Patriots, loyalists, Native Americans, German mercenaries, and British regulars carried a wide assortment of guns . It could be the homespun hunting and defense creations militiamen wielded in battle or widely produced muskets of the infantry. The general statement is that most of these weapons were flintlock muzzle-loaders and that assessment would be correct, with some exceptions.
The first practical, inexpensive, and durable defensive weapons were flintlock pistols. Military pistols of the era were normally carried on saddle holsters though some lighter models could be carried stuck in a sash (cloth wrapped around the waist). They were exclusively smoothbore weapons with no sights and of 58 caliber or larger. They were intended purely as a close range self defense option. These pistols featured a brass or steel buttcap on the grip so if there was no time to reload the gun with military paper cartridges the gun can be wielded as a club. These handguns were normally issued to officers and cavalrymen though pistols in general could be bought by the soldier with his own funds too. Civilian pistols came in all shapes and sizes ranging from pocket pistols to long and graceful pistols. While some were smoothbore and no sights others could have sights and be rifled too. This aided in accuracy but these pistols were not as heavily built as their military cousins and still served as a pure self defense option with a practical range of no less than twenty five yards or so.
Fowlers are the predecessor to the modern day shotgun. They were often the only gun the colonial civilian would have on the frontier. These were smoothbore weapons with long barrels and handled a multitude of loads. A large lead ball loaded down the barrel for large creatures. A number of smaller balls called buckshot could be loaded too for increasing your chances of hitting game but was best used on medium sized game like boar. Tiny balls or bird shot measured by volume in a small cup could be loaded too and used to shoot birds out of the sky and take rabbits and squirrel as well. These long, light, and graceful weapons were truly not meant for combat. While fowling pieces in America were often recycled military parts on a new stock. The stock was very thin. It makes sense for hunting but is too fragile for war and close combat. Nevertheless the fowler is what most militiamen of the period would have been armed with.As a smoothbore the range on the fowling gun was limited. Shot loads would pattern nicely at thirty to forty yards but no further. Good accuracy with tight fitting solid lead ball ammunition at 50-100 yards is achievable. Many fowlers that survive to today sometimes have swivels on the gun for a carry sling or the wood cut back from the muzzle for a bayonet. This means they were likely pressed into military service.
The blunderbuss is a cousin to the fowler. It loaded large shot and was used for war instead of hunting. It featured a very short barrel anywhere from eleven inches to twenty four inches and normally stocked short too. The barrel was flared out at the end to aid in loading the shot while moving on a ship or on horseback. These weapons defended coaches, were used to repel enemy sailors boarding ships, sentry and guard duty, as well as a weapon of the militia and the Continental cavalry on horseback where the blunderbuss was a substitute to short barreled muskets. But by the time of the Revolution it was already a rare weapon. But it soldiered on anyway.
The Trade Gun
Backwoodsmen, militia forces, and Indian allies and enemies would have been armed with many trade guns. These guns were inexpensive and made in European armories for trade with Native Americans. French and British styles of trade guns were quite common and for intends and purposes it was much like the fowler but a bit more heavily built in the stock for durability. These were smooth-bores capable of firing the same ammunition as the fowler. Modern day replicas like the Fusil de Tulle and the Northwest Trade gun are typical of the era.
