"revolutionary" Charleville, The
American Rifleman, May 2002 by Neumann, George C
Used in large numbers by American Colonists and French troops
fighting against the British, the "Charleville" muskets
are the French arms that saved the American Revolution.
The 18th century was a period of incredible change that reshaped
the political map of Europe and the Western world-- and that reshaping
included the birth of our own nation. Much of that change began
with new arms and military tactics that evolved in the late 1600s
when military firearms were improved by the addition of a bayonet
that combined both the musket of the musketeer and the traditional
long pike of the foot soldier.
The French military was the leader in these major innovations,
and it was the most progressive developer of firearms during the
17th and 18th centuries. The French introduced the plug bayonet
for military use during the 1640s and the socket bayonet in the
1670s. Other advances included the final practical flintlock mechanism
before 1700 and the creation of the first standard military musket
in Europe in 1717. The French also added bands-to facilitate removing
the barrel for cleaning-in 1728 and designed lighter firearm patterns.
A smaller bore size (.69 cal. vs. Britain's .75 cal.) was chosen
to reduce weight in the field, and, in 1741, the steel ramrod
was adopted. In 1754, a smaller officer's shoulder arm was introduced,
and the French military installed the first noncorroding brass
flashpan in 1777, which was the same year it produced the important
center-ring bayonet pattern. France also perfected the superior
flake-type gun flint. Those cumulative steps led to a series of
tactical innovations on the battlefields, spawning new wars and
world alliances-from which America would not be excluded.
The loss of Canada to Britain during the French and Indian War
(1754-1763) motivated France to provide its innovative arms to
the rebelling American Colonists and, by supplying as many as
200,000 muskets for Washington's troops, saved our War for Independence.
At least 90 percent of the small arms or their components used
by the American Colonists came from Europe, and the majority were
French. This article is intended to identify the most typical
French arms that made our final victory possible.
To understand the basic French firearms available in North America
and those used in the Revolutionary War, they have been combined
into three chronological periods:
Group 1: The Compagnies Franches de la Marine, circa 1730-1755
The distinctive longarms supplied by the Ministry of the Navy
to the special naval infantry units and irregular forces defending
New France during this period were the civilian Fusil de Chasse
and the military Fusils Ordinaire and Grenadier.
Group II: The Regular French Army in North America (1755-1763)
The primary standard-issue patterns of the regular French army
regiments sent to North America to fight the French and Indian
War were the Models 1717 and 1728.
Group III: France's Aid to the American Revolution (1777-1783)
Muskets designed after the French and Indian War comprised most
of the French arms shipped here during the War for Independence.
They were the Models 1763, 1766, 1774 and 1777.
Group I: The Compagnies Franches de la Marine (circa 1730-1755)
While the British settlers created farms and towns in the European
tradition (including a preference for heavy muskets and fowlers),
settlers in New France focused on exporting furs and fish, which,
in turn, required preservation of the existing forests. Thus,
their early longarms were usually lighter, of smaller bore and
better balanced for traveling in rough terrain.
Captured examples were, in fact, preferred by a number of Britain's
new light infantry companies learning to fight in thick woodlands
during the French and Indian War.
From 1683 to 1755, the only professional troops defending French
Canada were the Compagnies Franches. These units were under the
naval ministry and differed from the regular army in uniforms,
arms and accouterments. Two basic firearms patterns predominated
from 1730 to 1755: the civilian hunting gun, or fusil de chasse,
and the military muskets, fusils ordinaire and grenadier. (Most
collectors use the term "fusil" in the British manner
to identify a lighter and smaller bore musket. In France, the
word referred to any smoothbore shoulder arm.) Most were supplied
under navy contracts from the independent gunmaker at Tulle, but
they were supplemented by others from St. Etienne.
The designs were very similar, having pinned smoothbore barrels
on slim, graceful walnut stocks ending in a distinctive Roman-nose
butt with a high sloping comb. The locks included a flat/beveled
edge plate, a swansneck cock and a faceted flashpan. Their Tulle-style
barrels were octagonal at the breech for about 9 1/2 below a 2"
section of 16 flats and an incised ring before becoming round
for the rest of their length. Iron pipes secured a wooden ramrod.
The civilian hunting pattern averaged 60" in length, mounted
a 44 1/2", .62-cal. barrel and was stocked to the muzzle.
It served as the typical longarm of Canada's trappers, hunters,
militia and Indian allies in the Colonial wars. Longer variations,
fusil fin de chasse, having finer details and often brass furniture,
were available for the more affluent hunters and as presentation
pieces to Indian leaders. These civilian arms had no sling swivels
but did include raised carvings around the lock, sideplate and
The common military musket was very similar but had the upper
stock cut back to accept a socket bayonet, a longer 46 1/2"
barrel with a larger .66-cal. bore, and averaged around 7 to 8
lbs. in weight. An alternate form, originally developed for the
grenadiers, added a center barrel band to secure a round, shoulder
sling swivel on the inboard side (the second ring was attached
behind the lower lock screw). Both of these military patterns
included swivels after 1729. Most grenadier examples had shorter
44 1/2" barrels. The muskets from St. Etienne followed the
Tulle form, but they often included iron furniture that copied
the Army Model 1728 sideplate, trigger guard and buttplate. In
1744, three barrel bands were added to create Tulle's "fusil
domino" pattern, which saw little service in Canada.
Although not officially part of France's military aid during
the Revolutionary War, many captured Tulle arms were already in
American hands from earlier encounters, and their parts are often
found remounted on Colonial guns.
