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Amusettes as 18th Century Artillery with the Jägers and other Light Infantry
By Bryan K Brown, article published in "THE ARTILLERYMAN" Fall 2008 Vol 29, no.4
The Jaeger’s or Hunting Soldiers of the British forces serving in the Americas during the American Revolution were a very specialized sort of Light Infantry soldier, brought to the Americans to counter the perceived threat of the American Riflemen, as well as to serve as cadre to help train other Crown forces in La petite guerre. In Europe, the Jaeger’s were structured almost on a regimental model even at a company level, with every company having “2 (two) 3lb artillery pieces, 4 amusettes or light field pieces per company”. However when the Hessian troops came to the Americas at the behest of King George III the Crown forces consolidated the 3lb pieces ( as well as larger pieces at the Battalion and Regimental levels) into the British Pattern Massed Artillery stripping all the Hessian companies of their integrated artillery. As a result this left the Jaegers with their amusettes or light field pieces; (please note the distinction between amusettes and light field pieces here. While I confess this is not a universal distinction in period works, for the purposes of this article we will assume it was valid in the 1775-1783 period. )
For the purposes of this discussion I will refer to pieces by the modern caliber (1/100th of an inch) versus the more period correct bore (balls per pound of lead) due to the vagaries of 18th century units of measure. An 18th century “pound” can vary from 425 grams to 500 grams depending on which country you are referring. Which if we limit ourselves to French or English pieces can make an 8 bore piece between .77 and .84 caliber and these “pounds” are relatively close in mass.
Another common mistake we must avoid is confusing modern caliber (1/100th of an inch) with 18th/19th century French calibre, which is a function of the dimension of the bore, the length of the bore, and the diameter of the breech, which later referred to the total length of the piece and not commonly applied to the bore until the second half of the 19th century. To make this distinction even more challenging is the spellings are interchangeable.
Hessian Amusette 1740’s
Multi-barreled Wall Gun Class Amusette from a Castle in Wurzburg
reprint from The Complete German Hunter Leipzig 1724
For the purposes of this article we shall use the following hierarchy of definitions.
Amusette: Any piece bore between 90 and 200 caliber. Transportable by 3 or fewer men, or one horse/pony. Amusettes may be further broken down as Wall Gun, Rampart Musket, and Light Field Piece. For the purposes of this article we will also accept the alternate spellings of amusette, amuzette, and amussette as all referring to the same concept.
Wall Gun: Is a stocked and locked piece of greater than 90 caliber bore transportable by 2 or fewer men. May or may not have trunions or provisions for swivel mounting. May or may not be rifled May be carried or mounted on a cart type carriage, meant to be primarily pulled by men.
Rampart Musket: French design smoothbore larger caliber musket with heavier bore, not intended or equipped to mount bayonet or slings, does not have trunions or provision for swivel mounting. Calibers tend to be between 75 and 90 caliber
Light field piece: Wheeled mounted piece with or without lock, but not stocked. Bore between 100 and 200 approx caliber. Maybe designed to be transportable by men or single horse/pony. This is the class where the Verbruggen and Falconette type arms would fit
Field artillery: 3lb field pieces and above.
Now I do not pretend these are universal uses of these terms throughout history, merely establishing conventions for the purposes of this discussion. And I recognize that some here have posited that amusette has solely one meaning or the other (stocked or not), where here I shall assert that both are correct historical uses.
We are all familiar Comte Maurice de Saxe’s reference to amusettes, sadly it is all too often mistranslated to indicate he ‘invented’ the amusette as a physical construct. Instead of his coining the now common term for an evolutionary piece from the wall gun, hakkbucshe, and other light artillery. To pretend the Comte ‘invented’ more than a label denies a fair amount of history, and it was a label presumably intended to be dismissive as amusette means ‘amusement’ or ‘toy’ in French, hardly a name to inspire fear. We also need to remember this type of light artillery sometimes referred to as “gallopers” were common with the Polish and Mayar forces he ran into during the Wars of Polish Succession and Wars of Austrian Succession, whose Slavic light infantry and Partisans helped to create the Western European concept of Light Infantry and Light Artillery and these Polish Cannon from the 1500’s predating Comte’s “amusette” by about 200 years.
