Sharpe's Weapons

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Weapons during the time of Richard Sharpe's active soldiering days were as varied as the forces against which he fought. In India he faced the Tippoo's Lancers, Pohlman's artillery, and irregular forces wielding vicious tulwars. In the theaters of Europe they were more like what he dealt with daily in his own army: muskets, rifles, sabers, swords, artillery and knife-wielding partisans. Added experience with Napoleon's axe-wielding guards and British Congreve rockets complemented Sharpe's natural instinct for clever tactics and bold action with a vast array of weapons .

By the age of Napoleon, specifically 1800-1815, the weapons of the age of gunpowder were finally assimiliated into consistent patterns of military theory and practice. The bayonetted flintlock musket and the smoothbore cannon had each been perfected to a point closely approaching its maximum potential. Skillful commanders could exploit the full potential of his weapons and his arms to achieve decisive results with minimum cost.

The British Army, under Wellingon, was a volunteer force, much smaller than the conscripted force of the French. It also had more training and drill, being one of the few nations to practice musket and rifle drill with live ammunition. The Infantry's excellence in musketry was enhanced by its 2-rank line. The Light Division was made more adaptable, to be used primarily as a protective screen for the entire army, operating far to the front. Perhaps the most important tactical aspect of Wellington's organization of his forces grew out of his efforts to secure a strong screen of skirmishers to meet the French Voltigeurs. Wellington added to every brigade in his army an extra company of light riflemen to reinforce the 3 light companies which were by now standard in the British brigade. Further, each of the brigades of the light division had a number of rifle companies.


Muskets were very inaccurate weapons and it was only the discipline of a large number of men firing them shoulder to shoulder - creating a wide wall of lead - that made it useful at anything over 100 metres. An expert said in 1814 that: "I do maintain ... that no man was ever killed at 200 yards (180 metres) by a common musket, by the person who aimed at him."

3rd Model (India Pattern) Brown Bess Musket was the British standard. This lighter and shorter (39-inch barrel) musket became the preferred musket of manufacture by the Board of Ordnance for the British Army in 1797. Prior to this, this pattern was developed and adopted by the armies of the East India Company, hence the name. Throughout the Napoleonic Wars nearly 3 million of these Brown Bess muskets were manufactured and distributed to Britain's infantry regiments. The only change in their manufacture during this period was the switch from a swan-necked cock to a reinforced style in 1809. The 3rd Model Brown Bess was the more common swan-necked style. Aside from being a pound lighter and 3 inch shorter barrel, the main differences from the previous "Short Land" pattern and the India pattern were ones of style (removal of the thumb plate and only three pipes for the ramrod instead of four). Because of the numbers manufactured, this pattern saw use as late as 1850 in the British army and militia.

Loading a Musket

    1. Musket hammer drawn back to half-cock.
    2. Cartridge taken from the hip box and the top bitten off.
    3. Powder poured on to priming pan.
    4. Frizzen pulled upright to close the top of the pan.
    5. Charge powder poured down musket barrel.
    6. Ball dropped or spat in.
    7. Ball rammed down barrel, secured with cartridge paper.
    8. Hammer drawn back to full-cock.
    9. When trigger is pulled the sparks from the flint set off the in-barrel charge propelling the ball down the steel tube towards the target.

Effectiveness of Muskets
Cavalry targets
Range Regular Troops Recruits
90 metres 53% 40%
180 metres 30% 18%
270 metres 23% 15%


A fullstock flintlock with 30" tapered barrel and .62 calibre bore was England's first official rifle and began manufacture in 1800. The barrel is fitted with bayonet lugs for the attachment of the Rifleman's sword bayonet

It was used in almost every battle from Lisbon to Buenos Aires from Copenhagen to Monte Video, in the Peninsula wars, in the American war of 1812 and again at Waterloo. Then they were again used in 1836 at the Alamo against the United States by Mexico who purchased them from England. The Baker Rifle was also standard issue for the Canadian Rifle Regiments.

The first standard-issue, British-made rifle accepted by the British armed forces, the Baker Rifle was first produced in 1800 by Ezekiel Baker, a master gunsmith from Whitechapel. The British Army was still issuing the Infantry Rifle in the 1830s. A lighter and shorter carbine version for the cavalry was introduced, and a number of volunteer associations procured their own models, including the Duke of Cumberland's Corps of Sharpshooters who ordered models with a 33in barrel in August 1803. An enlisted man's weapon, it was another one of Richard Sharpe's eccentricities as he continued to carry it after he was commissioned.

