Weapons of the Revolutionary War

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Weapons of the Revolutionary War
A broad variety of weapons were used throughout the American Revolution. While some were well-established weapons from previous wars, others were more experimental in nature and did not gain prominence until much later in history.

Muskets - The most commonly used firearm during the Revolutionary War was the muzzle-loaded musket. The musket was the primary weapon for thousands of British and Continental Army soldiers. Revolutionary War muskets were commonly equipped with bayonets, which were useful against cavalry and in close combat.  America's ability to arm its force with flintlock muskets as they mobilized was a critical challenge early in the war. 

Muskets used in the Revolutionary War included the Brown Bess, the Charleville, and the Kentucky long rifle. 

Cannons - The cannon was a highly effective weapon throughout the Revolutionary War and was key to the American victory. Though it took as many as 14 soldiers to operate, a cannon could fire projectile for hundreds of yards and hit dozens of enemy soldiers in a single shot. 
flintlock musketshttp://farm4.static.flickr.com/3036/2748380988_c3e320465d.jpg?v=0

Flintlock Pistol - Used primarily as a secondary weapon by soldiers, the pistol was considered very inaccurate and was more of a personal weapon. The pistol was popular in early American duels, which allowed participants to be tough guys without usually being killed (don't mention that to Alexander Hamilton though).

Swords and Sabres - Used mostly by officers, Revolutionary War swords were often ornamental in nature and decorated with precious materials. General George Washington considered his sword to be part of the uniform and many Washington paintings from the Revolutionary War era feature him holding an unsheathed sword.  Today, antique swords are among the most popular American Revolution weapons with collectors.

Submarines - America first experimented with the concept of an underwater vessel during the Revolutionary War. A submarine, then called "the Turtle" was invented by David Bushnell in order to attach explosives to British ships without being detected. Though General Washington loathed this underwater manner of attack as "ungentlemanly", the Turtle was deployed on September 6th, 1776. Piloted by Ezra Lee (and only Ezra Lee), this new water machine was sent to drill a screw into the giant British ship HMS Eagle. Unfortunately, Lee failed to secure the explosive and was forced to retreat as dawn approached. Two other attacks were attempted with the Turtle - both failed.

Revolutionary War weapons continue to be quite popular with collectors. As with any collectible, the value of the weapon closely correlates to the scarcity of the item. However, some of these antique weapons are surprisingly affordable given their significance in World History.

The Role of Camp Followers in the American Revolution

by Laura Webb Thomas

Camp followers, throughout history, have been a necessary presence during war time. During the Revolutionary War, women tended to laundering and mending clothing, cooking meals and nursing the wounded. On the march, they were expected to keep up, often carrying pots and pans, personal belongings and children as they struggled to keep pace. Also accompanying the troops were civilian drivers, sutlers (who set up their stores for the soldiers to purchase necessary items), and members of the clergy. There are accounts of women stopping along the way to give birth, only to rejoin the march in order to stay with their spouse.

Camp followers were not from any select social class. Officers' wives and mistresses accompanied them on the march. Women of more learned background, however, were also able to provide services such as copying correspondence, knitting and managing field hospitals. Able women were often under orders to assist in tending to the wounded. It was not unheard of for women to take up arms or to assist the canon crews in the heat of battle. They led hard lives, being fully expected to earn their keep. One does not often think of Martha Washington as a camp follower, but she and other women did join General Washington at Valley forge from time to time, although their presence was not a constant one.

Women were shipped from England and the British Isles on the same transport ships that brought the British troops to America. The British Army used this as a form of enlistment incentive. Of course, as a result, the population for which they were to provide grew as children were born during the American campaigns. Orderly books clearly annotate when the commanding officer requested all of the names of women and children and to which soldier they "belonged"and unaffiliated women would not receive rations. Therefore, it was not uncommon for women to marry immediately following the demise of their spouse.

