Discussion Did the Southern men fight better than the Northern men?

mcrow43

Private
Joined
Feb 5, 2021
Yes. Country folks who grew up hunting and shooting are probably going to be better in a fight.
A lot of the yankees were country folk but statistically the south had more.
Yes, my understanding is there South had more population in rural areas than the North, from what I understand.

I would guess the average Southern soldier was more likely to have some experience with a longarm than the average Northern soldier. There's really no way to come up with an accurate number on what % of soldiers on either side were experienced with weapons or not.

However, common logic would tell us those that used weapons for hunting, predator control, and for protection in more lawless areas probably had more experience. I would reject the idea that a large number of rural folks didn't own a longarm/shotgun, I would be completely shocked to find out that less than 70% of rural folks owned a gun in those days.

Again, there is no way to know for sure what that number is and no real way to accurately calculate it either, but common sense and anecdotal evidence tells us gun ownership was high.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I would be completely shocked to find out that less than 70% of rural folks owned a gun in those days.
Can you define what you mean by "rural folks" - do you mean "rural households", or do you mean "rural adults"?

i.e. if there's a town with 100 households, each with an average of 2 male and 2 female adults, would you expect there to be an average of ~70, ~140 or ~280 guns in that town?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
However, common logic would tell us those that used weapons for hunting, predator control, and for protection in more lawless areas probably had more experience.
I think the issue here is perhaps that the picture of how often "hunting, predator control and protection in more lawless areas" were necessary is somewhat... out of step with the actual situation.

For example, in a NY Times article about gunpowder manufacture in 1860, the article said:

"But there is a very large amount manufactured in the United States which is used in the construction of railroads and other improvements in our vast territories, and by our hunter population at the West and South."

Which implies that at the time the "hunter population" was associated with the West and South, and not with the (populous and still significantly rural, but "civilized") northeast. I would expect that (for example) most of the more populated counties in central Pennsylvania, being in a broad belt of farmland which had been settled for generations, or the Midwestern states like Ohio (which had been enthusiastically settled for a generation) would be largely shot out of both large predators and large prey.

The more forested areas would be different, but by definition an area which is still largely forested holds a smaller rural population than one which is largely farmed. Similarly areas of prairie still under settlement are more "wild" and predator protection (and weapons for protection outside the bounds of the law) would be more often needed, but such areas would also have smaller populations by definition.


Take North Carolina, for example. On the 1860 census it's got a population of about one million, of whom 2.5% (25,000) are classified as urban... but that means that Wilmington (9,500 people in 1860), Raleigh (5,000), New Bern (5,400), and Fayetteville (4,800) represents everyone in the state who is considered urban. Everyone else including those in towns like Charlotte NC (2,250 people) is "rural", which presents a different view of what qualifies as "rural"... and when surveyed in 1852 the state adjutant-general found that 19,760 militia out of the state's force of 67,289 did not have a personal firearm. Which means that 30% of adult males were definitively NOT armed - and we don't actually know about the 8.5% who were issued with government firearms (as they may not have had personal ones either - the more efficient thing to do after all is to issue government firearms to those without personal ones).

That means that this Southern state which has at least one major positive factor (the slave catching patrols) to encourage it to be more armed than the national average only just meets your "minimum" for believable firearms possession under the most favourable interpretation to your thesis.
 

mcrow43

Private
Joined
Feb 5, 2021
Can you define what you mean by "rural folks" - do you mean "rural households", or do you mean "rural adults"?

i.e. if there's a town with 100 households, each with an average of 2 male and 2 female adults, would you expect there to be an average of ~70, ~140 or ~280 guns in that town?
I know that a musket would have been a significant investment for most families of the day. I think I heard it was ~$15-$20 just prior to the ACW so that would be upwards of $700-$750 plus ammo costs. So more than likely a family-owned one gun of some sort. Perhaps in families where more than one adult male lived in the home and means were available they might have more than one. But a typical family of a mother, father, and some younger kids probably just had one firearm to the household.

I suspect it is like today though, more wealthy families may have owned more.
 

mcrow43

Private
Joined
Feb 5, 2021
I think the issue here is perhaps that the picture of how often "hunting, predator control and protection in more lawless areas" were necessary is somewhat... out of step with the actual situation.

For example, in a NY Times article about gunpowder manufacture in 1860, the article said:

"But there is a very large amount manufactured in the United States which is used in the construction of railroads and other improvements in our vast territories, and by our hunter population at the West and South."