Such as this early 16th century Polish light field Piece
and these Polish Cannon from the 1500’s predating Comte’s “amusette” by about 200 years.
Now some assert that amusettes are all smooth bore pieces, but let us look further into Comte Maurice de Saxe’s discussions of the amusette in his Reveries on the Art of War.
“Before an engagement these amusettes are to be advanced in front, along with the light-armed troops. Since they can fire two hundred times an hour with ease, and carry above three thousand paces………they will carry farther and are much more accurate than our cannon”
Now this raises some interesting points, Maurice de Saxe’s commented in his reveries that they shot ½ lb ball.
“Every heavy-armed century is to be furnished with an arm of my own invention, which I call an amusette. They carry more than 4000 paces with extreme velocity…. This is also much more accurate; two men can carry it anywhere. It fires a ½ lb ball and 100 lbs of projectiles are carried with it.”
Now as we all know artillery in the era of round projectile are ruled by Newton’s laws; basically bigger balls shoot further, harder, better. So the “small artillery” Maurice de Saxe’s comments elsewhere in his Reveries, referring to 16 lb pieces as “small” really should outperform 1/2lb amusettes in range and distance. If said amusettes were smooth bore, this should not be possible. It would seem that Maurice de Saxe’s amusettes must be rifled pieces to meet the range and accuracy that Saxe is referring too.
Jaeger's the German implementation of Light Infantry were also a seed stimulated in the War’s of Polish and Austrian Succession were more about accuracy and down range energy then speed of fire. Where as a smoothbore amusette was used generally to shoot men and horses. The Jaegers used their rifled amusettes to shoot artillery pieces, striking the axles with enough force to crack the axle, rendering the piece useless & immobile until repaired. Although undersize ball or even canister/bag of multiple shot could be fired as well if the situation demanded, not that that makes them any better than the smooth bore pieces, just a different job with different technology as a result.
Some may postulate that the bracing provided by the trunions or other mechanisms to some stocked amusettes is due to some extreme recoil, I am afraid based on personal experience firing amusettes this is incorrect with any reasonable accurate powder charge. It is a firing brace yes, but not for recoil but rather to improve the accuracy of the shot, much like firing a modern sniper rifle from a bipod or other rest. The mass and barrel length involved in these stocked amusettes really absorb a great deal of recoil, they are not uncomfortable to shoot at all. It is much more due to the fact they are bloody heavy to try and hold up un-braced for firing. Think of them as fulfilling a role similar to a modern light machine gun, long range suppression and interdiction, does a M249 SAW or an old M60 have a bipod for “recoil” or to improve accuracy when aiming so you don’t have the hold the heavy beast up aiming at a target 400+yards distant?
Now as to the thought that the amusette refers solely to a trunioned piece without a stock similar to the verbruggen and falconettes I must disagree here. We turn now to the Journals of Johannes Ewald, a respected officer of the period on la petite guerre and Commander of the 2cd Jaeger company of both the Hessian Jaegers and Cornwallis’ amalgamated Jaeger Korps.
April 20th. 1777,Capt Johann von Ewald “several hours before daybreak, I put an amusette behind a false hedge which I had fashioned from bushes, placing it so that the barn could be pierced easily. I sent Lieutenant Trautvetter with twelve jagers to a small hollow on this side of the river across from the parsonage, with orders to keep hidden until the Americans were dislodged from the barn by the fire of the amusette. Then they were to rise and accompany the piece with sharp rifle fire. All went well. As soon as day broke, the riflemen began their harassing with their long rifles. After the third cannon shot, the barn became silent and the enemy left it, whereupon he fell into the jagers' fire. Since the road ran up along the river, which was not over a hundred paces wide, the jagers had the best possible range, and every jager killed or wounded his man”
http://www.bloomu.edu/library/Archives/Maps/map061.htm (URL for maps of this battle). Clearly showing 2 stocked and locked amusettes labeled 1st Companies Amusette and 2cnd amusette.
