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Ranges and Tactics

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John, I'll try to answer your questions, but I also have to defer to the folks here who know more about weaponry than I do. But I agree that it's a fascinating subject.

#1 - Generally speaking, yes, I think the ranges at Shiloh were usually close enough for smoothbores to be as effective as rifled-weapons. There were exceptions, such as the long-range firefight in the Peach Orchard area and the ravines to the east on April 6th, but as the Confederates closed the distance during their assault, it would have negated the advantage of rifled-weapons.

#2 - At close range, yes, the buck-and-ball would have been pretty devastating. It's sort of a combination of a regular smoothbore and a small shotgun. I don't know about the spread pattern, but I'd guess it would be pretty close to what they show in that video. As with a 'regular' smoothbore though, the greater the distance, the lower the accuracy. But at close range, say anything from about 50 yards or so in, a buck-and-ball round would probably be even more deadly than a rifled-round or a single ball from a smoothbore, again as they show in that video. It has a greater chance to hit something, and do so with enough force to break bones or kill someone.

#3 - I honestly don't know about comparing a recruit of 1862 with their modern-day counterpart, but broadly speaking, my guess would be that in general they probably had a little more experience with firearms prior to entering the service than would be the case today. Again, that's just a guess.

But from what I've read, most men on both sides did not have much in the way of actual target practice with their Civil War weapon prior to entering their first actual combat. A lot of drilling and such, but not much time shooting live bullets.

I also don't know that hunting animals is necessarily going to translate to an advantage in armed combat. There's the story of a Union veteran of Fort Donelson trying to steady some jittery members of the 53rd Ohio at Shiloh by telling them that combat was just like shooting squirrels, "only these squirrels have guns, that's all." It apparently got a laugh out of the men and broke the tension a little, which was probably the idea. But it also makes a valid point about hunting vs combat. Squirrels don't usually shoot back.

I think the casualty rate at Shiloh, as bad as it was, probably could have been quite a bit higher. The stress of combat combined with some other factors, such as a soldier's first time in battle, difficulty seeing through battle smoke and underbrush, and fatigue as the day wore on, probably combined to cause a lot of bullets to miss their mark that otherwise may have hit home.

One example from late on April 6th comes to mind, when a Confederate cavalry troop was charging a group of retreating Federals, possibly a battery, I can't quite recall. But, they were closing in on Grant's Last Line without realizing it, until they suddenly topped a hill and were face-to-face with a long line of guns pointed right at them, at very short range. The Union line unleashed a volley that General Buell, standing nearby, was certain would empty every saddle. Instead, it appears that not one single Confederate soldier was hit by that volley. Buell and several other Union witnesses expressed astonishment at this.

I can't recall which army these men belonged to, whether Grant's or Buell's, but if this was the first time they ever encountered enemy troops in battle, it might explain why they missed from what appeared to be a can't-miss distance. Having a line of armed men on horses thundering toward you isn't like drawing down on a small animal sitting perfectly still.

The thing that always amazes me about Shiloh is the number of men on both sides who did not simply drop their weapon and run away in sheer terror. We always hear about the ones who did, especially on the Union side, since they have that big historical spotlight shining down on them at the landing, where they were all drawn like metal to a magnet. It was just as bad in the Confederate rear except there was no central gather spot like at Pittsburg Landing. But most of the men on both sides stood to it, which is pretty remarkable. The same can probably said for their accuracy, given all the circumstances. They might not have scored as many hits as more experienced armies might have done, but all things considered, they probably did better than anyone had a right to expect.


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