Question: Did it take 3 minutes to reload a musket when the second amendment to the US constitution was ratified?
Truthfully, unlike in European wars, there wasn't a lot of reloading going on in the Revolutionary war. Typically it was fire one volley and bayonet charge. Especially by the British, colonials often lacked bayonets.
Yes. in ideal conditions a smoothbore musket could be loaded in 15-20 seconds by a professional soldiers. 15 steps to reload a riffle from "prime and load" through returning to "prime and load" and it was the mark of a well practiced and disciplined soldier to be able to execute each step in 1 second.
However smoothbore muskets like the British Brown Bess were rare in the colonial army. After the French entered the war they provided George Washington's regulars with French smoothbore muskets which eventually became the mainstay of the colonial professional army. But the overwhelming majority of soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War on the Colonial side (10-1) were not professionals but amateurs. For amateurs the more widely available weapon were Rifles, like the Kentucky Long Rifle. For reloading a Riffle 3 minutes is not out of the question.
If you are a gun enthusiast you know that modern pistols and riffles the rounds are larger than the barrel. That modern weapons gain power and accuracy by forcing the larger bullet down the tight barrel to pick up the riffling or grooves of the barrel. It’s why bullets are made from soft metals like lead and copper. For revolutionary war riffles balls were necessary very snug, for the same reason. To pick up the rifling of the barrels as the rounds reshape themselves traveling down the barrels. After a few discharges the black powder residue used made the balls even tighter. Getting the ball down a riffled barrel was a challenge.
In ideal conditions 3-4 rounds per minute for a professional American revolutionary musket man. But battle fields are far from ideal and the American Revolutionary war was primarily fought by amateur soldiers on the colonial side with American and French regulars amounting to a small fraction of overall troops strength.
Rate of fire:
The “3 to 4 rounds per minute” comes from live fire studies conducted during the late 18th century, but I don’t have the details on hand. The firing was sustained for (I think) three minutes, and from that the per-minute rate is derived. The studies were done in idealized conditions. Note also that the 1764 manual of arms has 15 “counts” from the order “prime and load” to returning to the priming position after pulling the trigger (beginning from the priming position, not from the shoulder). If the motions can be performed at the recommended one-second intervals, then the maximum rate of fire is four rounds per minute; but executing the motions at that pace, particularly handling the rammer, is challenging if it’s possible at all.
However; Orourke numbers are not entirely fanciful. Another famous weapon widely used by colonial troops was the Kentucky long riffle. It could take longer than two minutes to load that weapon because the round had to be forced down the snug barrel. Sometimes soldiers had to use a mallet to hammer the ball down the barrel.
In general in the Revolutionary war soldiers didn't reload their weapons.
The Professional British Army had contempt for Revolutionary Minute Men and their typical move was to march into firing range, unload a single volley into the ranks of the colonials, and charge with bayonets.
Riffles which outranged muskets by 2-3 to 1 were not favored by soldiers due to
- Their slower rate of fire given the difficulty in loading the ball.
- Bayonets could not be fitted on the barrels of Rifles.
However in the American Revolutionary War militia soldiers (amateurs) were required to supply their own weapons and Kentucky long riffles were just more readily available than the favored smooth bore muskets.
Colonial armies, unlike the British did utilized sharpshooters. Specialized troops such as the famous Morgan's Riffles named for their commander General Daniel Morgan. Another famous sharpshooter of the revolutionary war was Timothy Murphy who killed Sir Francis Clerke and General Simon Fraser in a single afternoon at the second battle of Saratoga. Kentucky Riffles had more than twice the range of smoothbore muskets and greater accuracy. Colonial sharpshooters used these advantages to target British officers prior to the main forces engaging.