The 17th Regiment of U.S. Infantry

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17th US Infantry Handbook
Weapons and Equipment

Musket, Bayonet & Sword

The basic weapon of the infantry was the model 1795 musket and the variations that were produced untill the first significant new models were introduced in the postwar period. The basic musket is .69 caliber, approximately 5 feet in length and weighs nearly nine pounds. It is a copy of the French model of 1763, a musket supplied by the French to the American army in significant numbers. This pattern of banded musket was retained in service through the flint lock period.

The auxiliary weapon to the musket was the bayonet. The bayonet had a blade of about 15 to 16 inches welded into an "L" shaped shank and socket by which it fitted over the muzzle. The socket was retained in place by a short stub attached to the top of the musket barrel, which fitted in a double "L" shaped slot in the socket. When not in use, the bayonet was kept in a scabbard carried on a shoulder belt. Earlier experments with permanently attached bayonets had not been successful.

Cartridges were made in arsenals and shipped to the army in kegs or boxes. Shipping records indicate that they may have been packed by the dozen since some receipts refer to dozen quantities of musket ball cartridges. Cartridges were also made up in the field when necessary. Shipping receipts show quantities of ball, buckshot, powder and cartridge paper as well as pig lead and molds sent to the Northwest Army.

Cartridges are made by wrapping a strip of paper, about 3 inches square, around a short wooden dowel called the former. This makes a short paper tube,, which originally wound have been pasted to form the tube. Withdrawing the former about 1/2 inch, twist one end closed (paste may be used instead of twisting, but glue is prohibited by some safety regulations). For a live cartridge, a ball or shot would now be inserted. The projectile and the twisted end are now tied off with thread. Finally, the measured powder charge is poured into the remaining tube and is sealed by folding and pasting, or twisting and tieing. Blank cartridges are made similarly but are usually folded, not tied, for reenacting. Whatever method in used, the prime safety rule for reenacting is: "Never"" put any solid object, other than powder, in your musket unless instructed to do so; . Paper cartridges may, on occasion, be safely rammed down and fired. Ramming of charges is generally not done during an opposing sides demonstration because of the possible accidental discharge of a ramrod of other foreign object.

It is also because of this danger that bayonets and not usually fixed for firing or battle. A loose fitting bayonet will permit an accumulation of powder between the socket and barrel. Firing with this condition results in an explosion that causes the bayonet to be launched as a projectile, as well as splitting the socket and damaging the musket. Secondly, maneuvers on uneven ground with fixed bayonets could result in an accidental fall with fatal or serious injury.

The other weapon carried by soldiers id the sword, which by this time was carried primarily as an indication of rank. Of the enlisted ranks, swords were carried only by sergeants and drummers. The regulations specify that they are to be of a cut and thrust blade( i.e., curved) with white (iron) fittings. This type of sword is known as a hanger, and was on no specific pattern. There are several known contracts for sergeants swords at this time for which pattern swords are known. Official model designations for this type of sword did not occur untill the post war period.

The typical sword blade was about 26 to 28 inches in length. They were fullered, to reduce weight and strengthen the blade. The blade was usually slightly curved, but straight blades were being introduced by the end of the war. The scabbard was black leather with a brass throat and tip, with a stud on the throat for attachment to the shoulder belt, which was also the bayonet belt. Steel scabbards were also used by some contractors, but were rare because of the difficulty of production and higher cost.

The guard was usually of a "D" form, not the exaggerated "P" form that was popular in post war periods. It was cast in iron or steel for infantry, although the use of brass hilts would not be unusual , despite regulations. Shortages may have caused the use of many non-regulation items, much as cloth shortages caused changes in uniforms.

The pommel of the sword, if present, was of a "pillow" style, a carry over from the 18th century. A similar, earlier type of pommel was the "urn"style, which had gone out of fashion by this time. A simplification of the war time production reduced the pommel to a threaded nut that was screwed into the end of the tang.

The grip of the sword was of wood, sometimes dyed to resemble ebony. It was either checkered or ribbed to provide a gripping surface. Or some were leather covered to further provide the grip. Some swords for militia and mounted troops were also wrapped with twisted wire.

Musket Accessories

The process of operating and maintaining a flintlock musket in the field and in combat required specialized tools that were carried by every soldier.. Flints were the basic item needed to make the weapon work. Spare flints, wrapped in a sheet lead "cap" were carried in the cartridge box, ready for quick use to replace a broken or dull flint during battle. In order to change the flint, it was necessary to have a turn key, a type of screwdriver, or musket tool with a screwdriver edge to loosen and tighten the jaw holding the flint. The musket tool could also be used as a percussion tool to knap the edge of a flint in order to re sharpen it.

