By William Bell    To recognize the importance of this famous musket, the Springfield Model 1795 was adopted in 1924 as the official U.S. Army infantry insignia and crossed muskets are the badge worn on the uniforms of infantry officers and enlisted men to this day.

Springfield Model 1795 Musket

   2012 marked the beginning the bicentennial of the War of 1812. Sometimes called the “Second War of Independence,” it pitted the fledgling United States against the world’s greatest military power at the time, Great Britain. Since becoming a separate nation, the U.S. was being tried by other world powers and had been involved in conflicts with the Barbary states of North Africa in the Mediterranean (1801) and the Quasi-War with France (1794-1800) following the French Revolution. These conflicts occurred largely at sea, as in both instances the French Navy and the Barbary pirates preyed upon American merchant vessels. Following the American Revolution, the U.S. had abolished its navy because it was considered too expensive, but a small fleet was authorized in 1794, after the Quasi-War began.

The British Royal Navy was also in the habit of stopping U.S. merchant ships and seizing cargo suspected of going to France and/or to impress sailors to serve onboard their warships. The Royal Navy was always short-handed and press gangs prowled coastal cities in Britain looking for able-bodied men to force into sea service. On the high seas, they stopped American ships to look for “deserters” and British subjects, as Great Britain did not recognize naturalized American citizens and the Royal Navy often lurked just outside of U.S. territorial waters waiting for unwary vessels. 

Another problem attributed to Great Britain were the Native American depredations on the northwest frontier that was Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. American settlers came to believe (often with good reason) that British soldiers and Native American agents were goading Native Americans to attack individual homes and small settlements, often killing or taking the inhabitants prisoner. The prisoners were then tortured and killed, made into slaves or used to trade for money, guns or other goods. A confederation led by the Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa “The Prophet” included warriors of the Shawnee, Miami, Winnebago, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Delaware and Wyandot tribes. The confederation was armed by the British, who hoped to use them as allies and to act as a buffer between the American frontier and British Canada.

This Is War

Between the acts of disrespect by the Royal Navy and the Native American raids believed to be prompted by the British, America declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Military actions during the War of 1812 not only occurred on the high seas in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but also in the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. Battles on shore covered an area from the southern regions of Canada to the northwest frontier, the East Coast of the United States and as far south as New Orleans.

One of the early battles of the War of 1812 occurred in the north-central region of the Indiana Territory. It was essentially a search-and-destroy mission against the Native Americans who had aligned themselves with the British and had quickly captured Forts Mackinac, Dearborn (Chicago) and Detroit. Commander of the U.S. Army, General William Henry Harrison, believed the Native American villages along the Mississinewa River in the north-central Indiana Territory were being used as staging areas for attacks against Americans. On November 24, 1812, Lieutenant Colonel John B. Campbell led 600 mounted troops on a secret mission to destroy the Native American encampments on the river. The force that left central Ohio (Greenville) that day was composed of local militia units, plus regulars in the form of U.S. Light Dragoons and mounted infantry. The volunteers carried a variety of weapons, including the famed Pennsylvania or Kentucky longrifles and perhaps a few 1803 Harpers Ferry .54-caliber rifle-muskets, while the Dragoons carried heavy sabers and flintlock “horse pistols.” The standard infantry arm for the U.S. during the period was the Springfield Model 1795 Musket.

Springfield Model 1795 Musket

Specifications
Caliber: .69 • Barrel: 44.68 inches • OA Length: 60 inches • Weight: 10.13 pounds (empty) • Stock: Walnut Sights: Fixed front sight • Action: Flintlock • Finish: White polished steel • Capacity: 1 • MSRP: $1,495

Musket Design

Produced at both the Springfield (Mass-achusetts) and Harpers Ferry (Virginia) arsenals during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Model 1795 was a .69-caliber, smoothbore, flintlock musket modeled after the French Charleville Model 1763/66 musket. The Charleville had been imported in large numbers during the American Revolution so it was a natural progression to base the new nation’s first official musket on such a proven platform. It was called the Springfield, as this was America’s oldest armory. As early as 1800, production also began at the newest armory, Harpers Ferry, however as mass-production techniques were still a number of years away in the future, the muskets were crafted individually, largely by hand, and as they were in constant demand, a number of private arms contractors also produced this musket.

