Saturday, January 26, 2013

AWI Riflemen

American rifleman image from Don Troiani's Image Bank

I have a copy of Don Troiani's "Soldiers of the American Revolution" book and the picture of the American rifleman that he painted has always intigued me because of the equipment that he carries. Can you see spear that is strapped to his back? I have long wondered what the heck is the spear used for? Well, now I know, as conveyed in the following passages:

In the Spring of 1777, General Washington established a corps of rifleman to be commanded by Colonel Daniel Morgan. The men were hand picked from their regiments, "chosen men" if you will, and sent to Morgan. They tended to be frontiersmen from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia and all were armed with the Pennsylvania Long Rifle. 

In his letter to Colonel Morgan, Washington said:

"The corps of Rangers newly formed and under your command, are to be considered as a body of light infantry and are to act as such for which reason they will be exempted from the common duties of the Line. In case of any movement of the enemy you are to instantly fall upon their flanks and gall them as much as possible, taking special care not to be surrounded."

While rifles had a long effective range (up to 300 yards), their one deficiency is that they were not designed to hold a bayonet, which made the riflemen vulnerable to attacks by the British light infantry and light dragoons. Washington proposed a remedy for this as follows:

"I have sent for spears, which I expect shortly to receive and deliver to you as a defense against Horse; till you are furnished with these take care not to be caught in such a situation as to give them any advantage over you."

"It occurs to me that if you were to dress a Company or two of true Woods Men in the right Indian Style and let them make the Attack accompanied with screaming and yelling as the Indians do, it would have very good consequences especially if as little as possible was said or known of the matter beforehand."

The above passages are found on page 38  of the book The Philadelphia Campaign - Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia, Volume I, by Thomas J. McGuire.

The section of the book goes on to explain that Brigadier General Anthony Wayne did not appreciate the value of the riflemen under his command. He wrote to the chairman of the Pennsylvania War Board  requesting the exchange of 200 rifles for an equal number of muskets equipped with bayonets. In his experience, rifles were useless on the battlefield, as compared to musket armed soldiers, properly dressed and trained, given that rifles were so slow to reload. Wayne's letter also mentions the requisition of spears that were to be sent to the riflemen in Morgan's Rife Corps.

I do not believe that I have ever seen a wargame miniature of a rifleman having a spear strapped to his back. That is something for me to consider when Fife & Drum gets around to adding riflemen to the range.


  1. The Austrian Grenz riflemen/sharpshooters of this same period also carried a spear which also served as a rifle steadier, using a rifle-sized hook on one side. Their rifle had two barrels, one rifled and one smoothbore.

  2. Not the same time period, but I've read that during the American Civil War, General Lee had a crapload of pikes made with the intention of arming the Confederate Army with them. They were never used.

  3. Spears would be an easy conversion by just glueing on an approapriate length "medieval" spear to the backs of your riflemen and then painting an extra strap across the shoulder. But it would be nice to see that actually sculpted on a figure. And also to have a figure using one as a steadier as the Austrian Grenz did.


  4. Interesting rifle armed spearman skirmishers. Not surprising that "Mad" Anthony Wayne had no use for rifleman. Napoleon mad a similar blunder. the Austrians even had air powered rifles that were eventually put back into the armories. Quiet death that was.