Compiled by Joe Wagner
As a new reenactor learns the use and care of their musket, they likely hear many stories and advice passed down from reenactor to reenactor. The use of leather verses lead grips for our flints, the protection of the lock and use of frizzen covers, relieving the mainspring when on the rack, and the history of other tools and devices we acquire to care for our weapon, are all subject to various opinions on the authenticity and value of each.
What we need is a truly authentic view from the ground level of soldierly operations. The original and authentic source of information on how the original musketman cared for his weapon – the British Brown Bess.
Enter Cuthbertson’s System for the Complete Interior Management and Economy of a Battalion of Infantry – New Edition with Corrections, printed by Rouths and Nelson, Bristol, England, in 1776.
This large tome deals with the entire business of operating an infantry battalion in the 1770’s. The part we are particularly interested in doesn’t show up until Chapter XIII, which gives you some idea how large and complete it is. Chapter XIII is entitled:
Of the Arms and Accoutrements and the Methods for always keeping them in the best condition. In the interests of space and your time, I’ve extracted some pertinent paragraphs directed at the Regimental Quarter-Master.
On the subject of regimental/company markings on each weapon –
As the officer is supposed to be informed before his application to the Ordnance what number of firelocks and bayonets are designed for each Company, he should endeavor to get the number of the Company and firelock properly marked. All arms delivered from the Tower of London are marked as desired. But those from Dublin Castle are not without paying for it. This that the confusion which must attend the Soldiers changing at any time with one another, may be totally avoided; and also that the Regiment prevent the men from putting private marks upon their arms, thereby damaging the appearance of the stocks.
On the hardness of the frizzen – hopefully
Though it may be expected that nothing is left unfinished on the arms delivered from His Majesty’s stores, compleat and fit for Service, yet the Officer should direct his smith to try if all the hammers are steeled and hardened in a proper manner. He must insist it be done before he can receive them, else the expence of that will also fall upon the Captains of his Regiment, as without this precaution, half of them at least will be found so soft as not to make the smallest opposition to the flint.
On the mainspring and stock –
When the firelocks are not in use, the cocks should always be let down, as nothing more effectually weakens the main springs than constantly keeping them on the half-bend: and it will also be of consequence to the stocks never to expose them on racks to the effects of the sun, as the cracks which they often get by that means are never to be remedied; besides the wood in general becomes so dry and brittle by it that the smallest violence frequently breaks off the butt.
On flints –
The flints should always be screwed in firm, between a thin piece of lead, it having a more certain hold than leather or any other contrivance: besides a good one in his piece, a Soldier ought to have another in his pouch, and a small bit of wood, shaped like a flint, to use at exercise in practicing the firing motion, as the frequent striking of the hammers must unavoidably break and spoil the flints without answering any useful end.
On cleaning and maintenance tools –
It is absolutely necessary that every Soldier should be furnished with a Worm and Turn-key (screwdriver), else it will be impossible for him to clean the inside of the barrel of his Firelock, in the manner which ought to be expected; or to manage the Screws about the lock, without having recourse to his Bayonet; a practice which must be forbidden, otherwise, the edges will be always full of notches, and by that means, have a most unsightly appearance; and to render matters ready and convenient to the Soldier, in the cleaning of his Firelock, Screws should be made to the points of all the ramrods, to fit the Worms on.
On Service, leather Hammer-stalls are undoubtedly an advantage to a Battalion, when loaded, and resting on their Arms, as accidents may be prevented by having them then fixed upon the hammers of the Firelocks; but at other times they can certainly be of little use.
On lock covers –
Was every Soldier to have a painted linen case, to fit exactly upon the Lock of his Piece, and to be fastened by two small buttons, it would be of the utmost use and consequence upon the march, in damp and rainy weather, and might in an instant (if occasion required it) be taken off, and carried in his pouch.
On logistical support –
Regiments being frequently so situated as not to be able to get their Arms mended at any rate, and often in an indifferent manner, it would be a real benefit and saving if every Battalion was to furnish itself with a small portable Forge, and all the necessary tools for keeping the Arms in repair; and that a skillful gunsmith and stock-maker (to be enlisted at Birmingham, for Soldiers) were employed upon the Regiment’s work, under proper regulations for their labour: by this method, every Captain must be enabled to keep his Company’s Arms in a constant serviceable state, whether in Quarters, Cantonments; or the Field. In the field, one horse with a small cart will carry all these implements in the same manner as the Forges of the Cavalry.