The Brown Bess

Our group use replica Brown Bess muskets, manufactured by Davide Pedersoli & Co. in Italy. View the Brown bess entry in their online catalog.


Caliber: .75 (19.1 mm)
Barrel length: 42'' (1066 mm)
Overall length: 58 1/4'' (1480 mm)
Weight: 8.8 Ibs (4 Kg)

These smoothbore muskets are copies of the English 'Short Land Service Musket' or 'New Pattern Musket' of 1760's vintage. The standard gun of the British infantry during the Napoleonic Wars. Although a bit on the heavy side, it's a simple, rugged and durable design. An excellent gun for the average soldier. The lock is huge, there's not much chance of breaking or bending anything. Apart from the springs, that is. Especially in the 'good old days' the springs were prone to break. (They still are in some cases...) The Frizzen might wear out over time as the flints dig into it, but apart from that the gun will outlive both you & your grandchildren.

In action the rate of fire could be up to 3-4 shots per minute, although 6 are possible under favorable circumstances. Such high rates could only last for short periods. The musketeers nearly always fired volleys, which also slowed down the loading and firing process. The effective volume of fire would also be low by modern standards. Initially one would expect about 10% malfunction (Sharnhorst). As they shoot, more and more muskets will stop firing. This is due to a number of reasons. Badly adjusted, loose or worn out flints, fouling of the pan, flint, frizzen and/or venthole, wet powder, no powder, broken springs and whatnot. Most of these problems are fairly easy to fix, but you need the time and tools to do it. Both may be scarce on the battlefield...

The guns intrinsic precision is really not to bad. On a good day it can be surprisingly accurate for a smoothbore. But there aren't too many good days... Contemporary accounts show that a Brown Bess could be bad news to a mansized target on 50 or even 100 yards. On 150 yards the scale tipped the other way. Most armies relied on volleys, and neglected individual training. So the average soldier was not much of a marksman. In battle their precision must have gone from bad to worse. Apart from the bayonetlug the Brown Bess has no sights at all! This is no problem on short ranges, but clearly limit the effective range. Normal ranges would be around 50-70 yards.

Apart from the sights, flintlock muzzleloaders have a number of other pitfalls. First there is the quality of the ammunition. The paper cartridge might be leaky or damp, the blackpowder had varying quality, and the cast lead bullet could be damaged or faulty. Then by experience, the soldiers spilled powder during the loading process. The force you use on the ramrod will influence the combustion of the charge, and thus the precision. The delay from the pull on trigger to the bang will vary, depending on the distribution of the powder in the flashpan, and wether the venthole is open or stuffed. Finally there is the urge to close the eyes before the shot, because of the flash and sparks from the flashpan. To all of the above add a dash of fatigue, stress and fear, and the reason why they put such emphasis on the bayonet charge will dawn upon you!

At the bottom of the page you'll find some info on other similar & related english muskets.


Closeup of the lock (Pedersoli replica).





For the technically inclined

We include an interesting original drawing from the Brown Bess page of His Majesty's 64th Regiment of Foot (a US reenactment group). The drawing also display the names of the various parts.

Pedersoli's online catalog also include an exploded view of their Brown Bess replica, complete with part numbers.

The loading procedure. The 64th's website also include a page on The Manual Exercise, a handy reference on the English regulations for loading and firing.

The Danish/Norwegian regulations on the firing drill is presented in our page on the Exerceer Reglement's 1801 edition.






Ready! Aim! Fire!


Miss Bess in Reenactment.

We use the Brown Bess as it is, only with an added Flashguard. The flashguard is a brass screen around the flashpan to keep the jet from the venthole out of your neighbours hair (literally...). Several original musket models, like the Danish/Norwegian Mod.1794 and the Prussian Mod.1809, actually had such flashguards.

For the purpose of reenactment, there are a few gadgets you really should have at hand. If you want to fire more than two or three shots that is! These first items were standard contents of the soldiers cartridge pouch.

You don't need the extractor for removing bullets, but it could come in handy when paper or lost cleaning rags get stuck in the barrel. Some countries issued combination tools like the one on the right. This one has a hammer, ventpick and a screwdriver. The flashguard above and the sample combination tool are sold by Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc.

When the fun part of the reenactment is ower, it's time to clean the guns. Boil water, stick a match in the venthole, and go to it! Below there is a list of more useful gadgets you might need. If you have your own, you don't have to stand in line...


There is often heavy fouling in the barrel. A bronze brush could be useful to get rid of the worst deposits. Use any 12 gauge shotgun brush that fits the ramrod.


The Brown Bess compared to the Danish/Norwegian Muskets

The Bess is not an ideal substitute for the nordic guns of the Napoleonic era! We use it because there are no replicas of Danish/Norwegian muskets in production. From a distance it is close enough, and eventually it all boils down to quality and price. Below is a table comparing the Brown Bess (Short Land Service Musket) to some common smoothbore muskets of the Danish-Norwegian Army 1808-14.

Modell

Caliber

Barrel l.

Total l.

Weight

Sights

Venthole

Brown Bess Short Land

19.1 mm

1066 mm

1480 mm

4 Kg

None

Cylinder

Infantry musket 1755

18.3 mm

1045 mm

1445 mm

4.68 Kg

Front

Cylinder

Infantry musket 1774

17.5 mm

1043 mm

1445 mm

5.15 Kg

Front

Cylinder

Sharpshooter musket 1788

17.5 mm

1015 mm

1400 mm

4.85 Kg

Adjustable

Cylinder

Infantry musket 1791

17.5 mm

1042 mm

1420 mm

5.4 Kg

Front

Cone

Infantry musket 1794

17.5 mm

1050 mm

1440 mm

4.2 Kg

Front

Cone

Although it is fairly light, the Bess is huge compared to our nordic muskets. It's enormous! The overall impression is not to bad, the barrel is fastened with studs like on our guns etc. Norwegian muskets are usually of lighter colour, more buff than brown.

The real diffenrences are more technical. The most norwegian guns had a few 'hitech' features to speed up the loading. They all had symetric ramrods, and the ones made after 1790 had conical ventholes. These details simplify the loading procedure.

The conical touchhole does away with half the loading sequence! Clearly a dramatic speedup. These features are sorely missed in our demonstrations of the firing drill. Guns of this type often had a flashguard of some sort. The modified venthole cause a more fierce jetstream, so there's would be a greater need to protect the neighboring rank & file.


Other Brown Bess Models

Sooner or later you'll end up in a debate (probably with a spectator) on what model your gun is. So some knowledge on the subject might be useful. Unfortunately the images are not to scale, but they show various other english smothbore muskets in use during the Napoleonic Wars.

All these pictures are of replicas sold by Track of the Wolf Inc.

Long Land Pattern Infantry Musket of the 1720's with 46" barrel and wooden ramrod.

British Sea Service Musket with brass capped wooden ramrod. This gun is made for use by boarding parties etc., and has no bayonet or sling. It is plain, short and sturdy compared to the New Pattern Musket. The barrel is 37''. Note the reinforced cock and the flat lockplate.

British Officer's Fusil. This gun is a downscaled version of the common soldiers musket, with a 37.3'' barrel of .67 cal.


Handmade by OHA. Modified 9.oct.01 (oddharry@ifi.uio.no), Disclaimer.