Musket Vs Rifle: “A letter on the defence of England by corps of volunteers and militia”, 1852

A Letter on the Defence of England by Corps of Volunteers and Militia by Sir Charles James Napier, Lt. General, is a short essay advocating for the retention of the “tried” musket, rather than the adoption of the “untried” minie rifle. The subject is not strictly related to Bows Vs Muskets, but we do get a valuable point of comparison between the attitudes towards the musket at the beginning and the end of its service life in England. Like the latter 16th century partisans of the longbow were proven wrong by history, so was Sir Charles Napier. We see some similarity in the rhetoric, in appeals to past victories with the old weapon fought long before the new one came into existence. The defense of the obsolete weapon is accompanied by defense of other obsolete ideas: John Smythe railed against soldiers wearing less armor and using longer swords. Napier defends the bright red uniform while doubting the military usefulness of trains.

Here are some of the most interesting sections.

“I fought in “The Bush” in America: so thick it was, that we could hardly pierce its denseness; my regiment was opposed to Kentucky riflemen. We had muskets, and we beat them. We had red coats—they had brown coats; yet we slew more of them than they did of us. We are told that, at the Cape, the Kafirs lie hidden till our soldiers come within a few feet! Then what do we want with a rifle? The Cape corps were armed with short carabines, not with rifles, and are said to have done better service than any other corps, while the men were faithful.”

“I saw about a dozen of these Affreedees (who are generally supposed, perhaps with reason, to be excellent marksmen), fire a volley with their jezails at about eight or ten British staff-officers, who were in a cluster about two hundred yards distance, and not one of those officers was touched, nor one of their horses! The same number of our musketeers would have killed and wounded half the party. The Jezailchees were hidden in the rocks; they took deliberate aim in perfect security to themselves, and, having fired, were off before we could get a shot at them, for they understand that work. In short, in those five days, of skirmishing, and also on more serious occasions, I never saw anything in war, as regards weapons, more marked than the superiority of the musket over the jezail and matchlock, or any rifle that I ever saw.”

“This is no trial of weapons fit for war!— firing in a dark night, rainy weather, tired soldiers, clumsy fingers, made more stiff by cold, empty bellies, not a drop of champagne to wash the experiment down! but a stern will to shoot all “foreigners” the moment they become “distinguished” in the gloom of the night, or the dawning of the day! We do not want fire-arms, in the infantry, for individual combat, but for combat in masses, where the nice aim of the deerstalker is not wanted, and human nature will not take it till men grow old in war, and become more calm in danger than those who are less practised; and even then the veteran cannot see through the dense smoke of battle: he knows well that to level low and to load quick is his game.”

The letter itself:

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