Group II: The Regular French Army in North America (1755-1763)
At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, France sent regular
army regiments (troupes de terre) to defend New France beginning
in 1755. They brought the heavier, standard muskets designed for
open-field fighting in Europe. Most were produced under the supervision
of artillery officers at the three royal manufactories: Charleville,
St. Etienne and Maubeuge. Tulle became the fourth in 1777-primarily
for naval arms. This period is best typified by two patterns,
each identified by its original date of issue: the Model 1717
and the Model 1728.
Both were approximately 62" in length and mounted a 46 3/4"
barrel having a .69-cal. bore. The military walnut stocks omitted
raised border carvings, but kept the Roman-nose butt with a high
sloping comb. The flat/beveled lock held a swansneck cock plus
a faceted flashpan and outside bridle. Total weight was 8 to 9
The iron furniture included a long, thin, worm-like pinned butt
tang, a double-pointed trigger guard (with two screws), a flat
"L" form sideplate and two round sling swivels on the
inboard side. The round barrel's breech was octagonal. The original
wooden rammers were replaced by steel rods beginning in 1741.
The Model 1717 was the first European standard-issue military
arm. It had a pinned barrel, plus a center band to secure the
forward side sling swivel. The distinctive lock is identified
by a vertical exterior bridle between the frizzen and frizzen
spring screws. Some 48,000 were manufactured.
Although resembling the Model 1717, the Model 1728 had a horizontal
exterior bridle and added three barrel bands. In 1754, the round
sling swivels moved underneath the stock, but few of that pattern
reached Canada. The Model 1728 was used in North America by the
1730s, and it became France's workhorse musket until 1763. A total
of 375,000 were produced.
Group III: France's Aid to the American Revolution (1777-1783)
Following the momentous loss of New France to Britain in the
French and Indian War, a new musket design, the Model 1763, eliminated
the familiar Roman-nose profile and established a basic form that
would endure through the Napoleonic years. To provide the embattled
American rebels with aid before openly declaring war on Great
Britain, the French first set up a dummy trading company, Rodrique
Hortalez & Cie, operated by Caron de Beaumarchais.Working
with American agents, primarily Franklin, Deane and Lee, they
then condemned most of the muskets in their arsenals that had
been produced prior to the new Model 1777 to make them available
for shipment. The first of many Beaumarchais deliveries began
in the spring of 1777 when three of his ships arrived in Portsmouth,
N.H., carrying 37,000 stands of arms. At the same time, another
vessel was sent to Philadelphia bearing 11,000 arms and parts.
The New Hampshire shipments equipped much of the Patriot army
at Saratoga in October 1777, and, by 1778, the majority of Washington's
regiments had replaced their earlier disparate mix of arms with
After France officially entered the war early in 1778, it continued
to send vast amounts of war materials. In addition to the early
patterns already described, four models developed after the French
and Indian War comprised most of the French arms supplied for
use in American during the Revolution-the Model 1763, Model 1766,
Model 1774 and Model 1777.
The Model 1763 retained the three-- band design and eliminated
the traditional Roman-nose buttstock for a straight lower profile.
The barrel was shortened to 44 3/4"; but it still kept a
.69-cal. bore. The old octagonal breech was replaced with a round
form with flat sides. A flat/beveled lock remained, but a new
ring-supported cock was added. Moreover, an unusual, tunnel-like
ramrod spring covered the channel between the two upper barrel
bands. Its iron furniture, in turn, adopted a simple lobed butt
tang (with a top screw), as well as bell-shaped sling swivels
underneath the stock. Total production reached 88,000.
The army quickly found the Model 1763 too heavy, which led to
the lighter Model 1766 pattern. The 1766 reduced weight by shortening
the lock, replacing the long, iron rammer cover with a spring
under the breech and thinning the barrel walls. The steel ramrod
also changed from a trumpet shape to a buttonhead. Today's collectors
commonly refer to these 1760s-period muskets as "Charlevilles,"
although they were produced at all three royal manufacturers.
Production reached 140,000 muskets.
From 1768 to 1773, numerous earlier models were renovated in
France. This included adding a third retaining spring behind the
lowest barrel band on the Model 1766. Beginning in 1770, a rounded
lock was introduced, as well as a lower, less-defined stock comb.
The Model 1774 then shortened the trigger guard's forward end
and added a clip projecting out under the muzzle to snap over
the bayonet's new rear socket ring. The 1774 was the latest model
supplied to the American rebels, and 70,000 were produced.
The innovative Model 1777 became the standard issue for the French
army through the Napoleonic Wars, and it was not included in shipments
to the rebels. The model did, however, equip General Rochambeau's
regiments landing in Newport, R.I., in 1780 and others among the
16,000 French troops that served on American soil during the war.
The new musket retained the three barrel bands and a 44 3/4"
barrel, yet introduced a new sloping brass flashpan, cut a cheek
rest out of the stock's comb, installed two finger ridges on a
shortened trigger guard and adopted a new, center-ring bayonet.
Few of the early versions of this Model 1777 used here in America
survived. They had a unique visible retaining screw on the outboard
side of the top barrel band and lacked a rear spring for the center
The avalanche of arms and their components, ammunition, accouterments,
naval vessels, clothing, loans, technical advisors, volunteer
officers and regular army regiments that France poured into America
from 1777 until 1783 played a key role in the success of the Revolution.
Our incredible victory resulted from the dreams, courage and brutal
suffering of the colonists and their leaders; but without the
aid from France, supplemented by efforts of Spain and the Low
Countries, they could not have prevailed.
As historical collectors, these surviving French arms speak to
us of the significant price paid to win our freedom and the help
that finally made it possible.
Copyright National Rifle Association of America May 2002
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights