Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Civil War Marksmanship

Link provided by Greg, I think to prove Kurt wrong once and for all about the Johnny Reb marksmen.

Why couldn't a Civil War soldier hit anything? 
The average Civil War soldier could not hit the proverbial bull in the behind with a bass fiddle. Training would have helped, but training in marksmanship was something woefully lacking in most commands during the Civil War. Little time or ammunition was allocated to actual range practice—and many recruits went into battle without having fired a single practice round. Little wonder that pounds of lead were expended for each hit made, that many a man fired his piece, unaimed, into the blue, or that front-rank men, their ears ringing or their beards singed, were known to turn about and pummel their overzealous rear-rank comrades. 

What made hitting a target extremely difficult was the high trajectory of the huge chunks of lead thrown by the old rifled muskets. Ranges had to be correctly estimated and sights carefully adjusted for anything but the very closest ranges. A bullet fired by a kneeling man at the belt buckle of a man running toward him at an estimated range of 300 yards would just pass over the head of a man 250 yards away. Thus, if the shooter had overestimated the range by as little as 50 yards he would have missed.


  1. Mikeb, if you're going to quote something and use my name with it, how about reading the whole thing? From near the end:

    "But these riflemen were often rural lads who had grown up with rifles in their hands...."

    Now which side had a higher proportion of "rural lads"? Oh, yes, you tell us repeatedly.

    The standard issue infantry weapon was designed to be a part of mass firing. The sharpshooters had more accurate rifles. They tended to come from the countryside, since city folk don't get up to much shooting, unless it's at conversational distance.

    The point here is that Porter's original statement was made in good humor, but it connects to a basic truth that having a military made up of soldiers that come from a gun culture is one kind of advantage.

    I'll go one further. Having people on your side that will not yield, but are also willing to fight--not shout from the Senate visitors' seats, but fight--for what they believe in is another kind of advantage. One your side is lacking, Mikeb.

    1. Texas Colt carryMay 7, 2013 at 9:05 PM

      Beware of the man who only owns one gun. He knows how to use it very well.

    2. Texas Colt carry--you have been missed. I hope you're back to stay a while.

    3. Texas Colt carryMay 8, 2013 at 7:25 PM

      Oh I have been around, reading but not much time to comment. A LOT of irons in the fire, so to speak.

    4. Your gentlemanly nature is sorely missed these days.

  2. Which is why the South lost the war...

    Greg, I find it amusing that you love to show your ignorance on topics that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

    In this case, 19th century infantry tactics.

    Despite using rifled weapons, the armies still used musket era infantry tactics with disastrous effects. In the 18th Century, one needed to wait until one "could see the whites of their eyes". Not so much the case in the mid-19th Century. Yet, despite this fact, ranks of soldiers faced off at similar distances to fire volleys at each other. For example, descriptions of the action at the Dunker Church during the Battle of Antietam was described as "whole rows of opposing soldiers scythed down like new-mown wheat".

    The problem is that infantry is useful, but it doesn't win wars. One can win a war just by wearing down a more powerful foe.

    On the other hand, having a civil war is something completely different, especially if you are trying to run the insurgency.

    With idiots like you and Hoffman running the show, it will be over in a matter of minutes.

    1. If you're going to call me ignorant, perhaps you should tell me something that I don't already know.

    2. Laci,

      A better argument for the South losing the war would consist of the following:

      1. The Union had an industrial base that the South could not match.
      2. Lincoln was willing to learn military tactics and strategy and replace officers until he found a field general who could go head to head with Lee regardless of losses. Jefferson Davis was not a leader of the same caliber.
      3. The Union had Winfield Scott, arguably the best strategist and tactician of the day (and the orginator of the Anaconda Plan). While Lee was at least almost Scott's equal, the same cannot be said for the other Southern generals. It's worth noting that Scott offered Lee the position of Major General due to the high regard in which he held Lee.
      4. At Gettysburg (and elsewhere), Lee was hampered by his commanders not fully comprehending his battle plan. He was also denied crucial intelligence by Jeb Stuart's decision to conduct his portion of the operation his way.

      You might consider a more than surface treatment of military tactics in the future. Your simplistic treatment leaves much to be desired. I also suggest you undertake a comparison of the American Civil War and the Crimean War, along with a detailed study of WWI and WWII. Finally, you should really spend some time studying (not just reading about) non-conventional warfare.

    3. Laci,

      Your comments here show that Greg is ignorant How? Greg merely descried the tactics used. You have pointed out problems in their use. The video you posted later disputed you, saying this wasn't a disastrous way to fight. I'd say you actually hit closer in your comment here than the video did due to it's oversimplification for the 4 minute format.

      The introduction of these rifles might have enabled longer distance volleys, or the use of tactics that had been used by rangers and frontiersmen for a hundred years--fire from cover with an accurate rifle rather than standing in the open field--tactics that have become common now. However, these were still muzzle loaders and there were limits to communications at this time, meaning that they were at an awkward stage in the development of warfare where they seemed stuck between the musket infantry of the past and the future infantry that would be formed in the world wars.

    4. I don't know how many times I've asked Laci to enlighten us on how Iraqi and Afghani irregulars could tie down the U.S. military as they have done for a decade now, but the only thing he'll say is some blather about nukes.

      Right-o. The fact that some gun control freak is gleeful about nuking American citizens tells me volumes about the moral quality of that side.

    5. I don't know how many times I've asked Laci to enlighten us on how Iraqi and Afghani irregulars could tie down the U.S. military as they have done for a decade now, but the only thing he'll say is some blather about nukes.

      I know someone who would love to discuss nukes with Laci in this context.

      I've been meaning to ask Laci if he has any theories as to why the FBI apparently has shown no interest in charging me with "Advocating Overthrow of the Government," or why even talking Examiner.com into cutting ties with me has failed so spectacularly.

      And how's that idea of yours of getting budding civil rights leader Cody Wilson arrested coming along, Laci?

      Oh--quite amusingly poorly, I see.

      Who could have predicted that ;-)?