|Reenactors portray Maryland troops|
Today, we are going to examine a particular type of ammunition used by eighteenth-century soldiers: buckshot. For those unfamiliar with the term, buckshot consists of smaller projectiles, which spread out after leaving the barrel of the weapon. It is often used in a shotgun today. In the eighteenth-century, German language speakers called this specialty ammunition Cartatschen-Patronen, which gives us the modern German term, Kartätschen-Patronen, a catch-all term for submunitions including grape-shot (Traubhagel).
It appears that while this type of ammunition was common amongst American, British, and French irregular forces, and it was utilized by American, Austrian, British, French and Russian regular troops as well. In the eighteenth-century, buckshot was used to help compensate for the smoothbore weapons in common use at the time. By firing more projectiles at the target, troops generated a larger wall of lead with which to damage enemy forces. Far from being an exclusively American innovation, this weapon was employed by multiple European regular armies. This post will examine the use of buckshot in the mid-eighteenth century. I want to thank Dr. Grzegorz Podruczny for his advice and help with source material.
Most troops discussed in this post were not firing only buckshot, but rather a combination of both buckshot and musket ball ammunition. In English, this is called "buck and ball", (sometimes, "buck 'n' ball) ammunition. Usually, this consisted of a regular cartridge with 2-3 buckshot attached to it. This would provide the best of both worlds: the larger ball could be effective at long ranges, while at 100 yards or less, the buckshot would begin to wound and mangle enemy soldiers. If you are wondering what one of these cartridges might look like, check out the artistic reconstruction below. With the round itself examined, let us look first at the use of buckshot in the Seven Years' War, and then during the American War of Independence.
|A Provincial in Winter|
This type of specialist round was employed by both sides in the French and Indian War. British officers believed that their French and Native Americans enemies exclusively used this type of ammunition. In October of 1757, a British officer recalled, "The enemy never fire a single ball, for they always load with six or seven smaller ones (which are called buck-shot) besides their usual musket-ball." The same officer referred to being under buckshot fire as, "a dreadful shower." By 1760, both the British and their provincial allies had followed suit. Describing a small engagement in Canada, John Knox reported that New England provincials, "advanced, very spiritedly, to the enemy, who were endeavoring to steal upon them; gave them a regular discharge of a brace of balls, besides buckshot from each piece, and sent them flying." By the end of the war, it seems that both the British and Americans had begun to employ buckshot with increasing regularity.
|Russian Infantrymen/Artillerymen of the Seven Years' War|
On our side, therefore, there were relatively little dead, but a great number of wounded. However, most of the wounded were able to convalesce with their regiments...every Russian infantryman loads a musket ball and an equal pack of buckshot. There are between 7-9 of these in a linen packet in the form of grapeshot. As a result of this, the Russians load quite slowly, as a Jäger loads his rifle. In the time it takes the Russians to load their weapons, the Prussians have fired three times. I address this only in passing. We have found signs of this buckshot in many of the wounded, because they bled freely, almost to death. I cannot say whether their balls are poisoned, but you have observed that the Russians even use heated shot to harm their enemies.
|Buckshot from archeology on the Kunersdorf battlefield. (Many thanks to Dr.|
Grzegorz Podruczny for the image!)
Clearly, then, the Russians used a different sort of buck and ball ammunition, one where two distinct cartridges were loaded into the weapon. It is interesting that the Prussian soldier compares the additional time loading this ammunition to that of a Jägers' rifled weapon. After the Seven Years' War, Russian army would continue to use buckshot ammunition until the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The British and fledgling American army would use this type of ammunition in the American War of Independence.
|Reenactors portray American soldiers in the War of Independence|
|Soldier's Musket recovered from British shipwreck in St. Augustine, FL.|
The British, too, used buck and ball cartridges during the American War of Independence. The musket above was photographed in a shipwreck near St. Augustine, Florida. Multiple American sources report suffering buckshot wounds when engaged with British regulars, particularly in the Southern Campaign of 1781. At the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, it is possible that both the Brigade of Guards and the 33rd Regiment were using this type of ammunition. Although the British army never employed buck and ball as the standard ammunition, it appears that by the late war its use was quite common.
Thus, it would seem that buckshot was commonly used on many of the battlefields of the mid-eighteenth century. Rather than being a distinct practice unique to American backwoodsmen, the ammunition was used French troops in colonial Canada, and Austrian and Russians troops in Europe during the Seven Years' War. The American contribution to the use of buckshot ammunition was mandating its use, something that the British failed to do. It is an interesting coincidence that the two superpowers of the twentieth century, Russia and America, heavily employed buckshot during the eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries.
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-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Babits, Brenckle, and Howard, "Rifle Shot and Buck'n'Ball in the 1781 Southern Campaign," Paper presented to the 2005 Nathanial Greene Symposium.
 Knox, An Historical Journal, Vol 1, 54.
 Ibid, 91.
 Ibid, Vol 2, 280.
Anon, Militär Feld-Regulament, articles 15, 18, and 19. (Manuscript is unpaginated).
Anon, Besondere Merkwürdigkeiten und Anekdoten aus Neudam in der Neumark, 29.
 Leo Bockeria, et al, "Russian war surgery in 1812," International Journal of Surgery, Vol 10, Issue, 10, 2012.
 Lawrence Babits, Devil of a Whipping, 13.
 Legg, et al, "Understanding Camden: The Revolutionary War Battle of Camden As Revealed Through Historical, Archaeological, and Private Collections Analysis," University of South Carolina Scholarly Commons, 2005.
 John Fitzpatrick (Eds), The Writings of George Washington, Vol 9, 313.
 Lawrence Babits, Devil of Whipping, 165n8.
 Lawrence Babits, Long, Obstinate, and Bloody, 166.