ADVANCE PLACEMENT
AMERICAN HISTORY

MUSKET CARTRIDGES

*This is how cartridges were made for soldiers during the revolution.  The King’s Arm used a .75 calibre ball (distribute the actual lead ball) while the French Charleville musket used a .69 calibre ball.  The marbles the class has received are a bit smaller—only about .63 calibre.  Rifles in this period varied in their calibre, from the low thirties into the fifties and possibly higher, although .45-.50 calibre were common.

*Have students cut paper patterns, if necessary.

*Demonstrate and require the students to wrap the pattern around the dowel rods, with the triangular piece on the top and wrapped last.  The top part will be twisted together and the tube thus created will be removed from the dowel rod.

*Insert a marble into the tube.  This represents a musket ball.  Have the students do the same.

*Demonstrate putting 60 grains of sand into the cartridge.  Explain that a grain is a unit of weight (0.002285 ounces), not an actual grain of sand or powder.  Admit that sources suggest different amounts should be used or have been used.  These vary from 50-169 grains.  We are using about 60.  Have the students do this, too.

*Fold the cartridge to close it and have the students to the same.  Explain that the British Army often closed these with paste of some kind.  In some cases it was flour and water paste, in others it was made of animal fat.  Briefly mention the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 when Moslem and Hindu soldiers in India revolted at cartridges sealed with pig grease and beef tallow.  Explain that this was because you had to bite the cartridge to open them.

*Diagram the firing chamber of a musket on the board, showing the flash pan, touch hole, and chamber, and either show or describe the flint and frizzen.

*Explain how to load and fire such a weapon, emphasising the biting process (including how some men avoided the army by knocking out enough teeth that they couldn’t tear a cartridge).  Note that the British Army could fire one round every fifteen seconds, on command.

*Discuss briefly the tactics that such weapons required, primarily that of massed volleys, as well as the wounds they could inflict, and why the British Army preferred speed and volume to accuracy (easy to train and replace soldiers this way, and inaccurate muskets were easier to build and faster to load).

*Click here to view or download instructions for making a cartridge in Microsoft Word Document format (muskcart.doc).

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This page last updated 30 August, 2003.