Intro There is no doubt that firearms have shaped the history of the United States. These tools of metal and wood are constantly argued about and, to some, are essential to liberty. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, debated and analyzed for years, reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. The United States Infantry forces, or the ground forces of the U.S. Army, have carried many different weapons throughout history. Here's a look at the weapons that the men and women who have fought wars have carried throughout the years.
1775 Brown Bess Musket WEIGHT: 10.5 lbs RANGE: 50-100 yds ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 3-4 depending on skill "This Long Land Pattern Brown Bess Musket was made about 1770 and is the type used by the British Army during the American Revolution." said David Miller of the Smithsonian Institute of American History A flintlock musket, the Brown Bess used a piece of flint attached to a metal holder (the cock -- so-named because it looked like the beak of a rooster holding the stone) and a piece of curved steel. When the trigger was pulled, the flint would run along the steel creating sparks. The sparks would (hopefully) land in the flashpan, in which there was a small amount of black powder next to a hole that led into the main barrel. If the small amount of powder lit, the larger charge would (again, hopefully) also be set alight. The Brown Bess was a musket, which means it loaded from the muzzle, and fired a .70-caliber, or 7/10 of an inch in diameter, lead ball. Long and heavy, it was a weapon for both middle-distance and close-quarters fighting. A triangle-shaped bayonet allowed for spearing the enemy, and the large size and heavy stock allowed the men to use it to club, stab and fight in face-to-face combat.
1775 Charleville Musket WEIGHT: 10 lbs RANGE: Effective: 50-75, Max: 100-200 yds ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 2-3 depending on skill The Model 1763 Charleville Musket, made in France, was the type of musket used by the Continental Army during the American Revolution. It is a .72-caliber flintlock designed in France. However, in an advance over the Brown Bess, the Charleville was one of the first weapons with barrel bands. The bands held the steel barrel to the wooden stock. Using bands allowed the weapon to be more easily disassembled, cleaned and maintained. "The Charleville musket served as the pattern for the first muskets produced in U.S. government arsenals in 1795," Miller told Discovery News.
Model 1842 U.S. Percussion Musket WEIGHT: 10 lbs RANGE: 50-75, Max: 100-200 yds ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 2-3 depending on skill "The Model 1842 was the first regulation musket produced in U.S. arsenals using the percussion system," said Miller, "It fired a .69-caliber ball and instead of a flintlock and used a small copper cap containing mercury fulminate to ignite the powder in the barrel." This was the first musket in American history to not use the flint-and-steel ignition system. Instead, the U.S. Infantry would be issued firearms with percussion caps. The cap was a small piece of explosive material placed over a nipple that led into the chamber. When the musket was loaded, the soldier could pull back the hammer, place a cap over the nipple and pull the trigger to smash the cap and fire the gun. The idea is much like a cap gun of today. Apart from their firing mechanisms, this was the first time a U.S. armory had produced a weapon with all machine-made parts. Prior to this, most weapons were made by hand meaning each was similar, but unique. With the 1842 model musket, the parts were now interchangeable, allowing for faster repairs and increased versatility for gunsmiths.
Model 1855 U.S. Percussion Rifle WEIGHT: 9 lbs RANGE: Effective: up to 500 yds, Max: 1000 yards ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 2-3 As technology and industry improved, so did the weapons and the U.S. Infantry needed better, more accurate firepower. Rifling wasn't new in 1855, however, "this was the first general issue rifle in the U.S. military," said Miller. Even with rifling, accurate weapons in the hands of inexperienced soldiers was an issue. To increase the accuracy further, a new type of shot would be used called the Minié ball. Shaped a little more like a modern bullet, the .58-caliber Minié ball was made of soft lead and was designed to expand slightly during firing, causing the lead to fill the rifled grooves in the barrel and spin, increasing the accuracy. Inventor Edward Maynard proposed a new system called the Maynard tape primer. The system worked much like a cap gun of the 20th century. The caps were fed from a magazine over a nipple, eliminating the need to carry a separate box of caps. However, Miller said, "even as the U.S. adopted the Maynard system, the British were learning it did not work well in combat in the Crimean War." In the field the system failed often, and though implemented in the Model 1855, it was removed in the following iteration. The Model 1855 rifle pictured is seven inches shorter than the regulation Model 1855 Rifle-Musket.
Model 1861 U.S. Percussion Rifle Musket WEIGHT: 9 Lbs RANGE: Effective: up to 400 yds, Max: 1000 yards ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 2-3 "The Model 1861 was the standard musket in use during the Civil War," said Miller. "The elimination of the Maynard percussion system was a major improvement (and) it fired the 58-caliber Minié bullet." The Maynard tape system was scrapped as a failed experiment but the M1861 was essentially the same weapon as the M1855, The Springfield Armory (and partners) produced over one million M1861s. The American Civil War was on, and the U.S. Army needed the added weaponry to win the war. It was one of the first mass-produced weapons in U.S. history. The large caliber Minié ball, paired with the triangular shaped bayonet contributed to highest body-counts of any American conflict. These two weapons of war, combined with the lack of proper medical facilities, caused many Americans on both sides to die of disease or infection.
