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Friday, August 29, 2008

Getting Shot by a Musket

I read a very interesting blog article back in May that came out around Memorial Day Weekend, and I have wanted to share it here with you. Brian Tubbs, over at the American Revolution & Founding Era blog wrote up a great article about getting shot with a musket. Here is a link to the article itself, and here is the text directly for you to read:

What was it like to be shot by a musket? I'm going to assume that none of my readers have had that experience. If so, do tell. Should be an interesting story. But, assuming no one has been shot with a musket, I ask the question again -- What must it have been like to be shot by one?

The most common weapon of the American Revolution was the smoothbore flintlock musket. The advantage to the target is that a smoothbore musket isn't very accurate. If you're the target, your chances of being missed are much greater than if you were in, say, World War II and coming under fire from a machine gun. But...

The advantages pretty much end there. To give you an idea...the Brown Bess British musket was 75 caliber and the Brits used a 69 caliber ball. If hit by one of these 69 caliber balls, it would hurt. A lot.

A musket ball didn't cut its way into you. It smashed through skin, bone, and muscle - and sometimes would then bounce around even more inside your body (doing even greater damage). If you were fortunate, the musket ball would pass clean through you - a simple in-and-out flesh wound, perhaps damaging some nerves and muscle tissue. But if it impacted bone, you were in trouble.

Of course, once wounded, your problems were only beginning. You would need medical care. And medical care in the Revolutionary War wasn't exactly...well...good. This wasn't the fault of the practitioners (not in most cases anyway). Medicine simpy hadn't developed to a point that it could adequately keep up with the diseases, hardships, and injuries of the Revolutionary War period. For a good overview of the medical problem, go here.

Getting back to that accuracy issue...the tactics of the day took the musket's limited range and accuracy into account. This is where volley lines and bayonets come in. A mass of soldiers standing shoulder-to-shoulder firing their muskets in a unified direction helped compensate as did the bayonet. If you feared getting hit by a musket ball, getting impaled by a bayonet was even less appealing.

Of course, if you were fortunate enough to escape battlefield injury during the Revolutionary War, you weren't "out of the woods" yet. Far more soldiers died of hardship and disease than on the battlefield. That's right. If musket balls and bayonets didn't get you, there was still something like smallpox to take care of business.

It's hard to find an upside to life in the Revolutionary War period. As historian David McCullough has repeatedly reminded us, life was hard in that time period. Today, we tend to see this era through romanticized paintings. But we need to guard against the assumption that things were easier or better.

I thought this Memorial Day weekend would be a good time to remind us all of that fact.

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Sniffy said...

I don't really mind getting shot by a musket. You get used to it after a while, you know. You might feel kinda funny at first, you know, like falling face first on the hard ground. Your face might get blue the first time, but you get used to it! :D LOL!

I just found your blog, and it looks very interesting. I like reenactments and historic sites.

Kieran said...

I bet it tickled.

Rachel said...

Oh you know, nothing to it!! :)

Sniffy .... I am glad you like my blog!! Keep checking back, I try to have something new and interesting every so often!!


Hercules Mulligan said...

Oh yeah, I remember skimming over the quoted post some time back. Ouch. It probably was a slow and painful recovery for survivors.

I'm sorry I haven't been visiting so often, or leaving comments, Rachel. I have been a little busy to write or proofread any of my own posts! But I did subscribe to your feed, and I promise I will come back when I have the leisure. I don't know if I'll be there at Fort Ticonderoga, but I hope that next year will bring your group back to the state! My family and I would love to see your work!

God bless you, and happy re-enacting!

Hercules Mulligan said...

HA! I just happened to re-read the first paragraph of what I just wrote!

It can be understood two ways! So just for the record, I meant that recovery from musket-ball wounds were slow and painful, NOT recovery from Brian Tubbs' post! I still am laughing at myself here ...

Rachel said...

Thanks for the clarification!! Hehe ... got a little giggle out of me too!!

Too bad you can't make it to Ti, but I am sure we will be in NY at least once probably twice next year! If by some chance you do make it out to Ti, please be sure to stop by!!


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