Deadly Weapons of the American Revolution


By: Nathan Chandler

4 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

The American Revolution pitted colonists versus British soldiers and loyalists. How much do you know about the weapons used in these history-altering battles?

Which country supplied the Americans with many weapons during the war?

The colonists were in dire need of weapons, particularly early in the conflict. France stepped in and supplied many thousands of muskets, cannons and other guns to help the colonists in their fight against the British.


Which weapon used in the war had its origins with Native American tribes?

Tomahawks were often used in hand-to-hand combat, but they could also be thrown to strike an enemy at a short distance.


Why were siege guns rarely moved during combat?

Siege guns were the biggest cannons used during the war, and they blasted large, solid metal shot into enemy fortifications. They were also extremely heavy and hard to move, meaning armies typically used them only for protracted engagements like sieges.


Grapeshot was best for attacking what kind of target?

Grapeshot referred to multiple rounds of shot stuffed into a cannon and then fired all at once. When leveled at a group of soldiers, the effect was often devastating.


Musket cartridges were made from what material?

Paper cartridges contained both black powder and metal shot. Troops tore open the paper, put a bit of powder near the flintlock and then rammed the rest of the cartridge down the gun's barrel in preparing for firing.


Which type of artillery piece fired projectiles at the highest trajectory?

Mortars were short-barreled guns that fired bombs at high trajectories meant to loft explosives over enemy fortifications. Mortars fired bombs that were intended to explode in midair, causing shrapnel to spread over long distances.


Bayonets were considered one of the war's primary weapons.

Low-accuracy guns and poor marksmanship meant that soliders were often left fighting in hand-to-hand combat. They affixed long, sharp bayonets to their guns and then charged.


What kind of gun technology was most common during the war?

By this era, matchlock guns were outdated, but percussion guns were still decades from reality, meaning flintlock guns were the most common technology. When soldiers pulled the trigger, a piece of flint would strike steel, creating a spark that ignited black powder that fired the weapon.


What kind of weapon was the Brown Bess?

The Brown Bess musket was one of the most common weapons of the war. It was a British gun that was widespread throughout the Colonies.


What was the approximate accurate range of a smoothbore musket?

When carefully aimed, the smoothbore muskets were accurate to about 100 yards. In the panic and chaos of battle, many shots went flying far from their targets.


British flintlock guns worked better in wet weather than those used by the Americans.

Both sides tried to avoid fighting during rain showers because flintlocks were notoriously unreliable in wet weather. The flints had no problem creating a spark, but the spark would fall onto wet black powder, which didn't ignite when moist.


Why did rifles and muskets become increasingly hard to load during battle?

Old-school black powder built up and fouled the barrels, making it harder and harder for soldiers to insert fresh rounds.


What is a Quaker gun?

During a battle at Rugeley's Mill, one American unit created a fake cannon from a log. The so-called Quaker gun was convincing enough that some British soldiers surrendered rather face a cannon's roar.


Given the complexity of the reloading procedure, at what rate were trained soldiers expected to fire their muzzleloading flintlock muskets during battle?

In good conditions, soldiers were expected to fire about once every 15 seconds or four times per minute. But cold, fear and other factors often made this an impossible standard.


During the Revolutionary War, cannonballs and bombs referred to the same thing.

Cannonballs were solid metal and typically fired at flat trajectories towards fortifications or enemy infantry. Bombs were filled with gunpowder and meant to explode during flight, raining down sharp metal on unlucky targets.


Why were Brown Bess muskets often fired in massive, simultaneous volleys?

Because muskets weren't very accurate, their firepower was often more effective when many men fired at once. The tactic maximized muskets' potential damage and sometimes created vulnerabilities in enemy lines.


Bayonets were effective even in the hands of inexperienced troops.

Many Revolutionary War battles were fought in close quarters, with bayonets as the primary weapon. Even inexperienced troops could quickly learn to stab enemy soldiers with a bayonet, making it an effective (and horrifying) weapon throughout the conflict.


Bayonets were responsible for roughly what percentage of battlefield casualties?

Poor gun accuracy meant that soldiers were expected to fight with bayonets, which caused about a third of all combat casualties.


So-called hot shot was used against which kind of target?

Hot shot was so named because it referred to superheated cannon balls that were quickly loaded into guns and fired at enemy ships. The extreme heat from the shot sometimes set ships on fire.


What was the caliber of Charleville muskets?

Charleville muskets were .69 caliber, a bit smaller than the .75 caliber Brown Bess muskets. The smaller caliber meant the gun as a whole was lighter and easier to carry in battle.


Why did musket balls often veer off course when they emerged from the end of the gun barrel?

As the black powder ignited and propelled the shot, the hot gases sometimes expanded unevenly, causing the musket shot to spin unpredictably. This fact made it difficult for troops to consistently hit their marks.


Muskets of the American Revolution typically had fairly accurate sights.

Many muskets of the era had no sights at all, meaning soldiers relied on experience (and luck) to hit a target, especially one that was moving. Even a slight deviation in aim meant that a musket ball might veer wildly off the intended course.


Of the following, what cannon shot weight was most common during the war?

Cannons were often denoted by the weight of the shot they fired. Most metal shot was under 10 pounds, with three, four and six-pound cannons being very common.


A spontoon was what kind of weapon?

A spontoon was basically a type of spear. In a war where bayonets were a primary weapon, it's not surprising that these longer spears were also helpful in killing enemies.


Revolutionary War rifles took longer to load than muskets.

Muskets were hard to reload, but rifles were even more complicated. Riflemen were often teamed with men carrying muskets who protected them as they worked to reload their rifles.


Chain shot was frequently used against which target?

Chain shot was essentially two cannonballs attached by a chain. When fired, the contraption would spin through the air in a manner that was exceptionally good for tearing down a ship's mast and rigging. At times, the weapon was also used to mow down groups of infantry, too. Welcome to war, gentlemen.


The strongest artillery guns were made of which type of metal?

Iron guns were the strongest, meaning they could fire larger charges of gunpowder without breaking. That meant iron guns could also fire larger shot and hit targets at longer ranges.


Why did George Washington want troops armed with muskets instead of rifles, which were more accurate and had longer range?

Rifles were hard to reload, making them slower to use on the battlefield. Furthermore, they didn't have bayonets, meaning riflemen were at a disadvantage during hand-to-hand combat.


A hanger was what type of weapon?

Hangers were short swords that had a length of around two feet. In the midst of a chaotic battle, cutting and piercing blades like bayonets and hangers were often faster and easier than guns.


Why didn't the British arm their soldiers with more of the accurate Ferguson rifle?

The Ferguson was a solid, accurate weapon for this era, but there was a drawback -- the guns were hard to make. It took months for the manufacturer to produce just a few dozen rifles.


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