ambience: rifles firing, men’s voices, yelling, skirmish
They were unsung heroes of the Revolutionary War and they wielded one of the most effective weapons of their time. You can still see riflemen in action in encampments and re-enactments that take place in many parts of the country year-round. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
“The rifleman worked on the periphery, normally, of a battle. And their purpose was to find British officers and kill ’em. And typically a two hundred yard shot was not uncommon.”
Owen Purcell is a revolutionary war reenactor who takes on the role of a rifleman. He says that one of the reasons the rifle was so accurate, was that grooves – called rifling – were cut into the barrel of the gun in a spiral pattern. When the rifle was fired, the grooves caused the bullet to spin.
“It’s like a quarterback throwing a spiral in football. When you throw that ball and you get a good spiral on it, it’s deadly accurate and it flies straight and true. The same could be said of a round ball coming out of a rifle barrel.”
Unlike rifle bullets, musket balls did not spin and were much less accurate.
“And after the first round or two was fired, there was so much smoke and fog on the battlefield. Typically, you couldnâ€™t see what you’re aiming at, and if you hit anybody after the first volley or two, it was pure dumb luck that you hit anybody. To give you an example, the Battle of Concord and Lexington … it was estimated that thirty one thousand rounds of ammunition were fired at that British column. They had two hundred and sixty casualties. Just the inability of muskets to kill beyond forty yards or so, number one, and number two, the confusion, the smoke, you just canâ€™t pick a target.”
We spoke with Owen Purcell in Wethersfield, Connecticut, where every June they hold a festival that has a Revolutionary encampment.
.Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I’m Jim Metzner.