The women's presence forced the British Army with a new problem of how to manage this special population. Women who straggled off to plunder abandoned houses during one particular campaign elevated the risk of bringing smallpox into the camp since the structures they visited had been quarantined. In order to enforce some sense of order, efforts were made to limit the number of women and children in tow and specific orders governing the conduct of camp followers were written, setting the expectation that they were to adhere to the rules or suffer the same punishment that a member of the ranks would receive. The Orderly Book of the Maryland Loyalists Regiment, compiled by Caleb Jones, edited by Paul Leicester Ford, specifically cites Clinton's order that women were to march with the baggage with punishment awarded to those who failed to obey. Another officer tried a different approach to curtailing looting activities - he had the women marched down the center of the road, under noncommissioned officer guard, at the head of the troops. It appears that on both sides of the lines, managing the women was a difficult job.

An entry in the orderly book dated July 3, 1778 describes how two camp followers, Mary Colfritt and Elizabeth Clark were tried for plundering. Mary Colfritt was found not guilty, however Elizabeth Clark was sentenced to "Receive 100 Lashes on her Bear Back and to be drumd out of the armey in the Most Publick manner." Records also indicate women receiving punishment for selling liquor to the troops.

Women and children's names were submitted to the commanding officers and these camp followers were entitled to receive a portion of a ration. Those women less formally affiliated with the soldiers relied on the soldier to give up a portion of his own rations or she had to fend for herself. Quite often, women who suddenly found themselves far from home and widowed quickly remarried one of her husband's comrades. When forces surrendered or were captured, the women accompanied their regiments.

The term camp follower does not merely apply to women and children. There were men who were hired as drivers and to fill other occupational needs who were in the employ of, but not a member of, the Army.


What Would you Wear?

The army gave the soldiers the clothes and equipment they needed. But there weren’t always enough of these items. A shipment of shirts arrived, but there weren’t enough for all the soldiers, so many men would have to go without. Sometimes it was shoes in short supply, or coats, breeches, bayonets and other equipment. It was not uncommon to see soldiers near naked, wrapped in blankets and rags. The clothes a soldier was to receive were:

    A shirt, usually of heavy linen.

    Breeches or overalls, pants of linen or wool;  

    Weskit, (another name for waistcoat or vest);

    Woolen socks, which would have been hand-knit;

    Common shoes which fit either foot because they were made without a 

              left and right; 

    A three cornered hat called “cocked-hats”, and made of black felt.

 A soldier was also supposed to receive a heavy woolen coat called a REGIMENTAL COAT. They were of different colors, depending on which regiment the soldier belonged to. A soldier had to wear his regimental coat during battles even if it was very hot. This was because there was a lot of smoke on the battlefields from the guns and cannons. The colors of the coats helped identify regiments and armies. In some battles many troops who could not be issued a regimental coat wore linen “HUNTING FROCKS". These were homespun and worn on the frontier. Hundreds of soldiers wearing hunting frocks, dyed various colors, presented a uniformed appearance. Frock coats were also worn to do fatigue duties to save wear and tear on a man’s regimental coat.

The equipment a soldier received was:

    a flintlock musket, which fired round lead balls and was not very accurate;

    a bayonet, which was like a long knife that fit onto the end of a musket;

    a cartridge box, to carry ammunition;  

    a canteen, to carry water often round and made of wood or tin;  

    a haversack to carry food and small items (it was made of linen with a three

             button flap);

    a knapsack, also made of linen or canvas, painted to be waterproof. Extra

             clothes, shoes, playing cards, candles and other personal items were 

             carried in it.  

 What would you eat in the Army?

The food a soldier was given, or issued, each day by the Army was called a ration. The ration for a soldier a day was,

 a pound of bread

 a pound of meat

 a gill of dry beans or peas

 a gill of rum


A soldier was very lucky indeed if he received ½ of that!  

The bread was very hard - so hard that the soldiers soaked it in warm water until it was soft enough to chew. The bread was hard because it was made with only flour and water. The Army made the bread this way so it would last for a very long time before spoiling.  

The meat was usually salted beef or pork cut into strips or chunks and soaked in salt water so it wouldn’t spoil. The Army issued salted and dried foods because that was the only way to keep food preserved.  

