Weapons of the Revolutionary War

Insignificant Tools of Death


You are an officer of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War for Independence. As you sit on your horse, spectating your untrained vagabonds that you call soldiers head to battle against one of the world’s greatest armies, you watch as your troops get mowed down by enemy cannons. Your futile attempts at victory are only matched by the primitive weapons that your soldiers are using to claim their independence. Inaccurate muskets are constantly and slowly being reloaded, many of the bullets fired missing their targets. Behind the battlefield are your snipers, expert riflemen in the surrounding woods cautiously and stealthily picking off enemy officers. The enemy spots them, and they immediately take charge on them with bayonets, the riflemen unable to defend themselves against the mob of infantrymen. You see the “fog of war,” as it is called, smog erupting from the many arms that are fired and filling the battlefield with the awful scent of gunpowder. You can’t see your troops anymore, so you run over to the fort that you are defending, checking up on your artillery crews. You realize that the enemy has significantly more heavy firepower than you: their cannons slowly but surely coming to siege the fort. Your men fire, and the shot mows down two infantrymen. You watch as the crew rushes to set back the cannon in place, as there is only one other cannon and one mortar to defend the fort. As you draw your telescope to inspect the enemy troops, you realize that they are carrying the same weapons as your soldiers! A lightbulb goes off in your head: this war is not about sheer firepower, it is about careful strategy and outthinking the opponent, and you are desperately outmatched! “RETREAT, RETREAT!!!” you yell out to your men. They stop firing their weapons to stare in your direction. You and your fellow comrades narrowly escape the battlefield as the British claim the fort, after suffering a humiliating and demoralizing defeat.

This is just one of the many scenes you may have encountered as an officer in the Revolutionary War. The death of many a comrade and the smog erupting from the muskets were some of the sights you may have seen, along with the riflemen hidden in the trees and the cannons guarding the fort. All of these weapons, though, as important as they may seem, were not so in the slightest. The Americans’ victory in the war was not because of superior technology or because of brute firepower: it was because of American ingenuity. The Americans and the British used the same exact weapons, so it was a matter of skill and strategy rather than pure military strength. Unfortunately, the Americans lacked artillery firepower to take down many troops at once. The technology of the weapons wasn’t as advanced as it is today, too. The firearms by today’s standards were very primitive compared to the automatic weapons of the twenty-first century. The main weapons of the war, though, were firearms, melee (or hand-to-hand) weapons, and artillery; all of which were not crucial to the Americans’ victory in the American Revolution.

Research Highlights

  • Firearms included muskets, rifles, and pistols.
  • All of these firearms were very tedious to load, and had to loaded with the right amount of gunpowder so that the guns would not misfire and explode or not fire at all.
  • Melee weapons included bayonets, sabers, swords, hatchets, and axes, among others.
  • All of these weapons were in short supply by the Americans, and therefore could not significantly impact their efforts in the war.
  • Artillery included cannons, mortars, and howitzers.
  • Most artillery had problems dealing with recoil, as they constantly had to be repositioned after each time they fired, a task easier said than done.