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.

What’s Growing in the Garden? Carrots!

Carrots in the ground.

We have begun our spring cleanup of the gardens at Michilimackinac! It Is the best time. Every year we find a few unexpected things, and this week we came across a number of forgotten carrots. We are usually quite meticulous about digging our root vegetables and storing them for use later, but it seems that these escaped our shovel. Surprise!

What will these be used for? Well, 18th century sources abound with recipes and uses for carrots. Some books recommended them as a cure for everything from cancer to asthma. Cooks turned the root vegetable into puddings, added them to soups, and used them in salads. One of our favorite historic ways to use carrots is from a recipe by E. Smith that was published in the Compleat Housewife in 1736:

To make Carrot or Parsnip Puffs

Scrape and boil your carrots or parsnips tender; then scrape or mash them very fine, add to a pint of pulp the crumb of a penny-loaf grated, or some stale biscuit, if you have it, some eggs, but four whites, a nutmeg grated, some orange-flower water, sugar to your taste, a little sack, and mix it up with thick cream. They must be fry’d in rendered suet, the liquor very hot when you put them in; put in a good spoonful in a place.

They end up being sweet and deliciously greasy.

While it is not uncommon for root vegetables to winter over in the gardens at Michilimackinac, it still always seems like something that shouldn’t be possible. Check back later to see what other things are happening this spring at Michilimackinac. If you would like to help support our gardens and other activities at all of our historic sites, consider joining Mackinac Associates, and visit our website for tickets and more information.

Greatcoats: Another Cold Winter Garment

With winter descending on the Straits of Mackinac, it can be difficult to image what life was like here in centuries past. When guests visit Colonial Michilimackinac during the summer months, they see historical interpreters dressed for pleasant weather in the 1770s, but people often wonder: what did they do they when it got cold? (more…)

Privy Addition at Old Mackinac Point

Restoring a historic site to its original appearance is usually an ongoing activity. At the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, restoration has been underway since 2004 to return the station buildings and grounds to the way they looked just over a century ago. This summer, another small historic addition appeared at the lighthouse that you may not have noticed. Attached to the back of the station barn, you can now see a reconstructed privy cleanout, which allowed the keepers to maintain the privy located in the barn between 1892 and 1928. (more…)

On this day: Capture of Fort Mackinac, July 17, 1812

Just over 200 years ago, Lieutenant Porter Hanks of the U.S. Regiment of Artillery awoke to a particularly unpleasant surprise. As July 17, 1812 dawned, Hanks learned that not only was the United States at war with Great Britain, but, more concerning, that a force of 600 British soldiers, Native American warriors, and Canadian militiamen stood poised to attack Fort Mackinac. (more…)

Winter at Old Mackinac Point

Winter at Old Mackinac Point

At most light stations on the Great Lakes, winter was a quiet time for the lightkeepers. With commercial freighters and passenger vessels frozen in their harbors for the winter, there was little traffic on the lakes to warrant keeping light stations operational. Some remote lights were even abandoned every winter, with crews returning only when the ice began to break up in the spring. At Old Mackinac Point, however, keepers stayed at the station and even continued to work once snow started falling. (more…)

Christmas 1883

Christmas 1883

Harold D. Corbusier arrived at Fort Mackinac as a 9-year old boy in 1882. His father, Dr. William H. Corbusier was the post surgeon, and the family lived on the west side of the fort. Harold began keeping a diary in early 1883, which provides an illuminating look at the life of a kid in the 19th century. (more…)

Les Feu Follet

Les Feu Follet

The following is excerpted from Were-Wolves and Will-O-The-Wisps: French Tales of Mackinac Retold, written and illustrated by Dirk Gringhuis. The stories in this book are the basis for Fort Fright, taking place October 5 and 6 at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City. The book is available at the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center, and tickets for Fort Fright are available by clicking here

Les Feu Follet

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The Fog Whistle

The Fog Whistle

Plans for a Lighthouse Service 10-inch whistle, from the 1902 Instructions to Light-Keepers.

Although the light at the top of the tower may be the defining feature of most lighthouses, stations like Old Mackinac Point usually had another, equally valuable signaling system to help keep sailors safe. The light, while valuable in relatively clear conditions, couldn’t always be seen through haze, smoke, driving rain, or fog. During times of low visibility, the keepers turned on Old Mackinac Point’s other signaling system: the fog whistle. (more…)