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Thread: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

  1. #1
    Voodo chile's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

    I was watching this video on how the flintlock musket was loaded and that they tore open the cartridge with their teeth with the bullet in their mouth which was then spat into the barrel. Do you think soldiers died while doing this from accidentally swallowing the musketball??

  2. #2

    Default Re: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

    It is a lie that they ever put the bullet in their mouth. It was thought up by the "Sharpe" TV series. In reality the paper is ripped between the four front teeth, then the powder is poured down along with the ball after ill falls out of the cartridge. The soldier than withdraws the ramrod and rams home the charge and ball. He then returns the ramrod, and returns to shoulder arms. If they ever put a musket ball in someones mouth it was for them to chew on while they were getting something amputated. If they ate it on accident, there is a huge chunk of lead in their body. You tell me what happens next?


  3. #3
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    Default Re: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

    Well I guess if they forgot to fire at itmes under stress it stands to reason that of the millions of men that engaged under arms during this era at least one met this fate...I suppose..

  4. #4

    Default Re: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

    Yes, as Gordon quite rightly says the procedure used to load a musket did not involve 'Biting the bullet' the correct procedure is detailed in several places on the internet, such as here:

    http://www.militaryheritage.com/load...enchmusket.htm

    LOAD BY TWELVE WORDS OF COMMAND.
    Chargez – vos armes (Load- ARMS)

    First motion
    Half face to the right, on the left heel, placing at the same time the right foot square behind the left heel, the buckle resting against that heel: turn the firelock with the left hand, the lock outwards, at the same time, seizing the small stock with the right hand, the firelock being detached from the shoulder, and supported perpendicularly, on the palm of the left hand remaining under the butt.

    Second motion
    Sink the firelock into a slanting position with the right hand, the left meeting and seizing it at the swell, near the tail pipe, the thumb of the left hand pointing upwards along the swell; the butt under the fore part of the right arm; the breech and small- stock resting against the body, two inches nearly under the right nipple or breast; the top of the barrel as high as the eye; the guard turned a little outwards; the left elbow supported on the side at the haunch; the thumb of the right hand against the top of the pan-steel [frizzen], above the level of the flint; and placed there at the moment when the firelock is thrown into the slanting position; the four fingers of the right hand shut; and the right arm, from the elbow to the wrist, lying along the butt.

    Ouvrez – le bassinet(Open – PANS)

    Throw open the pan with the thumb of the right hand, the left hand resisting and holding the piece firmly; apply the right hand to the cartridge-box, by retiring the right elbow, and passing the hand between the butt and the body; and open the cartridge-box.

    Prenez – la cartouhe(Handle – CARTRIDGE)

    Take the cartridge between the two fore-fingers and thumb, and carry it to the mouth, ready for the teeth to act, the right hand passing between the body and the butt.

    Déchirez-la cartouche(Tear- CARTRIDGE)
    Bite off the top, to the powder, holdng the cartridge firm where the powder has been uncovered, between the thumb and two fore-fingers; sink down the cartridge, holding it perpendicularly against the pan, the palm of the right hand turned towards the body, and the right elbow supported or leaning on, and against the butt.

    Amorcez(PRIME)
    Sink forward the head, and look down to the pan in filling it with powder; press close the top of the cartridge at the opening, between the thumb and fore-finger; raise the head, placing the right hand behind the pan, and hold the little finger, and the third finger firm against the back of the pan.

    Fermez-le bassinet(Shut-PANS)

    Hold the firelock firm with the left hand; shut the pan close and firmly with the two last fingers, holding always the cartridge between the thumb and two fore fingers; seize immediately the small stock with the two first fingers and palm of the right hand; keep the right wrist close to the body, and the elbow pointing to the rear, and a little detached from the body.

    L’arme – a Gauche(LOAD)
    First motion
    With the right arm smartly stretched, without lowering the right shoulder, swing round the firelock to the left thigh, against the whole length of which the butt must bear strongly, turning, at the same time, the ramrod towards the body, openly and letting the piece slop through the left hand, as far as the middle pipe, the lock resting on the thumb of the right hand; face, at the same time, to the front, turning on the left heel, carrying the right foot forward, the heel resting against the buckle of the left.