A second pattern of Baker Rifle was fitted with a 'Newland' lock that had a flat-faced ring neck cock. In 1806, a third pattern was produced that included a 'pistol grip' style trigger guard and a smaller patchbox with a plain, rounded front. The lock plate was smaller, flat and had a steeped-down tail, raised semi-waterproof pan, a flat ring neck cock and even had a sliding safety bolt. With the introduction of a new pattern Short Land Pattern Flintlock Musket ('Brown Bess') in 1810 with a flat lock and ring necked cock, the Baker's lock followed suit with what became the fourth pattern. It also featured a 'slit stock' - the stock had a slot cut in the underpart of the stock just over a quarter of an inch wide. This was done after Ezekiel Baker had seen reports of the ramrod jamming in the stock after the build-up of residue in the ramrod channel or when the wood warped after getting wet.

During the Napoleonic Wars the Baker was reported to be effective at long range due to its accuracy and dependability under battlefield conditions. In spite of its advantages, the rifle did not replace the standard British musket of the day, the Brown Bess, but was instead issued officially only to rifle regiments. The rifle was used by what were considered elite units, such as the 5th battalion, and rifle companies of the 6th and 7th Battalions, of the 60th Regiment of Foot, (the 60th Rifles) that were deployed around the world, the three battalions of the 95th Regiment of Foot that served under the Duke of Wellington between 1808 and 1814 in the Peninsular War, the War of 1812 (3rd Batt./95th (Rifles), at Battle of New Orleans), and again in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, and the light infantry of the King's German Legion as well as the 23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers). The rifle was also supplied or privately purchased by numerous volunteer and militia units for use by some in their light companies during the time of the Peninsular War. These examples often differ from the regular issue pattern. Some variants were even used by cavalry, including the 10th Hussars. It is recorded that the British Army still issued Baker rifles in 1841, three years after its production had ceased.

Artillery and Artillery Ammunition

The key diferences in approach to the employment of artillery between Napoleon and Wellington were originally the result of numbers. Wellington's artillery assests were small in number throughout most of the Penninsular War, while for Napoleon, artillery was a passion. After years of campaign success, the French artillery forces were more mobile, lighter, more precise, more efficient, and of sturdier manufacture. They were also of sufficiently larger number, having incorporated the artillery assets of conquered nations.

Napoleon took full advantage of the maneuverability of French artillery and made out of it the most important tool of his warfare. As his armies were decimated and reduced to being comprised mainly of conscripts, he found it necessary to bolster his forces with the employment of the "grande batterie", a physically massive preponderance of artillery fire in support of his main efforts on the battlefield, literally blasting the enemy line to shreds to permit his infantry to advance.

Wellington, meanwhile, employed his scant artillery selectively, in small numbers and individual batteries at carefully chosen sites, to be used at critical moments. They were placed all along the front as support for the infantry and played a minor but important role in his defensive-ofensive tactics. His key to success relied not on brute force of raining tons of hot steel onto the opposing force, but in the awe-inspiring steadiness of his well-trained volley fire from his lines of infantry.

While by today's standards, Napoleonic artillery was slow and cumbersome and inaccurate at great distances, it was something that Sharpe had to endure continually on the battlefield. The damages inflicted by a round from a cannon most often meant death and dismemberment, leaving large swaths of casualties in its wake.

Artillery batteries had a limited choice of ammunition with which to kill the enemy - roundshot (cannonballs), canister, or shell. Cannonballs were solid balls of iron that varied in size and their weight - 3-pounder, 6-pounder or 12-pounder - decided the guns from which they would be fired. These balls would be aimed at various types of targets - formed infantry, strongpoints - and the success of it would depend upon how it bounced, rolled or hit them. While scores of men could be flattened by one bouncing roundshot on dry ground, in wet weather the ball could just hit soggy earth and stop.

Canister, or case-shot, was a lethal short-range choice to cause maximum casualties among the enemy. Built of thin tin, the case was filled with lead balls of up to 200 grams each and would break apart upon leaving the barrel of the gun. The spread of shot could shatter enemy ranks, leaving them with huge gaps to plug.

The third choice a gunner had was shell, which again was thin-skinned, but had a timing fuse cut so that it would explode within, or near, large bodies of enemy troops. The shell would disintegrate spraying shrapnel across a large area and, in the artilleryman's mind, injure or kill as many opponents as possible.

