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JimG

Ranges and Tactics

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I have heard that the range of the rifled musket was longer than the smoothbore musket and that is one reason casualities were so high in Civil War battles. Yet in at least one book on Shiloh it was said that there the smooth bore firing the buck & ball cartridge was more efficent. What was the range between the union and confederates at the battle? It has been a while since I read it Paddy Griffith book but it seems only to deal with the later war. The more research I do the more I wonder about the infantry tactics used at Shiloh. There seemed there was no real command and control above the regimental level.

Jim G

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Jim:

It is true that the rifled musket had a greater range than the smoothbore musket. The rifle was effective up to 400 yards while the musket was effective only to about 150 yards. The buck & ball load for a smoothbore musket was a variant of the load for this weapon. This load may have been more effective because it fired more projectiles but had a short range. I replied to your question of range on another web site but the average effective range of the rifles and muskets at the battle of Shiloh was probably, I believe to have been short, about 200 yards.

Your comment about the confederate command and control on the battlefield is accurate. Battlefield control by higher headquarters was deplorable.

Ron

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Ron, could it be that "efficient" in this case means faster loading? I think  I read somewhere that the military chose less accurate smoothbore muskets because they could be reloaded faster than rifles. Apparently, it took more time/effort to force a bullet down a rifled barrel because it had to fit so tightly into the barrel. However, that situation changed with the invention of the Minié ball because it expanded to fit the barrel as soon as the powder discharged. The Civil War was the first American war that saw expanded use of rifled muskets, and even the people in the military were surpsised by the magnitude of the difference that made in weapon effectiveness and carnage. Shiloh was the first battle where this difference really showed itself. Is any of this accurate? Thanks.

John

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A lot of the troops that carried .57 muskets would carry .54 ammo. along with .57 the first few shots were .57 and as the barrels fouled requiring cleaning they would switch to.54 instead of taking time to pour hot water down the barrel, which took extensive time even if you had hot water. range at shiloh was not really an issue as there were not many places where a shot of over 50 yds was required and 20 to 25 yards was the norm.

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I agree with C.D. that the ranges at Shiloh generally weren't great enough to give rifles any effective advantage over smoothbores.

In fact, I've pretty much been won over by Paddy Griffith's argument that rifled weapons weren't the real reason for the high causality rates in the Civil War. Especially after reading a book by Earl J. Hess called The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat. Hess basically expands on Griffith's contention that the impact of rifled weapons in the war has been overstated. It's an excellent book, and Hess makes a compelling case.

Perry

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Interesting Perry your comment on Hess's book re rifled muskets. Is it worth buying to read? I have 1 he wrote about the evolution of trench warfare as the war went on.

CD what is in the picture of your new Avatar?

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those are two pewters by chilmark one is entitled saving the colours showing a sgt. from miss. moving to keep the flag flying at the rail fence in the hornets nest. the other is Johnny Shiloh.

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Sharon, on Hess's book, it's not without some detractors, which was also true of Paddy Griffith's book, but while I'm certainly no expert I think he makes some thought-provoking points, and I enjoyed the book.

Here's a link to the book on Amazon, where you can read the reviews. Only seven at the moment, although some of them are pretty detailed...

http://www.amazon.com/Rifle-Musket-Civil-War-Combat/product-reviews/0700616071/ref=cm_cr_dp_all_helpful?ie=UTF8&coliid=&showViewpoints=1&colid=&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending

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Looks like an interesting book, Perry--especially the part in reviews about trajectory and bullets sailing over a target's head. Of course the trajectory issue gives rise to another thought (at least in my mind). I've seen several reports of officers at Shiloh (and other battles) telling their men to aim low. Sometimes (as in the case of Gen. Johnston at Shiloh), the goal seems to have been to wound instead of kill. In other cases, it may have been an effort help the shooter counteract the natural tendency to anticipate recoil. (I watched some excellent demonstrations of this natural tendency at a pistol range just last week.)

Question: 

Do you suppose this command may have inadvertantly (or intentionally) counteracted the rifles' tendency to shoot high at intermediate ranges?

John

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John, the tendency to shoot high comes from a natural reflex to get too much of the front sight in view. most of the sights of the day weren't set with the front sight in line with the top of the rear sight but with the top of the front sight about half way up the rear sight. this was and is still true of weapons today. the rifled minie would rise about 10 inches at 50 yds, that coupled with too much front sight in your sight picture would lead to shooting over the heads of the enemy.

