January 08, 2014

The Harpers Ferry Rifle

The primary weapon for soldiers during the War of 1812 was the musket but some elite units were issued rifles. In the U.S. Army, the Harpers Ferry Model 1803 rifle was the most prominent for their rifle regiments. Before the war, the US produced 4,000 rifles at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. It was a sturdy, short-barreled, heavy caliber weapon. It weighed about nine pounds, was 49 inches long, and was a .54 caliber weapon.

Rifles had grooves machined down the barrel in order to spin the ball and produce greater accuracy. A skilled marksman could hit a target at 200-300 yards or farther. The rifle had better accuracy then a musket, but it was more difficult and longer to load than a musket and it could be less reliable since the grooved barrel could produce more fouling. In addition, the rifle cost more money to make than a musket.
Harpers Ferry rifle
At the beginning of the war, the U.S. had only one rifle regiment in service and this increased to four regiments in 1814. Although riflemen never amounted to more than 10 percent of the regular army, they did play an important role in many engagements. Riflemen helped to establish beachheads at York and Fort George in 1813 and in 1814 they won a decisive victory against the British at Conjocta Creek, just to name a few.

If you want to find out more about riflemen, you can head to Old Fort Erie on February 1 for The Niagara 1814 Campaign Symposium where Doug Kohler will be talking about the American perspective of the campaign. The symposium will also include presentations by Donald and Dianne Graves, and Richard Hill. Click here for more information and to register. 

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