"Confederate soldiers were often better armed than Federal troops"

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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I was moving some older Civil War Times magazine tonight and so glanced through some of them. In the April 1967 issue is an article by Henry I. Kurtz; Arms for the South. Kurtz states that "Thanks to shrewd purchases abroad, Confederate soldiers were often bettered armed than Federal troops." With so much additional research over the last 55 years, is this statement still relevant?

The first thing to do is decide if it was true in 1967. What does "often" mean? Would have Kurtz been more accurate if he said "some times Confederate soldiers were bettered armed"? I am not sure just how often Confederate soldiers were better armed than Federal soldiers. Exactly when and where were Confederate soldiers better armed? Next we need to understand if this was due to shrewd weapons purchased abroad.
 

Craig L Barry

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If by "often" Kurtz means most commonly, then no I don't know of any recent scholarship that supports that CS soldiers were "often" better armed than their Union opponents.

Having done a fair amount of research into Confederate weapon imports and when they arrived as well as the fact that the Southern States were facing an industrialized opponent from the North, I would say that idea has been somewhat debunked. Certainly not at the start of the war. If CS troops were ever better equipped it was mostly because of captured US arms from early victories on the battlefield. I would hasten to add that there were some instances where Confederate soldiers were better armed, most famously when Grant took Vicksburg and captured enough Enfields to upgrade Federal troops still using smoothbore imported muskets. Those were the muskets which Grant described in his memoirs as "almost as dangerous to the one firing it as the one aimed at..." And also that somebody "...might fire at you all day without you ever finding out about it." This was noted by Grant because it was not most often the case.

If Kurtz had said "there were instances where Confederate soldiers were better armed" well that's a different story.
 
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Scott1967

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England
The rifled weapon wasn't really and advantage over the the smoothbore with buck & ball it only became so around mid 1864 when siege warfare kicked in up to that point they still fought in lines and engaged at around 50-120 yards so well within smoothbore range.

In my opinion.
 

Jeff in Ohio

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Oct 17, 2015
If by "often" Kurtz means most commonly, then no I don't know of any recent scholarship that supports that CS soldiers were "often" better armed than their Union opponents.

Having done a fair amount of research into Confederate weapon imports and when they arrived as well as the fact that the Southern States were facing an industrialized opponent from the North, I would say that idea has been somewhat debunked. Certainly not at the start of the war. If CS troops were ever better equipped it was mostly because of captured US arms from early victories on the battlefield. I would hasten to add that there were some instances where Confederate soldiers were better armed, most famously when Grant took Vicksburg and captured enough Enfields to upgrade Federal troops still using smoothbore imported muskets. Those were the muskets which Grant described in his memoirs as "almost as dangerous to the one firing it as the one aimed at..." And also that somebody "...might fire at you all day without you ever finding out about it." This was noted by Grant because it was not most often the case.

If Kurtz had said "there were instances where Confederate soldiers were better armed" well that's a different story.

Certainly some exaggeration in Grant's comments about smoothbore imported muskets - they might not have been long-range target / sniper arms, but I will guarantee that if Grant was on the fifty yard line of a football field and someone with a smoothbore musket was in the end zone, he would certainly "find out about it" first shot!
Remember these soldiers were complaining in hopes of getting better arms, and so they blamed all bad results on their older version smoothbores!
 

Rhea Cole

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Certainly some exaggeration in Grant's comments about smoothbore imported muskets - they might not have been long-range target / sniper arms, but I will guarantee that if Grant was on the fifty yard line of a football field and someone with a smoothbore musket was in the end zone, he would certainly "find out about it" first shot!
Remember these soldiers were complaining in hopes of getting better arms, and so they blamed all bad results on their older version smoothbores!
I am willing to believe that Grant, a veteran of the Mexican War, Donelson, Shiloh & Vicksburg, knew a great deal about the effectiveness of smoothbore muskets from first hand experience. My personal experience has been that a remarkable number of smoothbore balls hit the ground before going 50 yards.
 

Don Dixon

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I am willing to believe that Grant, a veteran of the Mexican War, Donelson, Shiloh & Vicksburg, knew a great deal about the effectiveness of smoothbore muskets from first hand experience. My personal experience has been that a remarkable number of smoothbore balls hit the ground before going 50 yards.

The Austrian Army's [k.k. Army] expectation was that its best shots with Muster 1842 smoothbore muskets could hit a man-sized target at 200 Schritt [164 yards/151 meters], that massed fire would be effective against an infantry company front at 250 Schritt [205 yards/189 meters], and at a cavalry formation at 300 Schritt [246 yards/227 meters]. But, the Muster 1842 musket had a rear sight, and the k.k. Army had a real marksmanship training program for its troops in which it issued rosettes for marksmanship qualification to be worn on the uniform and a substantial pay bonus for the top 10% of its troops.

