Yes, this is a blog about the Age of Sail. So what gives with the Ferguson Rifle?
Sometimes the weapon of the fictional hero assumes heroic proportions itself. Fans of the Highlander movie/television series tend to admire his katana. Readers of Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe novels know he prefers a heavy cavalry saber and his inseparable sidekick Patrick Harper carries not only a Baker Rifle but seven-barreled volley gun manufactured by Henry Nock.
In Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie novels, the hero, Alan Lewrie, first encounters the Ferguson Rifle in the novel The French Admiral during the siege of Yorktown. The rifles are being used by the light infantry company of the Loyal North Carolina Regiment. He immediately sees the efficacy of being able to load and fire while lying prone and acquires one of the rifles as his own. The Ferguson makes periodic appearances in later novels.
Patrick Ferguson was an interesting character. I first encountered him in the biography section of my junior high library. Later, when traveling between my home in Virginia and my first duty station at Fort Benning, Georgia, I was able to visit the battlefield at King’s Mountain.
His rifle was an technical and intellectual tour de force.
Firing tests of the new weapon were conducted in the summer of 1776 at the Blackheath and Woolwich Arsenals, in England. Because of its remarkable performance, it was also demonstrated before the King at Windsor. In the course of a series of tests, and with a high degree of accuracy, Ferguson fired 6 shots per minute at a target 200 yards distant from a stationary position and 4 shots when advancing at a 4-mile-an-hour pace. He then wet the inside of the barrel, and fired effectively after a minute to prove the worthiness of this weapon in inclement weather.
Ferguson missed the target only three times during these tests, which impressed most favorably the high army officers who witnessed them. The tests proved that the Ferguson rifle was a weapon of infinitely greater accuracy and rapidity of fire than the “Brown Bess,” the regulation musket of the British army.
After Ferguson was wounded, his rifles were withdrawn from circulation. With his death they were forgotten.