 Cannons  Gun Type  Maximum  Effective  Firing
   (calibre)  (in metres)  (in metres)  Canister
 Austria  3-pounder  850  320-400  275
   6-pounder  920  370-470  370
   12-pounder  1100  640  460
 Britain  3-pounder  1000  320-400  275 approx
   6-pounder  1100-1350  550-640  320-360
   9-pounder  1550  725-825  410
 France  4-pounder  1100  640  360
   6-pounder  1100-1350  725  360-410
   8-pounder  1350  725  460-500
   12-pounder  1600  825  550
 Prussia  3-pounder  920  400  275
   6-pounder  1350  640-825  360
   12-pounder  1800  825  500
 Russia  6-pounder  1350  725  360
   12-pounder  1800  640-825  460-550
 Howitzers  Gun Type  Maximum  Effective  Firing
   (calibre)  (in metres)  (in metres)  Canister
 Austria  7-pounder  1200  640;  460
 Britain  5.5-inch  1550  640  460
 France  6-inch  1100  640  460-550
 Prussia  7-pounder  1450  640  500
   12-pounder  1800  640  500
 Russia  Unicorns  1600-2250  646  460-550


During the Era of Napoleon, great strides were taken in the development of ordnance, giving rise to such steel and ordnance names as Krupp, Parrott, Dahlgren, Rodman, Strong, Whitworth, Paixhans and Cavali, resulting in a revolution in the science of gunnery. Innovations such as the percussion cap and the Minie' bullet would eventually supplant the flintlock and improve the accuracy of muskets. However, few of these innovations would reach the fighting man on sea or land during this period. The one notable exception to the lack of change in service arms and ammunition was the rocket. This long-term pyrotechnic oddity emerged as a lethal weapon thanks to the efforts of Sir William Congreve and the patronage of the English Prince Regent. It found favor both in the United States and in Europe as an intermediate-range weapon, bridging the gap between the flintlock musket and the 12-pounder field gun. They ranged in size from 3 pounds to 300 pounds. However, its notorious inaccuracy and limited range of about 1,500 yards soon forced its disappearance from the battlefield.

Wellington first used them in his attack on Copenhagen in 1807, firing 300 of them, but erratic and unpredictable performance made him anything but a fan. In 1813, two rocket troops were added to the Royal Horse Artillery, but again, their poor performance did little to impress. By the time of Waterloo, they were marginally better, be it because of the training and experience of the handlers or because of technological improvements is up for debate. Wellington caved to an enthusiastic gunner officer and allowed them to be used during the battle.

Sharpe's first experience with rockets was at Seringpatam in India, where they were used primarily incendiary flares and where he came to respect the power and portability of these weapons while maintaining a healthy disrespect for their inaccuracy. He also filed away for future reference the great chaos and confusion that could be fueled by their capriciousness in ill-trained and/or poorly-led men. In Copehagen, he witnessed the devastating fires that could be ignited by rocket barrages. He would later come to find a great use for them for just these reasons.


Cavalry was the 'shock' arm, with lance and saber the principal hand weapons. The division between 'heavy' and light was very marked during Sharpe's time: 'heavy' cavalry was partly armored men on big horses, 'light' cavalry were more agile troopers on smaller mounts who could harass as well as shock.

During the Napoleonic Wars, French cavalry was unexcelled. Later as casualties and the passage of years took their toll, Napoleon found it difficult to maintain the same high standards of cavalry performance. At the same time, the British and their allies steadily improved on their cavalry, mainly by devoting more attention to its organization and training as well as by copying many of the French tactics, organization and methods. During the Penninsular War, Wellington paid little heed to the employment of cavalry in operations, using it mainly for covering retreats and chasing routed French forces. But by the time of Waterloo it was the English cavalry that smashed the final attack of Napoleon's Old Guard.

The Sabre

There were dozens of types of sabres used by cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars. Britain had two main styles, the 1796 pattern light-cavalry sabre and the straight-bladed 1796 heavy-cavalry sabre, but this did not stop a whole host of various weapons being used at the whim of the men who led their regiments.

Sharpe should have carried the 1796 Light Cavalry Saber, but instead preferred the "butcher's blade" that he was given by Captain Murray. His earlier sword experiences in India had him carrying what he managed to pick up on the battlefield. Bernard Cornwell described the Model 1796 Heavy in the Sharpe books as 'heavy and ill balanced', 'crude and mass produced', a 'brutal blade that will hammer though lighter swords and finer techniques'. An accurate description. It was the gift of a dying man that brought him a sword that seemed to suit his fighting style and his physical stature but was also known as one of his eccentricities.

