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Brown Bess

Brown Bess

Overview
Brown Bess is a nickname of uncertain origin for the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

's Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives. This musket
Musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

 was used in the era of the expansion of the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 and acquired symbolic importance at least as significant as its physical importance. It was in use for over a hundred years with many incremental changes in its design. These versions include the Long Land Pattern, Short Land Pattern, India Pattern, New Land Pattern Musket, Sea Service Musket and others.

The Long Land Pattern musket and its derivatives, all .75 caliber
Caliber
In guns including firearms, caliber or calibre is the approximate internal diameter of the barrel in relation to the diameter of the projectile used in it....

 flintlock
Flintlock
Flintlock is the general term for any firearm based on the flintlock mechanism. The term may also apply to the mechanism itself. Introduced at the beginning of the 17th century, the flintlock rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, such as the doglock, matchlock and wheellock...

 muskets, were the standard long gun
Long gun
The term long gun is used to describe classes of firearm and cannon with longer barrels than other classes. In small arms, a long gun is designed to be fired braced against the shoulder, in contrast to a handgun, while in artillery a long gun would be contrasted with a howitzer or carronade.-Small...

s of the British Empire's land forces from 1722 until 1838 when they were superseded by a percussion cap
Percussion cap
The percussion cap, introduced around 1830, was the crucial invention that enabled muzzleloading firearms to fire reliably in any weather.Before this development, firearms used flintlock ignition systems which produced flint-on-steel sparks to ignite a pan of priming powder and thereby fire the...

 smoothbore musket.
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Encyclopedia
Brown Bess is a nickname of uncertain origin for the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

's Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives. This musket
Musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

 was used in the era of the expansion of the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 and acquired symbolic importance at least as significant as its physical importance. It was in use for over a hundred years with many incremental changes in its design. These versions include the Long Land Pattern, Short Land Pattern, India Pattern, New Land Pattern Musket, Sea Service Musket and others.

The Long Land Pattern musket and its derivatives, all .75 caliber
Caliber
In guns including firearms, caliber or calibre is the approximate internal diameter of the barrel in relation to the diameter of the projectile used in it....

 flintlock
Flintlock
Flintlock is the general term for any firearm based on the flintlock mechanism. The term may also apply to the mechanism itself. Introduced at the beginning of the 17th century, the flintlock rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, such as the doglock, matchlock and wheellock...

 muskets, were the standard long gun
Long gun
The term long gun is used to describe classes of firearm and cannon with longer barrels than other classes. In small arms, a long gun is designed to be fired braced against the shoulder, in contrast to a handgun, while in artillery a long gun would be contrasted with a howitzer or carronade.-Small...

s of the British Empire's land forces from 1722 until 1838 when they were superseded by a percussion cap
Percussion cap
The percussion cap, introduced around 1830, was the crucial invention that enabled muzzleloading firearms to fire reliably in any weather.Before this development, firearms used flintlock ignition systems which produced flint-on-steel sparks to ignite a pan of priming powder and thereby fire the...

 smoothbore musket. The British Ordnance System converted many flintlocks into the new percussion system known as the Pattern 1839 Musket. A fire in 1841 at the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 destroyed many muskets before they could be converted. Still, the Brown Bess saw service until the middle of the nineteenth century. Some were used by Maori warriors during the Musket Wars
Musket Wars
The Musket Wars were a series of five hundred or more battles mainly fought between various hapū , sometimes alliances of pan-hapū groups and less often larger iwi of Māori between 1807 and 1842, in New Zealand.Northern tribes such as the rivals Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Whātua were the first to obtain...

 1820s-1830s, having purchased them from European traders at the time, some were still in service during the Indian rebellion of 1857
Indian Rebellion of 1857
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of sepoys of the British East India Company's army on 10 May 1857, in the town of Meerut, and soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to...

, and also by Zulu warriors, who had also purchased them from European traders during the Anglo-Zulu War
Anglo-Zulu War
The Anglo-Zulu War was fought in 1879 between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom.Following the imperialist scheme by which Lord Carnarvon had successfully brought about federation in Canada, it was thought that a similar plan might succeed with the various African kingdoms, tribal areas and...

 in 1879, and some were sold to the Mexican
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 Army who used them during the Texas Revolution
Texas Revolution
The Texas Revolution or Texas War of Independence was an armed conflict between Mexico and settlers in the Texas portion of the Mexican state Coahuila y Tejas. The war lasted from October 2, 1835 to April 21, 1836...

 of 1836 and the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. One was even used in the Battle of Shiloh
Battle of Shiloh
The Battle of Shiloh, also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, was a major battle in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, fought April 6–7, 1862, in southwestern Tennessee. A Union army under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had moved via the Tennessee River deep into Tennessee and...

 in 1862.

Most male citizens of the American Colonies
British America
For American people of British descent, see British American.British America is the anachronistic term used to refer to the territories under the control of the Crown or Parliament in present day North America , Central America, the Caribbean, and Guyana...

 were required by law to own arms and ammunition for militia duty. The Long Land Pattern was a common firearm in use by both sides in the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

.

Origins of the name


One hypothesis is that the "Brown Bess" was named after Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

, but this lacks support. It is not believed that this name was used contemporaneously with the early Long Pattern Land musket but that the name arose in late years of the 18th century when the Short Pattern and India Pattern were in wide use.

Early uses of the term include the newspaper, the Connecticut Courant
The Hartford Courant
The Hartford Courant is the largest daily newspaper in the U.S. state of Connecticut, and is a morning newspaper for most of the state north of New Haven and east of Waterbury...

in April 1771, which said "...but if you are afraid of the sea, take Brown Bess on your shoulder and march.". This familiar use indicates widespread use of the term by that time. The 1785 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, a contemporary work which defined vernacular and slang terms, contained this entry: "Brown Bess: A soldier's firelock. To hug Brown Bess; to carry a fire-lock, or serve as a private soldier." Military and government records of the time do not use this poetical name but refer to firelocks, flintlock, muskets or by the weapon's model designations.


Popular explanations of the use of the word "Brown" include that it was a reference to either the colour of the walnut stocks
Stock (firearm)
A stock, also known as a buttstock or shoulder stock, is a part of a rifle or other firearm, to which the barrel and firing mechanism are attached, that is held against one's shoulder when firing the gun. Stocks are also found on crossbows though a crossbow stock is more properly referred to as a...

, or to the characteristic brown color that was produced by russet
Russet
Russet is a coarse woolen cloth of grey or brown.It may also refer to*Russet Burbank potato*Russet apple*Russet *Russeting treatment for metal...

ing, an early form of metal treatment. Others argue that mass-produced weapons of the time were coated in brown varnish on metal parts as a rust preventative and on wood as a sealer (or in the case of unscrupulous contractors, to disguise inferior or non-regulation types of wood). However, the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

 (OED) notes that "browning" was only introduced in the early 19th century, well after the term had come into general use.

Similarly, the word "Bess" is commonly held to either derive from the word arquebus
Arquebus
The arquebus , or "hook tube", is an early muzzle-loaded firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries. The word was originally modeled on the German hakenbüchse; this produced haquebute...

or blunderbuss
Blunderbuss
The blunderbuss is a muzzle-loading firearm with a short, large caliber barrel, which is flared at the muzzle and frequently throughout the entire bore, and used with shot and other projectiles of relevant quantity and/or caliber. The blunderbuss could be considered to be an early form of shotgun,...

(predecessors of the musket) or to be a reference to Elizabeth I, possibly given to commemorate her death. More plausible is that the term Brown Bess derived from the German words "brawn buss" or "braun buss", meaning "strong gun" or "brown gun"; King George I
George I of Great Britain
George I was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1 August 1714 until his death, and ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg in the Holy Roman Empire from 1698....

 who commissioned its use was from Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

. The OED has citations for "brown musket" dating back to the early 18th century which refer to the same weapon. Another suggestion is that the name is simply the counterpart to the earlier Brown Bill
Halberd
A halberd is a two-handed pole weapon that came to prominent use during the 14th and 15th centuries. Possibly the word halberd comes from the German words Halm , and Barte - in modern-day German, the weapon is called Hellebarde. The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on...

.

The Land Pattern Muskets



From the 17th to the early years of the 18th century, most nations did not specify standards for military firearms. Firearms were individually procured by officers or regiments as late as the 1740s, and were often custom made to the tastes of the purchaser. As the firearm gained ascendancy on the battlefield, this lack of standardization led to increasing difficulties in the supply of ammunition and repair materials. To address these difficulties, armies began to adopt standardized "patterns". A military service selected a "pattern musket" to be stored in a "pattern room", There it served as a reference for arms makers, who could make comparisons and take measurements to ensure that their products matched the standard.

