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American Revolution

Weapons and Battle Tactics

History >> American Revolution

The weapons and battle tactics used by both sides during the Revolutionary War were consistent with those used by European armies for the previous 15 or so years. Both sides used similar weapons and fought using similar tactics.

Muskets

The primary weapon used by both sides was the musket. The most popular type of musket was the British made Brown Bess. The Brown Bess had a smooth bore and was loaded through the muzzle. Another popular musket was the Charleville made by the French. It was similar to the Brown Bess.


Charleville Musket

The smooth-bore muskets of the Revolutionary War were not very accurate and could not reliably hit a target beyond 100 yards. It took the average soldier around 15 to 20 seconds to load the musket allowing him to fire 3 to 4 shots a minute.

Brown Bess Gun with Bayonet

Brown Bess and Bayonet
Source: American Military History:
Volume 1
Bayonet

At the end of the musket most soldiers had a bayonet attached. A bayonet was a sharp pointed metal blade around 17 inches long. The bayonet turned the musket into a spear that could be used to charge and gore an enemy. British soldiers were especially skilled fighters with the bayonet.

Cannon

Both sides used a variety of artillery (large guns) during the war. Cannons could be made somewhat mobile when they were mounted on large wheels. They fired solid shells, exploding shells, and grapeshot. Cannons were effective in destroying fortifications or sinking ships. Sometimes cannons were fired strait at a line of approaching enemy troops tearing right through them and stopping their charge.

Other Weapons

Rifles were also used during the Revolutionary War. Rifles were more accurate than muskets, but took a lot longer time to load. Cavalry (soldiers on horseback) used pistols and sabers to fight with as they were easier to use while riding a horse. Soldiers often carried knives or small hatchets, but these were rarely used in major battles.

Tactics

Both sides used similar tactics in fighting a battle. The soldiers would form rows of long lines. They would approach the enemy to get within a range of 50 yards. Then each row would fire a volley at the enemy in unison. The first row would fire and then start to reload. Then, while the first row was reloading, the second row would fire and so on. Fighting in lines like this is called "linear tactics."

The idea of lining up like this to shoot at the enemy may seem silly at first, but it made some sense. Muskets were horribly inaccurate, so instead they would shoot together and send a wall of musket balls flying at the enemy. By firing in rows, each row had to time to reload while the others were firing. This kept up a constant barrage on the enemy.

In many cases, after each side fired a number of volleys, one side would charge the other side with their bayonets and the battle would turn into hand-to-hand combat.

Did the Americans hide behind trees?

A lot of modern movies show the American soldiers using different tactics than described above. They would hide behind trees and walls, picking off British soldiers who stood out in the open. However, this only happened in a few battles early on in the war. Most battles were fought with both sides lining up in long lines using the "linear tactics" described above.

Interesting Facts about Weapons and Battle Tactics Activities Learn more about the Revolutionary War:

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History >> American Revolution

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