Any accounts of folks during the war shooting left-handed?

SeaTurtle

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Jun 14, 2021
Are there any accounts (even one-off) of guys during the American Civil War shooting left-handed? I expect this kind of thing probably wouldn't have been practical (or tolerated) in line-infantry formations, but what about guys like sharpshooters, irregulars/guerillas, and cavalry, who shot more on an individual basis?

I've come across one or two rare accounts of guys in the Old West who shot left-handed, in one case due to a guy having a long-lasting injury in his right arm. Additionally, I know that in the 19th century there were a few armies who taught cavalrymen to hold the reigns right-handed and fire revolvers left-handed (this is the reason for the existence of the French M1892 revolver with its cylinder that swings out to the right side). So I thought it was worth asking.
 
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Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
I do believe that the US cavalry (at least in the post-War years) did teach troopers to shoot with their left hand, but I don't remember whether this because they were supposed to use right hand for reins, or for sabre.
 

nc native

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Aug 30, 2011
Location
NC Piedmont
Nathan B. Forrest was ambidextrous according to those who knew him. He could wield a saber and shoot with either hand and this may explain his prowess in combat with individual enemies. According to one biography, he grew up as a left hander but there was so much opposition to using the left hand to do things at that time that he learned how to use his right hand to do things just as well by the time he was a teenager.

This fact is not related to marital skill but James Garfield, the Civil War solider and future president could write in Latin with one hand and Greek with the other at the same time.
 

7thWisconsin

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Joined
Nov 21, 2014
A number of the famous gunfighters were left-handed, or ambidextrous. Jesse James and Bill Hickok could shoot left handed. You can´t really shoot a flintlock ignition firearm left handed: a rifle will blind you and a pistol will probably set your clothes on fire, so the generation that grew up before the percussion revolution in firearms wouldn´t have done such a thing unless they were wealthy and owned left-handed guns. Soldiers were not taught to fire left handed at all. It´s not in the manual. All of the moevements and spacing is designed with all the soldiers firing right handed in mind.
@ ncnative: That Garfield was a character. We lost him too early.
 

SeaTurtle

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Jun 14, 2021
Soldiers were not taught to fire left handed at all. It´s not in the manual. All of the moevements and spacing is designed with all the soldiers firing right handed in mind.

Absolutely. That's why I pointed out that I wouldn't expect this kind of thing among your regular infantry grunts, who had to follow a specific set of steps in formation for loading and firing, all of which were geared toward right-handers. I thought this kind of thing might have been more plausible among guys like sharpshooters/scouts who operated individually, or guys like guerillas who weren't subject to military discipline. Cavalry also were sometimes taught to shoot left-handed, depending on the country and period (as I mentioned above with the French). @Jeff in Ohio mentioned above that he thinks US cavalry were taught to shoot left-handed, if so it'd be interesting to hear more detail on that...

You can´t really shoot a flintlock ignition firearm left handed: a rifle will blind you and a pistol will probably set your clothes on fire, so the generation that grew up before the percussion revolution in firearms wouldn´t have done such a thing unless they were wealthy and owned left-handed guns.

Most guys during the Civil War were using percussion firearms, so that wouldn't have been as much of an issue. You might stand a bigger risk of getting cap fragments in your face if you were shooting a right-handed long-gun from the left shoulder (unless it was something, like the Colt revolving rifles, that detonated its caps more along the centerline rather than off to one side of the stock) ... Handguns probably wouldn't be an issue at all.

A number of the famous gunfighters were left-handed, or ambidextrous. Jesse James and Bill Hickok could shoot left handed.

Regarding Jesse James, are there any accounts of him shooting lefty during the war?
I've heard that Hickok did indeed learn to be ambidextrous, although from what I heard his lefty shots were generally poorer than his right-handed ones.
 
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7thWisconsin

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 21, 2014
I´m afraid finding a specific documented incident during the War might be a little like trying to answer the question ¨Which pantsleg did they put on first?¨ I ´ve never seen one, and I´ tempted to say that when bullets were flying none of the participants took note of that detail. (BTW - I´m left handed, but I shoot right handed. I think playing piano, violin and guitar from childhood evened me out.)
 

David Knight

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Feb 26, 2012
Location
Pontefract, Yorkshire.
When firing in a mass careful aiming was not that important but for sniping etc it was essential. I learnt over 41 years ago on a Scout Camp rifle range in upstate New York that although right handed I could not use a sight on the rifle so was advised to try left hand and amazingly I could see and from a novice I became rather good. Having said that I could stand in tight formation and fire right handed as well.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
I´m afraid finding a specific documented incident during the War might be a little like trying to answer the question ¨Which pantsleg did they put on first?¨ I ´ve never seen one, and I´ tempted to say that when bullets were flying none of the participants took note of that detail. (BTW - I´m left handed, but I shoot right handed. I think playing piano, violin and guitar from childhood evened me out.)
Considering how left-handedness was generally discouraged and seen as abnormal back then, I just thought perhaps someone might have remarked on it if they saw someone shooting that way. For example I came across a story concerning an anti-Chinese riot in California, and when the reporter was mentioning different members of the community who participated he mentioned one guy who was seen brandishing a pistol in his left hand, ostensibly because he had some kind of injury to his right. The reporter was pointing out how, despite his injury, this member of the community was very eager to lynch some Chinese...

When firing in a mass careful aiming was not that important but for sniping etc it was essential. I learnt over 41 years ago on a Scout Camp rifle range in upstate New York that although right handed I could not use a sight on the rifle so was advised to try left hand and amazingly I could see and from a novice I became rather good. Having said that I could stand in tight formation and fire right handed as well.
I'm one of those freaks who's right-handed but left-eye dominant, so as you say it's essential for folks like me to shoot off the left-shoulder if we want to have any kind of long-range accuracy (although handguns don't matter, I can shoot those righty). I have to wonder if there were any marksmen back during the Civil War who had my "affliction" too, and how they dealt with it...
 

RedRover

Corporal
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
The gallant Private Elijah Moore, of Company I, 75th Indiana, mortally wounded at Chickamauga (from the regimental history).

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DixieRifles

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I recorded the American History Channel’s show “Civil War: Blood on the Battlefields” and caught the episode that covered Balls Bluff and the Peninsular Campaign because this lead up to Antietam.

It tells first-hand accounts of 2 or 3 soldiers by use of players and reenactors. It was odd to see whole ranks fire Left-Handed . . . . until you realize they edited the video and flipped it around. Obvious by the position of the rifle’s lock & hammer. And they kept doing it in every scene.

This just points out how odd it would be for someone to shoot left-handed.
 
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