Monday, January 16, 2017


(Rifles and Riflemen in the Revolution Part 3)

The embattled farmer really did know his muzzle from his buttplate.

       Considering the accuracy, or rather lack thereof, the smoothbore musket was physically capable of, the modern shooter might be inclined to think, "Why bother?" when it comes to marksmanship with such weapon. Although this series is on rifles and riflemen in the Revolution, it should be noted that even with muskets marksmanship still mattered.
      In the past, some authors over-stated or exaggerated the case for American marksmanship in the American Revolution, but it really was of considerable value in the early battles of 1775. While not every butcher, baker and candlestick-maker in the Colonial Militia was some eagle-eyed Dan’l Boone with a rifle-gun, marksmanship was a contributing factor to American success in numerous battles and even the average musket-armed village militiaman was equal or superior to the average British infantryman when it came to use of his firelock. Farmers, in particular, made use of their firearms in controlling predators and pests as well as filling the larder, and even among the townsmen there was an interest in hunting and fowling, in that era as much to put meat on the table as for sporting purposes.
          Conversely, back in England during the same period, all wild game and the privilege of hunting it belonged strictly to royalty and the landed aristocracy; less than one percent of the population as a whole was entitled to said sport. To keep the common people from poaching the King’s deer or snaring the King’s hare, Royal gamekeepers were empowered to search a man’s home, confiscate guns, dogs, or any other hunting gear, and were immune from prosecution if they killed a poacher. Punishment for poaching could include fines, lashing, imprisonment and penal deportation. In 1723, the English Parliament passed the Black Act, under which more than fifty criminal acts…including such offenses as fishing, cutting down a tree, or merely be armed or “disguised” in a forest…became punishable by death.
          In America, Quaker William Penn had noted the abundance of game found in the New World in 1682: “The food, the woods yield, is your elk, deer, raccoons, beaver, rabbets, turkeys, pheasants, hearth-birds, pidgeons, and partridge innumerably; we need no setting dogs to ketch, they run by droves into the house in cold weather.”  In addition, the seas, rivers and lakes teemed with a wide and plentiful variety of fresh and saltwater fish. Lobsters were caught in New York Bay and low tides along the coast revealed oyster beds that might stretch for a mile.
As a matter of necessity the early colonists soon learned to take full advantage of the forests filled with game, estuaries teeming with waterfowl, and waters rich in fish. Lacking effective means of preserving fresh foods, especially meat, domestic livestock were usually slaughtered only in the late fall, usually November. During the rest of the year, wild game was substituted, with many rural families subsisting on venison for as much as nine months out of the year. Hunting would soon become considered a basic right and the concept that fish, game animals and birds belonged to the people as a whole took shape. In William Penn’s 1663 Frame of Government for the Pennsylvania Colony, also known as the Charter of Privileges, he made sure to include the, “liberty to fowl and hunt upon the lands they hold, and all other levels therein not enclosed (and) to fish in all waters in the said land.”

Hunting in Colonial days was more necessity than sport.

 Flocks of wild turkey might exceed a hundred in number and the fat birds could weigh as much as sixty pounds, although thirty to forty pounds was the norm. From Maine to Georgia flocks of passenger pigeons literally darkened the sky at times and broke the limbs of their roosting trees with their combined weight. Especially during the spring and fall migrations, waterfowl were present in breathtaking numbers. Large game was also plentiful, at least initially, in the form of black bear, deer, and elk, although the latter was quickly hunted out. In the mid 1700’s, an Indian or white hunter could sell a deer in Georgia for sixpence or trade one in Albany, NY for a knife, a kettle or a few iron nails, leading to the common expression of something being worth a “buck.” When it came to small game, rabbits and fox and gray squirrels were so numerous and consumed so much cultivated grain that they were considered little more than pests. In 1749, Pennsylvania offered a bounty of three pence for a squirrel head; hunters nearly broke the treasury by bringing in some 600,000 of them. Particularly in the South, hunting “varmints” (raccoons and opossums) at night by torchlight was quite popular; Thomas Jefferson said it was Meriwether Lewis’s favorite sport.
Wild predators were also considered a pest to be killed and destroyed; wolves, in particular, were a threat to domestic livestock. In 1779, the town of Norfolk, Connecticut voted to pay a bounty of 6 pounds for any “woolf or painter” killed in or around the community. Seen as a threat to poultry especially, the destruction of wild cats and foxes was also encouraged by bounties in some areas. Black bears were another threat to livestock but those settlers who did not have access to domestic pigs preferred to wait until fall to shoot bears; fattened up for their annual hibernation, autumn-killed bears provided a winter’s supply of lard.
          Thus, even in the settled and civilized portions of New England, virtually every household had and was familiar with the gun, sometimes a fowling piece but most often the humble musket. Said gun might only be used occasionally to harvest ducks or geese or to keep a fox from raiding the henhouse, but there was familiarity with it and it was maintained in good working order.
A British historian later wrote, “The New England gun was a family utensil, kept handy in the house-place somewhere, loaded, ready for immediate use. It was very frequently taken out to replenish the larder, and was affectionately regarded as ranking even above the kettle in the hierarchy of domestic utensils…the New England farmer’s weapon was of the sort known to the British troops as Brown Bess, to the American colonists as the Queen’s Arm.” 

 "The New England gun was a family utensil."

