The Wall Gun

If you’ve visited Colonial Michilimackinac, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen the interpreters demonstrating a cannon or musket during our daily programs. There is another 18th century weapon that gets fired occasionally, and it’s an interesting cross between a cannon and a musket. Let’s take a look at our wall gun.  

Wall Gun vs. Musket


A wall gun is essentially just a supersized musket. As the name implies, wall guns were intended to be fired resting on a wall or the railing of a ship, and many original weapons were fitted with a yoke or swivel similar to an oarlock to facilitate easy mounting. Such a rest was necessary given the weight and size of the weapon. Wall pieces were typically .91 caliber, had four and a half foot-long barrel (although some were as long as six feet), measured over six feet long in total, and weighed between 35 and 40 pounds. Constructed in only limited quantities, primarily in the 1740s and again in the 1770s, wall pieces were intended to function as artillery pieces in situations were even the smallest and lightest of cannons were impractical. Although unwieldy, a wall gun could be positioned and fired by just one soldier. Firing a 2¼-ounce ball, they could apparently hit targets 500 to 600 yards away, and were ideal for use during sieges, when they could be moved around to fire on enemy engineers and sappers. During the American Revolution, Captain William Congreve of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, a noted artillery innovator, suggested employing wall guns as a secondary weapon alongside field guns. Under Congreve’s plan, wall guns mounted on two-wheeled carts accompanied artillery detachments and were deployed alongside the cannons. A vertical wooden mantlet, or shield, attached to the cart protected the two soldiers serving the guns. Despite their size, wall guns remained a muzzle-loading flintlock weapon, and as such were loaded and fired in much the same way as a normal sized musket.


Although the British military only produced wall guns in limited numbers, two of them found their way to Michilimackinac in the 1770s. Classified as ordnance along with the garrison’s cannons and mortar, the walls guns were apparently intended to serve in detached positions outside the main palisade wall. In 1768, Captain-lieutenant Frederick Spiesmacher of the 60th Regiment requested permission to build a blockhouse on a sandy hill outside the fort. He wanted a blockhouse large enough for six men and two wall guns. Spiesmacher probably never built the blockhouse, as a decade later Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair ordered a blockhouse built overlook and command hollow ground behind a sand hill which the troops could not reduce,” which would also flank the trader’s houses in the suburbs outside the palisade. When the blockhouse was finished in early 1780, Sinclair noted that it contained positions for three artillery pieces, but the wall guns could also have been used there. The guns were moved to Mackinac Island with the rest of the fort by 1781, but disappear from the Fort Mackinac ordnance returns soon after. Whether they were sent away or merely no longer recorded with the larger artillery pieces is unclear.

Today, our reproduction wall gun is occasionally fired for demonstrations, sometimes taking the place of the cannon or mortar for an artillery firing. An original wall gun is also on display in the underground powder magazine and Firearms on the Frontier exhibit. Be sure to see the original piece next time you visit Colonial Michilimackinac, and you might be lucky enough to see the reproduction fired on the parade ground!

 

A Short Land Pattern Musket of 1769

A musket firing demonstration at Colonial Michilimackinac.

When you visit Colonial Michilimackinac, you’ll probably see a few historical interpreters representing British soldiers of the 8th Regiment going about their daily routine of demonstrations and tours. Every day, they fire their muskets for demonstration. Many people call these weapons a “Brown Bess,” but that name is overly generic and not necessarily appropriate for the 18th century. Let’s take a closer look at one of these muskets, properly referred to as the New Pattern Short Land Musket for Line Infantry.

Beginning in the 1720s, British soldiers were issued muskets manufactured to a standardized pattern. The Board of Ordnance contracted with individual gunsmiths to create various musket components such as locks, barrels, and brass furniture, which were assembled into completed weapons by Ordnance workers in the Tower of London or Dublin Castle. Contracts were let and weapons made up on an as-needed basis, and the economically-minded Board of Ordnance always tried to use up existing stores before using new ones, so there were always multiple versions of similar weapons in use at the same time. That being said, several distinctive musket patterns emerged over time, with unique variants for line infantry, mounted dragoons, artillerymen, noncommissioned officers, the militia, and sailors and marines. The Land series muskets were intended for infantry soldiers, with new patterns authorized in 1730, 1740, 1742, 1748, and 1756. Each model somehow improved upon its predecessors (such as the steel ramrod incorporated in the 1748 pattern), but these weapons all featured 46-inch-long barrels. There were experiments with shorter-barreled weapons, as in 1759 when Lt. Col. John LaFausille of the 8th Regiment supervised firing tests with muskets having half-length (23 inch) barrels in England. He reported that the short weapons had just as much penetrating power as the standard arms, and were less awkward for shorter men to handle. Despite his findings, British muskets remained long for the rest of the 18th century, in part because longer weapons, combined with a fixed bayonet to transform them into a pike, were more effective at repelling enemy cavalry.

