Musket and Rifle: Part II

In the second of a two part series, T.H. McGuffe describes the history of fire-arms, from the fourteenth century onwards, considering their uses and effectiveness in war, in sport, and for display.

So long as black powder was in use, and men were moved on to battlefields in columns or lines, it was essential that all firearms should be fired together. Volleys, given by command and under strict discipline, were required if discharges were not to result in the complete obscuration for long periods of all vision by dense, rolling clouds of smoke. Control was such that officers in battle walked with impunity up and down in front of the ranks of levelled muskets, tapping down with their canes those muzzles too wildly aimed at the target, before resuming their positions and giving the order to fire. One of the results of the general adoption of the flint-lock about the year 1700 was that the old order of six ranks, with each rank in turn firing together and then retiring to re-load, was replaced by four, three or even two ranks, which could fire together and proceed either to re-load or to fix their ring-or-socket-bayonets, then recently introduced, and charge in one body to drive home the assault.

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