The use of musket
Category : C17th History
Published by SiteBoss on 2004/4/6
Article describing how musket were used.
Jon Emmet,
A Walton's Musketeer

The use of musket

by Mark Goodman

Matchlock muskets were the normal arm, there are few references to firelocks other than in use as trayne guards or as firelock companies :- Essex had 400 firelocks under lieutenant-General Philibert Emmanuel de Boyes, the general of his ordinance ( Peacock, Army Lists, pp25,26 ).

In the New Model Army there were two companies of firelocks ( if not more ) who were distinguished from the rest of the infantry by wearing 'tawny coats' instead of red ones ( Cromwell's Armies, p84 ).

Fairfax found them so useful that in 1647 he proposed to disband his lifeguards and to raise a complete regiment of firelocks in its place ( Cromwell's Armies, p84 ).

Musket Bore

Muskets fired a lead ball of between 10 & 20 to the pound.

Various dubiously 'knowledgeable' individuals recommended firing of two balls at close range, 6 pistol balls ! or even 3 musket balls ! - not one to be tried at home !.

A standard of 1634 recommended a calibre of a musket as 10 bore firing a ball of 12 bore and a carbine of 24 bore. Typical calibres stated are 10,12,14,16,17,20 and 24 bore.

The muzzle velocity of a smooth bore musket is in the region of 300metres/second ( 1,000 feet/second ).

Accuracy & Efficiency

The musket itself is fairly accurate, when firing at a block of men 100 yards is an effective range, the accuracy depreciating signifcantly above that distance. The practical experiments indicate the windage of the ball to be an extremely significant aspect in the accuracy.

You can be reasonably confident about hitting a particular man at about 30 to 50 yards.

Although the musket in good conditions is accurate, obviously on the battlefield where concentration is difficult the musket is less effective. The typical windage ( 12 bore into a 10 bore barrel ) is extremely high. We must also appreciate the hardship soldiers endured which decreased their effectiveness and accuracy.

Mistakes can be made such as :- Not putting any powder down, forgetting the ball or wad, leaving in the scouring stick, not aiming, moving the barrel between flash in the pan and full discharge, not being able to see, because of smoke, not allowing for windage or elevation over long distances, using inconsistent powder, using a loose fitting ball, ill-fitting match, no primer, damp powder. Kellie states that he has seen a 40% misfire rate ( indicative of poor training ) and also 'A Musqueteer may fail of his shot by sundry accidents, as by rolling out of bullet, an badde matche, an matche not right cocked, by evill powder or wet powder in his pan; and I have often times seen an ranke of musquetiers having presented and given fire that three or four of ten have failed of their shot' ( Ref. Thomas Kellie, Pallas Armata, 1627, p110 )

The experienced soldiers were insistent about using wad, Orrey stated
'Besides all this, whoever loads his musket with cartridges, is sure the bullet will not drop out, though he takes his aim under breast high, for the paper of the cartridge keeps it in; whereas those soldiers which on service take their bullets out of thier mouths ( which is the nimblest way ) or out of their pouches, which is slow, seldom put any paper, tow, or grass, to ram the bullet in; whereby if they fire above brest high, the bullet passes over the head of the enemy, and if they aim low, the bullet drops out ere the musket is fired; and 'tis to this that I attribute the little execution I have seen musketeers do in time of fight, thought they fired at great battalions and those reasonable near' ( Ref. Grose, Military Antiquities, i, 160 ). Turner with reference to the vistory at Wittstock commented ' The mentioning of this victory puts me in mind to advertise all officers of foot not to teach their musketeers to neglect their rammers, a lesson too often taught and practised: for at this battle I speak of the Imperial foot were upon a hill, up which Leslie advanced with his infantry, but neither his nor the Imperial musketters made use of their rammers, only ( as the common custom is ) when they charged with ball they knocked the butts of their muskets at their right foot, by which means most of the bullets of the Imperial and Saxish fire-men fell out of the mouths of their musket when they presented them down the hill upon the Swedes whose bullets could not run that fortune being presented upward. And for that reason it was observed that few of the Swedish foot fell'
( Ref. Pallas Armata, p306 ).

