The 'Art of War' was to a large extent governed by the capabilities of the available weaponry, the basic principles of which had changed little throughout the previous century . Although some national peculiarities existed__for example British spherical 'case-shot' and the Russian 'unicorn' or 'Licorne' field piece__it is valid to discuss 'the musket' as a genus rather than to seperate each nationsl pattern, as all weapons of one type were technologically very similar, given a reasonable standard of manufacture. Some weapons were better made than those of other nations, and thus in theory were more efficient, but a greater effect on performance was the competence of the user. In the following sections, therefore, the classifications are those of weapon types rather than national patterns; though where necessary examples of national varieties or particular examples of national usage are noted.
The most basic element of Napoleonic warfare was the infantryman and his musket, which operated on a universal principle: a smooth-bored weapon weapon with ignition by the flintlock system. (The only firearm that did not utilize this system was the air-rifle, the propellant of which was compressed air; Austria posessed the 1779-80 pattern Girardoni air-rifle*, a 20-shot repeater carried by Jager in 1792-7 and 1799, but its use was very limited and though it remained on official inventories until 1815 it was withdrawn from service in 1800, and may virtually be discounted for the purpose in hand). All muskets were muzzle-loading, requiring the charge to be inserted via the muzzle; breech-loading weapons existed only in very small numbers, virtually the only one to see service being the Austrian 'Crespi', equipped with a somewhat bizarre spear-ended bayonet, but again its use was very limited.**
1.) **Austrian Crespi breech loader
2.) **Austrian Crespi spear point bayonet
3.) *Austrian Girardoni air-rifle
The musket consisted of an iron tube affixed to a wooden stock, with a small 'touch-hole' in the right side of the barrel at the end nearest the firer, through which the ignition-spark penetrated from outside to the propellant charge in the tube. This spark was provided by the striking of of a lump of flint upon a hinged steel plate termed a 'frizzen' or 'steel', the flint held in the screw-tightened jaws of the 'hammer' or 'cock', which was connected via an internal spring to the trigger on the underside of the stock. The projectile was a lead ball of approximately one ounce in weight; exact size varied with the calibre of firearm but was generally termed 'musket-bore', the narrower barrels being styled 'carbine-bore'. Although loose gunpowder and balls could be used, this method was generally restricted to rifled weapons; for the ordinary musket 'prepared-cartridges' were used, consisting of the ball and sufficient powder for one shot contained in a greased paper tube, carried in the infantryman's cartridge-box or cartouche, a flapped leather pouch with wooden or tin interior, slung over one shoulder.
To load the musket, the infantryman removed a single cartridge from his pouch and bit off the end, often retaining the ball in his mouth (hence the blackened lips and raging thirst caused by gunpowder in the mouth which afflicted most soldiers in battle). Then, holding the musket horizontally, he drw the hammer back one noth until it rested on 'half-cock', in which state pressure on the trigger would have no effect, thus preventing a premature discharge. The 'frizzen' (hinged with a spring) was pushed in the direction of the muzzle was pushed in the direction of the muzzle, opening the priming-pan, a depression affixed to the metal 'lock-plate' at the right side of the musket-stock upon which the working parts were positioned. A small amount of powder was then poured into the pan from the cartridge, and the 'frizzen' moved into the vertical position, sealing the powder in the pan. The musket was then placed in the vertical position and its but grounded. The remaining powder was then poured down the muzzle, and the ball spat or dropped after it. The infantryman then removed the iron ramrod from its channel beneath the barrel and reversed it so that its bulbous end fitted into the muzzle; and with it rammed the paper tube of the cartridge down the barrel after the ball, forming a 'wad' to hold them in place. he ramrod was then replaced and the musket returned to the horizontal. At this momment the hammer was drawn back an additional notch on the 'full-cock', when the trigger became operational (though a weak spring might cause it to go off at 'half-cock' potentially lethal for both the firer and those in the direction of the muzzle!). The musket was then raised to the right shoulder; it could not be fired on the left as the ignition of the powder in the pan would burn the firer's eye.
A. Flintlock mechanism: 1. lockplate; 2. cock; 3. hammer (steel or frizzen); 4. pan; 5. flint held in jaws of the cock; 6. spring.
B. Paper musket cartridge showing the position of the ball and charge of powder.
Aiming was unusually restricted to pointing the musket in the general direction of the enemy, at which time the trigger was depressed, sending the hammer crashing forwards so that the flint struck sparks upon the 'frizzen'; as the 'frizzen' was forced back on its hinge, the priming-pan was uncovered and the sparks fell on the powder, which burst into flame. The spark was communicated via the touch-hole to the powder in the barrel, which exploded with a loud report, a cloudof thick smoke and a vicious recoil as the ball was fired from the end of the muzzle. The musket was then lowered and the whole process begun anew.