Arms of the Mexican Infantry 1835-1836
by Ed Dubravsky
When Mexico won its independence from Spain, the fledgling country found itself with a large supply of Spanish weapons. By the time of the Texas Revolution there were still thousands of Spanish weapons in the armories of Mexico. Since Mexico had no major facilities for producing the additional weapons necessary for its army, it subsequently procured arms from other sources. Available records show that they possessed a number of arms orginating from different countries including the United States.
In the mid 1820s Mexico bought a large number of British arms and issued these to its regulars and active militia battalions. It's doubtful that Mexico used any weapons other than those supplied by the British during the Texan campaign because weapons standardization for the purposes of supply and spare parts was a vital issue.
Though there exists no precise description of these arms, some evidence has surfaced through archaeological research. This evidence suggests that Mexico armed its infantry with the India Pattern musket, a 39 inch barrel of .752-.760 caliber. It weighed nine pounds, eleven ounces and came with a seventeen inch socket bayonet that itself weighed one pound. In essence, it was a cheaply made version of the famous "Brown Bess". It was not subject to the same rigid standards and testing as the usual army muskets and many of these were quite inferior.
Apparently, the Mexican army did not issue all the arms they bought but stored many of them in the armories and issued them as needed. So, the muskets carried by the Mexican troops would have been a mixture of used and new.
The Mexican soldier received standard issue paper cartridges that contained about 165 grains of powder if they followed British standards. Even if you use a measure of powder for priming the pan, modern black-powder experts consider this a very heavy charge for this gun. It's important to remember that the powder used by the Mexican forces in 1836 was inferior to modern powder. The Texans found the Mexican powder to be of such low quality that many considered it useless. All this powder created a large amount of fouling in the barrel that impeded the loading of subsequent shots. To compensate for this, soldiers used an undersized ball of .69 caliber.
The accuracy potential for the musket is better than some might think. With a tight fitting ball and patch, propelled by a moderate powder charge, a musket will regularly hit a target at 100 yards or more using only modest sights. It would be dangerous against infantry formations at a distance of possibly 300 yards. That's only the potential of the musket, not the reality of its use. Poor powder quality, a loose fitting ball and lack of sights, coupled with the lack of experience of the average foot soldier all added together to make the musket a very inaccurate weapon.
As used during this period, it was good only for volley fire against masses of infantry and was only effective against individual targets at close range. One very good study suggests that volley fire against enemy formations (under 200 yards over open ground) would average between .5 to 5.5% of the rounds fired actually striking its intended target. That is why some experienced officers had their troops hold their fire until the enemy was as close as 40 yards.
To compensate for the poor performance of the average musket, many commanders would have their troops load their muskets with "buck and ball." This is a load that uses the standard ball, but with at least three buckshot added. This load will drop the impact of the ball a little but will greatly increase the hit probability because of the spread of the buckshot. This type of load was very popular among many armies of the period. With buck and ball the musket was menacing at 100 yards or more and deadly at about 40.
Travis' servant Joe said that the shot that struck him in the side was not a single shot, but rather one composed of buckshot. This supports the theory that at least some Mexican troops used "buck and ball" at the Alamo. In addition, archaeologists found a .35 caliber round ball during excavations at the Alamo. This was the approximate size of the buckshot used in the large caliber British muskets.
Mexico did not arm its Cazadores (light infantry) with the standard infantry musket. Like many light infantries of the day, the Cazadores used light infantry muskets, which were lighter and of smaller caliber than the standard musket. The British frequently referred to these weapons as carbines because they were of carbine bore (.65 caliber).
According to research done by Kevin Young, the Mexicans referred to light infantry muskets as Tercerlos. Except for a piece of a .65 barrel and a few .59 caliber balls found at the Alamo, there is no conclusive information on what types of light infantry muskets the Cazadores carried. The British preferred to keep their best weapons for themselves and sell the inferior India Pattern weapons, as they did to the Mexican government. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that the light infantry muskets would also be of the India Pattern. The most likely candidate would be the India Pattern Sergeants Carbine. This musket was similar in appearance to the standard musket but had a 37 inch, .65 caliber barrel. It weighed seven pounds 12 ounces and had a 13 inch socket bayonet that weighed 12 ounces.
The Cazadores received more marksmanship training so they might fight as skirmishers and light infantry. Their shooting skills, compared to that of the common soldier, were far superior. Again, this was due to exceptional training and tactics. The musket and load were not any better than what the regular infantry carried.
Not all the Cazadores carried the light infantry musket. A few carried the Baker rifle. The Baker rifle was probably the best made arm carried by the Mexican forces. Evidence suggests that the Bakers used by the Mexicans were some of the early models. These rifles had a short 30 inch barrel fitted with good sights. The earliest models were of .70 caliber and fired the same .69 caliber ball as the standard musket, but the British soon abandoned this model in favor of the .625 caliber, which fired a .615 caliber ball. This .625 caliber rifle weighed eight pounds 14 ounces. Some of the rifles bought by the Mexicans came with a 23 inch sword bayonet, while others had no provision for a bayonet. Those that came with the bayonet were virtually useless with the bayonet attached.
The firing trauma caused much damage to the bayonet's hook and spring mechanism. When the muzzle blast struck the guard on the handle, it caused so much damage that, after only a few shots, the bayonet would simply fall off.
Even if the bayonet did not fall off immediately, the two pound weight of it made the rifle difficult to fire from an off hand position.
The rifle itself was considerably more accurate than the issue musket but was not as accurate as the American long rifle. The exageratted slow twist of the barrel rifling helped prevent premature fouling but made the rifle inaccurate at longer ranges. The use of cartridges sped the loading of the rifle in battle but did not allow the rifleman to fire the most accurate load for his particular rifle. So, although it had its limitations, the Baker was a deadly weapon when used by a trained marksman at ranges of 100 yards or less.
As historians continue to research, it's hoped that more information will come to light on the weapons carried by the Mexicans in the Texan Revolution.
Ed Dubravsky is a member of the Alamo Society and the Alamo Battlefield Association.
Blackmore, Howard L.; British Military Firearms 1650-1850; Arco Publishing, New York, 1961
Darling, Anthony D.; Red Coat and Brown Bess; Museum Restoration Service, Alexandria Bay, New York; 1971
Hughes, Major-General B.P.; Firepower, Weapons Effectiveness On The Battlefield. 1630-1850; Sarpedon Press, New York;1974