 

A reproduction Pattern 1769 Short Land musket at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Fitted with an 18-inch bayonet, the musket could be an effective hand-to-hand or anti-cavalry weapons, but British tactical doctrine of the 1770s relied heavily on the bayonet as a powerful psychological weapon.

Although the Board of Ordnance never accepted such drastically shorted weapons, experience during the Seven Years’ War, and success with slightly smaller muskets issued to militiamen and aboard warships, convinced the Board of Ordnance to consider a new model weapon. After tests in early 1768, the board recommended a 42-inch barreled musket, which King George III formally approved in June. Contracts were let, and by the end of the year gunsmiths had delivered tens of thousands of components for the new muskets, which entered service in 1769. These weapons were officially known as New Pattern Short Land Musket for Line Infantry, or more concisely as the Pattern 1769 or Short Land musket.

Note the delicate scroll on the top of the cock comb (the large hammer-like piece at center, holding the flint), and the three-pointed trefoil at the end of the hammer spring (just to the right of the GR). Also note that the head of the top jaw screw, just above the flint, is solid. Pattern 1777 weapons had a hole bored through the screw head to provide more leverage when tightening the jaws down onto the flint. The piece of looped leather at right is a hammer-stall, an 18th century safety feature that prevents the weapon from misfiring by stopping the flint before it can hit the steel of the hammer to generate sparks. The brass flash guard is a modern safety feature.

 

The musket featured here is a nice reproduction example of a Pattern 1769 Short Land musket. It has a 42 inch, .75 caliber smoothbore barrel. The lockplate, similar to those introduced on the Pattern 1756 Long Land muskets, is engraved with TOWER, indicating that the weapon originated in the Tower of London. Individual gunsmiths were previously allowed to engrave their own names on the plates, but the practice was abolished in 1764. The engraved crown, GR, and broad arrow in front of cock all indicate government ownership of the weapon. Individual units could further mark their weapons, usually by engraving on the barrel, and each weapon was assigned a rack and company number to link it to a specific soldier. These numbers were typically engraved on the wrist plate. The comb of the cock is relatively ornate, and the finial of the hammer spring has a delicate trefoil design. The next model musket, the Pattern 1777 Short Land, simplified many of these features but retained the same basic look of the Pattern 1769 weapons.

Numbers identifying which company and soldier the weapon was issued to could be engraved on the brass wristplate just behind the lock.

 

It is important to note that while interpreters at Michilimackinac today carry and demonstrate reproductions of the 1769 and 1777 Short Land weapons, historically the soldiers of the 8th Regiment probably carried the Pattern 1756 Long Land musket. As noted above, the government’s preference for exhausting existing weapons stores before issuing new models meant that the shorter 1769 muskets did not immediately replace the 1756 Long Lands. The 8th Regiment received its last large scale-issue of new arms in 1766, when the 1756 musket remained the standard. The 8th did receive some new weapons in 1771, 1775, and 1778. However, the first two issues were to replace older muskets worn out in service, while the 1778 issue covered the “augmentation” of the regiment caused by raising additional recruiting companies in England. As such, although Pattern 1769 Short Lands may have made an appearance in the hands of some soldiers of the 8th by the mid-1770s, it seems highly likely that the majority of men continued to carry the 1756 Long Lands, perhaps until they returned home to England in 1785. Indeed, the Pattern 1756 Long Land remained the standard issue weapon for grenadier companies (including the grenadiers of the 8th, posted at Michilimackinac) and guards regiments until the late 1780s, and the older weapon was never fully replaced by the Short Land weapons.

In any case, the weapons carried and fired by our interpreters today make up an important part of the daily programming at Colonial Michilimackinac. Be sure to ask the interpreters about their muskets when you visit. For tickets and more information please visit our website, and be sure to check out Mackinac Associates, which makes programs and exhibits possible throughout Mackinac State Historic Parks’ sites.

