con Thien and our weapons were our salvation.
      So I speak from practical field experience of spending over a year in various operations against the North Vietnamese Army. I realize both the accuracy and limitations of rendering a cross-cultural extension of this personal experience into the history past, yet broad
      extensions can be made in applying this experience to another time.

      If I may continue. In real combat one quickly develops a syngeristic relation to his weapon, you know its limitations, and your own, but a skill develops from constant use and dependence so that you are wedded to your firearm, it is an extension of your body, and extra limb as important to your body as an arm or leg. And you and your firearm develop into a team knowing and understanding its very soul, if I may use that term, it becomes part of you. Indeed it must if you are to survive. You treat your weapon with respect, even love since you are dead meat if you don't. I can fully understand the british motto "Married to Brown Bess".

      Of course that was Vietnam, but the experience of combat and men in combat changes with centuries but I can project backward to 1812 to see a parallel learns to adapt to the abilities of his weapon, so that it is very difficult to separate either the man from his machine.

      We must separate types of soldiers and their abilities. Recruits and tested combat veterans are as different as night and day, both in their usage and abilities and relations to their weapons, this holds true in any war. Then there are garrison and field troops and their differences are as broad as the above, as their experiences with weapons vary from untrained and unfamiliar to trained and familiar.

      The US troops of Baltimore barracks and Anthony Wayne's Legions were as different in both usage and experience as can be expected, and their applications of the existing limitations of their weapons as broad as their experience.

      My point in the above is that experience and attitude breed skill, be it an M14 or a M1795 musket and that is important in the evaluation of any military combat weapon. And that is crucial to the broadly based question "How accurate is a Brown Bess"; the most qualified answer is: It depends. It depends on the man, his training, his experience, the military situation, his leadership the tactical situation at any particular time, the unit's "esprit de Corps" and the very real and personal quantity known to every combat soldier/Marine the "fear factor" - all these qualifiers and a dozen more add up to an answer to the queston "How accurate is a Brown Bess"

      Brown Bess Accuracy one historic perspective

      Used in its proper context, by a skilled soldier, the Brown Bess is a devestating weapon, used improperly by an unqualified person it is a hazzard the same with any weapon.

      I will quote a section from Sergeant Bill Wheeler's book (The Letters of Private Wheeler, ed. Capt. B. H. Liddel Hart, Boston, 1952). Bill served in the 51st Battalion of King's Own Yokshire Light Infantry during campaigns in the Napoleonic Wars including Walcheren, Badajoz, Salamanca, Fuentes del Onaro, and later Waterloo. He was in the forlorne hope at Badajoz and his book is not to be missed for a gutsy relation of the life of a common soldier in Wellington's Army. Here we pick him up on the 18th of June, mid morning behind the Hougomont in front of the 15th Huzzars formation where he describes the effect of a regimental volley of muskets into a hundred odd French horsemen during Waterloo.

      "I am at a loss which to admire most, the cool intriped courage of our squares, exposed as they were to a destructive fire from the French Artillery and at the same time or in less than a minute surrounded on all sides by the enemy's heavy Cavalry, who would ride up to the very muzzles of our men's firlocks and cut at them in th squares. But this was of no use, not a single square could they break, but was always put to route, by the steady fire of our troops.

      In one of those charges made by the enemy a great many over charged themselves and could not get back without exposing themselves to the deadly fire of the infantyr. Not choosing to return by the way they came they took a route and came down the road to our left (and front). There were nearly one houndred of them, all Curassieurs. Down they rode full gallob, the trees thrown across the bridge on our left stopped them. We say them comming and was prepared, we opened our fire, the work was done in an instant. By the time we had loaded and the smoke had cleared away, one and only one, solitary individual was seen running over the brow in our front. One other was saved by Capt. Jno. Ross from being put to death by some Brunswickers.

