You are here:

Military History/Close-range wound patterns for early 19th-century RMLs

Advertisement


Question
I know that muzzle-loading guns like blunderbusses and musketoons relied more on the spread of shot than on the accuracy and force of the bullets. However, most twentieth-century experimentation (e.g. to determine whether the flared barrel of a blunderbuss impacts spread) I can find has been conducted over a distance of 15-45 feet, on inanimate targets, and from what I can gather, short-barreled RMLs tended to be used at very close range in non-combat situations--and obviously, they were generally used on people. My current dearth of information makes it difficult to write with verisimilitude about wounds inflicted at close range by short-barreled muzzle-loading longarms. Although I've had good luck finding 17th- and 18th-century primary sources for blunderbuss injury patterns, I'm curious about whether RMLs from the early 19th century (for example, the Springfield Model 1847 musketoon) tend to have equally impressive spread patterns, and how deeply they would be expected to penetrate flesh at a range of under ten feet.

Answer
Gil:

It had always been my impression that the blunderbusses were made with the flared barrel, more to facilitate loading than to impart any additional spread to the pattern when fired.  The blunderbusses were a close quarter weapon to be sure, but think about the where and when they might have been used.  I think they may have been an early coach gun, the equivelent of the old Greener double barreled used by the man riding "shotgun" on the stage coach.  Reloading an unflared barrel or pistol with loose shot on a bucking coach would have been a bit problematic.

The Springfield 1847 Musketoon was for all intents and purposes a carbine rifle. Just a 26 inch barreled version of the 42 inch 1842 service rifle.   The power of the projectile would have been lethal, just not as powerful as the full sized musket due to the shorter barrel and the shorter burn time the black powder charge would have had before the ball left the barrel.

If the ball hit someone at close range, it would still have been devastating, considering it was .69 caliber firing a heavy lead ball.  I shoot a lot and I was impressed by the result of a solid lead ball fired into a bucket of sand at 100 yards.  The .58 caliber ball expanded to the size of a $.25 coin on impact.  That would creat quite a wound channel and its lumbering speed would shatter bone, not cut it or perforate it cleanly like high velocity fullmetal jacketed bullets do.  Add to that the bone fragments propelled at high velocity thoughout the tissue, and the clothing fragments from multiple layers of clothing carried into the wound, it is easy to understand why amputation became the preferred and most successful mode of treating wounds in the extremities.

The biggest problem was hitting anything at all.  The musket had no sights and apparently the windage was so great that dragoons armed with it complained that the balls simply rolled out of the barrels while on horse back.

At ten feet, I would expect the musketoon ball to go through a body or at least penetrate the chest cavity until it encountered more substantial bone than a rib.

I can't say, but it would be likely that a buck and ball load was used in this weapon.  It consisted of the normal bore ball and several buck shot.  It increased the likelihood of hitting something with it.  Remember just as its service rifle brother, it was a volley fire weapon.

Military History

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


Keith H. Patton

Expertise

I can answer questions pertaining to weapons and tactics, personalities, battles, and strategies in european and U.S. history.

Experience

I was a history major, and had done extensive research in the subject area. I have designed and tested numerous computer games for various
historical periods.

Education/Credentials
B.A History M.S. Science
I have had the opportunity to live abroad and walk numerous battlefields both in the United States, Europe, and the Pacific.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.