This is the third in our “List of Weapons” series. Pre-modern weapons cover include military surplus from about the 16th century until World War I.
Pre-Modern Hand Firearms – What we today call “guns” makes its first appearance in one of our list of weapons here. Gunpowder was invented in China in the 9th century A.D., and was incorporated into the use of firearms in the 13th century. The first guns were more like flamethrowers, with other small pieces of material placed into the barrels that would come out with the fire. These pre-modern firearms would probably more appropriately be called “fire cannons.” Eventually, cartridges were used because of their destructive force.
Muskets were developed from these early firearms, and are similar to modern-day rifles. They made use of small ball-shaped bullets. These were used by early colonizers in North America and were the primary firearm used by both the Americans and British in the American Revolutionary War. Smooth-bore muskets were later replaced by rifles, but they were useful weapons until the American Civil War and later. It is interesting to note that not once did we see Athos, Porthos, Aramis, or d’Artagnan use a musket in Disney’s The Three Musketeers.
Cannons - These could probably fit in the same category as Pre-Modern Firearms, since their development took place at the same time, but they are such an important part of warfare history that they deserve a separate place on this list of weapons. Like the firearm, the cannon’s beginnings go back to the first use of gunpowder in China. The next stage of development after being used as flamethrowers involved the use of cannonballs. Cannons became respectable weapons in the battlefield for their ability to take out multiple enemy soldiers with one shot.
Cannons were made for hand-use, but eventually grew in size to provide more power and range of fire. When cannons became too large to carry, they were placed on wheels for better mobility. Cannons were also placed on watercraft, which enabled nations to have full-force navies.
Cannons are an important part of American history, serving integral roles in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and World War I. Modern-day cannons find their home on military battleships and in some infantry units — these cannons are called howitzers.
Bayonet – A bayonet may seem like something that belongs on the Ancient list of weapons, but it certainly was important for soldiers from the bayonet’s inception until the 20th century. Bayonets may have been used as early as the start of the 17th century, but they were certainly an integral component of muskets and long firearms by the 18th century.
Since early firearms had a firing rate of only 2-4 rounds per minute because of their long loading time, it became necessary for soldiers to have a secondary means of attack in case they were in close contact with enemies. The bayonet also provided a way for soldiers to still be a threat should they run out of ammunition.
Bayonets were small dagger-like weapons attached to the end of muskets and rifles. Lengths of bayonets varied, but an average bayonet would have been around 12 inches long. They were originally made to fit into the barrel of firearms so that firing the weapon was not possible. But later, they were made with rings to fit around the barrel so the weapons could be fired with bayonets attached.
Bayonets are currently used by the U.S. on modern firearms, although they are much shorter than older bayonets and are more similar to tactical knives. That being said, the U.S. military announced this year that soldiers would no longer receive bayonet training because it is not a common form of combat anymore.
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Written by Craig Kent, member of the Best Military Surplus team.