The musket is the stereotypical weapon of 18th century armies and civilian militias. Ex-military muskets found their way to civilians. Older French model 1717 and later muskets as well as older Long Land British muskets and Dutch muskets as well. The notoriously under-supplied Continental army were often armed with British Land pattern muskets and later French pattern 1766 muskets. The British military and their Hessian mercenaries were mostly equipped with the Land Pattern or Brown Bess musket. It was a 75 caliber musket that shot an undersized 71 caliber ball in a paper cartridge. The French types were 69 caliber loading a 66 caliber ball. As said before, military muskets were loaded via a paper cartridge containing an undersized ball and the service charge of gun powder. The soldier bit off the end of the cartridge, put a small amount of powder in the pan of the flintlock, then he pushed the rest of the cartridge down the barrel with the sturdy iron ramrod under the gun barrel. The best soldiers could get off four rounds per minute. Relentlessly drilling ensured the soldier kept loading and firing even as men died around him or her. Because the musket was loaded with the paper cartridge with an undersized ball in it, it ensured the gun will be fast to load. But it also meant the musket’s ball would only fly predictably to about 50-70 yards. A ball close to bore size would increase accuracy and range at a marked rate but the name of the game was to get off as many shots at the enemy as possible. Aiming at a particular target was not necessary as the musket was fired in line formations at close range. The musket also mounted a socket bayonet so the ordinary infantry could defend against horsemen and could chase an outgunned enemy off the field. The American army perfected smooth-bore musket warfare. Eventually soldiers were taught to actually aim their muskets at a target. Also, the Continental army’s preferred load featured a 69 caliber musket ball loaded with 3-6 buckshot balls. This allowed for an even greater chance of hitting the target at combat distance. Therefore in most of the battles fought in the American Revolution, American wounded and killed were normally somewhat less than those of the British.
Rifles are long guns that have spiral grooves cut inside the barrel. Initially it was to aid in cleaning but it was discovered that when made a certain way the grooves increased accuracy dramatically. German gunsmiths living in colonial America adapted their short barreled big bore Jager style rifles into a long, slender masterpiece known as the Pennsylvania long rifle even though rifles of this type were made all over colonial America. It was smaller caliber than the Jager rifles for more lead conservation and it was longer in barrel too. This increased accuracy even more and allowed for higher velocity too. These homespun creations are the stereotypical weapon of the frontiersmen of the day. Most, however, carried smoothbores. Rifles were great hunting tools, but could not hunt everything well, like birds on the fly. They also costs a man’s yearly wage and this meant that rifles were actually not very common in Colonial America during the Revolutionary War years. With a range of over 300 yards, the Kentucky or Pennsylvania long rifle was far more accurate than the smooth bored musket or fowler. But this accuracy costs alot to achieve. The tight fitting ball had to be hand loaded down the barrel. This took more time and a rifleman could get off about one shot per minute. In reality, the grooves that were meant to aid in cleaning also aided in the bore fowling up with powder residue which means that eventually the gun would be too hard to load and the inside of the barrel would need swabbing out before continuing. The guns also featured long, fragile stocks like fowlers and could not mount a bayonet. This meant the rifle would become a very expensive, fragile club in close combat. In short, the rifle at this time, was not ready for combat. But the great accuracy meant both sides used them for special tasks. American marksmen and colonial militiamen could do much damage to the enemy at ranges normally thought to be safe from enemy fire. Officers commanding troops and men working cannons were no longer safe. Parties sent out to look for the enemy could be annihilated with ease. The 1777 Saratoga campaign was just one instance of rifles being used to battle changing effect. But the enemy also had rifles too. German mercenaries often had units equipped with the famous Jager rifle. These were large bore guns usually bigger than 60 caliber while the American rifle could be just as big but were often in calibers ranging from 32-54. The Jager was a bit more heavily built than the American rifle with very short barrels often as short as twenty-two inches and were often in the hands of experienced hunters in these units, much like their American counterparts. The British had muzzleloading rifles as well but they also had a famous breechloading rifle. The Fergerson rifle. Patrick Fergerson developed his rifle and submitted it to the British military for use in America. It was a big bored weapon that looks much like a military musket but was rifled with a front and rear sight, and it did not load from the muzzle using a ramrod. The triggerguard operated a screw in the back of the gun. Twisting the triggerguard around lowers the screw and the ball and powder put in. Twisting the triggerguard back brings the screw back up and loose powder on top can be pushed into the pan. The gun is loaded. Fergerson had a chance to shoot Gen. George Washington with his rifle but passed up the opportunity as ungentlemanly. Fergerson would later be killed at Kings Mountain in 1780 at the hands of Americans armed with rifles. His rifle was too complicated to make in the early days of industrialization and no more than two hundred were made.