Usually, the soldiers boiled the dry beans or peas with their meat. After cooking a long time, the beans and peas became soft and the meat less salty. The result was a tasty stew.   

The soldiers were supposed to mix their rum with water before they drank it. Sometimes they were issued extra rum for doing extra work, or because it was a special day such as New Year’s or to celebrate a victory or comfort a defeat.

Homefront of the American Revolution

Most Americans did not actively participate in the Revolution. Therefore, no study of the war would be complete without an examination of the home front.

During the war years, those Americans not involved in warfare were doing their best just trying to survive. Farmers continued to grow food, artisans continued to practice their trades, and merchants attempted to maintain their businesses. Despite efforts to maintain business as usual, the entire social landscape was changed.

War disrupts economies and brings tremendous population dislocations. Woe came to families or farmers who found themselves in the way of advancing armies. Despite stringent warnings against such behavior from officers on both sides, farms and homes were often plundered. Soldiers took grain, livestock, or whatever goods they needed.

Severe Consequences

There are recorded instances where officers from both the British and American military ordered the hanging of soldiers who stole from the general populace.

But, there are also instance from both armies where officers ordered their men to confiscate food, livestock, or goods during desperate times. The Americans, in particular, always promised to repay for what they took. The British, at times, also promised restitution.

Dwellings in cities that the British occupied also were subject to sticky fingers. Benjamin Franklin's Philadelphia house served as the quarters for a British officer during the winter of 1777. The officer helped himself to some souvenirs of his time at Franklin's house.

If citizens were thought to be colluding with the American military, their homes might be burned. At times, the homes of revolutionary firebrands or officers were set afire by a vindictive British army.

Economic Consequences

As the British entered major cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, many people fled to the countryside, looking for food and work. Traditional markets were disrupted. Farmers who one week sold their wares to their usual American customers might the next week be selling to an occupying British army.

The British blockade caused widespread unemployment. Almost anyone dependent on the foreign market was out of work, from shippers to merchants. Both armies were sometimes followed by men and women willing to work in any way for a hot meal. The Colonial economy was in shambles.

Some farmers and merchants hoped to profit from increased prices due to scarcity. Many sold their wares to the British army. Violence sometimes came in the wake of rising prices, and the Continental Congress enacted regulations to counter inflation throughout the Colonies.


Women stepped forth to fill holes left by fighting Continental soldiers. Women needed to perform tasks formerly reserved for their husbands (such as farming or running businesses).

These new and independent women of the house also had to stand up for themselves when confronted by both American and British armies. When militias appealed to the public for uniforms and food, homespun garments and farm crops came from patriotic women. And when British armies and soldiers appeared at homes being occupied by women, they did not always find a friendly face.

Some colonial women served as spies for Washington's army, passing valuable information about troop locations and movements. Many men would have returned to bankruptcy after the war had it not been for the efforts of their spouses.

Wars are not merely fought on the battlefield. Even in the 18th century, successful campaigns were the hallmark of a concerted effort. By 1783, the entire American population seemed battle weary, from the foot soldier to the farmer's wife. Their sacrifices helped secure freedoms for the generations that would follow.
African Americans and the Revolutionary War
While the Patriots were ultimately victorious in the American Revolution, choosing sides and deciding whether to fight in the war was far from an easy choice for American colonists. The great majority were neutral or Loyalist. For black people, what mattered most was freedom. As the Revolutionary War spread through every region, those in bondage sided with whichever army promised them personal liberty. The British actively recruited slaves belonging to Patriot masters and, consequently, more blacks fought for the Crown. An estimated 100,000 African Americans escaped, died or were killed during the American Revolution.
Many African Americans, like Agrippa Hull and Prince Hall, did side with the Patriot cause. 5,000 black men served in the Continental Army, and hundreds more served on the sea. Had George Washington been less ambivalent, more blacks might have participated on the Patriot side than with the Loyalists. When he took command of the Continental Army in 1775, Washington barred the further recruitment of black soldiers, despite the fact that they had fought side by side with their white counterparts at the battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill.

