Arcelin Mousqueton: An 1850s Breechloader with a Ludicrous Bayonet

The Arcelin system was a capping breechloader provisionally adopted by the French military in 1854. It was a bolt action system with a folding bolt handle, firing a paper cartridge. It impressed Emperor Louis Napoleon III in initial trials, and he directed it be used to arms his elite Cent Gardes bodyguard. More extensive testing showed that it suffered from insufficient obturation, and would would with extended use, eventually becoming so difficult to close that bolt handles would break. Its adoption was rescinded, and it was replaced by the Treuille de Beaulieu 9mm pinfire carbine in Cent Garden use within just a few years.

The most distinctive element of the Arcelin in use was its bayonet – a true full-length sword complete with brass handguard that could be clipped to the muzzle. This was chosen for its impressive length, although it would have been cumbersome if used beyond ceremonial guard duties.

Thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing me access to film this very rare and very cool musketoon and its bayonet!


  1. Fontane’s description of a hot fight during the battle of Sadowa includes a quote from a a Prussian solider “I fired 80 rounds using 4 different Dreyse rifles that were disabled by fouling in succession”. So 100 rounds with one gun seems like exceptional for the time.

  2. Putting a full-length sword on the gun as a bayonet is a bad idea! It’s not as bad a weapon as the rod bayonet, but it’s impractical for anything but intimidating stupid people. Either that or just take the sword off and use it as a sword, not as an unbalanced spear. Any fencers in the house?

    • I do not think dismounted calvary were going to use bayonets in a infantry charge, but instead as pikes to defend against other mounted troops – so putting the butt on the ground and leaning the pointy end towards the other team is helped a lot by having the whole thing be really long.

      • Indeed. In the U.S. Indian Wars in 1794, the riflemen were given little spears that were in pieces like a sectioned cleaning rod… The idea, such as it was, was that since the rifle was slow to load, and the Indians might, well, you know, rush in with tomahawk and war club and sheath knife, they could assemble a little demi-pike while the musket armed troops had the bayonet fixed.

    • Intimidating people it´s the main point of a bayonet. You don´t cross bayonets with the enemy, you advance and the enemy (or you) run away before the actual contact happens

    • Have you by chance heard of the practice of spetsnaz units THROWING AK74s with standard bayonets AS JAVELINS as part of their training? As a weapon for dismounted guards it might be dumb, but for cavalry use it’s like someone combined the nagimaki and dai-kyu. It might only be good for 100 shots but if you just sent it to the armory for a dip in oil-based solvent or a new bolt, this would have been great. Maybe I’m really just looking ahead for gurkhas with kukri bayonets on martini-enfields (in some bizarre tarantino abomination where sword bayonets and mountain people were on/in the cavalry.) And I’m still needing some hardware to put my kukri machete on a 12gauge trench gun…

    • Cherndog: If anyone actually came to a bayonet clash, you would be right. For stopping a cavalry charge or a lightly armed mob, this could be a wicked combination, like a ransuer with a weighted gotten tag butt ! For sword fighting, it wouldn’t be the best. Mass produced dragoon or cavalry back swords and sabers for enlisted men were usually heavy and not well balanced for swordplay.

  3. The musketoon has all the simplicity of the New England under-hammer percussion lock guns of the early 19th-century, but with a modified pin-fire cartridge.

    I rather think John M. Browning’s 26 Dec. 1893 US Patent 511,677 was a logical outgrowth of this French Arcelin Mousqeuton as a single-shot .22 rf “boy’s rifle” so popular in the period. Of course, this Browning design was never produced commercially, in favor of closed breech rifles.

    Briefly there was the Winchester Model 55, a single-shot semi-automatic that while a really neat design, had all the problems of an open bolt gun in terms of accuracy, and none of the benefits of a breech-loading repeater, so sales were understandably low. I’d still like to find one someday. I should think Brownings US 511,677 could be made pretty cheaply in a machine shop with a rifled barrel blank.

    • Whoops, I meant the “other” mosqueton du cent-gardes with the 9-mm pinfire cartridges, not the Arcelin capping breech-loader here… My bad! Too bad i can’t edit!

  4. Ian should have saved this for 1/4/2021 or maybe not…haven’t laughed so hard since one of the robe-and-sandals videos…and we all could use a good laugh these days.
    And yes, as almost always, I did learn something here today!

  5. Interestingly, this may be the first screw breech-block, adopted for official use?
    If so, did Ian make a discovery?..

  6. I wonder why Ian did not comment on the lefty-friendly (and perhaps somewhat unusual) bolt handle? Which made sense, while your reins are wrapped around your left hand and the rifle is firmly grabbed in the right.

    From a fencer’s point of view the sword on the top of a rifle may be not so nonsensical, as long as your distance to the opponent is not shortened – you just have what is effectively a partisan (or a glaive), once quite popular and for good reasons. However, just looking at the whole thing assembled, I would have concern about twisting forces potentially acting at the point of juncture of both components once the tip of the blade is engaged.

  7. “(…)and would would with extended use, eventually becoming so difficult to close that bolt handles would break. (…)”
    What does would would mean here? I have never seen such construct earlier in English text.

  8. I want one of these Dragoon Sword bayonets now! Why didn’t they try using this type of bolt action with a Pauley cartridge? That could have been a winner!

  9. ‘Cent Gardes’ were the Garde de Corps of Napoleon III (Napoleon’s nephew). They serve on horse and on foot, and their main duty was ceremonial and the close protection of the emperor and his family, so no battle combat or a horse charge was probable.

