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The First Foot Guards

We are a Revolutionary War reenactment group based in Boston MA,
accurately portraying the royal household regiment that is now known as
The Grenadier Guards

 

Missiles & Blades

Instruments of Death and Destruction

At encampments, the First Foot Guards often brings a collection of cannonballs and other weapons, to demonstrate what was likely to harm your average Redcoat… or to be used by them to harm the average Rebel.

The infantryman in the field was likely to be shot at with small arms fire and cannon, and if he approached the enemy closely enough, he could be stabbed by a bayonet, or cut down by the sabers of the cavalry. All of these weapons could cause dreadful wounds that could not be ameliorated by the tender mercies of the army surgeon. See the First Foot Guards Surgeon's display of grisly equipment!

Blades

The "Brown Bess" Bayonet

A stabbing weapon, which when used as part of a massed attack, often dispersed the enemy by sheer terror. The bayonet and musket together combined the functions of the earlier pikeman and musketeer. In the early part of the Revolutionary War, the militias often did not have bayonets, since many of their weapons were hunting guns. The bayonet is three-sided, and created a wound that was almost impossible for the surgeon to suture. If the bayonet punctured the abdomen or thorax, it usually resulted in death through trauma or disease.

On occasion the Redcoats made surprise attacks on the Americans, using only the bayonet. At Paoli, in Pennsylvania and other locations, General "No-flints" Grey had his men remove the flints from their muskets, so that the attack would be made stealthily by bayonet alone.

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The military sword

The hanger, a general purpose sword with a broad blade and brass hilt, was carried by First Foot Guards Grenadiers. It was a cutting and piercing weapon which by the time of the Revolutionary War, was unlikely to be used, being merely an encumbrance.

The rapier was carried by officers. Although mostly ceremonial, as a symbol of office, it could be used as a cutting, thrusting and parrying weapon when necessary. In addition, officers' weapons were often richly decorated.

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The Axe and Fascine Knife

In the First Foot Guards, the axe was carried by the Pioneers, and was used for chopping wood and preparing rough wooden defenses, but it could be pressed into service as a weapon.

In the First Foot Guards, the Fascine Knife was carried by the Light Infantry. Much larger than what we might consider a knife, it was a long broad single edged blade with a recurved point, and was a general purpose tool and weapon, taking its name from the bundles of small branches, or fascines that were used in temporary defense lines.

The Caltrop

In a category by itself, this item was used where we might today use land-mines. A simple device that any blacksmith could make, it consisted of four iron spikes arranged in tetrahedral pattern that when thrown on the ground ensured that one point always projected dangerously upwards. Groups of them could be strewn in the grass and would protect against cavalry attack, and possibly an assault by infantry. This defensive weapon was used from medieval times onwards, but was occasionally used in the Revolutionary War: on the evacuation of Boston in 1776, General Howe gave orders for them to be scattered across Boston Neck, the only landward approach to Boston. 

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The Grenade

The grenade was a hand-sized hollow cast iron sphere about the size of a tennis ball, and looking like the classic 'bomb' that you see in cartoons! It was packed with black powder and had a round hole that held a fuse. The fuse was held by a wooden plug (somewhat like a cork) that was split in two and through which the fuse passed. The grenade was lit by intrepid soldiers who crept close to the enemy, and hurled the missile at them. It took a special kind of soldier - the Grenadier - strong, athletic, with sufficient intelligence to figure out the right length of fuse to use ! By the Revolutionary War period, grenades had been deemed to be ineffective, and were discontinued. However the corps of elite soldiers, the Grenadiers, were retained and used as shock troops. The First Foot Guards Grenadiers are bigger men, with caps bearing the flaming grenade badge. They carry two vestigial symbols of their former employment as grenade-throwers: the sword (which was formerly used for defense, since they did not originally carry muskets) and on the crossbelt, the highly polished match case, that was formerly used to contain the slow match with which they ignited the grenades.
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Firearms

The Long Land Model musket "Brown Bess"

The musket affectionately referred to as "Brown Bess" was a smoothbore flintlock musket used by the Redcoats, although some were possessed by the Americans. It fired a .75 caliber spherical lead musket ball. The Americans and French carried the Charleville or St-Etienne musket of .69 caliber. Some Americans and Crown Forces used rifled muskets that were more accurate, but were generally slower to load than the smoothbore. The lead ball that they all fired could be readily cast in small hand-molds, often carried by colonial soldiers. When necessary, pewter tableware was melted down and used in place of lead.