The Governor of Virginia, whose royal title was Lord Dunmore,

on the other hand, sought to disrupt the American cause by

promising freedom to any slaves owned by Patriot masters who

would join the Loyalist forces. (Runaway slaves belonging to Loyalists

were returned to their masters.) Dunmore officially issued his

proclamation in November, 1775, and within a month 300 black men

had joined his Ethiopian regiment. Probably no more than 800 eventually

succeeded in joining Dunmore's regiment, but his proclamation inspired

thousands of runaways to follow behind the British throughout the war.

By the winter of 1777-78, the Continental Army had dwindled to 18,000 from disease and desertion. This, together with the active recruitment of enslaved blacks by the British, finally convinced Washington to approve plans for Rhode Island to raise a regiment of free blacks and slaves.

And I hereby further declare all indented servants,

Negroes, or others (appertaining to Rebels) free, that are able

and willing to bear arms, they joining His Majesty's Troops,

as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing

the Colony to a proper sense of their duty,

to this Majesty's crown and dignity.

-- Lord Dunmore's Proclamation
In October 1781, as Patriot and French ground forces and the French fleet surrounded Cornwallis' men at Yorktown, Virginia, the British sent their black allies to face death between the battle lines. After Cornwallis' surrender, the Americans rounded up the surviving blacks for re-enslavement. For the next year, as Loyalists withdrew from southern ports, scores of black refugees sought passage to New York -- the last British stronghold.

Many thousands of African Americans who aided the British lost their freedom anyway. Many of them ended up in slavery in the Caribbean. Others, when they attempted to leave with the British, in places like Charleston and Savannah, were prevented. And there are incredible letters written by southerners of Africans after the siege of Charleston, swimming out to boats, and the British hacking away at their arms with cutlasses to keep them from following them. So it was a very tragic situation. And of the many thousands of Africans who left the plantations, not many of them actually got their freedom.” - Margaret Washington

In November 1782, Britain and America signed a provisional treaty granting the former colonies their independence. As the British prepared for their final evacuation, the Americans demanded the return of American property, including runaway slaves, under the terms of the peace treaty. Sir Guy Carleton, the acting commander of British forces, refused to abandon black Loyalists to their fate as slaves. With thousands of apprehensive blacks seeking to document their service to the Crown, Brigadier General Samuel Birch, British commandant of the city of New York, created a list of claimants known as The Book of Negroes. There were approximately 3,000 to 4,000 African American Loyalists who boarded ships in New York bound for Nova Scotia, Jamaica, and Britain.

Name: _________________________________ Period: _________

US History 1—Unit 4: The American Revolution Miss Raab

Stations'>Revolutionary War Stations

Directions: For this activity you will visit each station in the classroom. At each station, take notes in the corresponding box. Once you have finished at each station and completed your chart, you will then use your notes to answer the questions on the back of the worksheet. All of the stations are outlining different aspects of the American Revolution including women, soldier life, the homefront, and camp followers.



#1: Camp Followers

#2: Weapons



Flintlock Pistol:

Swords and Sabres:


#3: Supplies

What would you wear?


What would you eat?

#4: Homefront

Severe Consequences:

Economic Consequences:

Women and the Revolution:

#5: African American Soldiers




Name: _________________________________ Period: _________
US History 1—Unit 4: The American Revolution Miss Raab

American Revolution Stations—Question Sheet

  1. Why would having ‘camp followers’ be essential for a successful military? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  2. What were the pros and cons of using cannons during war? __PROS:__________________________________________________________________________________________________CONS:_______________________________________________________________________________________________

  3. Look at the equipment list for soldiers, what seems to be missing? Why could the missing item cause a possible problem? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  4. What are at least two of problems caused by camp followers? Explain. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  5. What were at least two of the dangers on the homefront of the American Revolution? Explain. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  6. What efforts did colonial women make on the homefront while their husbands were away? How would this help change the views of the value of women during this time? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


  1. Why were so many African Americans looking to join the British Army? What were the consequences? What happened to those that chose the Patriot side? Which do you think was the better choice? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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