Book Review: Flintlock Musket by Stuart Reid.

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    When you get a book by written by Stuart Reid and illustrated by Steve Noon you should expect to get a read well worth the money. I think that is what you get with this one.

    Paperback: 80 pages
    Publisher: Osprey Publishing (UK) (20 Jan. 2016)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 1472810953

    There is no doubt about it, the flintlock musket changed the world. In terms of warfare its impact cannot be too highly estimated. It was with this weapon that the great conflicts of the modern age were fought, as the author says in the introduction. This weapon laid the foundations of the British Empire, it was with this that America fired the shot heard around the world, Napoleon rose and was defeated with it and from Mexico eastward to Japan its influence was to reach every battlefield in every corner of the world until the 1860s. Most importantly the flintlock and it’s partner in crime the bayonet, created the universal soldier, one capable of multiple combat and (in the 18th and 19th centuries) policing roles, in the same sense we think of soldier’s today.

    Two forms of flintlock dominated the period from 1700 to 1863. The British “Brown Bess” a nickname for several models of musket, and the French Charleville, likewise a tag that was at first a specific zone of manufacture but became shorthand for several models of French muskets thereafter. By comparison the Percussion musket, which superseded the Flintlock and filled the gap until the advent of breech loaders, lasted only 20 or 30 years at the top.

    Full of detail and technical insight this is a book perhaps more suited to collectors and enthusiasts than casual readers. Then again I doubt you’d be looking at this book if you weren’t one, then again all one might wish to know about the origins, use and specifics of these guns can be found here.

    The evolution of the two guns is followed from the first Firelocks to the American Civil War. Convincingly showing how the invention of an easier and more robust weapon ended the search for an effective firing system. Evaluations of matchlock tactics, and pike tactics helps us see how flintlock and bayonet streamlined the infantryman to a level unseen perhaps since the Roman Empire. It becomes more and more obvious that these mid 17th century innovations allowed a new type of army to be formed, in which identically armed and equipped soldiers could form regular long service battalions, able not only to strike and range, but charge with cold steel and repel cavalry. For the first time, a soldier could become a self contained fighting system, instead of pikemen and musketeers having to not only train in weaponry but also become proficient in a sort of choreography in order to be effective. Stringent training with the new weapons produced a simplistic set of movements and orders that even the dullest soldier could master.

    Photographs and pictures accompany the text showing some fine examples of weaponry and, interesting examples of how they were used. Steve Noon’s original illustrations are up to his usual high standard. The picture of the French Guards mounting a breach is especially good, as is the scene of British platoon firing, each scene is imbued with character and detail, the noise of the action is almost palpable. There are diagrams of the inner workings of the flintlock, which even to those familiar with the well dusted description of how a flintlock is fired, will be enlightening. Ammunition and maintenance are covered too. Reid has spent most of his time writing about the British army, and by extension often the French, therefore as one would expect it focuses generally on these services, however he cherry picks interesting examples from the Prussian, Dutch and Swedish military.

    Failings of the weapons are gone into, but on the whole the author doesn’t go in for the usual criticisms that are so popularly put around and comes up with a good few pleadingly original points to make you think again. Innovative tactics for light infantry, something that was hard to formalise with the matchlock, and indeed line infantry prove fascinating reading and it follows the evolution of infantry linear warfare in the 18th and early 19th centuries, (this is a book about muskets not carbines, though even these do get a mention), the progression from 1709 to 1814 is instructive.

    Students of the age of horse and musket, enthusiasts of all stripes, will like this book, indeed it is amazing how much information can be fitted into such a short space. True Osprey is strict on word counts, and as such sometimes one is left hanging, however here you’d have to be pretty picky not to be impressed, for me this book has won me over to the Weapon series,. In most books on battles or campaigns weapons and equipment is fitted into a reliably familiar pattern, they are usually included in the “opposing forces” bit. This essentially puts all that information and much more into one excellent book that I highly recommend.



    Hi Josh,

    Thank you kindly for sharing this review, very insightful.

    As you mention, the Brown Bess and Charleville muskets dominated the american landscape during the revolution. They are tools that helped shape history.

    What seems really valuable too is learning how the muskets influenced the outcomes of specific conflicts, events, and “won the day”. Rather than facts alone about the weaponry, it seems to weave the history in as well.

    I ahve not read it yet though from your description it seems as one to add to the list.


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