Friday, November 24, 2006
Guns of the American Revolution: Setting the Record Straight
HISTORYAs any student of the American Revolution quickly comes to realize, the key to understanding the tactics and even the strategy of that conflict in large measure lies in knowledge of the kinds of weapons employed. The Continental soldier had a motley assortment of weapons: muskets, musketoons, rifles, carbines, fusils, pistols, wall guns and artillery, with a wide variety in each type. Standard issue was unheard of, and calibers themselves were subject to variation. The separate states were responsible for equipping with arms the regiments they raised for the Continental line, while it was the task of the fledgling Congress to arm the other Continental troops. Guns came from every conceivable source--from American gun dealers and from gunsmiths at home and abroad. Some were received as outright gifts; others were captured from the enemy or confiscated from Tories still loyal to the British crown. A few troops even brought their own guns with them when they enlisted.
Nevertheless, a shortage of arms was chronic. Little more than a year after the outbreak of the war, one quarter of the Continental Army had no guns, although this was only shortly before the crucial battle of Long Island. Recruits frequently drilled without muskets. On retreating, militiamen often abandoned knapsacks and guns to facilitate their escape. The arsenal at Springfield, Massachusetts, was so badly managed that the Board of War of the Continental Congress recommended in 1780 that it be closed. (Today's Springfield Arsenal dates from 1794.) The shortage of weapons was aggravated by a shortage of powder, which resulted chiefly from a lack of saltpeter. Although American gunsmiths were undoubtedly the finest in the world, American gunpowder was definitely inferior.
Of all the guns of the Revolution, popular tradition has cloaked the rifle with an almost magical and glamorous quality, describing it sometimes as "the gun that made victory certain in the American Revolution." There can be no doubt as to the rifle's spectacular accuracy over astonishingly long ranges. The first companies of frontier riflemen to be raised, dressed as they were in buckskin hunting shirts, with awesome knives and tomahawks in their belts, created a sensation as they proceed from Pennsylvania and Virginia to join the military units and state militia laying siege to the British in the Massachusetts capital.
Their guns were basically civilian weapons made by individual gunsmiths. Calibers ranged between .55 and .60. The barrels were octagonal and of great length, with blade front sight and an open-V rear sight. Stocks, often of native curly maple, extended almost to the muzzle. Brass was the most common material for the mountings and for the patch box cover on the stock. Despite the rifle's later-acquired reputation, riflemen were at a serious disadvantage in any battle. For one thing, their weapon was slow in loading and was further handicapped by the absence of a bayonet. As a weapon of infantry, it was virtually useless, although it was excellent for scouts, snipers and skirmishers and in engaging the Indians who were utilized along the frontier by the British.
The rifle had been known in Europe for many years as a hunting weapon, but was not considered to be an effective military arm because of the time required for reloading and because it was not equipped with a bayonet. During the campaigns against the Indians and in the Colonial Wars, sporting and military applications were combined--to the surprise of European observers. Not only could the American frontiersman deliver a high rate or accurate fire, but he could also reload on the run.
Even before appointing George Washington to command the Continental Army, the Continental Congress in 1775 passed a resolution calling for six companies of expert riflemen to be raised immediately in Pennsylvania, as well as two in Maryland and two in Virginia. Response from Pennsylvanians was so great that Congress raised that state's authorization to eight companies, organized as the Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion under the command of Col. William Thompson. One Virginia company of 96 men raised by Dan Morgan rode 600 miles to Boston in 21 days without losing a man. Washington, himself a Virginian, was so moved by this feat that he went along the company front shaking hands with each man as tears streamed down his cheeks. The frontiersmen were objects of curiosity at Boston but were useless except for picking off an occasional British regular who incautiously showed himself. Eventually the "shirtmen," as the buckskin-clad riflemen were called, became a nuisance and a disciplinary problem because of their rowdy, frontier ways. The culmination came when the adjutant of Thompson's Rifle Battalion arrested and confined a sergeant. Because the "shirtmen" had threatened to break into the jail and release him, the prisoner was moved to the main American guardhouse in Cambridge. Their anger aroused, some Pennsylvania riflemen marched toward the jail with weapons loaded. The guard detail was strengthened and several regiments nearby were alerted to stand by under arms. Fortunately, the mutineers were intercepted on Prospect Hill outside of Boston, only grounding their arms when ordered to by Generals Washington, Charles Lee and Greene.