      I went to see what effect our fire had, and never before beheld such a sight in as short a space, as about a hundred men and horses could be huddled together, there they lay. Those who were shot dead were fortunate for the wounded horses in their struggles by plunging and kicking soon sinfished what we had begun. In examining the men we could not find one likely to recover, and as we ahd other business to attend to we were obliged to leave them to their fate."

      In summary. One hundred men and horses destroyed by a single rigimental volley of Brown Bess .75 caliber muskets. The range must surly have been fairly close perhaps between sixty and a hundred yards, it is hard to "read" from Wheeler's description. But the effect of several hundred one-ounce balls is staggering to contemplate.

      This is massed fire ealier that day Sgt. Bill Wheeler lead two men where individual musket fire was called for here again is his description:

      "I was ordered with two men to post ourselves behind a rock or a large stone, wee studed (sic) with brambles. About an hour after we were posted we saw an officer of (French) Huzzars sneaking down to peep at our position. On of my men was what we term a dead shot, when he was a point blank distance. I asked hime if he could make sure of him. His reply was "To be sure I can, but let him come nearer if he will, at all events his death warrant is signed and in my hands, if he should turn back." By this time he had without perceiving us come up near to us. When Chipping fired, down he fell and in a minute we had his body with the horse in our possession"

      (Needless to say Sgt. Wheeler, private Chipping and the other nameless private divided the spoils found in their enemy's pockets prior to returning to their regiment!)

      Hope you enjoyed this, more to follow in part 2 of my response.

      Best regards,


      Bill Sharrette

      ---------------------------------





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    • Bill Sharrette
      To All: Allow me to introduce myself, I am Bill Sharrette and I have been following the question of Brown Bess Accuracy with some interest and I will take this
      Message 34 of 34 , Sep 21, 2005
      • 0 Attachment
        To All:

        Allow me to introduce myself, I am Bill Sharrette and I have been following the question of Brown Bess Accuracy with some interest and I will take this opportunity to make a few comments regarding the topic. First my qualifications.

        1. I have been shooting round ball competition since 1963, using only flint muskets and rifles, this is my passion and interest.

        2. I have studied the Napoleonic period extensively and hold a Master of Arts degree in history.

        3. I have wide ranging "practical military experience" of modern American service weapons used in combat. I served with a Marine infantry unit as an artillery forward observer during the wildly horrific combat in "Leatherneck Square" during the Vietnam war (1966-1967).
        Believe me guys it was hell up there at Con Thien and our weapons were our salvation.
        So I speak from practical field experience of spending over a year in various operations against the North Vietnamese Army. I realize both the accuracy and limitations of rendering a cross-cultural extension of this personal experience into the history past, yet broad
        extensions can be made in applying this experience to another time.

        If I may continue. In real combat one quickly develops a syngeristic relation to his weapon, you know its limitations, and your own, but a skill develops from constant use and dependence so that you are wedded to your firearm, it is an extension of your body, and extra limb as important to your body as an arm or leg. And you and your firearm develop into a team knowing and understanding its very soul, if I may use that term, it becomes part of you. Indeed it must if you are to survive. You treat your weapon with respect, even love since you are dead meat if you don't. I can fully understand the british motto "Married to Brown Bess".

        Of course that was Vietnam, but the experience of combat and men in combat changes with centuries but I can project backward to 1812 to see a parallel learns to adapt to the abilities of his weapon, so that it is very difficult to separate either the man from his machine.

        We must separate types of soldiers and their abilities. Recruits and tested combat veterans are as different as night and day, both in their usage and abilities and relations to their weapons, this holds true in any war. Then there are garrison and field troops and their differences are as broad as the above, as their experiences with weapons vary from untrained and unfamiliar to trained and familiar.

        The US troops of Baltimore barracks and Anthony Wayne's Legions were as different in both usage and experience as can be expected, and their applications of the existing limitations of their weapons as broad as their experience.