The matchlock musket is an extremely reliable weapon and can be used in damp conditions, an experienced musketeer could use it in all but driving rain.

Rate Of Fire

A good musketeer should be able to fire 2, even 3 shots per minute. Lack of concentration on the field may reduce this, however the quality of the powder, which caused fouling after a few shots will reduce the rate of fire significantly as time goes on.

Musketeers often held balls in their mouths to increase the speed of firing, however there is little evidence to indicate they chewed them ( see below ).


At about 30 yards a musket ball will go clean through a man, even at 50 yards it may well pierce both breast & back plate of a pike man, the heavier musket balls were said to penetrate the front plat of a corselet at 100 yards. If no bones are hit , the wound will be a neat hole in the front and back, although any bones hit will probably shatter and increase the size of the exit hole.

Wounds which did not kill outright or from shock, would probably go gangrenous. Even if the ball is removed the victim may suffer from septasemia, due to dirt and unclean cloth fibres being drawn into the wound.

Experiments have shown that a ball that does hit not anything solid does not deform, and have even been shot again. A ball hitting anything such as bone, walls or seasoned oak will flattened or distort.

Experiments have shown that a 12 bore ball fired with a charge at most as powerful as those in the period would penetrate solid oak to 2 inches at 40 yards ( 20 bore pierced to over 1.5 inches ), the ball remained reasonably round, it appears to have twisted on its way in.


A bandolier typically holds 12 charges ( not Apostles ), typically a firefight would not last the time required to discharge all 12 shots. The principle tactic being to fire by ranks gaining ground starting from about 100 to 150 paces ( 60 to 100 yards ), thereby after about 8 volleys from each rank the distance would have closed to such that the level of casualties would precipitate either a withdraw or a charge.

A Myth

One myth is that of the chewing of the musket ball, the only reference to this was in desperation and not as a typical event
'That all our muskets be of one bore, or at most two sorts of certain bores; the bigger for the stronger, the lesser for the weaker bodie; for want of this, I have seen much hazard undergone; for generally our musket shot is of one certain size and the bores of the muskets are of various sizes, whereby having been once engaged in a fight, which by reason of the many inclosures in which we fought, the musketeers were to be supplied with more shot than they carried in their pouches, and barrels of musket bullets being opened, few of the shot in them would fit the muskets, but were a size too large, wherby we had like to have been worsted; for the soldiers were forced to gnaw off much of the lead, others to cut their bullets; in which much time was lost, the bullets flew a less way and more uncertainly; and which was worse so many pauses animated the enemy by making him think our courages cooled'
( Ref Orrey, p29 ).


The quantity of powder issued was significantly larger than that used in today's target shooting
'A musket requires the half weight of her ball in fine powder and two thirds of common powder, that is one pound of fine powder to two pounds of lead, and two pounds of ordinary powder for three pounds of lead'
( Ref Turner. Pallas Armata, p175 ) Even considering the imperfection of the powder and the different proportion of components ( 1:1:7 Sulphur, charcoal, salt peter), it is still a large charge.

Postures & Instructions

In Directions for Musters (1638 ) there are 48 musket postures of which 27 of them are for the loading and firing of a musket :- 1.Open your Pan;2.Clear your Pan;3.Prime your Pan;4.Shut your Pan;5.Cast off your lose Powder;6.Blow off your loose Powder;7.Cast about your Musket;8.Open your Charge;9.Charge with Powder;10.Charge with Bullet;11.Draw forth your Scouring-stick;12.Shorten your Scouring-stick;13.Ramme home;14.Withdraw your Scouring-stick;15.Shorten your Scouring-stick;16.Return your Scouring-stick;17.Recover your Musket;18.Draw forth your Match;19.Blow your Coal;20.Cock your Match;21.Try your Match;22.Guard your pan and blow;23.Open your Pan;24.Present;25.Give Fire;26.Uncock your Match; 27.Return your Match.


This Information has been taken from various publications including :- Cromwell's Armies; Going To The Wars; Everyone A Witness; Bariffe (Young Artilleryman); Directions For Musters, Elizabethan Militia (Boynton), Military Illustrated, Pallas Armata (Turner), Bibliography of Military Book to 1642, Elizabethan Military Science.