          Charles Lee would become an American major general; he was considered a military expert since he had fought as an officer in the British, Portuguese and Polish armies in both North America and Europe. His radical Whig political views led him to move from England to the American Colonies where he became an ardent early advocate of the Patriot cause. In November of 1774 he published his quite popular Pamphlet, Entitled, A friendly Address to all reasonable Americans on the Subject of our Political Confusions in which he did much to allay the fears most Colonists had of the fighting skills of the vaunted British Army regulars.
          “Upon the whole, it is most certain that men may be smartly dressed, keep their arms bright, be called regulars, be expert in all the anticks of a review, and yet be very unfit for real action. It is equally certain, that a militia, by confining themselves to essentials, by a simplification of the necessary manoeuvers, may become, in a very few months, a most formidable infantry. The yeomanry of America have, besides infinite advantages over the peasantry of other countries; they are accustomed from their infancy to fire arms ; they are expert in the use of them : whereas the lower and middle people of England, are, by the tyranny of certain laws, almost as ignorant in the use of a musquet, as they are of the ancient catapulta.”
            Writing to Giovanni Fabbroni in June of 1778, Thomas Jefferson explained why in battle the British forces tended to suffer much greater casualties (Jefferson claimed two-to-one at the time; later writers give the a ratio of three-to-five). “This difference is ascribed to our superiority in taking aim when we fire; every soldier in our army having been intimate with his gun from infancy.”
Well over a century and a quarter after the Revolution, Theodore Roosevelt, while writing about the era, still believed hunting prepared young men well for war. “No form of labor is harder than the chase, and none is so fascinating nor so excellent as a training school for war. The successful still-hunter of necessity possessed skill in hiding and in creeping noiselessly upon the wary quarry, as well as in imitating the notes and calls of the different beasts and birds; skill in the use of the rifle and in throwing the tomahawk he already had; and he perforce acquired keenness of eye, thorough acquaintance with woodcraft, and the power of standing the severest strains of fatigue, hardship, and exposure.”
Some of these lessons did indeed translate well into the role of the infantryman. Lieutenant Enoch Anderson of the Haslet’s Delaware battalion recalled his unit’s baptism of fire near Brooklyn in 1776, saying, “I saw one man tumble from his horse—never did I take better aim at a bird—yet I know not that I killed any or touched any.” Private Joseph Martin, a musket-armed Connecticut militia man turned Continental regular, remembered, “I singled out a man and took my aim directly between his shoulders (they were divested of their packs); he was a good mark, being a broad-shouldered fellow, but what became of him I know not; the fire and smoke hid him from my sight. One thing I know…I took as deliberate aim at him as ever I did at any game in my life.”
          Which brings us to an aside concerning blackpowder small arms that modern shooters often forget; the cloud of acrid gray smoke that belched from the muzzle quite often momentarily obscured the firer’s view. The combined smoke of massed musket volleys and cannon fire could quickly blanket the entire battlefield if there were no wind present.
          Every able-bodied male in the Colonies was also subject to militia duty and, in Connecticut, Maryland and Massachusetts, was required by law to provide and maintain his own “firelock.” Maryland militia law stipulated that every householder should have a “good & sufficient armes” for every adult male in the house, including servants. The 1650 Connecticut militia code stipulated that every male over sixteen years “shall have” a “muskitt” or “gunn” fit for service.
          With the French & Indian War now more than a decade in the past, in many towns the New England militia system temporarily devolved into a “boys’ day out” mentality in which military training took a back seat to socializing and musters might only be conducted a few times per year. Still, as John R. Galvin noted in The Minute Men, “...even when the level of training reached its lowest ebb, late in the 1760s, the militia troops still practiced their marksmanship, and handling of weapons remained important. There developed an easy-going familiarity with weapons, something that can be best described as the Rogers influence: care of the weapon and marksmanship received attention, and sham battles (Rogers’ favorite training) took place at every muster, but orthodox drill was made a burlesque…”
          As tensions escalated in the autumn of 1774, New England militia training again became important and was conducted with ever-increasing frequency and seriousness. The famous town of Concord, for instance, went from a lackadaisical four musters per year to militia training twice per week. Many company officers were veterans of the French & Indian Wars, and drew their tactics from that experience.
          In an age when the professional European soldier trained to fire volleys and as many shots per minute as possible, warfare against the Native American tribes had led the American militias to stress individual marksmanship in training. Long before Major Robert Rogers and his Rangers became famous in the French & Indian Wars, Captain Benjamin Church had been commissioned by the governor of Plymouth Colony to raise, train a lead a company of rangers during King Philip’s War (1675-1678). Church would do the same during King William’s War (1688-1697) and Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713). Published in 1716, Church’s Entertaining Passages related to Philip’s War was considered the first American military manual. In it, he urged militia officers to inspect their men carefully to, “see if their arms be good and they know how to use them in shooting right, at a mark…”
As early as 1679, Massachusetts ordered that militia officers, “…not onely traine theire souldiers in theire postures and motions but alsoe at shooting att Markes.” Shooting at marks—target practice—became the popular practice on muster days, with competition between the men to be the best shot. Thomas Jefferson’s memorandum noted he had, at age 25, come in second-place in a shooting contest held during a muster of the Albemarle County Militia Company to which he belonged at the time.
One period account noted: “But the favorite competition on training-days was in shooting at a mark for a silk handkerchief or other prize, or a wager. In New England in the seventeenth century this was directly connected with the military training; for they shot in cold blood at what appears to have been an image or outline of a man, and there were grave debates as to who had won the prize, the one who had shot the target in the neck or he who lodged a fatal ball in the bowels.”
          On the eve of war, the Acton, MA militia company that fought at North Bridge on April 19th was captained by the local gunsmith, Isaac Davis, who kept his men’s firelocks in good order and instructed them twice a week in shooting at the range behind his shop. Marksmanship training was considered important enough that even when Rhode Island Legislature found out how perilously low their public stock of gunpowder was in January of 1775, they forbade government or militia firing any guns, “excepting only for perfecting themselves as marksman, under the immediate direction of the commanding officers for the day.”
          Allen French, in his 1925 The Day of Concord and Lexington, was one of the first historians to disparage militia marksmanship…(“If every American who fired at the redcoats on that day had inflicted a serious wound, not one of either Smith’s or Percy’s men would have limped across Charlestown Neck that night.”)…but his reservations seem to revolve around the definition of “marksman”, with French equating the term to sharpshooter or expert.
          He noted: “And in the second place, only exceptional men are natural marksmen, while even they need frequent practice…A mere occasional field day, with a chance of ten or twenty shots at a target, can do no more than show a man the difficulty of the art.”
          Such marksmanship training was still head and shoulders above that given to the traditional European soldier. During the Napoleonic Wars, French Marshal Berthier decreed that recruits should, “fire a few rounds so that they would know which eye to use in aiming.” David Chandler’s Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars noted, “The new conscript might receive 2 or 3 weeks of basic instruction at the depot, but he would fire on average only 2 musket shots a year in practice.”
          These then were the average, ordinary New England militiamen who would start the war. Though not necessarily “intimate with his gun from infancy” the embattled farmer was at least familiar and proficient with his firelock, and, all else being equal, man-for-man a better shot than his opponent. As Richard Frothingham put it in his History of the Siege of Boston: “A martial spirit had been excited in the frequent training of the minutemen, while the habitual use of the fowling-piece made these raw militia superior to veteran troops in aiming the musket.”
          Most professional soldiers recruited from the large cities of Europe had never fired a gun before joining the army, and on that continent close ranks and volley firing was still the order of the day. Although he was endlessly drilled in the 29 official motions required to load and “make ready” his musket, the commands given to the rank-and-file infantryman in 1775 did not include the step “aim”; the redcoat merely “presented” his Brown Bess before “giving fire.” According to the British Army’s 1764 Manual Exercise in use at the time, at the command of, “Present!” the soldier was to, “Step back about six inches to the Rear with the Right Foot, bringing the left Toe to the Front; at the same Time the Butt end of the Firelock must be brought to an equal Height with your Shoulder, placing the left Hand on the Swell, and the Fore-Finger of the right Hand before the Tricker, sinking the muzzle a little.” Officers and NCOs only sought to ensure the formation’s muskets were, “well leveled.”
At the command to fire, manuals of the era advised the soldier to, “Pull the Tricker briskly” or “jerk the trigger smartly”, neither method conducive to accurate shooting. Prior to the Revolution, a few professional European military officers even recommended that the soldier close his eyes when firing and/or considered that deliberate aim by the soldier at another individual, especially an officer, was rather gauche and unsportsmanlike. Even when the individual soldier tried to aim his musket, he was hindered by the lack of sights; the best he could do was use the bayonet lug as a mark to roughly line the barrel up with the target.

