One of the facts of army life is drill. Soldiers would be drilled in marching, handling weapons, and firing their weapons. The purpose of drill was to assure that the soldier would be ready for battle and know what to do in any given situation. When drilling with the weapons, a list of procedures was followed step by step. Each of these procedures was critical to the successful loading and firing of the weapon. The procedures were accompanied by commands during drill. During an actual battle situation, the commands would not have been given, but the procedures still needed to be followed.
Three black powder weapons are used in firing demonstrations at Fort Scott: the musket, the musketoon, and the Mississippi rifle. Each has a certain number of steps necessary to load and fire it. The musket has 12 steps involved while the others only have 10. The difference is because the musket is a flintlock and the others are percussion weapons.
The following is the 12 count procedure for loading and firing a musket as instituted by General Winfield Scott in the 1840s.
TWELVE COUNT LOADING PROCEDURE FOR FLINTLOCK MUSKET
Load in Twelve Times
1. Load - From the position of shoulder arms, the hollow of the sight foot will be brought up against the left heel. Bring down the piece with the right hand into the left, which will at the instant, seize it at the tail-band, the thumb extended on the stock, the butt under the right forearm, the handle against the body, and about two inches under the right breast, the muzzle at the height of the eye, the guard turned a little out, the left elbow supported against the side. At the instant the piece falls into the left hand, the right thumb will be placed on the steel above the flint, the four fingers closed, the right forearm along the butt of the gun.
2. Open Pan - Open the pan by pushing forward the steel with the right thumb, the left hand resisting and holding the piece firm; draw back immediately the right elbow, carry the hand to the cartridge-box in passing it between the butt and the body, and slap the box.
3. Handle Cartridge - Seize a cartridge with the thumb and two fingers, and place it between the teeth, the right hand passing between the butt and the body.
4. Tear Cartridge - Tear the paper down to the powder, hold the cartridge upright between the thumb and next two fingers, near the top; in this position place it against the pan, the palm of the right hand turned towards the body, the right elbow support on the butt.
5. Prime - Drop the head a little, fix the eyes on the pan, fill it with powder, press together the top of the cartridge with the thumb and forefinger, raise the head, and place the last two fingers of the right hand firmly behind and against the steel.
6. Shut Pan - Resisting the motion with the left hand, shut the pan smartly with the fingers behind the steel, holding carefully the cartridge with the two next fingers and the thumb; seize immediately the handle with the two remaining fingers and the palm of the right hand, the right wrist touching the body, the elbow back, and a little detached from the body.
7. Cast About - Pass the piece along the left thigh, after bringing it upright near the body; to effect this, press the butt strongly, extending smartly the right arm, without lowering the shoulder; turn at the same time the rammer towards the body, open the left hand to let the piece slide through it towards and near the middle band, the elbow remaining near the body, the cock bearing on the right thumb; at the same instance face to the front, turning on the left heel, and carry the right foot forward, the heel against the hollow of the left foot. Quit the hold of the right hand; through the left let the piece descend to the ground, without shock, along and near the body; raise at the same time the right hand to the height of, and near the muzzle, holding the top of the cartridge up, the left hand against the body, the piece touching the left thigh, the muzzle opposite to the center of the body.
8. Charge Cartridge - Fix the eye on the muzzle, turn quickly the back of the right hand towards the body, in order to discharge the powder into the barrel, raise the elbow to the height of the wrist, shake the cartridge, force it into the muzzle, and leave the hand reversed, the fingers closed, but not clenched.
9. Draw Rammer - Drop smartly the right elbow and seize the rammer between the thumb and forefinger bent, the other fingers shut; draw it smartly, extending the arm, seize the rammer again at the middle, between the thumb and forefinger, the hand reversed, the palm to the front, the nails up, the eyes following the movement of the hand; clear the rammer from the pipes by again extending the arms. Turn rapidly the rammer between the bayonet and the face, closing the fingers, the rammers of the centre and rear ranks grazing the right shoulders of the men of the same file in front, respectively, the rammer parallel to the bayonet, the arm extended, the butt of the rammer opposite to the muzzle, but not yet inserted, the eyes fixed on the muzzle. Insert the butt of the rammer and force it down as low as the hand.
10. Ram Cartridge - Extend the arm to its full length to seize the rammer between the right thumb extended and the forefinger bent, the other fingers closed; with force ram home twice, and seize the rammer at the little end, between the thumb and forefinger bent, the other fingers closed, the right elbow touching the body.
11. Return Rammer - Draw briskly the rammer, re-seize it at the middle between the thumb and forefinger, the hand reversed, the palm to the front, the nails up, the eyes following the movement of the hand; clear the rammer from the barrel by extending the arm. Turn rapidly the rammer between the bayonet and the face, closing the fingers, the rammer of the centre and rear ranks grazing the right shoulders of the men in the same file in front, respectively, the rammer parallel to the bayonets the arm extended the little end of the rammer opposite yet inserted, to the first pipe, but not yet inserted, the eyes fixed on that pipe. Insert the little end, and with the thumb, which will follow the movement, force it as low as the middle band; raise quickly the hand a little bent, place the little finger on the butt of the rammer and force it down; lower the left hand on the barrel to the extend of the arm, without depressing the shoulder.
12. Shoulder Arms - Raise the piece with the left hand along the left side, the hand at the height of the chin, the forearm touching the piece, the barrel to the front; drop at the same time the right hand to seize the piece a little above the handle, the forefinger touching the cock, and the thumb on the centerplate. Raise the piece with the right hand, drop the left, and place it under the butt, bring the right heel to the side of the left and on the same line; support the piece with the right hand against the shoulder the position prescribed for shoulder-arms, the right hand resting on, without grasping the piece. Let fall smartly the right hand into its position by the side of the thigh.
The last three commands were ready, aim, fire.
Ready - The musket was brought to the front of the body at waist height, with the barrel pointing to the front. The hammer was positioned on full cock.
Aim - The butt of the musket was placed against the shoulder, the forefinger was placed on the trigger, and the sights were lined up on the target.
Fire - The trigger was pulled and the weapon was fired. The soldier remained in his position until the next commands to reload or order arms.
The above steps are for the flintlocks-for a percussion weapon, like those the dragoons had, the steps of open and shut pan are eliminated and also the command to prime is given after return rammer, since the priming is done with a percussion cap instead of a cartridge.
The information on this page came from Infantry Tactics by Winfield Scott.
Last updated: July 30, 2016