Ironically, the spectacular triumph of American riflemen at King's Mountain in South Carolina in 1780 was at the expense of Major Patrick Ferguson, commander of the British forces in that battle and the inventor of the first breechloading rifle used in the British Army. This weapon, patented in 1776, was not only very accurate and had a high rate of fire but was dependable in rainy weather when flintlocks were not. In 1777 Ferguson was in a position to have altered the entire course of the American Revolution. Leading his own ranger detachment in an advance on Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania, he had an opportunity to pick off George Washington but did not, explaining, "It was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty, so I let him alone." Ferguson was wounded in the elbow at Brandywine, permanently crippling his arm. While he was convalescing, General Howe, allegedly unhappy because a junior officer had quite obviously invented a superior weapon, disbanded his corps. Ferguson's rifles were put into storage, and no one knows what has become of them. (Interestingly, almost a century later Federal officers would still be resisting the introduction of breechloading rifles into the Union Army.)
References are sometimes encountered to the "Deckard rifle," which was supposedly carried by the "Over Mountain Men" who gave such a good account of themselves at King's Mountain. This was actually a long rifle made by Jacob Dickert of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A Dickert rifle was used in the defense of the Alamo in 1836 and is on display in the Long Barracks Museum in San Antonio. Another gun around which many misconceptions have sprung up is the double-barreled Golcher or Goulcher rifle, made by John Golcher of Easton, Pennsylvania. Tradition credits Timothy Murphy, perhaps the most famous marksman of the American Revolution, with the use of this gun at Bemis Heights in the battle of Saratoga on October 7, 1777. Firing from a perch in a tree, Murphy is said to have picked off Sir Francis Clerke, British General John Burgoyne, and General Simon Fraser at a range of over 300 yards. Golcher became famous in the years after the Revolutionary War for his over-and-under revolving rifles but it is doubtful whether Murphy used one in performing his feat.
It was the musket that bore the brunt of the fighting during the Revolution--in fact, the majority of troops in the Continental line were regular infantry, while riflemen and cavalry were used only in special operations or in support of the infantry. The typical Revolutionary War musket was a smooth bore, single-shot, flintlock muzzleloader. Its length was somewhere between 54 and 60 inches; its caliber ranged between .69 and .80. As a consequence of its smooth bore, accuracy suffered considerably, for the bullet tended to fit somewhat loosely in the bore. The effective range was seldom more than 100 yards. Because one of the chief sources of American muskets was the stores of British arms in the colonies dating from the Colonial Wars, it was almost inevitable that British guns would be selected as the model for the infant nation's military weapons when made by American gunsmiths. A well-equipped gunsmith's shop would ideally include several barrel forges, a lock shop with forges and benches for filers, benches for gunstock makers, a brass foundry for mountings, forges for bayonets and ramrods, a mill for grinding and polishing them, a forge for fittings, and an assembly shop. Needless to say, most American-made weapons were manufactured under less-than-ideal conditions.
The Brown Bess
This was the soldiers' nickname for the "long land musket" adopted as a military weapon during the reign of George 1 (1714-1727) and not during that of Queen Elizabeth, as popular tradition has it. The name "Brown Bess" is reputed to have come from the color of the stock; earlier British weapons had black-painted stocks. However, some authorities maintain that its name came from the acid pickling process that gave the barrel a brown hue. The evidence seems to be that the word "Brown" predates the practice of browning the barrels of muskets and that "Bess" may be a feminine equivalent of the "Brownbill," the old weapon of the British infantry or a corruption of the "buss" from "Blunderbuss."
The musket came in another model--a so-called "short land musket" with barrel only 42 inches long, which had been introduced around 1740, eventually superseding the older and longer gun around 1765. Both guns had a caliber of .75. British infantry muskets were marked on the locks to indicate their provenance. These markings included the letters "GR" (for Georgius Rex) to indicate the reign during which it was manufactured, and a broad arrow to show that the weapon was crown property. Those muskets assembled at a royal arsenal bore the name of the specific arsenal ("TOWER," if from the infamous Tower of London or, less frequently, "DUBLIN CASTLE," for its Irish counterpart. gun stamped with a pair of crossed scepters and the letters "BGP" in the angles thus formed could not have been used in the American Revolution. The Birmingham proof house first used this mark in 1813.