The professional military method of the era: "Present" firelock "well-leveled" and "jerk the trigger smartly."

The commander-in-chief of British forces in North America in 1775 was Major General Thomas Gage, a veteran of the French & Indian Wars who had himself unsuccessfully used standard European tactics at General Edward Braddock’s disastrous defeat on the Monongahela. Later in that conflict, he studied the tactics of Roger’s Rangers and incorporated the lessons he’d learned into creating his own light infantry regiment, specially equipped and trained for skirmishing and woods fighting in North America. Although his record in the previous war was less than spectacular, Gage remained a light infantry advocate.
In Boston, on June, 14, 1775 Gage issued general orders that the “Recruits and Drafts” his regiments received should be well-trained to include, “teaching them to fire ball; proper marksmen to instruct them in taking aim, and the position in which they ought to stand in firing.” Of course, as anyone who has served in the military knows, such requirements made on paper are sometimes satisfied solely on paper as well. A bit more of an elite than regular line infantry and expected to act as skirmishers, the light infantry companies in Boston had began to conduct more frequent live-fire target practice. Lieutenant Robert MacKenzie recorded that his company regularly fired at man-sized targets bobbing up and down on small floats in Boston Harbor, six shots per man per practice session, with pay premiums awarded to the best shots.
While these were indeed positive steps, even those British soldiers who became crack shots were still hindered by the musket’s inherent inaccuracy at any distance much beyond 75 or 80 yards. Good individual marksmanship practice was also restricted mainly to the light infantry; for many years, the standard heavy line infantryman was allotted a grand total of two live practice rounds per year. During the Napoleonic Wars, the British Army developed an enviable reputation for its superior musketry; by then, however, the allotment for live-fire practice ammunition had risen to 30 rounds for regular infantrymen, 50 for light infantry, and 60 for the Rifle Regiment.
General Gage also accurately predicted how the Americans would fight if war broke out: “The most natural and most eligible mode of attack on the part of the people is that of detached parties of Bushmen who from their adroitness in the habitual use of the Firelock suppose themselves sure of their mark at a distance of 200 rods. Should hostilities unhappily commence, the first opposition would be irregular, impetuous and incessant from the numerous Bodys that would swarm to the place of action, and all actuated by an enthusiasm wild and ungovernable.”
 This was, essentially, what the militia did on April 19, 1775.

Thursday, January 05, 2017


(Rifles and Riflemen in the Revolution Part 2)

     The rifle was not an American invention; the concept had been known for hundreds of years. The ancient Greeks had known that giving a spin to an arrow gave it a stabilizing spin in flight that increased range and accuracy, but the name of the individual who first put such a spin on a firearm projectile has been lost to history. Gun barrels with spiral grooves on the interior seem to have originated in the Alps somewhere around 1450 and they would take their name from the German word riffeln, cut or groove. Early rifles were extremely tedious to load; using a projectile that fit the bore tightly enough to engage the rifling required that it be literally hammered all the way down barrel. Target shooting competitions known as Schutzenfests had also been very popular in the major cities of Central Europe since the days of the bow and crossbow. In 1472 the Swiss were believed to have held the very first all-gun Schutzenfest, and a rifle seems to have made its appearance at one such shooting match in Leipzig as early as 1498. Hapsburg King Maximilian I wrote of hunting chamois with a rifle as early as1499. Eventually, the weapon evolved into the traditional Jäger (Hunter) rifle, which is examined later. 

 Central European Jager rifle, ancestor of the American Long Rifle.

