Military and War Weapons the Rifle

About the military and war weapon the rifle, origins and history, first widespread use in the American Revolution, the rifle today.



Description. A rifle is a gun fired from the shoulder which has spiral grooves cut into the bore (the inside surface of the barrel). This grooving causes the bullet to spin when fired, resulting in greater range and accuracy. The spin of the bullet keeps it on a straight trajectory and combats wind and gravitational forces.

Origin. Firearms called muskets, with smooth-surfaced bores, were in existence for nearly two centuries before the rifle was developed around 1470. Knowing that feathered arrows spun while in flight, making them fly farther and more truly, the legendary inventor of the rifle, Kaspar Kollner of Vienna, Austria, discovered that grooves in a gun's bore achieved the same effect with bullets. By 1510 hunting rifles had created a sensation, because they had twice the range and better than twice the accuracy of muskets. Not comprehending the physics of rotating projectiles, medieval scientists could not explain why spinning bullets were so effective.

In 1522 Herman Moritz, a Bavarian sorcerer, announced that rifle bullets were more accurate because demons could not control spinning objects. For a while, this was accepted as the truth, and rifles were used against non-Christians and alleged witches. To test Moritz's conclusion, the Archbishop of Mainz, Germany, held a contest between two riflemen in March, 1547. One rifleman used ordinary lead bullets, while the other employed silver bullets which were engraved with crosses and had been manufactured and loaded by priests who had meticulously exorcised each round of ammunition. Since the denser, "holy" silver bullets resisted the rifle's spiraling and since their shape was distorted due to the crucifixes carved into them, none of the silver bullets hit the target, while all the lead bullets found their mark. This demonstration convinced the archbishop that rifles were weapons of the devil. He declared them illegal and had them seized and destroyed. Anyone found manufacturing a rifle was burned at the stake.

Even though the Church eventually lifted its ban on rifles, muskets remained the principal weapon of all armies for 300 years, because rifles were expensive, heavy, and very difficult to load. The first large-scale use of rifles was by American frontiersmen, who needed a light-weight, highly accurate gun for hunting and Indian fighting. Gunsmiths in eastern Pennsylvania--not Kentucky--produced the inexpensive, 10-lb., easy-loading, and extremely deadly Kentucky rifle by 1740.

First Notable Use. In 1776, during the American Revolution, some 1,200 frontiersmen with their Kentucky rifles were recruited into the American armies. At the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, near Albany, N.Y., rifles were used decisively for the first time in battle. On Oct. 7, British Gen. Simon Fraser led 1,600 elite troops armed with muskets against the Americans. Marching into a clearing near Freeman's Farm, Fraser and his redcoats were attacked by a regiment of Virginia riflemen commanded by Gen. Daniel Morgan. While the British stood in the open, pointed their inaccurate muskets, and fired in volleys, the Virginians took cover behind trees and aimed carefully. Since the American rifles could fire five times as far as the British muskets, the English lines were soon decimated. When Fraser managed to rally his demoralized troops, Morgan ordered a company of his riflemen to cut down the British general. Fraser promptly fell dead, his body riddled with rifle bullets, and the British soldiers fled, while the Americans charged into their lines to win the Battle of Saratoga.

Weapon Today. Since 1777 the Kentucky rifle has become a collector's item. Innumerable varieties of modern rifles are manufactured by legions of factories and are still the basic weapon of infantrymen and hunters throughout the world.

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