Another tool necessary to maintain firing is the pick and brush(or whisk). These are carried on a chain attached to either the cartridge box strap or hanging from a button attached by a wire hook. The pick, or priming wire, is used to clear the touch hole when it becomes clogged by burnt powder. The brush is used to clean burnt powder from the pan and vent area.

The main tool used in cleaning the bore of the musket is called the worm. It is threaded to fit on the small end of the ramrod. Loose linen fibres called "tow" were then wrapped around the prongs of the worm. This was then wetted and used as a sponge to run up and down the bore untill it was clean. Dry tow would then be used to remove the moisture, and finally, oil could be used to prevent rust, if the musket was not to be reloaded. Another use for the worm was to remove charges from the barrel. The prongs of the worm could be used to catch the cartridge and then withdraw it from the barrel. Soldiers returning from guard duty were usually ordered to withdraw their charges so that they would not be caring around a loaded musket in the barracks or camp. The ball would be turned into the quartermaster to be reused.

If the worm could not remove the cartridge, another tool called a breech screw or ball puller was used. This also screwed into the ramrod. It consisted of a turned base ,sized to fit the musket bore, with a pointed screw end on one side. It was thrust down the musket bore, and stuck into the ball, fixing it to the screw. The rammer was then withdrawn, hopefully with the ball stuck on the screw end. Several tries might be necessary to fix the ball to the screw due to the softness of the lead ball.

The worm, pick and brush, musket tool and tow were carried by every soldier. Breech screws were only carried by NCO's, along with an oil bottle for their mess unit. These items may be stored in the lower compartment of the cartridge box, except as previously noted.

Another item which was not always issued with the musket was the sling. Post war reports note that they were frequently removed as they were of little value in service. A notation was made that if the sling is removed, the swivels should also be removed. This may account for the swivels often being absent from specimens of original muskets.

There are no known specifications or examples of the sling, so one must be invented. Based on later examples, the sling should be of black leather, about 36 inches in length and wide enough to fit through the swivels. There may be a buckle, but later examples do not have one. There should be one loop sewn to the upper end through which the sling passes to form a circle. The lower end forms another loop through the lower swivel and is secured by tieing a thong through eyelet's punched in the sling. A sliding keeper on the upper loop of the sling provides the means of length adjustment.

A final accessory for the musket is a muzzle stopper or tompion. This was a wooden plug inserted into the muzzle to keep out moisture and foreign objects. Later pattern American muskets were issued with them. They do not appear on the supply lists for this period. They are such a functional item , however, it is difficult to believe there was no substitute. Some other things that could be used are an oily rag rolled into a plug, or a plug made of dry grass. In any case, such an item should never be places into the muzzle of a loaded musket. A discharge with this obstruction could result in a split barrel.

One other item that is worth mentioning is the wooden or practice flint. For drill purposes, the regular flint is removed from the musket jaws, and the wooden flint is substituted.This enables the musket to fully function( except for firing) during the drill without wearing down the steel of the battery, (a.k.a. the frizzen). It is important fir the drill instructor to hear the click of the musket firing to determine if the squad is firing in unison. Wooden flints are simply small squares of hardwood, approximately the same size as a musket flint. They are easily made from scrap wood, and were probably made up as needed in the field from boxes and barrels used for shipping.

Safety Devices

The handling and firing of a flintlock musket creates several dangerous conditions. Accidental discharges can occur if the flint accidentally falls, striking the steel and throws sparks into the pan causing the musket to fire. This can happen in several ways, such as a worn half-cock notch in the tumbler of the lock allowing the flint to fall when jarred. A somewhat anachronistic solution to this problem has been the development of the hammer stall. As it's name implies, it prevents the hammer from working.

It is simply a thick leather cover that slips over the steel, covering it and preventing the flint from striking. Although there are contemporary references to hammer stalls, these appear to mean some sort of lock cover to keep out moisture. The reference in Duane's Military Dictionary has hammer stalls used by guards to preserve their arms. The device seems to be a modern invention, but a requirement for safety.

The other safety device in use is the flash guard. This is a sheet of metal, usually brass, attached to the frizzen screw and bent around the pan so as to deflect the blast upward. This is very important when firing in close ranks. The blast from the vent of the musket contains hot particles shot out by back pressure of the explosion. Normally the man to the right of the musket would be burned by this, as many contemporary accounts report. To prevent this, flash guards are mandatory.