Committee of Safety Muskets
This is a misnomer applied to many American-made muskets of the Revolution; it should be reserved only for those muskets made by private gunsmiths under contract to a local committee or council of safety and should not include domestic and foreign weapons purchased and issued by such bodies. The number of genuine extant examples of such guns is believed to be very small.
Foreign arms dealers were an important source for firearms in the American Revolution. Prussian, Dutch and even British dealers supplied some guns, but the major source of imported arms was France. Still smarting from their defeat at the hands of the British in the French and Indian Wars and the loss of Canada and their other possessions, the French government was not unwilling to help the colonies with arms. To this end a dummy company, Roderigue Hortalez et Cie., was set up. The managing director of this enterprise was Pierre Augustin de Caron, who assumed the name Beaumarchais and is perhaps today better known for his literary works, The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, than for his efforts on behalf of the new nation. Beaumarchais was directly responsible to the French foreign minister, the Count of Vergennes.
In 1776 two secret committees of Congress sent a Connecticut merchant and former member of the Continental Congress, Silas Deane, to France to purchase guns and equipment for the Continental Army. Deane sailed for Europe in April, with instructions from the Commercial Committee to buy American produce, ship it abroad and sell it, and bring back supplies needed by the colonies with the proceeds. The Secret Committee instructed Deane to buy clothing and equipment for 25,000 men and to purchase artillery and munitions--all this on credit. Historians have always viewed Deane as a dedicated patriot. However, later evidence has been uncovered which throws new light on his role. Upon his arrival in Paris, Deane looked up an old friend, Edward Bancroft, passing both American and French secrets to him. Deane's idea was to make a fortune by profiteering. What Deane did not know (and the world would not learn until nearly seventy years after Bancroft's death) was that Bancroft was actually a British agent.
As a consequence, details of the purchasing operations were immediately passed on to British representatives in Paris and thence to British authorities in London. Because Deane and Bancroft craftily withheld specific information about shipments in which they had a personal stake, vital supplies continued to flow to America and the British intercepted only one ship. During this period a number of firms unloaded many substandard arms on American agents. The guns of Pliarne, Penet et Cie. of France were notorious, as were those of James Gruel and Company, which bought its weapons in Liege, Belgium.
By the year 1778, the subterfuge of a dummy company and private shippers became unnecessary since France had entered the war openly. From this time on, French muskets were shipped directly to America from French arsenals. Six models comprised the French contribution, making exact identification sometimes difficult; these bore the designations 1763, 1766, 1770-71, 1773, 1774, and 1777. (There may even have been a 1768 model, too.) All were of .69 caliber, with a barrel fastened to the stock by means of three iron bands. This was an important consideration, since it made for a lighter gun than the .75 caliber Brown Bess (which needed a forend stout enough to support the heavy barrel-fastening pins). Another significant difference in the French muskets lay in the fact that they all had reinforced throat-hole cocks, in contrast to the weaker British gooseneck cocks. The French muskets were made at the royal arsenals at Charleville, St. Etienne and Maubeuge.
A word about tactics may be in order here. The popular myth that the Revolution was fought between American troops who fired rifles from behind trees and stone walls and British soldiers foolish enough to stand in rigid formations in the open needs debunking. Thanks to a European tradition and the training program of German drillmaster General von Steuben, the Americans fought in the accepted European fashion, as a study of the tactics of the Revolution shows. (Lexington and Concord and King's Mountain were the only notable exceptions.)
Much is sometimes made of the musket's inherent lack of accuracy in comparison with the rifle; this is only because infantry tactics of the 18th century are not understood now. When firearms were developed, linear tactics were adopted (as opposed to phalanx tactics so successful when the principal weapons were the lance and the sword), in order to derive the most effective firepower from muskets. The line of battle consisted of two ranks standing shoulder to shoulder. Another rank of "file closers" often followed to replace those who fell. With bayonets fixed, the line of attackers would move forward confident in the knowledge that until they were about 100 yards from the enemy, they were comparatively safe. Officers strove to achieve enough discipline to make their men hold their fire until they were within 50 yards of the enemy. Israel Putnam's famous order at Bunker Hill, "Don't one of you fire until you see the whites of their eyes," was not intended to win him a place in books of quotations. It was an admonition that could only have been directed at men with muskets. When the commanders at the battle of Fontenoy in 1745 invited their opponents to fire first, they were not being gallant but clever. The French broke before the British did, and were systematically cut down with repeated volleys.