Which implies that at the time the "hunter population" was associated with the West and South, and not with the (populous and still significantly rural, but "civilized") northeast. I would expect that (for example) most of the more populated counties in central Pennsylvania, being in a broad belt of farmland which had been settled for generations, or the Midwestern states like Ohio (which had been enthusiastically settled for a generation) would be largely shot out of both large predators and large prey.

The more forested areas would be different, but by definition an area which is still largely forested holds a smaller rural population than one which is largely farmed. Similarly areas of prairie still under settlement are more "wild" and predator protection (and weapons for protection outside the bounds of the law) would be more often needed, but such areas would also have smaller populations by definition.


Take North Carolina, for example. On the 1860 census it's got a population of about one million, of whom 2.5% (25,000) are classified as urban... but that means that Wilmington (9,500 people in 1860), Raleigh (5,000), New Bern (5,400), and Fayetteville (4,800) represents everyone in the state who is considered urban. Everyone else including those in towns like Charlotte NC (2,250 people) is "rural", which presents a different view of what qualifies as "rural"... and when surveyed in 1852 the state adjutant-general found that 19,760 militia out of the state's force of 67,289 did not have a personal firearm. Which means that 30% of adult males were definitively NOT armed - and we don't actually know about the 8.5% who were issued with government firearms (as they may not have had personal ones either - the more efficient thing to do after all is to issue government firearms to those without personal ones).

That means that this Southern state which has at least one major positive factor (the slave catching patrols) to encourage it to be more armed than the national average only just meets your "minimum" for believable firearms possession under the most favourable interpretation to your thesis.
I don't know about that. Minnesota is by far more densely populated right now than Ohio was back then and we still have issues with wolves, coyotes...etc. Not so much in metro areas or in larger towns but farmers still deal with them. Granted as the population went up the reliance on hunting for food went down but I suspect many people in Ohio in the 1860's still got a significant amount of meat from hunting.

It seems a lot of your thought comes from possibly never living in a rural area and understanding how people lived. My grandparents grew up in Minnesota in the 1940's and still relied heavily on many of the same means of living as people did in the late 1800's. My great grandfather was born in the late 1800's on a farm. We still have a lot of people that rely on that yearly deer hunt to to keep food costs down.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I know that a musket would have been a significant investment for most families of the day. I think I heard it was ~$15-$20 just prior to the ACW so that would be upwards of $700-$750 plus ammo costs. So more than likely a family-owned one gun of some sort. Perhaps in families where more than one adult male lived in the home and means were available they might have more than one. But a typical family of a mother, father, and some younger kids probably just had one firearm to the household.
Average monthly earnings for a farm labourer were more like $10 to $11 nationally, so converting that into modern buying power equivalent would be more like 6 to 8 times the national average weekly wage - so try $6,000. (In an environment where food would represent a larger % of the total budget - to buy the 2.3 million calories required per year by a family of four in wheat and nothing else would cost about $40 at the time - a third of the budget.)
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It seems a lot of your thought comes from possibly never living in a rural area and understanding how people lived. My grandparents grew up in Minnesota in the 1940's and still relied heavily on many of the same means of living as people did in the late 1800's. My great grandfather was born in the late 1800's on a farm. We still have a lot of people that rely on that yearly deer hunt to to keep food costs down.
But that "yearly deer hunt" can't have been typical for the rural population, because the deer population in the United States simply was not big enough. (About 17 million across the whole country in 1860, and slowly declining - but after the Civil War it dropped much more steeply until their near extirpation .) Certainly it may have been typical in less densely farmed areas where the deer:human ratio was high enough to make it practical, but if the average rural household (of which there were several million) each hunted 2-3 deer per year they'd have wiped the deer out in a year or two.
 
I know that a musket would have been a significant investment for most families of the day. I think I heard it was ~$15-$20 just prior to the ACW so that would be upwards of $700-$750 plus ammo costs. So more than likely a family-owned one gun of some sort. Perhaps in families where more than one adult male lived in the home and means were available they might have more than one. But a typical family of a mother, father, and some younger kids probably just had one firearm to the household.