Nor was the American Revolution the first time the rifle was military service. The Germanic States fielded small groups of specially-trained rifle-armed skirmishers known as Jägers. The Kingdom of Denmark acquired rifles for similar skirmishers and the French Royal Horse Guards began to issue rifle-barreled carbines to the best marksmen in each troop. Norwegian ski troops acquired rifles and Sweden adopted the Model 1761 flintlock rifle, complete with bayonet, for its skirmishers in that same year. In the grand scheme of military things, however, the rifle really counted for very little.
          Fortunately for the American Colonies, beginning around 1710 the first trickle of Palatine German and Swiss emigrants, fleeing religious persecution and seemingly endless generation European wars, began arriving in North America and settling mainly in William Penn’s Colony. This initial trickle of immigration quickly swelled to a series of waves, and within these waves were individuals who brought with them to the New World their trusty traditional Jäger rifles and, more importantly, some experienced gunsmiths who knew how to make them.
  While little more than a trading post and a small huddle of cabins at the turn of the century, Lancaster, PA was a gateway between the more settled and agrarian coastal colonies and the seemingly endless wilderness forests further west. In addition, the area’s natural resources included deposits of iron ore in easily-accessed seams near ground surface as well as stands of fine timber. Within a generation, Lancaster County would become the heart of American gun-making and development, especially when it came to the rifle.
One of the first and most influential gunsmiths to settle in Lancaster was the Swiss emigrant Martin Meylan, who built a workshop with a “boring mill” for rifling gun barrels in 1719. In 1721 another Swiss gun-maker, Peter Leman, set up shop a few miles away in a settlement that would become known as Leman Place. They were soon followed by other leading gunsmiths such as Le Fevre, Henry Albrecht, and John Vondersmith. Fifteen-year-old William Henry became an apprentice to the German-born Lancaster rifle-maker Matthew Roeser in 1744. In 1750, he went into business on his own and for one hundred fifty years Henry’s son, grandson and great-grandson continued the family gun-making tradition in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
In the beginning, these gunsmiths created only copies of the typical Central European Jäger rifle. Although there were significant variations, generally speaking the “typical” Jäger rifle ranged from .60 to nearly musket bore (.75-caliber), with an octagon barrel averaging around 30 inches long, giving it an overall length of roughly 45 inches and a weight of between nine and ten pounds. For the average German, Swiss or Austrian hunter pursuing chamois or ibex high in the Alps or stag and boar in the Black Forest, the Jäger served its purpose, for the hunter did not have to travel far, seldom needed to fire more than one or two shots, and returned to his own house or a mountain cabin every night. It was soon found, however, to be a rather poor choice for the radically different environment of the New World.

 American frontiersmen like Davy Crockett (above) and "Long Hunters" like Daniel Boone might roam the wilderness for months on end, so every ounce of gear they carried was important.

In the American Colonies, both powder and shot were precious and expensive commodities and the vast stretches of wilderness meant that a “long hunter” might range afoot for weeks or even months at a time. Under such conditions, the weight of a backwoodsman’s weapon and supplies needed to be as light as possible. By around 1725, the German and Swiss gunsmiths of Lancaster were beginning to make increasingly dramatic design changes towards creating a unique rifle perfectly suited for the frontier. The American Long Rifle, sometimes called the Pennsylvania or Kentucky Long Rifle, would become an icon of the new nation.
Colonel George Hanger was one of a select few British Army officers considered an expert on the rifle; he had once commanded a unit of German Jägers and had his own collection for shooting and hunting. He was suitably impressed with the qualities of the Pennsylvania rifle: “I never in my life saw better rifles (or men who shot better) than those made in America. They are chiefly made in Lancaster, and two or three neighbouring towns in that vicinity, in Pensylvania. The barrels weigh about six pounds two or three ounces, and carry a ball no larger than thirty-six to the pound, at least I never saw one of a larger caliber, and I have seen many hundreds and hundreds.”
Pennsylvania-made rifle calibers soon shrank to between .40 and .54-caliber, with .45 becoming the most common. At the time, caliber was often expressed in balls to the pound, i.e. how many bullets could be produced per pound of lead. For the standard British Brown Bess musket, a pound of lead would yield only sixteen .71-caliber balls, yet the same weight of lead could provide as many as 48 balls to feed a .45-caliber Pennsylvania Rifle. Thus the new rifle enabled the hunter or explorer to get three times as many bullets from each pound of lead, which, like the black powder needed to propel it, required a potentially long trip to a village or trading post to obtain. On expeditions into the wilderness that might last the better part of a year, every pound of weight a man had to carry became critical.

 The Kentucky or Pennsylvania Rifle

The rifle itself began to take on a long, slender and elegant form; barrel lengths of 40 or even 48 inches became common. These long barrels were the heart of the weapon, and could weigh as much as six pounds by themselves. The longer barrels allowed the exploding black powder charge to fully combust within the rifle, boosting the rifle ball to higher velocities and enabling the frontiersman to get “more bang for the buck” from his precious powder supply. The length served to balance the weapon itself for better handling and the longer barrels produced a quieter report or muzzle blast that did not carry as far through the virgin forests where it could be heard by unfriendly ears. A long barrel also allowed for a greater distance between the front and rear sights, and the resulting long sight plane translated into greater aiming precision and thus increased accuracy. Compared to muskets of the era, which had a reputation for kicking like mules, the long rifle produced very little recoil.
Overall length of the rifle could reach 60 inches or more, yet weights were kept to roughly 7 to 9 pounds. The wooden forestock of oak or maple ran the length of the long barrel to just behind the muzzle. For muzzle loading, a wooden ramrod, usually of hickory, was secured in a track beneath the barrel. A graceful buttstock with a pronounced droop gave the shooter a solid cheek-to-stock weld that put his eye right behind the sights. A brass patch box with a hinged cover, often embellished with scrollwork, was inset into the stock near the butt of the weapon. This arrangement was much more durable and weatherproof and not prone to loss compared to the sliding wooden-covered patch box found on the original Jäger rifles.
Greased linen patches were used to wrap the rifle ball before it was rammed home down the barrel atop the powder charge. The use of such patches was another European discovery dating perhaps as far back as 1600, but the practice was not widespread until almost universally adopted in Colonial America. These patches helped to keep the rifling and bore cleaner from burned black powder residue and also served to form a “gas seal” to boost the projectile’s velocity when fired. A well-made Pennsylvania rifle of the era could easily achieve a muzzle velocity of around 1,600 feet per second with a .45-caliber ball weighing around 200 grains. In modern tests fired over a chronometer, a few exceptionally well-made Pennsylvania rifles built in the mid 1700’s by some of the most famous Lancaster gun-makers produced muzzle velocities as high as 2,400 to 2,500 feet per second. By comparison, the modern Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle’s 7.62x39mm cartridge fires a 123-grain bullet at 2,421 fps.
Of course the Kentucky rifle used only a simple round lead ball that lacked the stream-lined aerodynamic qualities of modern spitzer bullets and it lost its velocity comparatively quickly as distance increased. With the smoothbore musket the standard weapon, most European military authorities of the Revolutionary War era insisted that a large, heavy ball was necessary and this is reflected in the .60 to .75-caliber muskets of the day. However, greatly increased velocity enabled the much smaller .45-caliber rifle ball to still retain considerable lethality or “stopping power”.
As George Hanger explained, “…what the smaller ball loses by its want of weight, is most astonishingly compensated for, by the triple velocity given to it, from the great increase of the powder. But this I presume to say whether you be wounded by a rifle shot, either two, three, four or five hundred yards distant, the ball weighing twenty, or thirty, to the pound, it is immaterial. Either of them will kill you, or send you to the hospital, and that is sufficient.” (P140)
Most rifles were fitted with a fixed V-notch rear sight several inches in front of the breech plug and a silver or brass front blade-type sight near the very end of the barrel, both fitted into dove-tails filed into the top barrel flat. This provided a long sight radius of nearly three feet, which was a great boon to accurate aiming. The sights were low to the top of the barrel, usually rising no more than 1/8 of an inch above it. This helped protect the sights from damage, prevented the rifleman from “drawing too much bead” on the front sight and thus over-shooting (to this day a common error in combat firing), and, when under fire, allowed the marksman to take aim around the side of a tree while exposing the minimum of his own head as a target for the enemy. Both sights were beveled to a keen edge so that, especially on small or partially concealed targets, a man could take fine aim.
A well-made long rifle could be sighted in at 100 yards. Zeroed in such a manner, it might shoot a half inch or a little more above the point of aim at mid-range (50-60) yards and would strike about the same amount under point of aim at 125 yards. Such a trajectory meant a good rifleman could hit a target the size of a squirrel out to the latter range. At longer ranges, the rifleman had to practice “hold-over” and/or “Kentucky windage.” To hit a man at 300 yards, he could simply aim at his head. Modern rifle accuracy standards are expressed in Minute of Angle (MOA), an angular measurement of 1/60th of a degree, which translates into just slightly over an inch (1.047”) at 100 yards. Good Pennsylvania rifles could attain around 2 Minutes of Angle accuracy at 100 yards; that is they could put a 3-shot group within 2 inches of the point of aim.
George Hanger, of course, weighed in on the subject, once again quite accurately, regarding the range capabilities of the American long rifle.
I have many times asked the American backwoodsmen what was the most their best marksmen could do; and they have constantly told me that an expert rifleman, provided he can draw good and true sight (they mean by this expression, when they can distinctly see the object aimed at in a direct line with the two sights on the rifle), can hit the head of a man at 200 yards. I am certain provided an American rifleman was to get a perfect aim at 300 yards at me, he would most undoubtedly would hit me, unless if was a very windy day, so much so as to occasion the ball considerably to deflect.”