    Second motion.
    Quit the firelock with the right hand, sinking it with the left along and near the body, raising, at the same time, the right hand within two inches of the barrel, to the top of it; let the butt fall to the ground without striking against it with any degree of shock; and let the left hand, holding the firelock as described, rest against the body, under the level of the lowest waistcoat-button, the musket in contact with the left thigh, the sight on the barrel, opposite to the middle line of the body.

    Cartouche- dans le canon (Cartridge – into the Barrel)
    Glance to the upper end of the barrel; turn smartly the out or upper side of the right hand towards the body, in order to discharge the powder into the barrel-mouth, for this purpose, raising the elbow as high as the wrist, shake the cartridge in turning it into the barrel, and leave the hand reversed, the fingers closed, without pressure.

    Tirez – la baguette(Draw-ramrod)

    First motion
    Lower, smartly, the right elbow, and seize the ramrod betwwen the thumb and forefinger bent, keeping the other fingers shut; draw the ramrod smartly by extending the arm, with the whole of the fingers opened out; seize it back-handed, at the middle, with the fore finger and thumb, the palm of the hand outwards; turn it quickly between the bayonet and the body, at the same time closing the fingers upon it, the ramrods of the men in the centre and rear ranks, in turning, grazing the right shoulder of the man in the rank before them in the same file; the ramrod forming no angle with the line of the barrel, and parallel to the bayonet; the arm extended; the eyes looking upwards; and the thick end of the ramrod must thus be kept opposite to the mouth of the barrel, without being entered into it.

    Second motion.
    Enter the thick end of the ramrod into the barrel, and insert it as far as the hand.

    Bourrez (Ram down- Cartridge)
    Run up the right hand to the full extent of the arm, to the top of the ramrod, without letting it fall into the barrel; seize it with the thumb opened along it, and the fore finger bent; the other fingers being shut; drive it forcibly into the barrel, ramming home twice; seize it again by the small end, between the thumb and fore finger, both bent, the others being shut; and let the right elbow be close to the body.

    Remettez-la baguette(Return- Ramrod)

    First motion
    As in the first motion of drawing ramrod, bring the small end of it opposite to the upper, or trumpet-pipe, and hold it there without entering it.

    Second motion
    Introduce the small end into the pipe, and slide it into its place; raise the right hand quickly, and place it, somewhat bent, one the upper end of the ramrod.

    Portez vos armes (Shoulder- Arms)

    First motion
    Raise the firelock with the left hand, along the left side, the left hand as high as the shoulder, and the left elbow not parted from the body, keeping the barrel outwards; and sink down the right hand in order to seize the firelock at the small stock.

    Second motion
    Raise the firelock with the right hand; let the left hand fall to seize and support the butt, carrying buack, at the same time, the right heel to the side of the left, and in the same alignment; support the firelock against, and at the left shoulder, with the right hand, in the position pointed out in describing shouldered arms; and let the right hand touch the small stock at the breech, without pressing against it.

    Third motion
    Let the right hand fall to the right thigh, hanging there, as already indicated.

    Apprêtez-vos armes(Make – Ready)

    [Editor’s note. At this point the drill is different for each of the three ranks of soldiers. Reproduced here is only the standing position of the second rank. The first rank is a kneeling position and the third rank is a side step position to get as close to second rank as possible before firing.]

    First motion
    As in the first motion of loading [Load- Arms].


    Second motion
    Bring the firelock with the right hand before the middle of the body; place the left hand with the little finger touching the feather spring, and the thumb, as high as the chin, pointing upwards along the wood of the stock, the brass plate opposite to the lock being turned almost towards the body, and the ramrod towards the front of the battalion; and apply, at the same time, the thumb of the right hand to the head of the cock, the forefinger under, and against the guard, and the three other fingers joined to the first.

    Third motion
    Sink down, smartly, the right elbow, cocking, at the same time, and seize the firelock at the small stock.