In contrast to k.k. Army training, the pre-Civil War U.S. Army considered the point-blank range of its Model 1842 smoothbore percussion musket to be 150 yards. The soldier was to be taught to understand this, and to elevate or depress the muzzle of his weapon dependent upon the distance involved. The most common shooting error was aiming too high. The Chief of Ordnance recommended that practice be held at 100, 150, and 200 yards [91, 137, and 183 meters], with any increase in range being dependent upon the soldier becoming familiar with firing at the shorter ranges. About 1,000 ball and 500 buck and ball cartridges were provided to each infantry company, which in a full-strength company would have given each soldier approximately 15 practice rounds per year.

Training makes all the difference in the world.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
The Austrian Army's [k.k. Army] expectation was that its best shots with Muster 1842 smoothbore muskets could hit a man-sized target at 200 Schritt [164 yards/151 meters], that massed fire would be effective against an infantry company front at 250 Schritt [205 yards/189 meters], and at a cavalry formation at 300 Schritt [246 yards/227 meters]. But, the Muster 1842 musket had a rear sight, and the k.k. Army had a real marksmanship training program for its troops in which it issued rosettes for marksmanship qualification to be worn on the uniform and a substantial pay bonus for the top 10% of its troops.

In contrast to k.k. Army training, the pre-Civil War U.S. Army considered the point-blank range of its Model 1842 smoothbore percussion musket to be 150 yards. The soldier was to be taught to understand this, and to elevate or depress the muzzle of his weapon dependent upon the distance involved. The most common shooting error was aiming too high. The Chief of Ordnance recommended that practice be held at 100, 150, and 200 yards [91, 137, and 183 meters], with any increase in range being dependent upon the soldier becoming familiar with firing at the shorter ranges. About 1,000 ball and 500 buck and ball cartridges were provided to each infantry company, which in a full-strength company would have given each soldier approximately 15 practice rounds per year.

Training makes all the difference in the world.

Regards,
Don Dixon
I accept the results of the ordinance tests in Fuller. My personal experience is that a smoothbore ball will land somewheres down range. Arguing that muskets that often didn’t even have sights were accurate is simply not a reflective of the actual events.
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
I was moving some older Civil War Times magazine tonight and so glanced through some of them. In the April 1967 issue is an article by Henry I. Kurtz; Arms for the South. Kurtz states that "Thanks to shrewd purchases abroad, Confederate soldiers were often bettered armed than Federal troops." With so much additional research over the last 55 years, is this statement still relevant?

The first thing to do is decide if it was true in 1967. What does "often" mean? Would have Kurtz been more accurate if he said "some times Confederate soldiers were bettered armed"? I am not sure just how often Confederate soldiers were better armed than Federal soldiers. Exactly when and where were Confederate soldiers better armed? Next we need to understand if this was due to shrewd weapons purchased abroad.
While Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War did he send more ordinance to the Southern states than to the North and if so what were they ? He is remembered as the one for the camel troops which he sent to the Western army ? Wonder if he also had the rifles shipped to Lee instead of the food that they mostly needed at Appomattox or at that train depot near there .
 

Jeff in Ohio

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Oct 17, 2015
I am willing to believe that Grant, a veteran of the Mexican War, Donelson, Shiloh & Vicksburg, knew a great deal about the effectiveness of smoothbore muskets from first hand experience. My personal experience has been that a remarkable number of smoothbore balls hit the ground before going 50 yards.
I am an Ohioan and a fan of Grant, but he was just parroting common beliefs of the time that are not true. If you are even challenged to a duel and the other person chooses smoothbore muskets at 50 yards, please do not accept with the idea that your opponent's firing will drop to the ground before it gets 50 yards from the muzzle.
 

Rhea Cole

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I am an Ohioan and a fan of Grant, but he was just parroting common beliefs of the time that are not true. If you are even challenged to a duel and the other person chooses smoothbore muskets at 50 yards, please do not accept with the idea that your opponent's firing will drop to the ground before it gets 50 yards from the muzzle.
How many rounds have you ever fired from a smoothbore musket? I have fired I don’t know how many. Any notion that the ball will land anywhere other than vaguely in the direction it is pointed is delusional. My target was tacked to the trunk of a huge fallen tree at 50 yards. It was the height of a kill shot on a deer. That is the extreme range for hunting deer in these parts. Short rounds would throw up dust & skip over the target. We could hear the balls ticking off leaves & branches on the woods behind the target. The only one who hit the target was my wife. Because it was a flintlock, she had her eyes closed & pulled the trigger without aiming. At 40 yards, we could score hits on the paper with some regularity.

By contrast, with a cap & ball rifle she consistently had nice tight patterns. Interestingly, with bullets, we had about a three inch radius of error. With ball in the the .50 cal rifle, the circle of error was about twice that. That was with a round bale bench.

We fired hundreds of rounds from historic weapons back in those happy days. The matchlock was down right alarming. So I have something to compare them with.
 