Stress-bearing parts of the Brown Bess, such as the barrel, lockwork, and sling-swivels, were customarily made of iron, while other furniture pieces such as the butt plate, trigger guard and ramrod pipe were found in both iron and brass. It weighed around 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and it could be fitted with a 17 inches (431.8 mm) triangular cross-section bayonet
Bayonet
A bayonet is a knife, dagger, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, effectively turning the gun into a spear...

. The weapon had no sights, although the bayonet lug on the barrel may have been used in that manner, similar to the bead on a shotgun
Shotgun
A shotgun is a firearm that is usually designed to be fired from the shoulder, which uses the energy of a fixed shell to fire a number of small spherical pellets called shot, or a solid projectile called a slug...

.

The earliest models had iron fittings but these were replaced by brass in models built after 1736. Wooden ramrods were used with the first guns but were replaced by iron ones, although guns with wooden ramrods were still issued to troops on American service until 1765 and later to loyalist units in the American Revolution. Wooden ramrods were also used in the Dragoon version produced from 1744 to 1771 and for Navy and Marine use.

Accuracy of the Brown Bess was fair, as with most other muskets. The effective range is often quoted as 175 yards (160 m), but the Brown Bess was often fired en masse at 50 yards (45.7 m) to inflict the greatest damage upon the enemy. The combination of large calibre of the projectile and the heavy weight of its iron
Iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

 construction contributed to its low effective range. Military tactics of the period stressed mass volleys and massed bayonet charges, instead of individual marksmanship. The large soft projectile could inflict a great deal of damage when it hit and the great length of the weapon allowed longer reach in bayonet engagements.

Of all of the versions, the India pattern was supposed to be the most accurate with a range of 175 yards and 75 to 95 percent accuracy which at the most would be about 4 inches (10.2 cm) of aim. As used by the British regiments of the Napoleonic Era, the weapons were quite reliable. As it took about 43 seconds to fire three shots, it became useful for both hunting and battle. The weapon also had a thicker barrel than most contemporary firearms which reduced its chances of blowing up due to powder overload.

Field tests


Field tests of smoothbore muskets in the late 18th and early 19th centuries reported widely reliable expectations of accuracy and speed of fire. Estimations of rate of fire ranged from "one shot every fifteen seconds" (4 shots per minute) with highly trained troops, to "two to two and a half shots per minute" (one shot every 24 seconds) for inexperienced recruits.

The standard military loading procedure from prepared paper cartridge
Paper cartridge
Paper cartridge refers to one of various types of small arms ammunition used before the advent of the metallic cartridge. These cartridges consisted of a paper cylinder or cone containing the bullet, gunpowder, and, in some cases, a primer or a lubricating and anti-fouling agent...

s containing ball and gun powder in an elongated envelope is:
  1. Tear cartridge with teeth and prime the pan directly from the cartridge;
  2. Stand the musket and pour the bulk of the powder down the barrel;
  3. Reverse the cartridge and use the ramrod to seat the ball and paper envelop onto the powder charge.


Standard European targets included strips of cloth 50 yards long to represent an opposing line of infantry, with the target height being six feet for infantry and eight feet, three inches for cavalry. Estimations of hit probability at 175 yards could be as high as 75% in volley fire. This however was without allowances for the gaps between the soldiers in an opposing line, for overly tall targets or the confusing and distracting realities of the battlefield. Modern testers shooting from rigid rests, using optimum loads and fast priming powder, report groups of circa five inches at 50 yards (Cumpston 2008).

Variations


Many variations and modifications of the standard pattern musket were created over its long history. The earliest version was the Long Land Pattern of 1722, a 62 inches (157.5 cm) long (without bayonet) and with a 46 inches (116.8 cm) barrel. It was later found that shortening the barrel did not detract from its accuracy but made handling the musket easier. This resulted in the Militia (or Marine) Pattern of 1756 and the Short Land Pattern of 1768, which both had a 42 inches (106.7 cm) barrel. Another version with a 39 inches (99.1 cm) barrel was first manufactured for the British East India Company
British East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

, and was eventually adopted by the British Army in 1790 as the India Pattern.

