The official war of 1812 bicentennial website - Celebrating 200 years of peace
History of the War of 1812

The British Brown Bess Musket used during the War of 1812

"Brown Bess" was the soldiers' name given to a series of British smoothbore muskets during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  During the War of 1812, the vast majority of British regulars were issued what was more officially labeled the "India Pattern Musket," although some may have had other patterns of "Brown Bess" as well.


As the name suggests, the Indian Pattern Musket was a mass-produced version of the standard British longarm, first intended to arm the troops of the British East India Company.  Due to the need to supply huge numbers of soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) however, large numbers of these muskets were given to British troops serving in Europe and North America as well.


Like the several muskets before it, the India Pattern Musket was a smoothbore, flintlock weapon.  As such, it had a very limited accuracy (about 100 yards ideally, but only about 75 yards in combat).  The British musket was of a somewhat larger caliber than its French and American counterparts (.75 caliber vs. .69 caliber) and so gave its owner more stopping power, should a target be hit.  The major outward difference between the "India Pattern" Brown Bess and the others in British service was its length.  It had a barrel which was only 39 inches long, as opposed to the 42-inch barrel of the Short Land and New Land Pattern muskets.  The barrel was secured to the full wooden stock by a series of pins.  This gave the weapon a clean, elegant look, but made it tedious to remove the barrel repeatedly for cleaning or repair.  The musket was fired by means of a prepared paper cartridge.  This was a rolled paper tube which contained the lead musket ball and sufficient gunpowder for both priming and firing the weapon.  This prepared cartridge allowed a trained soldier to fire three to four (unaimed) shots in a minute.


For close combat, the "Brown Bess" could be fitted with a socket bayonet.  The three-sided blade of the bayonet was approximately seventeen inches in length, and was set off from the barrel, so that the musket could be loaded and fired with the bayonet fixed.  The socket portion of the bayonet slid over the end of the barrel and was held in place by a small lug.

war of 1812 Celebrating 200 years of peace