Rifle, Napoleonic

The Napoleonic wars saw the start of the rifle becoming the main weapon of infantry. That is not to say that the rifle was the standard weapon by the end of the period, that was still a long way off. The rifles of the Napoleonic wars were still fairly rare and operated on the same principles as the smooth bore musket, but had a spiral groove or rifling inside the barrel so that the ball spun as it left the muzzle giving greater accuracy. This allowed specific officers to be targeted for the first time and fire against the crew of artillery batteries as at Badajoz. Stories abound of the accuracy of the rifles and data seems to support claims as shown by the famous British gunsmith Ezekiel Baker who fired 34 shots at 100yds and 24 at 200 yds and hit a man sized target every time. The Rifle was most popular in the German armies such as Prussian and Brunswick forces and these armies lead the way in rifle tactics with their 'Jager' or hunter units. In other armies the rifle was used by specialist troops or in the case of the French not used at all. This was because the rifle of the time had several disadvantages the main one being it was much slower than a musket to reload due to the tight fit of the ball in the barrel, also a good rifleman required considerable training. With German, Portuguese and British forces specific rifle units were created (95th and 60th rifles in British service) but in other armies such as the Russians the best shots in a unit were issued the new weapon. The few rifled muskets issued in French service were withdrawn in 1807, not surprising in an army based on quick training and mass formations. The rifles shorter barrel allowed riflemen to make use of natural cover and even prone firing positions and here we see the birth of what was to become the modern sniper. The most famous rifle of the period, the 'Baker, rifle was used by British riflemen and Portuguese Cacadores and by the end of the Napoleonic wars over 30,000 had been produced.

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How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (13 May 2003), Rifle, Napoleonic, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_rifle_napoleonic.html

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