I suspect it is like today though, more wealthy families may have owned more.
I don't know if you saw this link I posted back a few pages ago but it is a database of all known gun makers in the U.S from the 18th century up to the 1970's. It includes not only large manufacturers but also local blacksmiths and gunsmiths, small local shops that built guns along with farming implements or other tooling, as well as barrel makers, lock assembly makers &c. It is quite long:

Database of USA Gunmakers
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
This factor is what turns range hit rates of 50% plus into battlefield hit rates of 6% (both figures from the British Army). But the battlefield hit rates in the ACW are a tenth of the British Army battlefield hit rates; this in turn means that the ACW musketeers without the stressful situation would have a range hit rate more like 5% to 10%.
I doubt that was the case as I doubt British statistics and call it for what it is which is bollocks , Do you really think after every battle somebody went round and counted the exact wounds on every causality and then counted every round spent , I very much doubt it.

Their are too many variables involved in battle to get an exact ratio of hits to shots what we do know is that in the ACW some volleys could be horrific and others fly over the heads , We know that soldiers well entrenched or in cover perform vastly better than their attacking counterparts.

The reason why some units performed better than others is not down to firearms training but unit cohesion and the abilities of some officers to take the initiative.

To simply state that dodgy statistics prove that the British soldiers were better shots than their American counterparts is absurd at best no offence , This fixation you have with statistics obscures you vision and and defeats common sense.

I would have thought that the Boer War and the debacle at Isandlwana would be a good indication that it does not matter how well your trained a band of farmers and natives armed with spears can still kick the **** out of you :wink: .
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I doubt that was the case as I doubt British statistics and call it for what it is which is bollocks , Do you really think after every battle somebody went round and counted the exact wounds on every causality and then counted every round spent , I very much doubt it.
Well, we know how many Minie rounds were issued after the Battle of Inkerman (which is a rough equivalent to Minie rounds fired) and we know from the Russians how many wounded in hospital had Minie ball injuries (irrespective of those killed, and a lot were killed at Inkerman). So yes, we absolutely do have a lower bound on the British hit rate at Inkerman. Depending on how many of the Russians were killed by Minie balls (and how many suffered wounds too minor for the hospital) it could have been higher.


I would have thought that the Boer War and the debacle at Isandlwana would be a good indication that it does not matter how well your trained a band of farmers and natives armed with spears can still kick the **** out of you :wink: .
Well, at the Boer War you have an enemy who genuinely are all armed and who are all well trained at shooting, and they do much, much better than the typical US infantry! By which I mean that they're hitting targets at several hundred yards.

At Isandlwhana the number of Zulu hit by rifle bullets and the number of bullets expended indicates the British hit rate may have been as high as one in ten - they just soaked up enormous casualties and charged home with the spear. The number of wounded and killed inflicted by a single British supply base on the twenty thousand charging Zulu warriors at Isandlwhana is on the order of 1/2 the total casualties inflicted to Picketts Charge over the entire duration of the attack.

To simply state that dodgy statistics prove that the British soldiers were better shots than their American counterparts is absurd at best no offence , This fixation you have with statistics obscures you vision and and defeats common sense.
I'm sorry, are you claiming that the Russians lied to make the British look better?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I don't know if you saw this link I posted back a few pages ago but it is a database of all known gun makers in the U.S from the 18th century up to the 1970's. It includes not only large manufacturers but also local blacksmiths and gunsmiths, small local shops that built guns along with farming implements or other tooling, as well as barrel makers, lock assembly makers &c. It is quite long:

Database of USA Gunmakers
I feel I should point out that this doesn't actually tell us anything. It's a list of names but without any idea as to how many weapons they built - their production could have been ten each a month.
 

mcrow43

Private
Joined
Feb 5, 2021
Average monthly earnings for a farm labourer were more like $10 to $11 nationally, so converting that into modern buying power equivalent would be more like 6 to 8 times the national average weekly wage - so try $6,000. (In an environment where food would represent a larger % of the total budget - to buy the 2.3 million calories required per year by a family of four in wheat and nothing else would cost about $40 at the time - a third of the budget.)
The sources I have say farm labourer is more like $13-$15 a month, so a longarm would have been a month's wages then. And no, farmers didn't make 6-8 times more than national average. A common laborer made $1 per day. A mason or carpenter of the day closer to $2 per day. Also, farmers did a lot of bartering so it's hard to say just how much farmers made but in any case one month's salary was a big investment.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The sources I have say farm labourer is more like $13-$15 a month, so a longarm would have been a month's wages then. And no, farmers didn't make 6-8 times more than national average. A common laborer made $1 per day. A mason or carpenter of the day closer to $2 per day. Also, farmers did a lot of bartering so it's hard to say just how much farmers made but in any case one month's salary was a big investment.
I said six to eight times the national average weekly wage, not monthly. And remember it's farm labourers who make up the majority of the rural population and thus the people whose ability to buy these weapons is in question...
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
The sources I have say farm labourer is more like $13-$15 a month, so a longarm would have been a month's wages then. And no, farmers didn't make 6-8 times more than national average. A common laborer made $1 per day. A mason or carpenter of the day closer to $2 per day. Also, farmers did a lot of bartering so it's hard to say just how much farmers made but in any case one month's salary was a big investment.
Per capita Real GDP in 1860 was ca. 170 dollars/year. On the frontier it was about 2/3rds of the average.

