A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth-bore long gun. It is fired from the
shoulder, except for the rare wall guns. They appeared in the 17th century
and were obsolescent by the middle of the 19th, having been superseded by
rifles. Typical calibers ranged from .50 to .75 inch.
The bullets were spherical lead balls (picture) contained in a paper
cartridge which also held the black powder (gunpowder) propellant. The balls
were smaller than the bore, wrapped in a loosely fitting paper patch which
formed the the upper part of the cartridge.
The lower part of the cartridge contained the gunpowder and the two sections
were separated with one's teeth. The gunpowder was loaded first, followed by
the paper from the lower section of cartridge as wadding. Then the ball and
upper piece of cartridge were loaded. Finally, a ramrod was used to compact
the ball and wadding down onto the gunpowder.
In flintlocks, the pan was either filled from a powder flask after loading
the ball, or from the paper cartridge before the bulk of the gunpowder was
poured down the barrel. Following its invention in 1807, muskets started to
be fitted with percussion caps which were much more reliable than
flintlocks, as well as working in the rain.
An experienced user could load and fire at a maximum rate of around 4 shots
Muskets were slow to reload and inaccurate, so army formations typically
deployed musket-men in formations two or three lines deep. The first line
would fire in unison, then drop to their knees to reload, while the lines
behind them fired.
Owing to the musket's inaccuracy, musketmen were not expected to aim at
particular targets. Rather, the objective was to deliver a mass of musket
balls into the enemy line. Soldiers expected to face musket fire were
disciplined to move in precise formations and obey orders unquestioningly.
British troops in particular were reputed to be drilled until they could
perform coolly and automatically in the heat of combat.