Charleville Musket Muzzle-Loading Musket
The Charleville musket served throughout countless conflicts including the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 and the American Revolution.
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The Charleville Musket, gaining its name from it place of manufacturer, this being the French main arsenal in Charleville, France (Champagne-Ardenne region) - was the standard issue flintlock musket of the French Empire throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The original musket was delivered in 1717. She was further developed to become the revised model of 1728, this gun noted for its use of three barrel bands when attaching the barrel to the wooden receiver. In 1740, a steel ramrod was issued to replace the original's wooden form. In 1746, further revisions saw the pan bridle removed from the design. Additional subtle changes would continue for the next few decades until an all-new model was issued beginning in 1763. The 1763 production form was reinforced for the rigors of combat but these additions proved in excess and the added weight to an already unwieldy and long weapon. As such, a revised, lighter version soon followed in 1766. Over the next decade, still more revisions occurred in an effort to produce a better fighting musket. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Charleville Muskets were produced.
Flintlock actions such as the one used on the Charleville design required a great deal of interaction from the operator for he had to first rotate the hinged cock handle (this implement holding the piece of flint rock needed to generate a spark) to "half-cock" to prevent accidental firing of the weapon during loading. The operator then preceded to load the weapon from the muzzle with the gun held vertically and the buttstock on the ground. An amount of black powder was inserted down the barrel and this was followed by the "shot" (or the spherical lead ball) used as the bullet. The bullet was most often times wrapped in a piece of cloth or paper for a tighter fit in the barrel. The operator then utilized a "ramrod" to ram the contents of the barrel down further, moving it ever closer to the critical firing action. With the gun held horizontally now, a small amount of fine gunpowder was deposited inside of the flashpan. The flashpan lid (also known as a "frizzen") was then closed and the weapon was officially made ready to fire. The cock was then set to "full-cock" and the gun's firing was now at the discretion of the operator's trigger pull.
Basic verbal commands to ready and fire dominated the field of the day beginning with "Load Arms!". This was followed by "Open Pans" and then " Handle Cartridge" and "Tear Cartridge". Next up was "Prime" and then "Shut Pans". What followed was "Load", then "Cartridge into Barrel", then "Draw Ramrod" and finally "Ram Down Cartridge". "Return Ramrod" placed the ramrod back into position under the barrel to which then the command to "Shoulder Arms" was given, followed by "Make Ready", "Present" and "Fire!" - all in French of course. The process was repeated over and over through daily training to the point that a single solder could loose off between two and three bullets in a minute.
Of course this entire action was at the mercy of many factors including that of the operators own level of training. Additionally, the moving working parts of the gun would have to be properly maintained while the piece of flint rock used to create the needed spark would have to be in serviceable condition. The gun powder used would have to be as dry as possible and proper amounts would need to be inserted into both the barrel and the flash pan. The ramrod action itself would also need to have had pushed the barrel contents as close to the spark action as possible.
Design of the Charleville was conventional for the time. She was a long gun system with the firing action set within a wooden frame and near the trigger group well aft on the receiver (or gun body). The barrel sat within the frame and was banded at several key points to hold it in place. A ramrod was typically affixed to the underside of the barrel near the muzzle and was integral in the operating action. The wooden frame was thicker near the firing action and the flintlock mechanism was set off to the right side of the receiver. The trigger was held within an oblong ring and the buttstock was integrated into the wooden frame design, featuring a pseudo-ergonomic grip for the firing hand and shoulder. The gun was typically fired using two hands, one set at the trigger to activate the firing action and other set well ahead of the trigger group to hold the barrel upwards and towards the intended target area. The weapon system, as a whole, weighed in at a manageable 10lbs and sported a barrel up to 46.75 inches in length. She was fed through the muzzle making her a "muzzle-loaded" gun. Conversely, later guns of firearms history could be loaded from the rear making them "breech-loaded" guns. Shoulder strap slings were found along the top of the buttstock and under the middle band along the forend.
The Charleville was chambered to fire the .69 lead musket ball. This was conventional ammunition for the time though size varied in terms of the caliber of ball from country to country. For instance, the British Army utilized a .75 ball in their fabled Brown Bess muskets. However, considering that the Charleville made use of a "smoothbore" barrel - this meaning that the barrel interior was smooth and not "rifled" as later firearms would be - the lead ball would rattle and roll its way out of the barrel, seriously affecting its trajectory and velocity once leaving the muzzle. As such, smoothbore muskets maintained a general effective range out to 50 yards if that. This generally meant that firearm battles of the 18th and 19th centuries were relatively close affairs usually (and ultimately) settled by close-in bayonet fighting. It was only later that a threaded barrel interior became the norm for firearms, giving birth to the category name of "rifle" and dramatically increasing the range and accuracy of the musket to well over 200 yards (some sources state as far away as 500 yards). Muskets featuring rifling were aptly categorized as "rifled muskets" and, as time wore on, they became the norm of modern firearms available on the battlefield. Rifled muskets were even in use at the time of the American Civil War, this despite the introduction of rifled, repeating firearms like the Henry series.
To counter the general inaccuracy of first generation muskets, armies generally concentrated their musketeers into groups with infantrymen firing in pre-determined, organized rows. The first row would kneel, aim and fire with the second row, fielding their weapons just overhead, aiming and firing their own "volley". These rows, having had spent their ammunition, would revert to the rear of the formation to reload their weapons whilst a "fresh", ready-to-fire row of infantry would take the frontal position and repeat the firing action. This supplied a consistent field of fire against an equally organized group of targets some distance away. Naturally, flanking maneuvers (engaging an enemy from the sides) were still in play and could prove disastrous against an ill-prepared, ill-equipped enemy formation.
The Charleville Musket maintained an operational tenure stemming from 1717 to 1816. In this span, she was utilized in a variety of French actions including operations throughout the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802), the French Revolution proper (1789-1799), the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and the French and Indian War across modern day Canada (1754-1763). France was heavily involved in anti-British actions in both the American Revolution (1776) and the War of 1812 (1812-1815), siding with the American colony and funding its movements against anything British with French-made weapons like the Charleville - of course this was done through a dummy corporation set up by the French complete with falsified ship logs. It was the French Charleville Musket that would go on to become the basis for the American-made Springfield Musket of 1795, these produced out of the fabled Springfield and Harpers Ferry armories. The first series of Springfield 1795 muskets were, in fact, indistinguishable copies of the Charleville 1766 model.