Firearm technology…literally

Defaite_des_Yroquois_lg

My money is on the Indians.

OK, I was curious about matchlock muskets and how practical they would have been in early American society. Early explorers carried them since the wheellock [1] and snaphance [2] don’t seem to have too much popularity (snaphance was out of fashion most places by 1680). Toss in the flintlock seems to have been less expensive than the other mechanisms (beside the matchlock).

Anyway…

An inherent weakness of the matchlock was the necessity of keeping the match constantly lit. The match was steeped in potassium nitrate to keep the match lit for extended periods of time. Being the sole source of ignition for the powder, if the match was not lit when the gun needed to be fired, the mechanism was useless, and the weapon became little more than an expensive club. This was chiefly a problem in wet weather, when damp match cord was difficult to light and to keep burning. Another drawback was the burning match itself. At night, the match would glow in the darkness, possibly revealing the carrier’s position. The distinctive smell of burning match-cord was also a giveaway of a musketeer’s position (this was used as a plot device by Akira Kurosawa in his movie Seven Samurai). It was also quite dangerous when soldiers were carelessly handling large quantities of gunpowder (for example, while refilling their powder horns) with lit matches present. This was one reason why soldiers in charge of transporting and guarding ammunition were amongst the first to be issued self-igniting guns like the wheellock and snaphance.

The matchlock was also uneconomical to keep ready for long periods of time. To maintain a single sentry on night guard duty with a matchlock, keeping both ends of his match lit, required a mile of match per year.

Maybe that explains why the Indians were pretty good at preventing early settlement (see Martin’s Hundred and the Indian Massacre of 1622).

Addition: the Carignan-Salières regiment was equipped with flintlocks when they were sent to New France in 1665. Flintlocks didn’t need the constant flame and had a higher rate of fire than the Matchlock. Still, possession of flintlocks (and large military presence) didn’t stop Iroquois raids on the habitants which continued up until the Treaty of Montreal in 1701.

Oh, yeah… here’s a link to one of these being fired.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KTS8PQ06Qo

A link to wheellock history and firing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rk-pISvud6w&t

Matchlock and wheellock firing according to authentic French 17th century regulations


Notes:
[1] A nacent technology, wheellock guns were complex to build in an era with no machine tools. They appealed therefore only to the wealthy who could afford them in the first place and then who, generally, expected them to be highly decorated. They were deluxe examples of the armourer’s craft and not for the masses.

[2] Snaphance – A spring-loaded lock whereby upon pulling a trigger, a hammer holding the flint falls which strikes the steel frizzen and while pushing it forward scrapes particles from its surface, which as sparks, fall into a flashpan containing a priming charge of fine gunpowder, igniting first it and then, through a touchole, the main propellant charge (sort of like a cigarette lighter works). A separate pan-cover would allow the gun to be carried loaded, but for safety, not cocked.

Snaphances and flintlocks are similar, but the flintlock is faster to operate and more reliable in wind and rain than a snaphance. Also, Flintlocks can be carried half cocked, where as snaphances are either cocked or not.

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