This reenactor does a fine job of reloading a flintlock rifle while running. He is attempting to recreate something from the Indian Wars in America, in the 1770s. My question is about the historical accuracy of what the video is attempting to reconstruct, and how it relates to American and European military practice.

vonadler on reddit gave an excellent summary of European schools of thought on military doctrine in the early(?) 18th century, here, and dismissed the rumour that the Swedish and Russian forces practiced reloading while marching: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/7qck4a/did_the_swedish_empire_have_a_tactical_doctrine/dspcjp9/

This appears to imply that running or marching while reloading was a practice native to America? The only account I can find from Europe, so far, was an account from the battle of Jena from a Prussian sergeant. He said that as they advanced through the fog to meet the enemy, they reloaded their muskets as they marched (this was not done while under fire).

I ask if anyone can clarify if there was a practice of marching while loading in the 18th or 19th century, or if it was the oddity of a couple of conflicts. The video's performance has lead me to become deeply curious in this matter.

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    Do we know that this was actual practice of the time? It looks to me as if the action of reloading is slowing his running. I'd think that it would be safer to run at a sprint, find some cover and reload there. I'd also imagine that it would be very difficult to do when surrounded by other men attempting to do the same thing (as you'd have on a European battlefield).
    – Steve Bird
    Jan 15, 2018 at 20:44
  • I've been reading contemporaneous accounts of the Border Wars, fought between Indians and settlers, between 1764 and 1794, mostly Kentucky-Virginia-Pennsylvania. In one report Virginia borderer was being chased by four Indians. Over the course of several miles he would turn, fire, and then reload while he ran some more. He claimed to have killed the first three, and the final pursuer gave up the chase. IIRC, this occurred along the Ohio river, near Wheeling, about 1780. The point is, one can run and reload, if suitable motivated, even with a long rifle. Jan 15, 2018 at 21:23

1 Answer 1


Through the musket era, formed troops prevailed through achieving higher rates of fire. With rates exceeding 4 shots per minute for Wellington's Peninsular veterans, and claimed to approach 6 shots per minute for Frederick's Prussian Guards, a rate of 2 per minute (as in the video) is horrendously bad for formed infantry. Likewise it seems clear that the running pace is slowed by the reloading effort. And formed troops cannot run at speed or for more than a few seconds without loosing cohesion.

The questions then becomes: Under what circumstances is it desired to reload while running, with a significantly reduced rate of fire? I believe that the only such circumstance is as described for the Virginia borderer in the question. When badly outnumbered and small in number, so that slowing will result in becoming surrounded, it is imperative to keep moving. Note that the anecdote mentions the chase lasting over several miles, so a steady jog as in the video is quite fast enough. Only in this circumstance can I see value in reloading while running. Such a circumstance would have been much more common along the Appalachian frontier than anywhere on a 18th or 19th century European battlefield.

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    There was another common practice, alternative to sustained firing (at least in XVIII century) - to shoot one volley and then follow it up with a bayonet charge. Against this tactic, trying to reload on the run would be suicide - as ranges of effective musket shooting were low (for example, as late as during Napoleonic wars, British instructions were to shoot when the enemy was at no more than 100 yards, and better yet - at 50), a man charging you with a bayonet is more than likely to catch up to someone who is slowed down by trying to reload on the run. Jan 16, 2018 at 3:09
  • I recall reading somewhere that that the British and French were both fond of this; except the French reloaded first and the British didn't. If you are used to charging with a loaded musket and get charged while reloading, that might be unnerving. Perhaps that happened about 7:30 pm, June 18, 1815, just west of the main Brussels-Charleroi highway. Jan 16, 2018 at 3:51

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