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The long guns: History of US military rifles

by Peter Suciu |  |  Published on December 22, 2016

The U.S. Army’s upgraded M4A1 combat rifle is just the latest development in a category of weapons that American soldiers have carried since the country’s earliest days.

Long Gun Beginnings

Even before there was actually a “United States” there was what could arguably be considered the first true “American rifle.” Known as the Pennsylvania rifle, the Kentucky rifle or simply the long rifle, it was designed for hunting and was characterized by an unusually long barrel, a unique development that was uncommon in the European rifles of the era.

Military history consultant and former United States Marine Corps Captain Dale Dye told that, in the flintlock era, the long gun was the first to have grooves in the barrel. “These grooves, or rifling, along with the longer barrel, made the guns much more accurate than the British Brown Bess musket,” he said.


The long rifle wasn’t ever produced in large enough numbers to truly make a difference during the American Revolution, but its use by sharpshooters – such as members of Morgan’s Riflemen at the 1777 Battle of Saratoga established the reputation of the American marksman.

The first truly big leap forward in long gun design came with the Caliber .54, Model 1841 Rifle, which was the first to utilize a percussion ignition system. The Model 1841 is sometimes called the Mississippi Rifle due to its use by a Mississippi rifle regiment during the Mexican War between 1846 and 1848. The regiment was commanded by future Confederate States President Jefferson Davis.

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