Harpers Ferry / Springfield Model 1795
The Model 1795 musket was the first musket to be produced in the United States, production handled by the Springfield and Harpers Ferry armories.
Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited:
The Model 1795 was a smooth-bore, single-shot, flintlock-based musket and the first such weapon system to be produced within the United States. She found her way into some of the notable and important American conflicts of her time including the War of 1812 between America and the British Empire, the Mexican War and the Civil War. She would also be taken along by members of the American expedition led by Lewis and Clark during 1803-1806. Use of the Model 1795 was recorded as late as 1865 for the southern Confederate forces were still fielding her during the American Civil War.
The French Influence
Development of the Model 1795 came about from America's heavy reliance on the French-made Charleville Model 1763/66 musket during the American Revolutionary War against the British. The aptly-named Model 1763 was introduced in 1763 and the improved Model 1766 soon followed. The weapon was produced out of the Charleville arsenal in the Champagne-Ardennes region.
With the American colonies rebelling against their British masters - a historically natural enemy to the nation of France - the French government reveled in the chance to assist the colonies. Commitments were made for the delivery of thousands of arms, munitions and supplies through often times dubious political means (mind you France was not, herself, directly or openly at war with the British Empire at the time, so steps needed to be taken to ensure the status quo). False companies were set up, ship logs were falsified and drop shipments were scheduled with American couriers. One of the products of note - and soon to be available in some number - became the Charleville Model 1766 musket. The availability of the Charleville Model 1766 (it went on to make up a large portion of American armories during the 1776 revolution) soon led to its use by thousands of American rebels and the country's exposure to the musket led to it being naturally selected as the starting point for a new American-made musket - the Model 1795.
The Model 1795
In 1776, a miniscule arms depot was set up near Springfield, Massachusetts, and some forty workers outputted approximately 245 firearms in their first year of operation. The establishment would become officially recognized as a national armory by the American Congress in 1794 and came to be known as the fabled "Springfield Armory" - the first armory christened in the United States. Their first production musket became the new "Model 1795" of which some 80,000 examples would be delivered in all by this institution. The upcoming "Harpers Ferry" armory of eastern West Virginia added to the production total beginning in 1801, responsible for a further 70,000 examples. Production of the musket in all forms and by all makers ran from 1795 to 1818. Demand for the musket was such that production of the weapon often lagged to sufficiently supply its requirements but both armories would nevertheless become instrumental in the ultimate "arming of America".
Model 1795 Walk-Around
The Model 1795 was of a typically slender musket design dominated by a long metal smooth-bore barrel set into a wooden frame. The wooden body of the gun formed the forward grip, the receiver containing all necessary functions and furniture and the stock with a slightly integrated pistol grip. She sported a triple-banded design with a pair of underslung shoulder sling loops, one positioned just ahead of the trigger guard and the other just under the second band. The ramrod was held underneath the forward end of the barrel and the operator loaded the musket from the muzzle. The firing functions were conventionally fitted to the right side of the body and consisted of the cocking arm holding the flint and the arm held above the flash pan. The trigger was held under the main portion of the body and protected with an oblong trigger ring. The caliber of the musket ball was .69.
Basics of the Flintlock Action
The firing action of flintlock muskets required the use of a sharp-edged flint rock. The flint was held in an adjustable clamp atop the cocking arm and the whole installation (called the "cock" due to its resemblance to a bird's beak) was hinged to swing at its base. The cock was set to "half-cock" and the gun was loaded by the operator. Black powder was dropped down the barrel followed by the shot (or ball) most often times wrapped in cloth to prevent it from moving about in the barrel. All contents were "rammed" down by way of the ramrod to ensure their proper placement. The flash pan was primed with finely-ground gunpowder and its "frizzen", or lid, was closed. The cock was now pulled back to "full-cock" and a safety lock was released. When the trigger was pulled, this released the cocking arm and sent it scraping against the steel frizzen, briefly opening up the flash pan containing the prime charge. The resulting shower of sparks generated from the flint-against-the-frizzen were collected in the flash pan, igniting the prime charge. This powder sent its flash through a touchhole vent into the primary combustion chamber, igniting the gunpowder in the barrel. The exploding gunpowder then forced the ball through the only open avenue - the muzzle end of the barrel. Paper cartridges were eventually added to the mix, containing the powder charge and ball in one convenient paper envelope, in effect reducing the number of required steps somewhat.
This method of firing replaced the complicated "wheel lock", "doglock" and "matchlock" systems and would remain the method of choice for firearm manufacturers for the next 200 years until itself replaced by the percussion cap.
The Model 1795 weighed in at a manageable 10lbs and featured a unwieldy 60-inch length (made even longer by the inclusion of the 16-inch bayonet) and showcased a barrel measuring between 42- and 45-inches in length. Long barrels were a necessity for such smoothbore weapon systems for they allowed some level of accuracy to be attained. Essentially, the .69 musket ball traveled the distance inside of the smooth-walled barrel, rotating every which way before leaving the barrel. At the very least, the barrel helped to start a rather contained trajectory path. However, once the ball had left the muzzle, it was prone to many unexpected "interruptions" whilst in flight, hence the inherent inaccuracy of such systems. It was not until the "rifled" barrel became a proven alternative that the smoothbore was more-or-less finally laid to rest.
Like other muskets, the Model 1795 lacked much accuracy at targets out to 100 yards. In fact, many muskets were only truly accurate within 50 to 75 yards or less. As such, armies generally fielded concentrations of "musketman" (as opposed to riflemen) to help improve such numbers. The Model 1795 did report an effective range out to 200 yards but this would most likely require optimal conditions, a trained eye, steady hand and a standing target of some size. Nevertheless, the American Model 1795 used a ball that was smaller than the British .75. This often times gave the Americans a distinct advantage in range and accuracy over the British and their Brown Bess muskets, particularly in the War of 1812.
A trained operator could let loose about 2 or 3 musket balls per minute. Expertly-trained personnel could reload a ball in about 15 seconds. This was a respectable rate (by modern standards) considering the lengthy action of the reloading process itself and the fact that reloading would often times be done whilst under enemy fire. Armies generally fielded their musketmen in formations at least several rows deep - usually three - with the front row kneeling. This allowed all members of the formation to fire a volley towards the enemy, increasing accuracy and applying a concentrated show of firepower to a target area, while retaining a third row with a ready to fire musket, allowing the previous rows a chance to reload. The British Army was the first to use only two ranks deep and developed its "platoon fire" method, ensuring a sustained and concentrated rate-of-fire on the enemy at all times.
The bayonet was developed to replace the use of pikemen on the battlefield. Pikemen served formations well by protecting them from backbreaking cavalry charges. Once the bayonet was affixed to the musket, the pikeman was essentially a vision of history. The bayonet not only defended formations from cavalry charges but could also prove useful in the follow-up bayonet charges against "unbroken" enemy formations. Enemy formations needed to be "broken" by musketmen so as to unleash the cavalry upon them in a final death blow. The bayonet fitted to the end of a musket could allow for such actions while keeping the operator at a safe distance away from his prey. The Model 1795 used a typical bayonet fitting that allowed the instrument to fit around the muzzle - the result became a weapon of substantial length, somewhat ill-suited for close-in combat.
The Model 1795 in the Civil War
During the American Civil War, Confederate forces converted the Model 1795 to percussion-based firing systems whenever possible. However, limited resources often meant that many of the Model 1795s fielded in the conflict were still operating in their old flintlock musket fashion. Regardless, this meant that the Model 1795 was in operation for some seventy years since her inception.