There are original flash guards from the late 18th century that have been copied. Although they only had limited use originally, flash guards are standard for todays reenactor. They can be removed easily for any "authentic" display of photo.

Cartridge Box

The standard cartridge bow at this time is the model 1808. It is a leather pouch, formed over a wooden block to fit a standard sized cartridge block and tin tray. The block is drilled for 24- .69 caliber rounds.(@ 11/16 inch). 12 additional rounds were stored in the compartment below the block along with the flints, tow, and cleaning worm. Access to the tray's center compartment came through a flap in the front of the pouch. This is where the flints could be stored for easy reach. Cartridges in the two side compartments could be reached by inserting two fingers through the flap opening and lifting the block out of the pouch. This was probably the method used in battle, with the block being discarded when empty.

36 rounds was the amount of ammunition that could be contained in a standard sized cartridge box. However, 60 rounds seems to be the standard issue per soldier for campaigns. Extra rounds may have been carried in pockets, haversacks or special bags made up for this purpose. They are not to be carried in the knapsack as Gen. Scott's orders made clear. In addition, each brigade had a reserve supply of ammunition in carts or wagons that accompanied them on the march. Even this was not always enough, as in the battle of Lundy's Lane in which the length of the engagement depleted the reserves, and the confusion of battle delayed the wagons.

The cartridge box was carried on the right hip, suspended by a leather belt over the left shoulder. The belt was to be of blackened leather, 2 1/2 inches wide and 66 inches in length, tapering to 3/4 inch straps on each end to secure it to buckles on the bottom of the box. Actual measurements of originals, and wartime correspondence indicate the use of slightly narrower belts, ranging in width form 2 to 2 1/4 inches. This was allowed for contractors in order to conserve leather and money.

While it appears that most of the wartime production was black leather, there was use of whitened, buff leather for shoulder belts in the period 1808-1812 and post war Some commanders, desirous of the whitened belts , ordered their troops to paint their black belts white. While this may seem ridiculous, it appears to have been a common practice in American Militia units to create a cheep, uniform military appearance. Many examples of painted belts exist in museum and private collections. Since the blackened method consisted of applying an external coating rather than dye, The process was very similar to painting.

Bayonet Carrage & Scabbard

Like the cartridge box, the 1801 bayonet carriage was made of blackened harness leather, or occasional whitened leather. Bayonet scabbards were always black. And like the cartridge box, the width of the belt was to be 2 1/2 inches but was also made in slightly narrow widths. It was made in two segments attached to the frog. The longer, upper segment had a loop keeper attached to the end to align the lower end for attachment. The lower segment end was punched to receive the studs of the belt plate to fasten the belt and provide for adjustment of length.

The frog segment was of a double frog design, a carry over from the Revolutionary period. Usually only the forward section was used for the scabbard, but the rear was also available for carrying other objects, such as tomahawks or knives, if permitted. The sergent was able to use this for his sword, with the bayonet being carried in the rear section. Drummers, likewise used this as a sword carriage.

The frog was made of one piece, doubled over and sewn. The stitch used on the backside was the cross-stitch, resembling an "X", while retaining a double row of straight stitches on the front. Regular straight stitches secures the ends of the shoulder straps to the frog. Both the frog and the shoulder belts had a narrow line tooled around the edges.

The bayonet scabbard was made of lighter leather, sewn down the flat or the blade with a simple butt stitch. It was fitted to the bayonet wet after sewing to insure a snug fit. The hook for attachment to the frog was riveted to the right side of the scabbard so that it placed the shank and socket toward the body of the soldier to prevent interference with the musket. The scabbard was finished with a small, cast brass tip sewn into the end. This was to prevent the point from piercing through the end of the scabbard when the bayonet was inserted.

The other item included in this set was the oval, brass plate that attached the two segments of the shoulder belt. While it had come to be an ornate plate in European armies, it remained unadorned in the US. It was originally intended to be of white metal like the buttons of the infantry, but expediency kept it brass. Some post war plates were made with eagles and US embossed on them, as well as being made in white metal. But wartime production was all brass.

The plates were cast with two soldered studs on one end, and a hook on the other. The plate was attached to the belt by peening the stud over an oval brass washer through holes in the belt. The hook went through a hole in the upper belt segment, punched after centering the plate over the chest where the two shoulder belts intersect.

Although there is no documentation, It has been a practice to pass the shoulder belt of the cartridge box under the belt plate and fasten it. This centered the two belts for a better military appearance.

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