Volley firing from the line was a standard practice, with all loading and firing being done on command (a modern soldier would call it "by the numbers"). Precision aiming as is done today was unknown. The volley was directed to the front or right or left oblique as commanded; rapidity of fire was more desirable than accuracy. Experienced soldiers could deliver a sustained rate of fire of four shots per minute, which would allow at least two shots at a line of charging enemy before they closed with you. Twelve separate motions were required in the British manual of arms for the Brown Bess. (It is said that the troops of Frederick the Great could fire six shots per minute.) The first volley was always the most effective because it was properly loaded in leisurely fashion before the 16- or 17-inch bayonet was fixed. British General George Hanger, who served in America during the Revolution, later wrote, "A soldier's musket, if not exceedingly ill-bored (as many of them are), will strike the figure of a man at 80 yards; it may even at 100; but a soldier must be very unfortunate indeed who shall be wounded by a common musket at 150 yards, provided his antagonist aims at him; and as to firing at a man at 200 yards with a common musket, you may just as well fire at the moon and have the same hopes of hitting your object. I do maintain and will prove, whenever called on, that no man was ever killed at 200 yards by a common soldier's musket, by the person who aimed at him."
After about two volleys had been exchanged, both sides clashed with bayonets--if they had them. Some American regiments were without bayonets; British soldiers often prayed for rain so they could mount a bayonet attack without fear of enemy fire or of facing cold steel. The American defeat at Bunker Hill has been attributed not only to a shortage of ammunition but also to a lack of bayonets. In attacks at night the bayonet alone was usually employed; the advantage of surprise could not be sacrificed by a nervous soldier firing prematurely (and in the dark it was all too easy to fire upon friendly forces). The usual practice was to load the piece but not to prime it; the last step could always be completed if necessary. Another procedure was to put in the priming charge, close the firing pan and remove the flint. British Major General Charles "No-flint" Grey earned his nickname in two night attacks, which were bloody but spectacularly successful.
In 1777, American General "Mad Anthony" Wayne had secretly occupied a position near Paoli, Pennsylvania, with the intention of harassing General Howe's advance northward from Philadelphia. Learning of Wayne's position and intentions, the British sent Grey to make a night attack. Major John André, who was later to be captured and hung as a spy, left an account of this attack: "No soldier was suffered to load; those who could not unload their pieces took out the flints. We knew nearly the spot where the Rebel corps lay, but nothing of the disposition of their camp. It was represented to the men that firing discovered us to the enemy, hid them from us, killed our friends and produced a confusion favourable to the escape of the Rebels. On the other hand, by not firing we knew the foe to be wherever fire appeared and a charge ensured his destruction." Shortly after midnight, the British struck Wayne's camp. Four sentries fired and ran, while Wayne's men turned out to repel the attackers. In the ensuing action, the Americans lost 150 men. The British took 71 prisoners with them, leaving 40 of the most seriously wounded at houses along the way. Fifty-three "mangled dead" were reportedly found at the scene of what was immediately called the "Paoli Massacre" and used with good effect to drum up anti-British sentiment. The "Tappan Massacre" one year later in northern New Jersey was a repeat performance by "No-flint" Grey, and has been called "a textbook model of the surprise of a detachment."
No matter what tactics were employed, the simple truth is that the shooting by both sides was awful: the marksmanship of the Americans was poor and that of the British was practically nonexistent. In the first major exchange at Lexington and Concord, only one American bullet out of 300 found its mark, and only one man in 15 hit anybody. Six years later at the battle of Wetzell's Mill in North Carolina, 25 expert American riflemen, who had fought spectacularly at King's Mountain, fired from close range at British Lt. Col. James Webster as he led his troops on horseback across a ford they were covering. Although 33 or 34 shots were fired at him (some men were able to reload and fire twice), Webster was not hit once. An even more embarrassing example of the lack of marksmanship training occurred during the battle for Fort Ticonderoga in 1777. As the British advanced toward the American positions, an American officer ordered a sergeant to pick off a British skirmisher only 40 yards away. This touched off wholesale unauthorized firing and the enemy dropped back, leaving the original target on the ground. The "casualty" turned out to be a drunken Irishman from the 47th Regiment who was unhurt. In addition to eight cannons, the Americans had fired about 3,000 rounds from 1,000 muskets at less than 100 yards. All they hit was a British lieutenant and two Indians, with one fatality among the Indians.