John Robertson, a long-time National Park Service interpretive guide at Cowpens National Battlefield, researched both period and modern sources to reach much the same conclusion as Hanger. He states that, “If an expert rifleman were firing at you with intent to kill:
They would have occasional lucky hits at 400 yards
They would hit you most of the time at 300 yards
They would rarely miss at 200 yards
They would be picking which eye they wanted to hit at 100 yards.”
Now recall that with the smoothbore Brown Bess musket that was the military standard of the period, even a good marksman had less than a 50/50 chance of hitting a man-sized target at 100 yards, and at 200 he might just as well shoot at the moon.
For all its strengths, the long rifle also had some weaknesses that told against its effective military use. It required a good deal more time to load its patched ball. Even the best rifleman might get off only two shots per minute at best, while the average British regular was trained to fire four rounds per minute with his Brown Bess. American rifles also lacked a bayonet or even the capability to mount one, leaving riflemen extremely vulnerable when it came to close combat. Each rifle having been essentially hand-made, all had slight differences that weighed against adoption of a standardized bayonet model or universal ammunition issue; virtually all American muskets could take a .69-caliber ball but a Pennsylvania rifle usually came with its own bullet mold to cast lead into the proper-sized balls.
Author John Dillon praised the Kentucky as, “A rifle which changed the whole course of world history; made possible the settlement of a continent; and ultimately freed our country of foreign domination. Light in weight; graceful in line; economical in consumption of powder and lead; fatally precise; distinctly American; it sprang into immediate popularity, and for a hundred years was a model often slightly varied but never radically changed.”
Although the rifle made a large contribution at the Battle of Saratoga, usually considered the turning point of the war, and proved particularly useful in the South and West, to say that the rifle won the Revolution goes considerably too far. Historian Neil L. York summed up the problems in an essay in which he called the Pennsylvania Rifle a “Revolutionary Weapon in a Conventional War.”
“…the rifle did not play as important a role as its protagonists once claimed. Nevertheless, it had a potential almost untapped during the war. Though by no means a superweapon, it could have been used more effectively…The rifle's peculiar wartime career can be traced to attitudinal and institutional restraints on technology in general and invention in particular in preindustrial America.”

Monday, January 02, 2017

MUSKET MANIA: The Standard in 1775

(Rifles and Riflemen in the Revolution Part 1)

At the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, the muzzle-loading flintlock smoothbore musket was the state-of-the-art military standard small arm the world over. For the British Army this meant the Brown Bess. The vast majority of Americans would also go to war with the very same musket, or an American-made copy thereof, often referred to as the “Queen’s Arm.”
With the exception of the firing mechanism being up-graded from the flintlock ignition to the percussion cap system, Brown Bess would serve the British Army from 1722 to 1854. In 1775, the Short Land Pattern Musket was the standard, having been first adopted in 1740 to replace the 1722-vintage Long Land Pattern Musket. The Short Land Pattern had a .75-caliber barrel some 42 inches long, giving it an overall length of 56-1/2 inches and an empty weight of 10-1/2 pounds. By the military standards of the era it was considered a good weapon, enjoying a reputation for ruggedness and reliability. Some historians think the name Brown Bess was a soldiers’ corruption of the Dutch or German terms braun buss, meaning “strong gun.”

 Short Land Pattern Brown Bess Musket: A rather large handle for the bayonet.

