Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Indipendence Day!

Time again to celebrate the only revolution that didn't make things even worse after the fact, whoo hoo! Grab your lighters and pyrotechnics, it's the 4th of July!

As I sit here I let my mind drift back to the year of 1776 and imagine the thrumming booms of cannon fusillades, the clash of sabers among cavalry, the cracking of muskets and Kentucky rifles, black powder smoke obscuring the battlefield as columns of troops march in lock-step.

Every time I look at the history of the Revolutionary War I marvel that it lasted past the first year. By all rights the Revolutionaries should have been stomped into the ground beneath the heel of the British Empire within the first few months. Almost everyone in command was hopelessly inexperienced, supplies were scant at best, and soldiers could hardly keep together and offer coordinated resistance.

The Brits on the other hand brought a monstrous fleet who's cannon salvos would have shaken even the steadiest nerves and even imported German mercenaries, as if their red coated soldiers weren't enough from the start. I've also been reading up on plenty of occasions when the Brits enlisted the help of natives to gang up on the already vastly outnumbered Americans.

I'm an unashamed patriot, but wow during that first year we really got our teeth kicked in. And yet somehow, with all of the odds stacked against those rag-tag Americans, they were able to repel the greatest military force in the world at the time, something that was almost unheard of. Giving even a cursory look at the details of the conflict I still find myself speechless that we made it past the first year alone!

The Founding Fathers believed that they had been helped by God to make America a free land, and it was only by his hand that they prevailed. I am of the same opinion, unpopular though it might be.

It was also the war that showed to the world just how potent rifles could be in the hands of men who could use them. In these controversial times I've seen many people trying to downplay the utility of the Kentucky rifle in the Revolutionary War, and how the riflemen weren't at all special at the time. Oh how wrong those gents are!

On the contrary, at the time there was no other group of people in the world who could compete with the arms and skill of the American backwoodsmen and their sleek long rifles. Average infantry with muskets of course did most of the heavy lifting and had to fire in organized volleys, but the lethality of the skirmishing riflemen was even more deadly than I had first thought. Many who are uninitiated perhaps think that the best most riflemen of the time could achieve with muzzle-loaders firing round balls would be around 150 yards. Sounds pretty good, right?

That is until you take into account that British officers were being picked off at 400 yards! And this isn't just boastful claims put forth as propaganda back then or now, as even the opposition, the British, confirmed that many of these wily riflemen had an unnerving capacity for precision at long range. It is true that the British too had their own riflemen, but they weren't nearly as many or as deadly.

One officer, Major George Hangar of the British Army was a stout soldier and a fine shot himself. As he was scouting about on one occasion an American spotted him, took to the prone position and took a long range shot. Perhaps mercifully for Major Hangar, the shot didn't hit him, but slew the horse of his aide. In the Major's own words "Now speaking of the rifleman's shooting, nothing could be better. I have passed several times over this ground and ever observed it with the greatest attention; and I can positively assert that the distance he fired from at us was full 400 yards."

He may have been a redcoat, but he sure was an honest gentleman! He seems to have been of the breed who appreciated and respected men of skill, even if he was fighting against them. Indeed, after speaking with hundreds of American riflemen and examining their weapons, he declared that both were the best in the world at the time. Hangar was no neophyte, as he possessed skill with the long rifle as well and was familiar with all European rifles. The man certainly had pluck, as there were plenty of backwoodsmen taking shots at him and his fellow officers!

The American riflemen didn't win the war singled handedly however, as most were far too wild to take orders or act in a coordinated manner. It was up to the organized infantry to do the bulk of the work. But even so, the feats of those woodsmen were heard far and wide. It convinced almost every other organized nation that these fancy guns with rifling and sights were just too darned lethal to be ignored and was the first major historical step towards establishing the rifle as the dominant weapon as we know it today.

Soon after their defeat in the New World the British established what could be considered some of the first "Special Forces" of the day, namely the Rifle Brigade or The Green Jackets. Unlike other soldiers of the British ranks these gents were given green and black uniforms, some of the earliest camouflage on a large scale, and were armed with the famous Baker rifle. Operating in small groups, often in pairs, they would harass larger enemy formations with aimed fire, knocking off officers or other high value targets. They were used to deadly effect during the Napoleonic Wars and even inspired the Sharpe's book and television series.

Take that naysayers! ;)

Anyway, everyone have a splendid day! Take care not to lose any fingers and smile a little wider. :)

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