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The cartridge

This was a pre-measured charge of black powder that also contained the ball. It had a great advantage over loading with a powder horn, enabling trained soldiers to fire at a rate of three times a minute or greater. The cartridge was a simple paper cylinder that was handily stored in the cartridge box, and could be bitten open with the teeth.

Cartridge Box: More

 

Cannon

Cannon can be conveniently divided into two categories: Field pieces and stationary pieces.

The Field cannon were brought on campaign with the army, and were normally drawn by horses, although the light "galloper" could be moved by men or a single horse. The smaller calibers were often made of bronze, since they were lighter than their cast iron counterparts, and could be moved around more readily. Confusingly enough, the word 'brass' was generally used to describe them.

Heavier pieces, like a 24pdr (24-pounder) were huge guns mounted in forts or ships, or were used in siege warfare (in which case they needed to be delivered as close as possible to the site by ships). The cannon took their names from the weight of the roundshot that they fired, a 12pdr, for example fired a spherical iron ball that weighed about 12 lbs.

In the Revolutionary War period there were three types of gun: the cannon, the mortar and the howitzer, and in 1778 the Royal Navy introduced another type of cannon: the carronade.

The cannon was a general purpose gun with the trunnions at the balance point so that it could be depressed or elevated to a low trajectory. The mortar was a short, fat piece that fired at a high trajectory, and had the trunnions at the breech. The howitzer was fired at an intermediate trajectory, was short but not quite as fat as a mortar, with trunnions at the balance point. The mortar was used to lob missiles over a wall, and was not as commonly employed by the army as was the regular cannon. For deployment in battles, rather than sieges, brass cannon were the artillery of choice.

Cannon could take many different kinds of missiles, depending on what they were to be used for: against buildings and shipping; or against personnel and cavalry. In field use, solid shot and grapeshot were almost exclusively used.

Roundshot

This was cast in two solid halves, then heated in a furnace to weld the two hemispheres together. The seam mark, where they were joined can often be diagnostic of British or American manufacture. In British shot, the seams are not evident, unlike American shot, which was more hurriedly made. Roundshot was used against fortifications or personnel. 

Grapeshot

In the eighteenth century, grapeshot was a general term that included all forms of artillery ammunition made up of small shot, and was used against infantry and cavalry. Sometimes the grapeshot was contained in a cloth bag or it was enclosed in a metal cylinder of the same diameter as the bore of the gun (looking not unlike a modern day food can) and referred to as canister (or tin case shot). The containers disintegrated in the firing and resulted in an eruption of balls at the muzzle of the cannon, with an effect not unlike that of the (much smaller!) buckshot.

Regular Grapeshot was made up of small balls tied in a regular pattern around a wooden core attached to a wood disc base, with a cloth bag wrapped tightly around them. The appearance of the balls wrapped in the cloth bag gave the appearance of clusters of grapes, hence the name grapeshot.

Tin case shot consisted of a number of iron shot placed in a cylindrical box called a canister, which just fitted the bore of the gun. The canister was made of galvanized iron, with a wooden disc at the bottom made of end grain wood so that it would fragment on discharge.

The can was filled with the shot of the correct weight, and was tacked onto the wooden bottom with copper tacks. The firing charge was contained in a flannel cartridge and tied on to the other side of the wooden base. The whole was then covered with cartridge paper and varnished or painted to protect against moisture and rust. (Artillery regulation of 1755).

Other types of shot

These types of shot were less likely to be seen in the field. Chain shot was two half spheres attached by chain links. This could fly an irregular course, rotating as it flew, and severing any body parts that came in its path. In the navy, it was also used to destroy a ship's rigging. Similarly bar shot was two hemispheres connected by a bar. Carcass was a heavy metal canister that was perforated, containing oily rags or other flammables that were set on fire during the detonation of the cannon. It was used to set fire to structures, particularly wooden buildings or ships. By 1784, Captain Henry Shrapnel invented a new type of case shot, known originally as Spherical Case, and subsequently as Shrapnel.

Rockets were used by the British at this time in India, but were not used in the American theater of war. They were employed by Crown Forces against America in The War of 1812 ("by the rockets' red glare") and in the Napoleonic wars.

More on gunpowder
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