Although nominally listed as a .75-caliber, according to the Springfield Armory Museum even “Tower-inspected” Brown Bess muskets were approved as “close enough for government work” if the bore gauged anywhere from .72- to .80-caliber. The British Army standard issue musket ball itself was actually .71-inch in diameter, and the French issue .69-caliber musket ball could be used as well. With a 100-grain charge of black powder, the Brown Bess fired a round lead ball weighing over an ounce at a muzzle velocity of perhaps 1,000 feet per second, and generated considerable recoil in the process. If held perfectly horizontal at the regulation five feet above ground level, the ball would fall to earth at roughly 125 yards.
The blackpowder propellant used in firearms of the era “burned dirty”, i.e. it did not completely combust. In addition to propelling the projectile itself, it also produced an acrid cloud of thick gray smoke and left a black residue known as fouling on the inside of the barrel. After firing numerous times, the fouling could built up inside the bore to such a degree that loading a tight-fitting ball from the muzzle became difficult and eventually impossible. Thus, militaries of the day wanted a loose-fitting musket ball so that soldiers could continue to load and fire even if their gun barrel was heavily fouled.
Although this solved one problem, the loose fit of the ball also sacrificed velocity as the gasses of the burning gun powder escaped around it while propelling it down the barrel. More problematic was the fact that as the ill-fitting projectile rattled down the bore it struck at slightly different places each time the gun was fired, resulting in a lack of consistency from shot to shot, destroying accuracy at all but the shortest of ranges. Lacking the stabilizing spin of a rifle ball, the musket ball itself was less accurate and lost its momentum and striking energy rather quickly. Some today may find it surprising that the Brown Bess did not have any sights with which to aim the weapon. The best an infantryman could do to aim the weapon was use the bayonet lug to roughly line up the barrel with the target. Thus, individually, the smoothbore musket was inherently inaccurate.
Just how bad was the accuracy problem? A knowledgeable British officer who fought in the Revolution, then Major George Hanger wrote, “A soldier’s musket, if not exceedingly ill-bored (as many are), will strike the figure of a man at 80 yards: it may even at 100; but a soldier must be very unfortunate indeed who shall be wounded by a common musket at 150 yards, provided the antagonist aims at him; as to firing at a man at 200 yards, with a common musket, you may as well just fire at the moon.”
This was not just hyperbole on the part of the always verbose George Hanger; his estimate is quite accurate and was proven right numerous times over the years. In 1792, the British Army conducted a test in which a marksman fired 21 rounds from a Brown Bess at a target 4-feet square at 100 yards range and scored only 12 hits. In 1838, the Royal Engineers at Chatham conducted live-fire tests with standard-issue Brown Bess muskets (updated with a percussion lock) which revealed that “about” three fourths of the musket balls fired at 150 yards at a target 3 feet tall and 11-1/2 feet wide struck the target. At 250 yards, using a target twice as large, not one ball struck home and, “…at 300 yards shot after shot was fired without one hitting the object aimed at, or its whereabouts being ascertained.” In still another test, an expert marksman fired twenty rounds each at targets eighteen feet square at 200 and 300 yards and not a single ball struck home. An American gun writer in the 1950’s fired ten well-aimed shots at a man-shaped target at 100 yards and scored only four hits, two of which were peripheral strikes to the ear and knee.
From the standpoint of the European professional military establishment, however, it was just not that important for an individual soldier to take deliberate aim and shoot to kill an individual enemy soldier. Conventional set-piece battles on the European Continent involved vast armies with thousands of men in tightly packed, easily-controlled ranks. Companies and battalions of infantrymen would fire massed volleys at other closely-formed companies and battalions. Even with muskets simply pointed in the right direction, sheer volume of fire was expected to inflict some casualties amidst the enemy ranks. Volume of fire and speed in reloading was the name of the game. With pre-prepared paper-wrapped powder and ball “cartridges” and loose-fitting balls dropped down a smoothbore barrel, the British regular was expected to deliver four shots per minute, or one every fifteen seconds. The actual accuracy of those shots was a distant afterthought.
Even used in this intended fashion, however, smoothbore muskets produced a great many more misses than hits, and the problem was certainly not restricted solely to the Brown Bess. All European military smoothbore muskets of the era, whether British, French, Dutch, Spanish or German, delivered virtually the same poor performance when it came to accuracy. For instance, a French test involved 720 infantrymen firing at a 3x3 meter target at 100 and 200 meters range; 52 shots hit the 100 meter target and only 18 struck it at 200 meters.
To scientifically “prove” the value of musket volley fire, rather than use man-sized targets military experiments of the period used large cloth targets intended to represent entire formations of enemy troops. The French Army, for instance, used a target six feet tall and fifty yards across to represent an enemy infantry company and a target 8-1/2 feet tall by 50 yards wide to represent a cavalry formation. In one such experiment, at a range of 160 yards two hundred rounds apiece were fired at the French infantry target using British, Prussian and French muskets. The results showed a hit rate of 58%, 56%, and 49% respectively. In 1755, two companies of Prussian Grenadiers fired at a target ten feet tall and 30 feet wide at 150 and 300 yards and scored 46% and 12.5% hits respectively.

Waterloo, 1815: The European way of war.

Of course, such studies counted every single ball that struck anywhere on the length and breadth of the entire cloth. As any wing-shooter knows, however, there’s a helluva lot more air than bird when firing a shotgun at a covey of quail or a flock of ducks. Even with modern shotguns, “flock-shooting” is generally a waste of time; the gunner still needs to single out and aim at a specific bird in the flock rather than “sky-busting” at the flock as a whole.
 One British officer later wrote, “The inutility of the old musket was shown in a battle during the Kaffir war, where the British discharged 80,000 cartridges, and the loss of the enemy was 25 men struck.” A Prussian artillery colonel named Schlimmbach conducted exhaustive statistical studies of every battle in the Napoleonic Wars and concluded that, on average, a man’s own body weight in lead had to be fired for every casualty inflicted by musket fire. French General Gassendi concluded that at least three thousand musket cartridges had to be fired for every enemy casualty inflicted while German General von Decker put the minimum number at ten thousand cartridges. In 1770 the French General Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert, wrote that only 0.2% of all small arms fire on the battlefield hit the target.
Despite early American military use of the rifle as well as prior adoption of percussion-fired muskets and rifles, at the time of the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War the vast majority of US Army infantrymen were still issued flintlock smoothbore muskets. A young Ulysses S. Grant, serving in that conflict, concluded of this weapon, “At the distance of a few hundred yards a man might fire at you all day without your finding it out.”
Calibers were large, ranging from .60-caliber Prussian weapons to the .75-caliber Brown Bess, so when a musket ball did manage to hit a man at close range the effect was brutal.  They inflicted horrible wounds. They smashed the bones; they tore out entire muscles from arms or legs; they stopped a running or charging man immediately. There was a little ridge or seam along the circumference of the ball which, while it ridged and scratched the bore of the musket, caused ragged wounds in the body wherever it got home.”
This inaccuracy was all well and fine up through the Napoleonic War-era because the musket’s fire effect was seen as secondary; its main role was as a mounting platform for the bayonet. Great battles were expected to be won, in the end, with the bayonet charge and cold steel. Major General John Burgoyne said, “The onset of bayonets in the hands of the valiant is irresistible.” The British Army regular was particularly well-trained and enjoyed a fierce reputation for his skill with the bayonet. Many an enemy line was broken by the British bayonet, as Kipling put it, “…pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.”