Towards the end of the life of the weapon, there was a change in the system of ignition. The flintlock
Flintlock
Flintlock is the general term for any firearm based on the flintlock mechanism. The term may also apply to the mechanism itself. Introduced at the beginning of the 17th century, the flintlock rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, such as the doglock, matchlock and wheellock...

 mechanism, which was prone to misfiring, especially in wet weather, was replaced by the more reliable percussion cap
Percussion cap
The percussion cap, introduced around 1830, was the crucial invention that enabled muzzleloading firearms to fire reliably in any weather.Before this development, firearms used flintlock ignition systems which produced flint-on-steel sparks to ignite a pan of priming powder and thereby fire the...

. The last flintlock pattern manufactured was selected for conversion to the new system as the Pattern 1839. A fire at the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 destroyed large stocks of these in 1841, so a new Pattern 1842 musket was manufactured. These remained in service until the outbreak of the Crimean War
Crimean War
The Crimean War was a conflict fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. The war was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining...

 when they were replaced by the Minie
Minié ball
The Minié ball is a type of muzzle-loading spin-stabilising rifle bullet named after its co-developer, Claude-Étienne Minié, inventor of the Minié rifle...

 and the P53 Enfield rifled musket.

Long Land Pattern



In Service; 1722–1793, standard Infantry Musket 1722-1768 (supplemented by Short Land Pattern from 1768).

Barrel length; 46 inches (116.8 cm)

Overall length; 62.5 inches (158.8 cm)

Weight; 10.4 pounds (4.7 kg)

Short Land Pattern



In service; 1740–1797; 1740 (Dragoons), 1768 (Infantry); standard Infantry Musket 1793-1797.

Barrel length; 42 inches (106.7 cm)

Overall length; 58.5 inches (148.6 cm)

Weight; 10.5 pounds (4.8 kg)

India Pattern



In service; 1797–1854; standard Infantry Musket 1797-1854. (Some in use pre-1797 purchased from the East India Company for use in Egypt).

Barrel length; 39 inches (99.1 cm)

Overall length; 55.25 inches (140.3 cm)

Weight; 9.68 pounds (4.4 kg)

New Land Pattern



In service; 1802–1854; Issued only to the Foot Guards and 4th Regiment of Foot.

Barrel length; 39 inches (99.1 cm)

Overall length; 55.5 inches (141 cm)

Weight; 10.06 pounds (4.6 kg)

New Light Infantry Land Pattern


In service; 1811–1854; Issued only to the 43rd, 52nd, 68th, 71st and 85th Light Infantry and the Battalions of the 60th Foot not armed with rifles.

Barrel length; 39 inches (99.1 cm)

Overall length; 55.5 inches (141 cm)

Weight; 10.06 pounds (4.6 kg)

The detail differences between this musket and the standard New Land Pattern were a scrolled trigger guard similar to that of the Baker Rifle except more rounded, a browned barrel and a notch back-sight, the bayonet lug being used as the fore-sight.

Cavalry Carbine



In service; 1796–1838; Issued to British cavalry units.

Barrel length; 26 inches (66 cm)

Overall length; 42.5 inches (108 cm)

Weight; 7.37 pounds (3.3 kg)

Sea Service Pattern



In service; 1778–1854; Issued to Royal Navy ships, drawn by men as required, Marines used Sea Service weapons when deployed as part of a ship's company but were issued India Pattern weapons when serving ashore.

Barrel length; 37 inches (94 cm)

Overall length; 53.5 inches (135.9 cm)

Weight; 9.01 pounds (4.1 kg)

Other references

  • Cumpston, Mike. "The Guns of Empire: 18th Century Martial Muskets" Guns Magazine, August 2008, p60. FMG Publications, San Diego, CA
  • Reid, Stuart. British Redcoat (2) 1793-1815 Warrior Series, Osprey Publishing

External links


  • Brown Bess replica
    Replica
    A replica is a copy closely resembling the original concerning its shape and appearance. An inverted replica complements the original by filling its gaps. It can be a copy used for historical purposes, such as being placed in a museum. Sometimes the original never existed. For example, Difference...

     by Davide Pedersoli
    Davide Pedersoli
    Davide Pedersoli & C. is an Italian firearms manufacturing company based in Gardone, Italy. It was founded in 1957 by Davide Pedersoli.Davide Pedersoli specializes in CNC-engineered black powder weapon replicas for hunting, marksmanship and reenactment. Its weapons normally are more expensive than...

  • Entire text of Kipling's poem "Brown Bess"