The Grenadiers’ “Mutiny” of 1780

The summer of 1780 was not a happy time at Michilimackinac. Patrick Sinclair, the lieutenant governor since October 1779, found himself at odds with most of the community he nominally governed. Much of the discord seems to have been of Sinclair’s own making (he was quick to take offense and vain about his prerogatives as lieutenant governor), but in mid-summer he faced a new problem: the grenadier company of the 8th Regiment, which made up half of Michilimackinac’s garrison, refused one officer’s order and started submitting petitions with grievances to another.
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On This Day: Battle of Mackinac Island, August 4, 1814

American soldiers from the 17th, 19th, and 24th Infantry Regiments joined men from the Corps of Artillery, the Marine Corps, and the Ohio militia during the battle.

On August 4, 1814, war came to Mackinac Island. The island, which had been captured by the British in 1812, was now the focus of an American campaign to reclaim the region. That campaign reached its zenith as hundreds of American troops landed on the island’s north shore, marched inland, and encountered well-entrenched British, Canadian, and Native American troops. (more…)

Ice Fishing at Michilimackinac

Ice Fishing at Michilimackinac

Archaeologists excavated this nearly-completed whitefish skeleton from a trash pit in the southwest corner of the fort. It is now on display in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit.

Right now, it’s cold at the Straits of Mackinac. The straits are almost completely iced over, apart from slim shipping tracks kept open by Coast Guard icebreakers. While today those of us who live here can drive our cars to the store for food regardless of the ice conditions in the straits, the 18th century residents of Michilimackinac were much more limited in their choices of food. For the most part, during the winter they relied upon foods that had been shipped in and stockpiled before snow and ice closed trade routes on the lakes and rivers of the Great Lakes watershed. Fortunately, there remained a ready supply of fresh food just under the ice covering the Straits of Mackinac: fish. (more…)

Mill Creek – What Happened Next?

Mill Creek – What Happened Next?

The earliest known photograph of the Mill Creek site, taken in about 1915. The bridge carries the state highway across the stream and the lake would be to the back of the photographer. The “MC” markings are noting the location of the Michigan Central railroad. The bluff at left center is where today’s overlook is.

Visitors to Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park learn about the Campbell and Dousman families and their employees operating the saw and grist mills and farm at the site. What happened next? (more…)

Blacksmithing at Michilimackinac

Blacksmithing at Michilimackinac

The blacksmith shop at Colonial Michilimackinac, historically, was used to repair guns for the soldiers that served there. Justin, our blacksmith at Michilimackinac, repairs a hammer on a gun lock from start to finish, explaining the process as he goes. Watch the blacksmith in action every day during the season at Colonial Michilimackinac. We open for the 2019 season on May 1.

Special Events at Colonial Michilimackinac

Special Events at Colonial Michilimackinac

Although there aren’t any big anniversaries to celebrate this year, there will be a number of exciting special events throughout the summer at Colonial Michilimackinac. From June to September, two weekends each month will highlight a different aspect of the site’s history with special programs and activities.

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Washerwomen: British Military Laundresses at Michilimackinac

Washerwomen: British Military Laundresses at Michilimackinac

If you have visited Colonial Michilimackinac recently, you may have noticed a few changes, including new exhibits, new gardens, and whole new buildings. A new addition in 2017 will be a weekly laundry demonstration at the Soldier’s House. Although our interpreters won’t be washing your socks, it is still worth a visit to see how the enlisted men’s wives were working in the 1770s. (more…)

King’s 8th Returns to Colonial Michilimackinac

King’s 8th Returns to Colonial Michilimackinac

Kings-8th-with-flagThe King is calling you to enlist.

Throughout the weekend of September 9 and 10, 2016, we will recreate the garrison routines of the soldiers at Michilimackinac in the mid-1770s. In addition to drill and musket firing demonstrations, there will be military ration cooking demonstrations, the posting of sentries at the fort’s gates, and daily roll calls.

Interpreters will also be on hand to discuss and demonstrate the role of women attached to the British army as laundresses, seamstresses, gardeners, and cooks. Visitors are invited to drill with the soldiers, help with the laundry, become a member of an artillery crew, and attempt to improve the defenses of Michilimackinac with a “Design a Fort” activity. Special walking tours will focus on Michilimackinac’s armaments and defenses, as well as the community’s role in the American Revolution.

Learn more about Colonial Michilimackinac.

God Save the King!