 "Pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess."

Fondness for the bayonet was hardly restricted to Great Britain. Much ado is made of the fact that the Prussian drill master Baron von Steuben added the phrase “Take aim” to American Continental Army drill, but he too greatly preferred and stressed the bayonet. Napoleon said, “The bayonet has always been the weapon of the brave and the chief tool of victory.” Russian General Alexander Suvorov was famous for his quote, “The bullet is a fool; the bayonet is the whole man.” Frederick the Great’s testament about the “superiority of fire” was meant to apply only to the artillery; infantry charged with l’arme blanch.
Strange as it may seem, despite all this emphasis on cold steel, the bayonet actually inflicted very few casualties on the battlefield. Studying what type of wounds soldiers were treated for at the Invalides of Paris in 1762, French historian André Corvisier discovered that statistically 68.8% of men were wounded by small arms fire, 13.4% by artillery, 14.7% by cavalry sabers, and only 2.4% by the bayonet. Dominique Jean Larrey, a French surgeon with Napoleon’s Grand Armée, conducted his own studies in 1807 and also found only 2% of men were wounded by the bayonet. Even in one particular battle between French and Russian forces that involved bayonet charges and considerable hand-to-hand combat, Larrey noted that 119 men were wounded by musket balls but only 5 from bayoneting.
The bayonet did not win battles by physically inflicting casualties; it won them by psychologically breaking the enemy’s resistance. One more than one occasion American militia and riflemen simply broke and ran rather than stand to take a British or Hessian bayonet charge.
So this was the state of military affairs in 1775 and helps to explain the significance of the accuracy and range of the rifle, which had three or even four times the effective range of the smoothbore musket. At a range where the musket-armed soldier had less than a 50/50 chance of hitting a man, the rifleman could choose which eye to shoot. In the hands of a marksman, a weapon like the American Long Rifle stood a much greater chance of hitting a target the size of a man at 300 yards than the musket did at 100.
Yet the smoothbore musket would soldier on in professional armies until the mid 1800s. Despite its accuracy, the rifle did not often fare well in conventional warfare of the period, for a variety of reasons we’ll examine later.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Remy: Hallelujah (SNL Parody)

Right after the election, Saturday Night Live decided to not be funny and instead did a cold opening with comedian Kate McKinnon, portraying Hillary Clinton, playing the piano and singing the recently departed Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." It was a sappy spectacle that had Democrats around the country dabbing their little eyes. Thankfully our friend Remy is here to parody those who are supposed to be parodists with some spot-on political satire.

Friday, October 21, 2016


We frequently discuss here the power and performance of the rifle in a variety of esoteric ways that can be measured precisely with concrete numbers and in technical terms; caliber in hundredths of an inch, bullet weight in grains, velocity in feet per second, energy in foot-pounds, trajectory and deflection in inches, and accuracy in Minutes-of-Angle.
 The ultimate book on the subject; The Art of the Rifle by Jeff Cooper

However, a good rifle…in good hands…also represents a different sort of power, difficult if not impossible to quantify or measure technically. Properly handled, the rifle empowers the individual with such things as confidence, courage, and strength. The rifle in skilled hands can make a man master of all he surveys, man or beast, at least out to “the rifleman’s quarter mile” or the “hale half kilometer.” As Colonel Jeff Cooper put it in To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth, “The basic attribute of the rifle is reach. A powerful rifle enables a man to reach ‘way out past Fort Mudge’ and strike a blow that will stop not only a man but a truck or a horse dead in its tracks.” The combination of a good rifle and rifleman need not fear the teeth and claws of the natural predator nor the evil intentions of lesser men.
 Skill with the rifle brings with it deep obligations and responsibility, for the power of the rifle, as with any form of power, can and has been abused. “The only real power comes out of a long rifle,” said no less authority on the subject than Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and he was echoed by Chairman Mao’s adage that, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Fortunately, a good rifleman tends to possesses the inner strength and fortitude to negate the temptation of abusing the rifle’s power. As President Theodore Roosevelt saw it, "A good shot must necessarily be a good man since the essence of good marksmanship is self-control and self-control is the essential quality of a good man." British small arms expert W. W. Greener concurred: "Rifle-shooting, in any and every form of competition, calls for the exercise of all the qualities that most ennoble a man--determination, self-possession, faith, self-confidence, admiration for the achievements of others." Neither sheep nor wolf, the ideal rifleman serves by his very presence to stand guard over his own and his nation’s liberties.
From the very beginning of the United States of America, the Founding Fathers understood the unique influence the gun can have upon the individual who can skillfully yield it. When Thomas Jefferson advised a young college student as to the importance of daily exercise, he wrote, “As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind.”
In Colonial New England at the time of the American Revolution, it was the smoothbore musket that was found in every home and the rifle remained virtually unknown. When the companies of volunteer riflemen led by men such as Michael Cresap and Daniel Morgan arrived from the distant frontiers the capabilities of the rifles and the men who wielded them made a big impression.
The creation of German and Swiss gunsmiths who emigrated primarily to what is now Lancaster County, the weapons in question were then known as Pennsylvania Rifles and would eventually be called Kentucky Rifles. Both names fall under the catch-all term of American Long Rifle. Author John Dillon called it, “…a rifle which changed the whole course of world history; made possible the settlement of a continent; and ultimately freed our country of foreign domination.”
 The American Long Rifle