Model 1873 Springfield "Trapdoor" WEIGHT: 9 Lbs RANGE: Effective: up to 400 yds, Max: 1000 yards ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 10+ (depending on skill) With the Civil War behind us, the Americans looked to westward expansion, and in the long period from 1873 until 1892 the "Trapdoor Springfield" was the U.S. Infantry's best friend, mostly. In the years since the 1861 model the paper cartridge has finally given way to a full "bullet" as we'd recognize it today. The major difference here is a self-contained cartridge, no complex pouring, ramming or firing procedure was needed. The operation, described by Miller was this: "A thumb latch allowed the breech block to open and pivot forward and a metallic cartridge was inserted and fired. " Though still single-shot and black powder, the rifle performed admirably for the most part. At first, to save money, the Army issued copper cartridges which expanded and were caught in the breech making the rifle functionally useless. Unfortunately, the Army realized their mistake too late. Col. Custer and his men were using the .45-70 Springfield during the battle of Little Big Horn, and each copper cartridge caught in the barrel was devastating to their position. Eventually, Custer and his men lost the battle and were killed. After this disastrous loss, the Army ponied up for brass cartridges and added mandatory rifle practice of twice a week. A significant bump from the twice a month mandated previously.
Krag-Jørgensen Model 1892 WEIGHT: 9 Lbs RANGE: Effective: up to 900 yds ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 1-5 round magazine The Krag offered many advances over the old Trapdoors, and was the first standard-issue repeating rifle used by the U.S. Army. Each weapon could accept five rounds into a small magazine box and then fire these repeatedly, to the chagrin of some of the accounting officers. The firearm was used in a few conflicts at the end of the 19th-century was quite accurate, and had the newer, smokeless, gunpowder. However, even with these updates, "the Krag proved to be no match for the Spanish Mauser rifles during the Spanish American War." said Miller. At the time the U.S. Army was late to adopt many new technologies, and while this may be the first standard-issue repeating weapon, the technology had been around for a long time already.
Springfield Model 1903 WEIGHT: 8.7 Lbs RANGE: Effective: 656 yds, Max: 1,200 yds ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 15 "Based upon the German Mauser, the ’03 Springfield was a vast improvement over the Krag rifle with a less complicated mechanism, a better magazine, and better .30-06 ammunition. " said Miller. The U.S. Army might have been slow to adopt new technology, but around the turn of the last century, the government began to re-tool weapons to copy better designs. The major advantage in the 1903 design was the stripper clips, which allowed the soldiers to fire much more quickly, as well as the redesigned shell with a pointed bullet -- still popular today. The ’03 Springfield saw service from 1905 through the early stages of the Vietnam War.
M1 Garand WEIGHT: 8.7 Lbs RANGE: Effective: 656 yds, Max: 1,200 yds ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 15 After the long life of the 1903 Springfield, the U.S. Army adopted the M1 Garand in 1936. Miller said, "The M1 was the first general issue semi-automatic rifle in the world." Finally, the U.S. Army was at the forefront of technology in the theater of war. Replacing the '03 Springfield the M1 Garand was called "the greatest battle implement ever devised" by General George S. Patton. Unfortunately, the '03 and the M1 served alongside each other for many years as the federal armories in the United States were having trouble making enough M1's. "The M1 was loaded with an 8 round en bloc clip;" Miller said, "the clip pops out with a distinctive >ping< when empty and another can be quickly inserted." The M1 saw service in World War II, Korea, and to a limited extent in Vietnam.
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M14 Rifle WEIGHT: 9.8 lb (empty), 11.5 lb (loaded) RANGE: Effective: 500 yds, Max: 875+ yds ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 700–750 Starting in 1970 the M14 Rifle became the standard issue weapon in the U.S. Army. It's based on the M1 Rifle, but has a variety of improvements. First, they experimented with the M1, adding fully-automatic capability -- meaning holding down the tigger releases round after round, rather than one per trigger-pull. They also experimented with different barrel lengths, cartidge calibers and magazeine sizes. The final version was more versatile and more powerful than the M1, but not as well received during the conflicts of the middle-20th century. The wood stock had a tendency to swell in humid environments like Vietnam and Laos. Plus, the increased weight and longer barrel made it unwieldy for jungle fighting, while the automatic firing was basically uncontrollable. The M14 was used through the Vietnam conflict and into the 1990s.
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M16 Rifle WEIGHT: 7 lbs (empty), 8.8 lb (loaded) RANGE: Point: 600 yds, Area: 880 yds ROUNDS PER MINUTE: 12–15 rounds/min sustained, 45–60 rounds/min semi-automatic, 700–950 rounds/min cyclic "Base upon the ArmaLite AR-15 rifle, the M16 is made of steel, aluminum alloy, and polymer plastics and is much lighter than any previous U.S. infantry rifle." said Miller. The M16 was approved for use by the military in 1963 and standardized and adopted in 1967 meaning it served alongside the M14 and in some cases the M1. The M16 has a detachable magazine and can be fired as a semi-automatic or automatic rifle, much like the M14 before it. The best feature of the M16 is its overwhelming versatility. The weapon, with a variety of sizes and configurations, can be tailored to to fit different needs on the battlefield. For example, the non-wood stock will never swell in humidity, and a shorter (carbine) version can be issued as the terrain requires. It can also accept attachments like grenade launchers, bayonets, lights and advanced optics. The M16 began use in the late-60s and continues use around the world today.
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