CARTRIDGE BOXES. Military smoothbore muskets were loaded using pre-packaged paper cartridges containing a powder charge and lead ball, or a ball with several smaller shot, known as "Buck Shott and Ball." To carry these cartridges, soldiers were issued a leather cartridge (cartouche) box or pouch, enclosing a wooden block pierced with holes in which ammunition was inserted. The terms "box" and "pouch" signified two different items. A box referred to a cartridge container worn on a waist belt, often only a wooden block with a simple leather covering. Cartridge pouches were carried on a belt worn over the left shoulder, hanging on the soldier's right hip. Pouches were usually more substantial than cartridge boxes and held more rounds. Tin cartridge canisters, watertight with a thirty-six-round capacity, were first issued to American troops in 1777 as a reserve container. From 1778 onwards, American tin canisters were often issued when leather pouches were unavailable.
The common campaign allotment was forty rounds of ammunition for Continental troops and sixty for British soldiers, with extra rounds carried in knapsacks or coat pockets. The several variants of cartridge box and pouch carried as few as nine rounds and as many as thirty-six. Beginning in 1778 the Continental army began making a "new model," also known as "new Constructed," pouch, a copy of the better-designed British twenty-nine-hole pouch.
Early war American cartridge pouches were notorious for their poor construction. The Battle of the Clouds (White Horse Tavern) on 16 September 1777 was cut short by a severe storm: "the Violence of the Rain was so lasting that … the Rebels had not a single Cartridge in their Pouches but was Wet, the [British] Light Inf[antr]y Accoutrements being mostly Rebel were in the same Situation" (Journal, p. 37).
Journal, First Battalion Light Infantry, 12 February 1776 to 30 December 1777. Document #409. Sol Feinstone Collection. David Library of the American Revolution, Washington Crossing, Pa.
Peterson, Harold L. The Book of the Continental Soldier. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1968.