        My point in the above is that experience and attitude breed skill, be it an M14 or a M1795 musket and that is important in the evaluation of any military combat weapon. And that is crucial to the broadly based question "How accurate is a Brown Bess"; the most qualified answer is: It depends. It depends on the man, his training, his experience, the military situation, his leadership the tactical situation at any particular time, the unit's "esprit de Corps" and the very real and personal quantity known to every combat soldier/Marine the "fear factor" - all these qualifiers and a dozen more add up to an answer to the queston "How accurate is a Brown Bess"

        Brown Bess Accuracy one historic perspective

        Used in its proper context, by a skilled soldier, the Brown Bess is a devestating weapon, used improperly by an unqualified person it is a hazzard the same with any weapon.

        I will quote a section from Sergeant Bill Wheeler's book (The Letters of Private Wheeler, ed. Capt. B. H. Liddel Hart, Boston, 1952). Bill served in the 51st Battalion of King's Own Yokshire Light Infantry during campaigns in the Napoleonic Wars including Walcheren, Badajoz, Salamanca, Fuentes del Onaro, and later Waterloo. He was in the forlorne hope at Badajoz and his book is not to be missed for a gutsy relation of the life of a common soldier in Wellington's Army. Here we pick him up on the 18th of June, mid morning behind the Hougomont in front of the 15th Huzzars formation where he describes the effect of a regimental volley of muskets into a hundred odd French horsemen during Waterloo.

        "I am at a loss which to admire most, the cool intriped courage of our squares, exposed as they were to a destructive fire from the French Artillery and at the same time or in less than a minute surrounded on all sides by the enemy's heavy Cavalry, who would ride up to the very muzzles of our men's firlocks and cut at them in th squares. But this was of no use, not a single square could they break, but was always put to route, by the steady fire of our troops.

        In one of those charges made by the enemy a great many over charged themselves and could not get back without exposing themselves to the deadly fire of the infantyr. Not choosing to return by the way they came they took a route and came down the road to our left (and front). There were nearly one houndred of them, all Curassieurs. Down they rode full gallob, the trees thrown across the bridge on our left stopped them. We say them comming and was prepared, we opened our fire, the work was done in an instant. By the time we had loaded and the smoke had cleared away, one and only one, solitary individual was seen running over the brow in our front. One other was saved by Capt. Jno. Ross from being put to death by some Brunswickers.

        I went to see what effect our fire had, and never before beheld such a sight in as short a space, as about a hundred men and horses could be huddled together, there they lay. Those who were shot dead were fortunate for the wounded horses in their struggles by plunging and kicking soon sinfished what we had begun. In examining the men we could not find one likely to recover, and as we ahd other business to attend to we were obliged to leave them to their fate."

        In summary. One hundred men and horses destroyed by a single rigimental volley of Brown Bess .75 caliber muskets. The range must surly have been fairly close perhaps between sixty and a hundred yards, it is hard to "read" from Wheeler's description. But the effect of several hundred one-ounce balls is staggering to contemplate.

        This is massed fire ealier that day Sgt. Bill Wheeler lead two men where individual musket fire was called for here again is his description:

        "I was ordered with two men to post ourselves behind a rock or a large stone, wee studed (sic) with brambles. About an hour after we were posted we saw an officer of (French) Huzzars sneaking down to peep at our position. On of my men was what we term a dead shot, when he was a point blank distance. I asked hime if he could make sure of him. His reply was "To be sure I can, but let him come nearer if he will, at all events his death warrant is signed and in my hands, if he should turn back." By this time he had without perceiving us come up near to us. When Chipping fired, down he fell and in a minute we had his body with the horse in our possession"

        (Needless to say Sgt. Wheeler, private Chipping and the other nameless private divided the spoils found in their enemy's pockets prior to returning to their regiment!)

        Hope you enjoyed this, more to follow in part 2 of my response.

        Best regards,


        Bill Sharrette

        ---------------------------------





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