Zoomed snip from Ewald’s map of “First Jaeger Company Amuzette”
Zoomed snip from Ewald’s map of “Second Amuzette”
Now the really great part about these images is that these maps were penned by Ewald himself as part of his reports on the actions. Not reminisinces 20 or 30 years later, but as part of after action reports. Nice hard first person documentation from a period expert on La Petite Guerre.
3 Sept 1777 Captain von Wreden gained a patch of woods on the enemy's left flank, from which he made a spirited attack. When his jagers cannonaded their front with some amusettes and charged with bayonets, the enemy withdrew in the direction of Christiana Bridge, leaving behind thirty killed—among them five officers—but taking their wounded with them.
16 Sept 1777 This enemy corps arrived toward one o'clock on the 16th in front of our right column at a time when both our columns were making a halt behind the Boot Tavern and while Colonel von Donop was reconnoitering the road in front with a part of the jagers of the vanguard. Colonel von Donop was almost cut off, but he joined the vanguard again with all possible speed after skillfully executing some maneuvers to his left. All the jagers, mounted and dismounted, and the Hessian grenadiers formed in a few minutes, left the column, and advanced in line to the right against the rebels, who were posted on high ground covered with a corn field and orchards. The jagers, dodging behind the fences around the fields and woods, had an opportunity to demonstrate to the enemy their superior marksmanship a d their skill with the amusettes, and the enemy, who soon retired to a dense forest left behind many killed and wounded.
July 15th On the 15th, the Queen's Rangers, and Emmerick's corps, encamped outside Kingshridge ; the three Provincial troops of Hovenden, James, and Sandford, also joined the Queen's Rangers : an Amuzette, and three artillery men, were now added to the three pounder attached to the regiment. The post was of great extent, liable to insult, and required many sentinels :
January 12 1780 On the 12th at daybreak all the troops disembarked without the guns'(except the four amusettes of the light infantry, which the men themselves had to remove) or any of the baggage, not even a horse for the Commander in Chief.
You will also find photos of American copies of the Hessian amusettes in Neuman’s Battle Weapons of the American Revolution
Chapter 3; #147MM page 197 is a 113cal rifled stocked Amusette, with trunion and swivel. #142MM page192 has a British Smoothbore in 105 Caliber example of a stocked Amusette
Another point in favor of amusettes as stocked and locked piece comes from the British establishment of the period. Whose standardized supply system had flints broken down into 4 sizes pistol, carbine/rifle, musket and amusette. Now for those who will argue this is a misidentification of naval locked artillery, those locks use standard musket flints not the significantly larger wall gun/amusette flints.
In Caruana's Grasshoppers and Butterflies Pg 19 There are drawings showing "amusettes" flanking two light 3-pdrs defending a river crossing. The caption reads," Plan and front view of the use of mantlets to cover artillerymen at an advanced post. The mantlet was armed with a wall piece which was a one inch calibre, greatly enlarged version of the Long Land or Short Land Pattern flintlock musket". The drawings were from Caruana's research in the Woolwich Archives. Which I believe pretty clearly establishes that stocked and locked pieces are correctly referred to as amusettes, from a variety of independent primary sources.
Capt. Johann Ewald, "Diary of the American War" A Hessian Journal, translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin, Yale Univ. Press
OPERATIONS:THE QUEEN'S RANGERS, THE END OF THE YEAR 1777, CONCLUSION OF THE LATE AMERICAN WAR. BY LIEUTENANT-COLONEL SIMCOE,
Adrian Caruana Grasshoppers and Butterflies Museum Restoration Services 1979
Bloom University Andruss Library Special Collections, Bloomsburg, PA
US Government Made Muskets of the Revolution, 1780-1783
Charles W. Thayer University of Pennsylvania
The Complete Encyclopedia of Arms & Weapons Tarassuk Leonid, Blair Claude Simon & Schuster Publishing
Reveries on the Art of War Comte Maurice de Saxe’s Dover Publishing Translated by Brigadier General Thomas R. Phillips 2007