If American marksmanship was poor, no attempt was made to teach the British soldier to aim at all. One of the Americans captured at Fort Washington at the northern end of Manhattan Island in 1776 said that no fewer than ten guns were fired at his group within a range of 40 to 50 yards--some within 20 yards--and he was alive to make this comment: "I observed that they took no aim and the movement of presenting and firing was the same." In wet weather only one shot out of four could be counted on to go off. And while an American flint was good for some 60 rounds without re-sharpening, a British flint could be used for only six.
Defective equipment was another bugaboo. At the indecisive skirmish at the Warren (or White Horse) Tavern in Pennsylvania in 1777, as the opposing forces were preparing for battle a heavy rain began. "I wish I could give a description of the downpour which began during the engagement and continued until the next morning," wrote a Hessian officer. "It came down so hard that in a few minutes we were drenched and stuck in mud up to our calves." Because the tops of their cartridge boxes did not extend far enough to keep out the rain, the Americans lost tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition; many regiments were unable to fire a shot. As a result, the Americans were forced to retreat to replenish their supplies of ammunition. Thanks to obviously superior design of their cartridge boxes, the British lost comparatively little ammunition.
Musketoons and Carbines
Mounted soldiers needed shorter shoulder arms for the special situations encountered by cavalrymen. In the Continental Army these were provided by captured British weapons or from French sources. In most cases such guns resembled contemporary infantry muskets with the exception that calibers were .65 and a sliding ring had replaced the sling swivels.
During the 17th century a light flintlock musket or fusil had been developed for artillery guards and for the light infantry (called "fusiliers"). These were similar to their bigger counterparts in every respect except size. Infantry officers--more often in the British Army--sometimes carried such guns, however. George Washington thought that guns diverted an officer's attention and made him less able to capitalize on the swiftly changing fluid situations that developed during a battle.
In addition to swords, infantry officers carried a spontoon (sometimes called an espontoon or half pike), which was both a badge of rank and an efficient weapon that had evolved from the halberd. The spontoon was a spear between six and seven feet long, topped with a leaf-shaped iron point socketed to a sturdy pole about an inch and a quarter in diameter. Often a crossbar was added to prevent an enemy sword or bayonet from sliding down the haft and injuring the hands of the spontoon wielder. In the years before the American Revolution infantry officers of every army carried the spontoon until it was supplanted by the fusil. This change took place in the French Army in 1754 and in the British Army in 1786 (although British troops in America had started to abandon the spontoon earlier). General Edward Braddock, whose name is forever linked with the word "defeat," ordered his troops not to carry them on the expedition against the Indians that ended in disaster on July 9, 1755. His dying words were, "We shall better know how to deal with them another time." Most British troops did not carry spontoons in the field during the American Revolution. Although Colonel Timothy Pickering and others had favored their abandonment, George Washington and Anthony Wayne, among others, were believers in the effectiveness of pole arms. Spontoons were carried in the battle of Trenton. And Anthony Wayne himself carried one in his famous morale-building capture of the British garrison at Stony Point, New York, in 1779. At the battle of the Cowpens in South Carolina, a certain Captain Anderson used his spontoon to pole vault ahead of a fellow American officer, Captain Ewing, and so capture a British cannon first.
These were omnipresent, either in the troopers' saddle holsters, pockets or boots. Some pistols were British, while others were of American manufacture and patterned after their British counterparts; still others were French. There were two models--heavy and light. In bore, the heavy dragoon pistol was identical with the carbine (.65 caliber) with a barrel 12 inches long.
The light dragoon pistol was the preferred sidearm during the Revolutionary War. Its length was only 9 inches (but the caliber had been enlarged to .69). Lacking sights, these guns were only useful at close range. When French pistols eventually made an appearance, they turned out to be longer, heavier--and less foolproof. With a straighter butt, the French pistol had a total length of almost 16 inches; the bore was also .69. Officers' pistols resembled those of enlisted men, with the exception that workmanship was finer and decoration more ornate. Of especial interest to collectors is the popular American-made box-lock pistol, whose lock was mounted at .the center rather than at the side. No forestock was necessary, so these pistols were invariably lighter. Barrels could often be unscrewed, making it possible to load them at the breech, thus eliminating the ramrod.