As for the men behind the rifles, Charles Lee, a major general in the Continental Army, wrote enthusiastically, “The frontier riflemen will make fine soldiers…their amazing hardihood, their methods of living so long in the woods without carrying provisions with them, the exceeding quickness with which they can march to distant parts, and, above all, the dexterity to which they have arrived in the use of the rifle gun. There is not one of these men who wish a distance less than 200 yards or greater object than an orange. Every shot is fatal.”
After observing a demonstration of the frontiersmen’s rifle shooting prowess, a correspondent for the Pennsylvania Packet opined, “With their rifles in their hands they assume a kind of omnipotence over their enemies.”
          The Gunner’s Guru, the late, great Colonel Jeff Cooper understood the magic and the power of the rifle better than most, noting that, “The rifle is the queen of weapons and its effective use is one of the greatest satisfactions available to man.”
          “A really good rifleman, with a really good rifle in his hands, is a man of stout heart. He knows what he can do and he looks down upon those who cannot do the same.”
Theodore Roosevelt also understood and frequently commented on this. “To my mind there is no comparison between sport with the rifle and sport with the shotgun. The rifle is the freeman’s weapon. The man who uses it well in the chase shows that he can at need use it also in war with human foes.”
“Shooting well with the rifle is the highest kind of skill, for the rifle is the queen of weapons; and it is a difficult art to learn.”
Mister Rifleman himself, Colonel Townsend Whelen, observed in 1932 that, “A good rifleman, plus a good rifle, will shoot straight, see straight, think straight and will run our country straight.”
Early outdoorsman Horace Kephart called the rifle a “noble weapon” which he credited with a mystique that, “entices its bearer into primeval forests, into mountains and deserts untenanted by man.”
Jack O’Connor, in The Rifle Book, said, “To me the rifle has always been the most romantic of all weapons, and of all rifles the one I love most is the rifle for big game… Because I love rifles and because I love wilderness country I have carried my rifles all over the North American continent, from the hot, dry, barren sheep mountains of northwest Sonora to the glaciers of the Yukon.”
In 1920, Charles Winthrop Sawyer wrote, "Rifles are the average man's Alladin's lamp; they bring elating thoughts of out-of-doors, by their appearance suggesting sunshine and cloud-shadows, wooded hills against the sky and watered verdant valleys, wind against tanned cheek and leaping blood and eager chase in wilderness adventure."
"A rifle is a stimulator, a companion that brings a sense of safety, and a magician that confers wonderful and unlimited power."
Although primarily associated with the British Royal Navy from his Horatio Hornblower series of books, author C.S. Forester also understood the rifle, the rifleman and their combined capabilities, espousing upon the theme in excellent novels like Rifleman Dodd and Brown on Resolution.
“But Brown was only powerful in consequence of his rifle; the handiest, neatest, most efficient piece of machinery ever devised by man. Not for the first time was the rifle altering the course of history. Brown was not a marvelously good shot…but he could handle his weapon in good workmanlike fashion; and the rifle asks no more.”
Military historian John Keegan also understood the importance of the rifle and its influence upon the individual rifleman as well. “The musket, like the uniform livery of the dynastic armies that used it, was a mark of servitude. So short was its range that its effect could be harnessed to battle-winning purposes only by massing the musketeers in dense rank, and keeping them ‘closed up’ at pike-point. The rifle, by contrast, was a weapon of individual skill… as Thomas Carlyle put it, ‘the rifle made all men tall. A rifleman was as good as any man.’”
Militarily, the United States Marine Corps has understood this tenant since prior to the First World War. In that conflict, the prowess of U.S. Marines with their Model 1903 Springfield rifles shattered German attacks at long range and led the American Expeditionary Force’s commander, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to state, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”

"The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle."

Institutionally, every Marine, no matter his or her technical position, is a rifleman first. Early in the Second World War, this doctrine was enhanced when Major General William H. Rupertus penned the Rifleman’s Creed, which is to this day memorized by all US Marines during recruit training.

“This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
          My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must
fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will...
          My rifle and I know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit...
          My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will...
Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and I are the defenders of my
country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but peace!”

USMC Raider Brigadier General Merritt Edson explained, “It is the rifle that ultimately takes ground, and it is rifle fire that holds it after it’s taken, by throwing back enemy counter-attack. The man with the rifle is the man who wins wars; and accurate rifle fire from individual riflemen is the most effective factor on any battlefield.”
Another WWII leader, General Joseph “Lightning Joe” Collins, while serving as US Army Chief of Staff, also understood this. "The primary job of the rifleman is not to gain fire superiority over the enemy, but to kill with accurate, aimed fire."
Beginning during the Korean War and escalating through Vietnam and Desert Storm, the US Army at times lost its way when it came to individual rifle marksmanship, a hard-won skill requiring much practice, so the powers that be sought to replace it with technology and sheer volume of fire. Jeff Cooper termed the effort, “If you can’t shoot well, shoot a lot.” The practice of swatting flies with a sledgehammer, and the inevitable collateral damage that goes with such a concept, became the norm and for a distressingly long time individual small arms were treated as little more than an afterthought. The Global War on Terror soon showed that leveling an entire apartment block to silence a single sniper did more harm than good in the long run and brought back the importance of the individual soldier’s skill with his rifle, which can be wielded with the precision of the surgeon’s scalpel against individual enemies, as noted by 11B Captain Daniel Morgan in Infantry Magazine.
"Marksmanship is the core of excellence for an infantry soldier. Their proficiency in killing wins the battle. The more you suppress a target without killing or wounding the enemy, the bolder he becomes in attacking you. You need to train your soldiers to aim, fire, and kill."
            Beyond its military, hunting and sporting attributes, the rifle also carries with it a certain moral authority in that it stands as the last line of defense when it comes to insuring freedom and democracy against the clutches of tyranny.
Understanding only too well the value of liberty as an escaped slave, the brilliant abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass noted, "A man's rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box."
The great Lakota Sioux warrior and holy man Sitting Bull said, “I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle.”
Mahatma Gandhi went so far as to say, “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.”
Famous for penning tales of bleak, dystopian futures that would come to by synonymous with his name, novelist George Orwell wrote, "That rifle on the wall of the labourer's cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there."
Edward Abbey of The Monkey Wrench Gang fame once wrote, “The rifle is the weapon of democracy. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military. The hired servants of our rulers. Only the government—and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws.”
John Steinbeck explained, in The Grapes of Wrath, “And the rifle? Wouldn’t go out naked of a rifle. When shoes and clothes and food, when even hope is gone, we’ll have the rifle. When Grampa came here—did I tell you?—he had pepper and salt and a rifle. Nothing else. That goes.” 

Once again, Jeff Cooper espoused this ideal most succinctly. “Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen.”