Blunderbuss Short-Barreled, Short-Ranged Musket
From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the Blunderbuss proved a popular weapon for its intimidating appearance and man-stopping capability.
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The Blunderbuss (born of the Dutch word "Donderbus", appropriately meaning "Thunder Pipe" or "Thunder Gun") came to prominence in the early part of the 18th Century (1701-1800) and was more akin to the modern day shotgun than a "long gun" musket or heavy pistol of the time. As such, she excelled in close-in fighting, be it within the confines of naval warfare or walled nature of the urban environment, where her spread of shot could inflict maximum damage to targets at close ranges. Its manageable size, coupled with its spread shot, ensured some level of accuracy for even the novice user and its appearance was rather intimidating to those unfortunate enough to be staring down the business end. As with modern shotgun
firearms, the Blunderbuss also made for an excellent security-minded weapon and soon found popularity amongst all matter of operators - military, civilian and, of course, criminal parties - by the middle of the 1700s. Even George Washington championed the Blunderbuss for Continental Army "Dragoon" units of the burgeoning American military as opposed to the carbine musket
- a "carbine
" this being nothing more than a full-featured long gun of lesser overall length, proving suitable for horse-mounted handling. In fact, the short-form version of the Blunderbuss came to be known as the "Dragon", giving rise to the term "Dragoon" for such gun-wielding cavalrymen. Dragoons went on to form specialized units of mounted infantrymen within their respective armies during the end of the 17th Century and into the middle of the 18th Century - in a way, becoming an evolutionary step of the fabled mounted knight of the Middle Ages. Their use of Dragons soon gave way to the widely-accepted carbine musket. The Blunderbuss was also known as the "Blunderbess".
The Blunderbuss existed in two distinctly notable forms - a short, pistol
-like form (the aforementioned "Dragon") and the more identifiable medium-sized, shotgun-like version. Both versions were muzzle-loading firearms - that is, loaded from the barrel end as opposed to an open breech at the rear of the gun body. Blunderbuss operation was actuated by a flintlock
arrangement requiring use of a swiveling "cock" that held a piece of flint stone. Loading involved filling the barrel with an appropriate level of gunpowder, forcing cotton wadding down the barrel and adding shot (lead balls) before finally stamping the contents down with the supplied ramrod. Shot could be made up of lead balls or any sort of projectile that easily fit the caliber of the barrel. Gunpowder was then supplied to the open pan along the side of the gun body and the weapon was "cocked" for firing. With a pull of the trigger, the cock-containing flint was scrapped against a metal fixture to generate sparks, these sparks falling into the pan of gunpowder and igniting the contents within. The force of the internal explosion would send the projectiles out of the flared end of the barrel in a "spread" fashion.
Construction of Blunderbusses, of course, varied throughout its decades of use and each were based on regional construction methods, user requirements and field usage. Some were completed with brass barrels while others were finished with steel versions and, still others, particularly navalized versions, were covered over in heavy protective finishes to help combat the corrosive effects of the salty sea against the temperamental wood and metal construction of these guns.