Another characteristically American handgun was the "Kentucky pistol," a modern-day appellation because of their resemblance to the so-called "Kentucky rifle" (which was earlier called the "Pennsylvania rifle"). These pistols have stocks of curly maple or fruitwood, with octagonal barrels or round barrels octagonal at the breech. Because they are rifled and with front and rear sights, such guns pose a problem for collectors. Some experts maintain that many date from the War of 1812.
So called because they were intended to be mounted on a swivel and fired from a fort (or a small boat), these "amusettes" threw a four-ounce ball; some were rifled, and all had an impressive range.
No account of the guns of the American Revolution can fail to mention the artillery weapons employed. For the defense of and siege of forts, heavy guns had to be used. The Continental Army started the war in 1775 with only the cannon, ammunition and gunpowder the British had left in America in the hands of the colonial militia plus what could be captured from royal arsenals. The first British operations of the war--against Salem, Massachusetts, in February of 1775 and Lexington and Concord less than two months later--had as their objective the confiscation of weapons. The capture, of Fort Ticonderoga by the Americans in May of that year gave them access to a vast store of heavy siege artillery whose lack was critical during the yearlong siege of Boston. Getting them over the 300 miles of primitive roads to that city was quite another problem. It was solved by 25-year old Henry Knox (who had just been appointed Colonel of the virtually nonexistent Continental Regiment of Artillery) in a daring plan that quickly won General Washington's approval. Arriving on December 5th, Knox inspected the Ticonderoga guns, selected some 50 to 60 cannons, had 42 heavy sledges built, and rounded up 80 yoke of oxen. A month later, Knox's expedition had reached the southern end of Lake George and headed south through Saratoga and Albany and then eastward up the slopes of the Berkshires in the dead of winter. Knox's "Noble Train of Artillery" reached Framingham, Massachusetts, on January 24th. By emplacing the guns on Dorchester Heights, the Americans were able to force the British evacuation of Boston. Some idea of the magnitude of Knox's feat may be gleaned from these statistics: about 59 weapons were successfully moved; three of the large mortars of 13-inch bore (including one dubbed "Old Sow") weighed a ton each. Total weight of the load was 60 tons, including a ton of lead and a barrel of much-needed flints.
In the linear tactics used in 18th-century warfare, there was little need for field artillery. Because of the wooded, unfavorable terrain in North America, when artillery was moved it often went by water. The British used water-borne artillery to good effect in the retaking of Fort Ticonderoga and at the battle of Freeman's Farm at Saratoga in 1777. At this time, the British Army in America had four times the number of expert gunners as did the Americans. Nevertheless, what the Continental Army lacked in numbers it made up eventually in proficiency. Because of the shortage of artillery pieces, the Americans had originally begun casting cannons of bronze and iron and making gun carriages. As a consequence of the French Army's adoption of the Gribeauval system of artillery, some obsolete French field guns eventually reached America. Usually of bronze, the mobile guns of the Continental Army ranged from 3- to 24-pounders and 5½- and 8-inch howitzers. A few 18-, 24- and 32-pound iron siege guns were also available. "Grasshoppers" was the soldiers' nickname for the small three-pounder guns that had legs instead of wheels. When fired, these weapons would jump, earning them their distinctive nickname.
Ammunition was round, grape or case shot; mortars (so named because of their resemblance to a pharmacist's grinding tool) fired bomb and carcasses, the latter a form of incendiary projectile. Side boxes on each side of the gun carriage held 21 rounds of ammunition. Horses or oxen (with civilian drivers) provided the transport. On the battlefield, matrosses dragged the guns into position and assisted the cannoneers in loading, firing and swabbing the guns. Maximum effective range of artillery manned by skilled artillerymen firing solid shot was about 1,200 yards. For untrained gunners, this could be as little as 400 yards.
These, then, were the tools with which independence was forged. They served the fledgling country well and now stand mute in museums and gun collections--those, that is, that were not broken up for scrap or beaten into ploughshares. No matter whether you stand among the silent field guns of the Revolution in the artillery park at West Point or view an 18th-century musket or rifle behind the glass of a display case, do not think of them as the cold and silent exhibits of a museum. Know them instead as warm and vibrant products of man's ingenuity that enabled a nation to win its freedom. Across the years, they still speak a message to us today.