As could be expected, specifications in the muskets varied to a certain degree, but the standard weight was 10 pounds, overall length about 60 inches and the standard barrel length was 44 to 45 inches, while an alternate 42-inch version was made at Harpers Ferry. The original muskets had the bayonet lug on the bottom of the barrel, but it was later moved to the top, an inch or so forward of the barrel band. A long spike bayonet was also standard issue. This was a three-band musket, the front band serving as a nose cap and mount for the half-moon-shaped front sight blade. The second band had a sling swivel, as did the triggerguard extension, and all three bands served to retain the ramrod in its slot on the bottom of the stock forend. The steel buttplate was flat, what we’d call a “shotgun type” today, and all metal surfaces on the musket were polished and left in the “white.” During production of this model some 80,000 were made at the Springfield armory, while about 70,000 were manufactured at Harpers Ferry.

1795 Pedersoli Replica

Today, a replica of the Springfield 1795 Musket is made by Davide Pedersoli in Gardone, Italy. I obtained an example of this fine reproduction from the EMF Company. My sample had a 44.68-inch barrel, a weight of 10.13 pounds and closely followed the description given above. The stock had the look of oil-finished, straight-grain walnut. Utilitarian but attractive, the white steel surfaces were well polished, with the exception of the pan, which was left rough to better retain the fine priming powder. The lock plate was etched with the word “Springfield” about an inch to the rear of the cock and an American eagle above “U.S.” appears below the pan and frizzen. The only other stamps/etchings are the proof marks, serial number, manufacturer information and caliber on the left side of the barrel down near the stock. An overall appraisal of the exterior of the musket revealed outstanding fit and finish, above average wood-to-metal fit and no external blemishes.

Again, like the Charleville, the Springfield Model 1795 Musket was in .69 caliber (17.5 mm) and had a smoothbore barrel. The British and their allies carried the famous Brown Bess musket, which was .75 caliber, and both it and the Charleville had an effective range of 50-75 yards, with 100 yards being “iffy.” The smaller .69 was reputed to be slightly more accurate and have a bit longer effective range than the .75, thus giving the Americans a perceptible advantage in range over the British. 

The standard powder charge for the .69 was 80 grains of FFg blackpowder, and for my Pedersoli-made musket I ordered some lead balls in .672 caliber from Track of the Wolf, in Elk River, Minnesota, so that I could use a cloth patch. Musket balls were made smaller than the bore size so that they could be loaded more easily once the barrel began to foul with powder residue. Rapid fire was more important than accuracy when armies faced each other across a battlefield and fired volley after volley at one another before ending the fight with a bayonet charge. The balls I was shooting weighed an average of 450 grains, while the .75 balls of the Brown Bess weighed about 680 grains. The powder and ball together were fashioned into a paper cartridge for use in the field. The bottom of the cartridge was bitten off and a pinch of powder poured into the pan, the rest into the muzzle; the ball was rammed on top of it, paper and all, which acted as a wad to keep the ball from rolling out. A popular cartridge had a ball and three or more buckshot; this was called “buck and ball.” It increased hit probability.

At The Range

I’d mixed my cotton patches with Crisco shortening, and had my powder, flints and balls. Arriving at the range, I put a target stand down at 25 yards and attached a big 17-inch-diameter bullseye target with a red aiming circle. I’d already swabbed out the barrel and checked the vent hole, so I was ready to load. I measured out 80 grains of Goex FFg powder and dumped it into the muzzle. It was followed by the patch, then I laid the big .69-caliber ball atop it, the sprue pointed downward. Ramming it home, I took a small powder flask of Goex FFFg powder, pulled the hammer back to the first click and primed the pan, snapping the frizzen down into place. Using a post to steady the musket, I pulled the hammer fully to the rear, centered the front sight over the breech plug of the barrel, centering it on the red aiming circle, and pressed the trigger. The sparks flew—there was a quick sizzle sound, then kaboom!

Through the smoke I saw that the shot had hit dead center. I repeated the process four more times and swabbed out the barrel every other shot. The holes in the target spread out to a five-shot group that measured a bit over 13.5 inches, and all stayed within the bullseye. It was starting to sprinkle rain, so I took a silhouette target down to 50 yards and fired three shots at it before the clouds opened up. I used the upper chest, just below the neck, as an aiming point after my first shot went low to about the left kidney area. The other two were in the boiler room with the neck hold.

I was impressed with Pedersoli’s rendition of this classic battle rifle. Surely I would not want to stand at 50-75 yards away and be shot at with the 1795 musket!

For More Information:

EMF Company, Inc. 800-430-1310; emf-company.com

Goex Powder 913-362-9455; goexpowder.com

Track Of The Wolf 763-633-2500; trackofthewolf.com

This article originally published in AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN®  2014-#158 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN®  magazine are available here