    Joue (Present)

    Sink down, smartly, the muzzle of the piece, flipping the left hand along the stock, as far as the tailing pipe; apply the butt to the right shoulder; let the muzzle be below the level of the eye a little, and the right elbow kept lowered, without being pressed against the body; shut the left eye; look along the barrel with the right eye; sink forward the head towards the butt in order to level; and place the fore finger on the trigger.

    Feu (Fire)

    Apply, with force, the first finger on the trigger, without lowering or turning the head more, and remain in that position.”

    I have highlighted the relevant step in the process above, but basically the soldier tears off the other end of the paper cartridge to the ball and gripping it shut to prevent spillage pours the powder down the barrel and then rams the ball and the now empty paper cartidge down on top of it. The paper cartidge serving as a wadding to make sure the ball is seated firmly in the barrel and that as little of the power generated by the explosion of the charge is lost around the esges of the ball.

    Consequently, the phrase 'Biting the bullet' has nothing to do with the process of loading a musket, and is believed instead to be the result of battlefield surgeon's asking men to bite on bullets whilst under-going surgery in the field. In any case the earliest use of the term only dates back to 1844, by which time muskets were no longer common on battlefields, and what was loaded into them was not a bullet anyway, but a ball.
    Last edited by Didz; October 23, 2010 at 08:11 AM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

    On a related side note, Bernard Cornwall, who perpetuated this myth a fair bit has learnt to load a musket!
    In his newest book " The Fort" ( http://www.waterstones.com/waterston...+fort/7679106/) he uses the correct loading method.
    "Antifa Against Fascism!" - Well, obviously.......


  6. #6

    Default Re: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

    Thanks for the French commands Didz, + Rep.

    Here are the British regulations for loading and firing the Brown Bess, from the 1807 drill manual.

    1st. Make Ready.

    Bring the firelock to the recover, by throwing it briskly from the shoulder, the
    guard to the front, and instantly cock as soon as the left hand seizes the piece
    above the lock; the right elbow is to be nimbly raised a little, placing the thumb
    upon the cock, and the fingers open by the plate of the lock; then drop the
    elbow as quick as possible, forcing down the cock with the thumb.

    2nd. Present.

    Slip the left hand along the sling as far as the swell of the firelock; bring the
    piece down to the present, stepping back six inches to the rear with the right
    foot, and look steadfastly along the barrel of the firelock.

    3rd. Fire.

    Pull the trigger firmly, and remain on the present, looking steadily along the
    piece until the next word of command.

    4th. Load.

    1st. Bring up the right foot to the inside of the left heel, and at the same time
    drop the firelock briskly down to the priming position; the top of the cock
    opposite the right breast; the muzzle raised to the height of the peak of the cap,
    and pointing directly to the front, which will throw the firelock into the hollow
    of the right side; the left. hand continuing to grasp the piece at the swell,
    holding it firm and steady; seize the cock with the forefinger and thumb of the
    right hand.

    2nd. Half cock by drawing back the right elbow briskly, bringing it down on
    the butt of the firelock.

    5th. Handle Cartridge.

    1st. Draw the cartridge from the pouch.

    2nd. Bring it. to the mouth, holding it between the fore-finger and thumb, bite
    off the top of the cartridge.

    6th. Prime.

    1st. Shake some powder into the pan.

    2nd. Shut the pan with the three last fingers.

    3rd. Seize the small of the butt with the above three fingers.

    7th. Cast About ('Bout).

    1st. Turn the piece nimbly round to the loading position; the butt within two
    inches of the ground, the lock towards the front, and the muzzle of the piece
    near the breast; the right hand to be brought on that part of the barrel on which
    the sight is placed; both feet are to be kept in this position.

    2nd. Drop the butt on the ground without noise, shake the powder into the
    barrel, putting in after it the paper and the ball.

    3rd. Seize the top of the ramrod with the fore-finger and thumb.

    8th. Draw Ramrods.

    1st. Force the ramrod half out; and seize it backhanded exactly in the middle.

    2nd. Draw it entirely out, and turning it with the whole hand and arm extended
    from you, put it one inch into the barrel.