  10. For the palace guard, probably, appearance is more important than functionality.
    One European monarch, for his ceremonial guard, specially bought the largest men in Russia and armed them with custom-made giant muskets.
    It must have impressed the guests… 😉

    And the peak, in close combat, is much more effective than the musket.
    The English infantry sergeants were armed with peaks during the War of Independence.

  11. The reason for the straight blade is the way European cavalry used the sabre. In the charge, they were taught to use it to make a straight thrust at the opponent’s chest and/or throat, rather than a slashing stroke. In effect, they were using the sabre much more like a lance than a sword.

    When you put the momentum of a horse at even a maneuvering gallop (about 12 MPH/ 17.6 F/S) behind that kind of strike, it’s easy to see that it can be extremely deadly if properly “aimed”.

    That is also the reason that as late as WW1, European and English cavalry retained the plate cuirass and plate gorget. They were the only effective defense against that specific attack.

    If you look closely, you will notice that the sword blade has an extended choil; that’s the unsharpened section between the edge and the guard. The best guess as to why that is would be so that if a soldier trained to snap to attention with the grounded full-length musket gripped near the muzzle grabbed the shorter weapon too far up and got hold of the blade, he wouldn’t lose any fingers.

    I noticed the L-shaped slot in the boltway. I’m guessing that there is a safety lug opposite the bolt handle that rides in it, to keep the bolt from blowing out in event the main locking lugs failed.

    Making the weapon’s breech gas-tight could have been done like the British Calisher and Terry carbine, which had an analogous breech system;

    The cartridge had a greased felt wad at the back end with a shorter dry felt wad in front of it (to keep the grease from contaminating the powder). When it fired, the force of the powder explosion forced the greased wad tightly against the front of the bolt, rather like the later de Bange artillery breech system’s “plastic” pad. (“Plastic” in the sense of easily deforming under applied force.)

    The next round loaded would push the remains of the greased pad up the bore in front of the bullet, greasing the bore and softening fouling. The only drawback was that the pad stuck to the nose of the bullet reduced accuracy, according to the British Army’s Ordnance Board.

    Still, in this case, that probably wouldn’t have made much difference. At 100 to 200 meters, which is about the maximum practical range of any rifled musketoon of that era, breechloading or muzzle-loading, whether you hit the enemy squarely in the heart or ten centimeters from it in any direction probably wouldn’t matter much.

    As Karamojo Bell said, there isn’t anything deader than dead.



    • >>s the way European cavalry used the sabre<<

      I beg to differ. Interwar Polish cavalry – which upon its inception at the end of WWI inherited memes of Russian and Austro-Hungarian services – obsessively trained their Uhlans in slashing (and only in slashing), till the last day of August 1939. The whole 'fencing' for privates comprised just of four cuts: forward from the right hand side, its equivalent from the left, a 'backward' cut (towards the horses tail first) from the right against an infantryman wearing a helmet or trying to parry with a rifle, and – finally – a horizontal cut from left to right against another cavalryman. Quite simple; up to four hours a day 🙂

      Those nations which really did use cavalry for anything more than a parade and considered tactical use of these soldiers on a horseback, equipped them with curved blade sabres. The US and the British (+dominions) were exceptions.

      By the way, the last successful 'proper' (with slashing) cavalry charge in history of warfare took place in 1945 (battle of Schoenfeld). Polish guys (under overall Soviet command) converted some surprised Wehrmacht into goulash; Panzerfausts were of little use against a determined charge by uhlans emerging amidst battle smoke out of sudden from a ravine. Curved hilt-less 'Cossack shashkas' were used to a good and memorable effect 🙂

      (by the way, these shashkas – with their centre of gravity far away from the grip – are practically unsuitable for more sophisticated 'duel-type' fencing)

      • Spanish swords had straight blades too.

        The rather athletic U.S. cavalry drill is available online as Saber Exercise, 1914. Written by “master of the sword” Lt. George S. Patton for use with the Model 1913 Cavalry Saber.

  12. In that period. it was assumed that each type of troops would fight a similar enemy.
    Therefore, for example, light cavalry had sabers that are more adapted for chopping strikes, and cuirassiers armed with broadswords and espadrons, designed for strong injections through the armor.

    Of course, there were attempts to create something in between, with a blade of slight curvature and a curved handle, for better emphasis on injections.

  13. “Low ceilings” being given as the reason for the abandonment of this wonderful combination does indeed sound like internet lore. Having said that I can confirm that a Dutch Beaumont-Vitali with socket bayonet attached is indeed a challenge to ceilings when deployed in an average suburban home. I really must fix that ceiling…

  14. That excessively long, straight blade makes me think of Bonaparte’s heavy cavalry, the Big Brothers. Nappy III may have been thinking the same thing. But trying to guess Second Empire motives is a mug’s game, ‘n I ain’t playin’ it.

  15. About the Patton saber, I can cite my father’s recollections. He served a hitch in the U.S. cavalry from 1920 to 1923. (Yeah, I’m really old.) *Horsed* cavalry, mind you, 13th. Cav. based at Ft. D. A. Russell near Cheyenne. They were issued Patton sabers, and trained with them, riding at straw-stuffed dummies and “sticking the damn things,” to quote my father. Because it was peacetime, the sabers were completely unsharpened, with a flat surface where the edge was supposed to go. Thrusting was the only possible tactic. I have to wonder how seriously the Army took the whole thing.

  16. My understanding is that the British army went to un-sharpened cavalry sabers because during drills the cavalry newcomers would sever the poor horse’s ear!

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