Napoleonic firearms vs pre-18th century firearms

Oct 2017
169
Poland
You can often hear that the 18th century brought some improvements to firearms' technology. The gunpowder and metalurgy became better. But was the range, accuracy and armor penetration of Napoleonic firearms significantly better than that of various firearms commonly used in late 17th century? It includes artillery as well.

Once I saw someone claiming that in 17th century, the smallarms had larger loads of gunpowder. They also had larger calibers. So maybe the 17th century smallarms were actually stronger, but just slower to reload?
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,487
You can often hear that the 18th century brought some improvements to firearms' technology. The gunpowder and metalurgy became better. But was the range, accuracy and armor penetration of Napoleonic firearms significantly better than that of various firearms commonly used in late 17th century? It includes artillery as well.

Once I saw someone claiming that in 17th century, the smallarms had larger loads of gunpowder. They also had larger calibers. So maybe the 17th century smallarms were actually stronger, but just slower to reload?
there were a range of technological and doctrinal changes, 1700-1800 was a period of pretty constant change.

The heavier Muskets required stands, and the stopping power really did not natter at ranges were hits were even vaguely likley. better bayonets, menat the musket/bayonet was now a viable wepon that ended the vast majority of sword carrying and pikes. More mobile and mnavuribility by various doctrine and drill meant lighter muskets were favorured.

various changes adopted at various times through the century

tech -
flintlocks replaced matchlocks, matchlocks required carrying around a length of lighted fuse, with soldiers often keeping powder in their pockets, it hardly endeared very close formations, flintlocks were aorund for a whiole before they were affordable for mass issue.
Bayonets, sockett rather than plus (which you could not shoot with) , Soldiers were carrying swords for a long time.
There there paper cartridges , bundled, shot/powder
iron ramrods rather than wood.

doctrine -

drill manual of arms set actions for loading firing musket
universal drill, rather than each regiment having it's own drill,
year round armies rather than mostly be demobilized between campaign seasons,
National armies rather private concerns, state contracting to leaders who owned the regiments.
Cadence, marching in time. making formation changes to made much quicker, and maneuvering generally, before this columns tneded to be veyr long and any chnage brought delays.


So by the time of the late 1790s, line infantry have lighter loads, are able to maneuver quicker, load and fire quicker,

There is a lot of cross fertiliation in temrds of a bundble of various chnages made various doctrines and drill more favoruable, the rapid reduction in depth of ilne formations.

There was an attempt to bring in lighter artillery into the French army about 100 years before the Gribeauval system 1760's but with some technical teething problems and the focus of sieges and heavy guns it just did not take.
 
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Sep 2012
1,094
Tarkington, Texas
Weren't the Brown Bess (1722 to 1822) and the Charleville Muskets (1717 to 1839) developed in the 1700's? The Ferguson and Baker were very good designs but did not replace the smoothbores. It might well have been the use of better grade gunpowder that reduced the charge.

Pruitt
 

Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,462
Japan
Most countries saw the value in rifled barrels and used them as specialist weapons. However smoothbored were faster so we’re not replaced by rifles weapons until the 1850s.

France, under Napoleon did not adopt the rifle, he didn’t like them and thought they were too slow.

The 18th-19th century flintlock musket was faster to reload than the match and wheel locks, and would be until replaced by percussion caplocks in the 1830s.

In terms of accuracy smoothbored muskets were not very different to the previous types of fire arm, all were fairly bad beyond 50-60 yards.
Smoothbore’s though were quicker to load and more reliable so you could a much higher rate and volume of fire.
 
Last edited:

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,603
Florania
Most countries saw the value in rifled barrels and used them as specialist weapons. However smoothbored were faster so we’re not replaced by rifles weapons until the 1850s.

France, under Napoleon did not adopt the rifle, he didn’t like them and thought they were too slow.

The 18th-19th century flintlock musket was faster to reload than the match and wheel locks, and would be until replaced by percussion caplocks in the 1830s.

In terms of accuracy smoothbored muskets were not very different to the previous types of fire arm, all were fairly bad beyond 50-60 yards.
Smoothbore’s though were quicker to load and more reliable so you could a much higher rate and volume of fire.
These are a bit out of the period by the OP.
When were cartridges introduced?
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,487
These are a bit out of the period by the OP.
When were cartridges introduced?
The First cartridges were paper. Wide spread use early 1700s? Certianbly earley flintlock It was around for a long time before mass intrioudtion.

metal cartridges a different matter.
 

Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,462
Japan
Cartridges have been in use since fire arms asfaik.

1600s or earlier the use of paper cartridges was common amongst European armies.

The OP is asking if Napoleonic weapons (which carry on being used into the 1830s-50s) were “better” than previous centuries weaponry?
 

Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,462
Japan
In 1790s, colonel (Lake?) of the 44th Foot trained company of men as archers.. he advocated the reintroduction of the bow an arrow as it being more accurate, faster, and effective than any form of firearm.

His idea was rejected.
 
Oct 2017
169
Poland
While 17th century guns were slower, that disadvantage was offset by various tactics.
1. Countermarch.
2. Fire by rank. In 6-10 ranks.
3. Soldiers in the front have a pile of guns and soldiers in the back reload those guns. Can be used in trenches and fortresses.

If Napoleonic weapons didn't have significantly better accuracy, range and armor penetration, it seems that the firepower of an infantry unit didn't improve much during the 18th century.

Edit:
It's also important to note, that the flintlock was widely introduced already before the year 1701. So in the last years of the 17th century a statistical infantry gun was probably not much slower to reaload than a Napoleonic era gun.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2012
1,094
Tarkington, Texas
I would offer the Minie Ball was what made Rifled Muskets effective. It allowed half the volume of fire as a smoothbore, with greater accuracy. It extended the range of effective fire as well.

Pruitt