    9th. Ram Down Cartridge.

    1st. Push the ramrod down, holding it as before, exactly in the middle, till the
    hand touches the muzzle down

    2nd. Slip the forefinger and thumb to the upper end, without letting the ramrod
    fall farther into the barrel.

    3rd. Push the cartridge well down to the bottom.

    4th. Strike it two very quick strokes with the ramrod.

    10th. Return Ramrods.

    1st. Draw the ramrod half out, catching it backhanded.

    2nd. Draw it entirely out, turning it very briskly from you, with the arm
    extended, and put it into the loops, forcing it as quick as possible to the bottom;
    then face to the proper front, the finger and thumb of the right hand holding the
    ramrod, as in the position immediately previous to drawing it, and the butt
    raised two inches from the ground.

    11th. Shoulder Arms.

    Strike the top of the muzzle smartly with the right hand, in order to fix the
    bayonet and ramrod more firmly, and at the same time throw it nimbly up, at
    one motion, to the shoulder.

    N.B. Though the butts are not to come to the ground in casting about, as
    accidents may happen from it, yet they are permitted, while loading, to be so
    rested; but it must be done without noise, and in a manner imperceptible in the
    front.
    Last edited by LaSallian; October 26, 2010 at 02:21 PM.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?


  8. #8

    Default Re: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gordon Highlander View Post
    It is a lie that they ever put the bullet in their mouth. It was thought up by the "Sharpe" TV series. In reality the paper is ripped between the four front teeth, then the powder is poured down along with the ball after ill falls out of the cartridge. The soldier than withdraws the ramrod and rams home the charge and ball. He then returns the ramrod, and returns to shoulder arms. If they ever put a musket ball in someones mouth it was for them to chew on while they were getting something amputated. If they ate it on accident, there is a huge chunk of lead in their body. You tell me what happens next?



    That wasnt a lie made up by the Sharpe series. If you haven't noticed, Sharpe's regmient is a rifle regiment and they did not use the regular cartridges of regular foot. In order to get better range, rifle regiments used fine powder loaded from a powder horn. They carried bullets seperately in standard issues haversacks. I don't mean to sound like an ass though I know I do. I'm just saying that it was possible for THEM to swallow their bullets.

  9. #9
    ComnenusTheOne's Avatar Primicerius
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    Default Re: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

    Quote Originally Posted by Horoshima View Post
    That wasnt a lie made up by the Sharpe series. If you haven't noticed, Sharpe's regmient is a rifle regiment and they did not use the regular cartridges of regular foot. In order to get better range, rifle regiments used fine powder loaded from a powder horn. They carried bullets seperately in standard issues haversacks. I don't mean to sound like an ass though I know I do. I'm just saying that it was possible for THEM to swallow their bullets.
    They didnt keep them in their mouths. And they still used cartridges, the only difference is that they primed the pan with extra powder at the end of the reloading sequence rather than before.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

    As I recall there was an experiment to determine if the tap loading idea demonstrated by Sharpe would have worked in real life, and it did. The point being that you cannot tap load a cartridge. However, by reversing the cartridge biting the bullet off the top, pouring the powder content down the barrel and then spitting the bullt in of top of it, a sharp tap of the butt is enough the cause the shot to seat itself at the bottom on the barrel on top of the powder and the rifle then fired with a reasonable range and accuracy.

    Hang on! I've actually found a video of the test.
    Last edited by Didz; April 13, 2011 at 05:58 PM.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Did soldiers choke on musket bullets?

    There is actually documentary support for tap loading a firelock. Serjeant Roger Lamb, in his Memoir, he recounted his experiences in the 9th and 23rd Regiments of Foot in the Revolutionary War. In it he mentions at least once seating the ball with a sharp tap on the ground, spurning the ramrod. http://books.google.com/books?id=TLo...ayonet&f=false

    Of course, this has also been documented on the Continental side as well, along with the after effect of the ball not seating correctly, and bouncing off the coats of their opponents. There was also the risk of an explosion from an improperly seated ball. Simply put, the practice is not really recommended.

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