The Americans had a secret weapon in the Revolutionary War, the Kentucky Rifle, or the Pennsylvania rifle, as it was known then. It was generally made in Pennsylvania by German immigrant gunsmiths, and only later became known as the Kentucky rifle. The Kentucky rifle was an American refinement of existing rifle technology, and was used with a tactic that the British found to be unchivalrous and rude. The American forces developed the habit of shooting specifically at officers, from great distances, and the Kentucky rifle was known by the British as the widow maker.
The Kentucky rifle modified the standard musket of the day by having a longer barrel, being lighter, shooting a smaller caliber, using rifling, and using a ball that was smaller than the barrel, with a greased patch. Rifling refers to spiral grooves in the gun’s barrel, which cause the bullet to spin, thus greatly increasing accuracy. Since a greased patch was used to seal the ball in the barrel, a patch box was provided in the stock, to keep the patches clean. These were all modifications that made the Kentucky rifle perfect for hunting game in the woods of the colonies. It also made it the first long range sniper rifle.
The British made a point of capturing some American riflemen and their rifles, and they were sent to England. There they were forced to demonstrate their marksmanship, much to the amazement of the British. While a musket such as the Brown Bess was innacurate at 100 yards, the Kentucky rifle was highly accurate at 200 yards, and many shots were made at 300 and even 400 yards.
A British officer, Colonel George Hanger, made this observation of the accuracy of a frontiersman with a Kentucky rifle and an incident in South Carolina.
I never in my life saw better rifles (or men who shot better) than those made in America: they are chiefly made in Lancaster, and two or three neighboring towns in that vicinity, in Pennsylvania. The barrels weigh about six pounds two or three ounces, and carry a ball no larger than thirty-six to the pound; at least I never saw one of a larger caliber, and I have seen many hundreds and hundreds. I am not going to relate any thing respecting the American war; but to mention one instance, as a proof of most excellent skill of an American rifleman. If any man shew me an instance of better shooting, I will stand corrected.
Colonel, now General Tartleton, and myself, were standing a few yards out of a wood, observing the situation of a part of the enemy which we intended to attack. There was a rivulet in the enemy's front, and a mill on it, to which we stood directly with our horses' heads fronting, observing their motions. It was an absolute plain field between us and the mill; not so much as a single bush on it. Our orderly-bugle stood behind us, about three yards, but with his horse's side to our horses' tails. A rifle-man passed over the mill-dam, evidently observing two officers, and laid himself down on his belly; for, in such positions, they always lie, to take a good shot at a long distance. He took a deliberate and cool shot at my friend, at me, and the bugle-horn man. (I have passed several times over this ground, and ever observed it with the greatest attention; and I can positively assert that the distance he fired from, at us, was full four hundred yards). Now, observe how well this fellow shot. It was in the month of August, and not a breath of wind was stirring. Colonel Tartleton's horse and mine, I am certain, were not anything like two feet apart; for we were in close consultation, how we should attack with our troops, which laid 300 yards in the wood, and could not be perceived by the enemy. A rifle-ball passed between him and me; looking directly to the mill, I observed the flash of the powder. l said to my friend, "I think we had better move, or we shall have two or three of these gentlemen, shortly, amusing themselves at our expence. "The words were hardly out of my mouth, when the bugle horn man, behind us, and directly central, jumped off his horse, and said, "Sir, my horse is shot." The horse staggered, fell down, and died. He was shot directly behind the fore-leg, near to the heart, at least where the great blood-vessels lie, which lead to the heart. He took the saddle and bridle off, went into the wood, and got another horse. We had a number of spare horses, led by negro lads.
In the most famous use of the Kentucky rifle, American rifleman Timothy Murphy shot British General Simon Fraser from his horse at a distance of 500 yards, which is a respectable distance for a sniper in modern times with an advanced scope.
Although the Kentucky rifle made some spectacular shots, and kept the British officer corp in turmoil and distracted, the Kentucky rifle was not fitted with a bayonet, so the rank and file American soldiers used the Brown Bess musket with its bayonet and poor accuracy. Riflemen were attached to the main army as special details, such as skirmishers, scouts, and snipers. The Brits had their own long range rifle, in the Ferguson breech loading rifle but it was not used extensively.
Other Revolutionary War era technology is posted at: