Thursday, July 14, 2016

Rifle of the Mormon Battalion

Every year I usually honor those members of the Mormon Battalion. They served long and well.
The Mormon Battalion, the only religious unit in the American military, was active in 1846-1847, serving in the Mexican-American War. They were volunteers assigned by Brigham Young.
They were to receive their gear at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas including a musket that they could keep after their enlistment of one year. They were a little excited to receive their weapon and when Lt. Colonel James Allen, Battalion Commander, saw this he said to them: “Stand back boys! Don’t get in a hurry to get your muskets. You will want to throw the d---d things away before you get to California!”
The musket was a standard military issue in the 1840’s to the infantry was the Model 1816 (M1816) Harpers Ferry, 0.69 caliber, smooth-bore, flintlock musket with a leather sling. Muskets issued to the Battalion were stamped 1827 on the lock plate, indicating the year of manufacture at the armory. The Type II 1827 muskets had the barrel chemically browned to resist rusting. The Type III (1831-1844) M1816 muskets had unbrowned shiny barrels and locks. The M1816 musket was equipped with a lug atop the muzzle for fixing the triangular socket bayonet. The muskets weighed nearly 10 lbs (9 lb. 2 oz-14 oz). The stock was made out of a dense wood like walnut.
Muskets differ from rifles in that muskets do not have rifling inside the barrel that provides greater accuracy to the discharged balls. The M1816 musket fired a 0.64-0.65 caliber spherical lead ball (about 1 oz.) packaged in the bottom of a paper cartridge with a measured 90 grains of course grain black powder (charcoal/potassium nitrate/sulfur). This smaller ball was easier and quicker to load than a larger 0.68 ball. The end of the cartridge was tied off with a string which wrapped above the ball to help segregate it from the powder. A very common version of the cartridge was the Buck and Ball cartridge that contained an additional 3 pieces of buckshot BB’s atop the single 0.65 caliber ball. This cartridge increased the probability of hitting and inflicting some damage to the target. Cartridges were commercially made in ammunition factories in the East and sent to army supply depots and forts in wood crates. Because of the smooth-bore barrel, the musket ball came out more like a knuckleball rather than a spinning fast ball. Musket accuracy was reported to be around 50-100 yards, but the closer the better.
The Mormon battalion was created on July 16, 1846. After the long, harrowing march many of the members of that battalion became close to Brigham Young and leaders in the church. I had relatives in this battalion and am proud of the service these brave souls rendered to a country that at times seemed bent on exterminating Mormons from its borders. I recognize the accomplishment of these pioneers and their commitment to the Church. They also carried what was state of the art weapons of the time. It was their “assault weapon”.
Semper Paratus
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