Frontier Riflemen in the American Revolution 

Riflemen reflected the independence of the American backcountry. They were accustomed to living in sparsely populated regions with wooden and mountainous terrain. A key tool of living in these frontier conditions was the flintlock rifle. With its grooved barrel that allowed for greater range and accuracy, this gun made an ideal precision hunting weapon and an important item for self-defense. Given their self-determining spirit, military discipline was sometimes a problem within the company ranks, earning the attention of Washington himself. Nonetheless, from the woodlands of New England to the South Carolina backcountry, frontier riflemen contributed their unique skillset in the name of American independence.

The First Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion 

On June 14, 1775, Congress resolved to raise six companies of expert riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. The resolution directed that “each company, as soon as completed, shall march and join the army near Boston.” Five days later, Congress appointed George Washington commander in chief of the Continental Army. Within a month, Washington and the first rifle companies arrived outside of Boston to join the mostly New England troops besieging the British.

The riflemen were talented sharpshooters. Newspapers reported that in a competition, every member of one company placed shots in a seven-inch target at 250 yards and a Virginia marksman fired eight successive shots through a 5 x 7-inch board at 60 yards. More newspapers published such stories and news of these crack shots spread throughout North America and England. Sometimes riflemen fired at enemy officers. British and Hessian officers were known to cut the rank insignia from their uniforms to avoid a rifleman’s aim.

Reproduction Clothing and Equipment 

The Continental Army Trunk includes clothing representing a rifleman from the First Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion. The rifleman’s clothing displays his frontier origins. He wears a hunting shirt made of homespun cloth that allowed for free movement. General Washington considered it the ideal military garment. Underneath his hunting shirt he wears a checked work shirt and over it he wears a belt. He also wears colored leggings over breeches and stockings. He wears a wide-brimmed hat and carries a haversack, a canteen and a powder horn.

Additional Lesson Plans and Links  

“The Fight for Independence: A View from the Front Lines”

“Perspective, Place and Propaganda in Revolutionary South Carolina”

Battle of Camden, Francis Marion and Guerrilla Warfare and Battle of Cowpens