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Scott1967

First Sergeant
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Location
England
How many rounds have you ever fired from a smoothbore musket? I have fired I don’t know how many. Any notion that the ball will land anywhere other than vaguely in the direction it is pointed is delusional. My target was tacked to the trunk of a huge fallen tree. Short rounds would throw up dust & skip over the target. We could hear the balls ticking off leaves & branches on the woods behind the target. The only one who hit the target was my wife. Because it was a flintlock, she had her eyes closed & pulled the trigger without aiming.

By contrast, with a cap & ball rifle she consistently had nice tight patterns. Interestingly, with bullets, we had about a three inch radius of error. With ball in the the .50 cal rifle, the circle of error was about twice that. That was with a round bale bench.

We fired hundreds of rounds from historic weapons back in those happy days. So I have something to compare them with.
The smooth-bore was not used with a single ball in the civil war it was Buck & Ball but I do agree with you the single ball from a smoothbore was useless above 80 yards.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
How many rounds have you ever fired from a smoothbore musket? I have fired I don’t know how many. Any notion that the ball will land anywhere other than vaguely in the direction it is pointed is delusional. My target was tacked to the trunk of a huge fallen tree at 50 yards. It was the height of a kill shot on a deer. That is the extreme range for hunting deer in these parts. Short rounds would throw up dust & skip over the target. We could hear the balls ticking off leaves & branches on the woods behind the target. The only one who hit the target was my wife. Because it was a flintlock, she had her eyes closed & pulled the trigger without aiming. At 40 yards, we could score hits on the paper with some regularity.

By contrast, with a cap & ball rifle she consistently had nice tight patterns. Interestingly, with bullets, we had about a three inch radius of error. With ball in the the .50 cal rifle, the circle of error was about twice that. That was with a round bale bench.

We fired hundreds of rounds from historic weapons back in those happy days. The matchlock was down right alarming. So I have something to compare them with.
I live across the road from a very nice "muzzle loading only range" and can shoot all I want to shoot, and I've owned at least 50 smoothbore .69 caliber muskets and have shot most of them over the years.
Suffice it to say that my experience has been different from your experience.
I think the original question was whether the South was better armed, and we all agree that a rifled musket is more accurate than a smoothbore.
My point was only that no one as smart at Grant could really believe that a smoothbore musket was really "almost as dangerous to the one firing it as the one aimed at..." If your or your wife put a smoothbore to the shoulder and fired it, you certainly did not believe that you, the shooter, was in as much danger as if you had been standing in front of the muzzle! And, to quote again Grant's words, you really don't think Grant believed that if someone was standing out 50 yards, the shooter "...might fire at you all day without you ever finding out about it." This is obviously an attempt at humor (similar to Sam Clemens aka Mark Twain's description of a pepperbox revovler), and neither Grant or you or anyone else really believes that a person downrange would not even notice musket balls whizzing by!
 

Rusk County Avengers

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Coffeeville, TX
I'd just say it comes to time and place on whether or not they were better armed.

If we're talking say the Prairie Grove Campaign in Arkansas? Yep, definitely better armed considering how the Confederates all had P1853 Enfields, a few Richmond rifle-muskets, versus the Federal Army of the Frontier, which mostly had percussion converted Prussian M1809's apparently Austrian M1849 "Kammerbuche" rifles and other old European guns. Plus there's the famous Grant "swindle" on the quartermasters after the Vicksburg Campaign for surrendered CS guns to et rid of older guns his army had that indicates the Confederate had the advantage.

Now say at the Battle of Franklin, Dug Gap, Mill Creek, Shiloh and so forth? Absolutely not, Federals had that advantage.
 

GwilymT

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Location
Pittsburgh
I'd just say it comes to time and place on whether or not they were better armed.

If we're talking say the Prairie Grove Campaign in Arkansas? Yep, definitely better armed considering how the Confederates all had P1853 Enfields, a few Richmond rifle-muskets, versus the Federal Army of the Frontier, which mostly had percussion converted Prussian M1809's apparently Austrian M1849 "Kammerbuche" rifles and other old European guns. Plus there's the famous Grant "swindle" on the quartermasters after the Vicksburg Campaign for surrendered CS guns to et rid of older guns his army had that indicates the Confederate had the advantage.

Now say at the Battle of Franklin, Dug Gap, Mill Creek, Shiloh and so forth? Absolutely not, Federals had that advantage.
Could you elaborate on the “famous Grant swindle”?
 

Don Dixon

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Fairfax, VA, USA
Him turning in his own troops muskets, (I assume M1842's, percussion converted M1816's an M1840's) as Confederate "surrendered" weapons, and re-issuing the Confederate's P1853 rifle-muskets to his own troops as replacements after Vicksburg's surrender. He mentions it in his memoirs.

How pray tell is using more advanced captured enemy equipment to equip one's own troops a "swindle"? BG Gorgas equipped a substantial portion of the Confederate Army with weapons recovered from the battlefield and repaired. Perhaps the Confederates didn't actually surrender themselves and their arms at Vicksburg and the assertion that they did is "fake news"?
 
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