Versatile Musket

by Michael Carrick

1795 Musket

About half of the enlisted men in the permanent party of the expedition were chosen by Captain Lewis from among regular Army troops stationed in the general vicinity of St. Louis. Since Lewis originally planned on a smaller group, he had only fifteen rifles specially prepared for the expedition at Harpers Ferry armory in Virginia in 1803. Therefore, these additional enlisted men were expected to bring with them their standard-issue arms—the US. Model 1795 musket and bayonet.

Congress passed a bill in 1794 to establish three or four national armories. The first was in Springfield, Massachusetts, where the first "United States Musket" was produced in 1795. The national armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, produced its first musket in 1800, and continued to turn them out until 1814. The musket illustrated above was made at Harpers Ferry in 1801.

The model 1795 muskets had a .69 caliber, 44-1/2" barrel, an overall length of 59" and a weight of about 9-1/2 lbs. When hunting big game such as deer, elk, or buffalo, a .69 caliber round lead ball would be used. Because the barrel was smoothbore—that is, had no rifling grooves to spin the bullet and enhance accuracy—it could be used with birdshot pellets in the same manner as today's shotgun.

On May 10, 1804, in preparation for their departure from Camp Dubois on the fourteenth, Clark ordered "every man to have 100 Balls for ther Rifles & 2 lb. of Buck Shot for those with mussquets & F[uzees]."

Bayonets are mentioned only twice in the journals. On August 6, 1805, when the party struck camp opposite the mouth of the Big Hole River in southwestern Montana, one of the men left his bayonet behind; Clark and his contingent found it there the following year. Also, both Clark and Ordway wrote in mid-June of 1806 that two men had made fishing gigs by attaching bayonets to poles.


The chapter of knowledge is a very short, but the chapter of accidents is a very long one," wrote the famous British memoirist Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) to a friend in 1753. "I will keep dipping in it," he continued, in reference to his growing deafness, "for sometimes a concurrence of unknown and unforeseen circumstances, in the medicine and the disease, may produce an unexpected and lucky hit."1 Evidently Lewis was familiar with Lord Chesterfield's famous aphorism, for he himself referred to "a chapter of accidents" now and then, though more often inverted into the sense of a near calamity than as a "lucky hit."

Another Chapter

Private Hugh McNeal used his musket in an unorthodox but effective manner against a grizzly bear near the Falls of the Missouri on July 15, 1806. Through a succession of coincidences, mostly fortunate, McNeal survived his brush with death. Count the near-calamities and "unexpected and lucky hits" in this scenario:

The unsuspecting McNeal had ridden to within ten feet of a bear that was concealed in dense brush. The horse smelled the bear and wheeled away abruptly, throwing McNeal to the ground "immediately under the bear." Grizzly bear with a puzzled look on his faceThe grizzly "raised himself on his hinder feet for battle." McNeal seized the moment, and stood up to face his adversary. He whacked the beast over the head with the butt of his musket, cutting him with the trigger guard, but breaking the gun at the breech. The bear, "stunned with the stroke fell to the ground and began to scratch his head with his feet." That gave McNeal time to take refuge in a nearby tree, where he hung on just out of the bear's reach, while the bruin paced back and forth beneath him until late in the evening before leaving the neighborhood. McNeal "ventured down" from the tree and patiently tracked down his horse in the fading light, "which had," he told Lewis, "strayed off to the distance of 2 ms."

Lewis shook his head as he recorded the incident. "There seems to be a sertain fatality attached to the neighbourhood of these falls," he wrote, "for there is always a chapter of accedents prepared for us during our residence at them."


1. John Bradshaw, ed., The Letters of Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield (3 vols., London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1892), 3:1054.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service Challenge Cost Share Program