Unwieldy and poorly balanced, the 1796 patterns were used as hacking weapons and while they would cause terrible wounds the use of the edge of the blade rather than the point resulted in fewer killing strokes. The heavy cavalry sword, in particular, reputedly posed as great a menace to its wielder as to the enemy.

Serving in the cavalry during the Low Countries campaign, 1793-95, was John Gaspard Le Marchant, a man, perhaps unusual for an officer of cavalry, possessed of a keen and scientific mind. Fortunately he was also well connected, and his various sound proposals for the improvement of the British cavalry force were subsequently implemented, at least in part. Included in these improvements was his design for a new cavalry sword. Le Marchant was an accomplished swordsman and horseman, and was acutely aware of the practicalities of mounted combat. He was, therefore, very well qualified to design an effective, practical and efficient sword for cavalry use. The sword he designed in collaboration with the Birmingham cutler Henry Osborne was adopted, with a slightly increased blade length, for the British light cavalry as the Pattern 1796. It is recorded that Le Marchant wished that his curved cutting sword be universally adopted, but it was decided that the heavy cavalry should have a straight sword based on an Austrian model.

The pattern 1796 heavy cavalry sword was the sword used by the British heavy cavalry (Lifeguards, Royal Horse Guards, Dragoon Guards and Dragoons), and King's German Legion Dragoons, through most of the period of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It played an especially notable role, in the hands of British cavalrymen, at the battles of Salamanca and Waterloo and it was the sword used by Sergeant Ewart when he took a French eagle at Waterloo. French horsemen preferred to use the points of their swords and run the enemy through so there was a large disparity in casualties between the two styles. The French suffered more ghastly wounds, while the British more initial deaths.

Technically it was a backsword, that is a sword with a straight blade with one cutting edge and the opposite edge of the blade (the "back") thickened for most of its length to give added strength. The back edge was routinely sharpened and the hatchet-pointed tip ground to a point to make it more efficient as a thrusting weapon. The pattern was adopted by Sweden and was used by some Portuguese cavalry.

The Lance

The short lance carried by light cavalry was a quick and accurate weapon which a rider could handle almost like a sabre. In the hand of a skilled soldier the light lance became the most dangerous cavalry weapon ever invented, effective not only in a mass charge but also in a melée and in single combat, in any circumstances and in any sort of terrain. This weapon, which gained in the time of the Napoleonic wars the title of "queen of arms" is still waiting for a special chapter in military history. The most notable lancers in history were Napoleon's Polish Hussars who fought for him through Waterloo, the 7th Regiment of Chevaux-Légers Lanciers of the French Line, proved unmatched masters, showing an unquestionable superiority.

The Polish Lancers arrived in Spain (May 1808), distinguishing themselves at Tudela and at Aragon (June 1808). In December of the same year, they turned the scale of victory at Aimarez, later on they happily broke through the enemy's ring at Ivenes (April 1809). They decided the victory at Ciudad-Real (March 1809) and inflicted a crushing defeat on the British cavalry, especially on the 13th Regiment of Dragoons, in the charge at Talavera de la Reina (July 1809). At Ocana (November 1809) a 5 thousand strong corps of Spanish cavalry was routed. At Arquillos (January 1810) 2 thousand Spanish infantrymen were taken prisoner by the Polish lancers. At Albuhera (May 1811) in a very short time a similar fate befell the three regiments of British infantry: 5 standards and 900 prisoners were taken by the Poles. The main proponents of the lance - a 30-centimetre point on the end of a 240-centimetre shaft - were the Poles, Austrian Uhlans and Russian cossacks, whose fighters had used the weapons for centuries. Napoleon Bonaparte's famous lancers were excellent for pursuing fleeing infantry, or trying to break up squares by outreaching bayonets. Other cavalry, however, were seemingly not too worried by the longer reach as once past the razor-sharp blade of the lance the swordsman had the advantage. Richard Sharpe's first combat wound was received from a lancer of the Tippoo Sultan's cavalry outside Seringapatam. As a result, that experience combined with his experiences with the Polish Hussars in the Penninsula, Sharpe harbored a lifelong fear and loathing of lancers.

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