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Brown Bess Musket: The Weapon That Won Waterloo

By Jon Guttman 
Originally published on Published Online: November 04, 2010 
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Variations of the Brown Bess saw use on both sides of the American Revolution. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)
Variations of the Brown Bess saw use on both sides of the American Revolution. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)

Developed in 1722, the British Long Land Pattern musket exemplified a trend among armies of the period to standardize long arms by specifying a pattern for arms makers to follow. The etymology of its nickname, "Brown Bess," is uncertain but may be a derivation of the German or Middle Dutch terms for "brown" and "barrel." (Early gunsmiths coated both the metal and stock of long arms in a protective brown varnish.)

Weighing a little more than 10 pounds, the original Long Land was 62.5 inches long with a 46-inch barrel. A lug atop the end of the barrel secured a 17-inch triangular bayonet and doubled as a crude sight. The British later introduced the Short Land Pattern (shown above), Militia and Marine versions of the Brown Bess, each fitted with a 42-inch barrel, making for easier handling with no appreciable sacrifice in accuracy. These remained standard issue for British line infantry units from 1740 to 1797 and also saw use among American colonists during the French and Indian War. Redcoats faced the muzzles of many a Rebel Brown Bess during the American Revolution.

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In 1790 the British army adopted the India Pattern, featuring a thicker, more accurate 39-inch barrel, with an effective range of up to 175 yards. In practice, however, Redcoats fired the Brown Bess in volley at a range of about 50 yards, shattering enemy lines with their high volume of fire. A well-drilled infantryman could snap off about three shots a minute.

In 1839 the British began converting the flintlock to the more reliable percussion cap mechanism, fielding them in quantity in the Pattern 1842. That remained in service until the outbreak of the Crimean War, when the Enfield Model 1853 rifle and Minié ball ended Brown Bess' long reign on the battlefield.



2 Responses to “Brown Bess Musket: The Weapon That Won Waterloo”

  1. 1
    tim says:


    • 1.1
      Matthew says:

      I believe that your image is wrong….. In step three, the rifleman opens the frizzen, sets the hammer (or the cock) to the half-cock, puts a small amount of powder into the pan and then shuts the frizzen to prevent the loss of powder.

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