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Regarding the idea of aiming low; the thought was that if the soldier aimed high and the bullet went over the heads of the opposing battle line, the shot was a total loss. However if the aim was low, there was a good chance that some damage would be done, even if the bullet hit the ground first. I remember reading a union solidier's account of his experience in running when the Confederates overan the outer camps. He stated that he thought he was going crazy because the leaves on the ground around him were boiling. Then he realized that the 'boiling' leaves were the result of many bullets plowing into the leaves. Years ago I did some deer hunting with my 57 Enfield reproduction. I can attest to the fact that a 57 cal bullet plowing into the leaves at a shallow angle throws up a lot of leaves. I think that if I saw the leaves boiling around me that I could run like an olympian. I read of another incident where those back behind the battle line could hear falling bullets even over the sound of battle. One of the group, as they approached closer to the fighting, asked "is that rain?". The experienced officer answered "no, bullets". Sorry I can't furnish source information about things read 40 -50 years ago.

Grandpa

My new motto: Dyslexics of the world, untie!

 

 

 

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Hmmm, cannon training.  Musket training.  Are you training for anything special Sharon?  Idaho isn't leaving the Union, is it?!?!

Jim

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Jim: No Idaho is not leaving the Union. I cannot remember if it is the admissions bill or the constitution that makes it illegal for the state to succeed. Bet that provision applies to many states that were admitted after the war.

I just like firing the cannon & think it would be fun to fire a musket - I do not normally fire any of the guns around here but it would be nice to be able to if it were necessary.

I have a picture of myself as a member of the cannon crew - was #5 cannoneer - they carry the charge from the ammunition box & give it to #2 to put in the gun.

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I'm glad Idaho is sticking around.  I'd hate to have to get a passport if I wanted to go back to the Snake River Birds of Prey Sanctuary.  Post the photo.  Love to see it.

Jim

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it's, a 12 pd with a borman fuse. the years are starting to take their toll on these fuses, this one is very fragile. I think I will start changing my avatar each week to see who can identify them.

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larry and I roamed the park when we were kids. he and I started hunting relics in the washes on the park in about 1958. and have continued to hunt and collect relics through the years. yes Larry was my best friend through the teens and early manhood and continues to be a close friend today.

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Fascinating discussion. Love your photos, Sharon. Coming soon... I'll post a photo of a cannon ball so you guys can tell me what it is. Meanwhile, though... I have a few questions about the relationship (if any) between choce of weapon (rifle vs. smoothbore) and high casualty rates at Shiloh.

1. You all seem to be saying that distances were too close for the increased range of rifles to make a difference. Is that correct?

2. Given those distances, would you say that buck 'n ball may have been more devastating than rifle bullets? The video at this link indicates that .69 cal. buck 'n ball was particularly effective at Antietem. Also, look at the spread of the projectiles in this video. Do you think this is typical?

 

3. On the rifle side of the equation, I have a question about the discussion of rifles' lack of accuracy at the middle ranges and a lack of training for soldiers using them. Do you think the average recruit in 1862 had a bit more experience with firearms than today's average recruit? Would they have spent more time hunting as they grew up? Even without a lot of formal military training with a specific weapon, might they have recognized sighting inaccuracies and adjusted quickly? If they did, would that give the rifled musket an advantage even in shorter ranges? Or, did those skills get lost in the stress of first-time combat?

4. Or, am I reading too much into what I read? Were the casualty rates at Shiloh simply a matter of too many soldiers fighting too close together?

Thanks,

John

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[user=64]Grandpa[/user] wrote:

Regarding the idea of aiming low; the thought was that if the soldier aimed high and the bullet went over the heads of the opposing battle line, the shot was a total loss. However if the aim was low, there was a good chance that some damage would be done, even if the bullet hit the ground first. I remember reading a union solidier's account of his experience in running when the Confederates overan the outer camps. He stated that he thought he was going crazy because the leaves on the ground around him were boiling. Then he realized that the 'boiling' leaves were the result of many bullets plowing into the leaves. Years ago I did some deer hunting with my 57 Enfield reproduction. I can attest to the fact that a 57 cal bullet plowing into the leaves at a shallow angle throws up a lot of leaves. I think that if I saw the leaves boiling around me that I could run like an olympian. I read of another incident where those back behind the battle line could hear falling bullets even over the sound of battle. One of the group, as they approached closer to the fighting, asked "is that rain?". The experienced officer answered "no, bullets". Sorry I can't furnish source information about things read 40 -50 years ago.

Grandpa

My new motto: Dyslexics of the world, untie!

Grandpa, concerning the story about mistaking bullets for raindrops hitting the leaves, I think this was related by a young Union soldier assigned to army headquaters, but I can't recall his name at the moment. He and John Rawlins set out from the landing to find Grant, who was out on the battlefield somewhere. The fellow asked Rawlins where they'd find Grant, to which Rawlins replied that they'd find him where the fighting was heaviest. He then noticed what appeared to be rain drops hitting some leaves as they rode along, and asked Rawlins if it was raining. Rawlins simply said, "Those are bullets." To quote Jackie Gleason from Smokey and the Bandit, that's what you call an attention-getter.

Perry

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