Looking for annual figures, I find the average income of a figure for income for a farm laborer was about $100/yr with board included or about $150 without (since day wages were about $1, it's implied the average laborer worked about 6 months in the year*). It would have been more in the NE, and less on the frontier. Probably the frontier farm laborer got around $70-80/ year, with the farmer providing a hut or shared cabin and probably some food.

A new musket or a Colt revolver cost around $20, or about a quarter of the annual income.

* The accepted work pattern was six days per week, 10 hours per day. Thus roughly 25 weeks employment in the year.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
I doubt that was the case as I doubt British statistics and call it for what it is which is bollocks , Do you really think after every battle somebody went round and counted the exact wounds on every causality and then counted every round spent , I very much doubt it.

Their are too many variables involved in battle to get an exact ratio of hits to shots what we do know is that in the ACW some volleys could be horrific and others fly over the heads , We know that soldiers well entrenched or in cover perform vastly better than their attacking counterparts.

The reason why some units performed better than others is not down to firearms training but unit cohesion and the abilities of some officers to take the initiative.

To simply state that dodgy statistics prove that the British soldiers were better shots than their American counterparts is absurd at best no offence , This fixation you have with statistics obscures you vision and and defeats common sense.

I would have thought that the Boer War and the debacle at Isandlwana would be a good indication that it does not matter how well your trained a band of farmers and natives armed with spears can still kick the **** out of you :wink: .
As Saph says, we known how many rounds were issued before the battle, and how many were accounted for after the battle. The difference approximates those fired.

At Inkerman, the British expended 199,820 rounds of small arms ammunition (176,670 Minie balls and 23,150 smoothbore balls), and 2,066 artillery rounds, and inflicted the best part of 11,959 casualties* (from which those inflicted by the French 7e Legere and their 2 engaged batteries should be deducted), i.e. 1 hit per 16.7 small arms rounds expended. Of those wounded, it was found that 91% had been hit by Minie balls.

* NB: Russian casualty reports exclude minor wounds. This presents a challenge when comparing to British casualty reports which include bruises, twisted ankles, burnt thumbs from continuous firing etc. in the wounded category.

Rosecrans made an estimate of rounds expended per hit at Stone's River, and estimated 20,000 artillery rounds round 728 rebels, and 2 million small arms rounds hit 13,852. To conflate them, it took 137 rounds of small arms ammunition per hit. In fact, Rosecrans overestimated the damage, and only around 9,243 rebels were actually hit, or 216 small arms rounds expended per hit.

In other words, British musketry at Inkerman was roughly 13 times more effective than Federal musketry at Stone's River.

At Gettysburg, it is recorded that Federal artillery ammunition expenditure was 32,815 rounds, and small arms expenditure may have been as low as 1.33 million rounds (by one reckoning, possibly as high as 2.67 m by another). 17,401 rebels were hit, so the range of effectiveness is 1 in 75 - 1 in 150 rounds per hit. The Federals used 16 times the ammunition as the British at Inkerman, but perhaps only 6.67 times the small arms ammunition. This shifts Federal fire effectiveness to being less effective.

As to the British at Isandlwana - after the battle it was lamented that "An assegai has been thrust into the belly of the nation". British fire effectiveness was so great that the 580 British riflemen, supported by some poorly armed NNC and militia cavalry inflicted around 4,500 killed and wounded on the charging Zulus. Ammunition expenditure is unknown, but archeology has found lines of groups of 35 cases where the British formed their skirmish line (i.e. 35 rds/man expended). Estimates are not more than 40,000 rounds were actually expended, perhaps down to 30,000. So hit rates were above 1 in 10. In all probability, had there been a full brigade at Isandlwana rather than a single understrength battalion, the Zulus would have been annihilated by fire alone. Had the British formed a solid line, rather than a dispersed skirmish line, the result would probably have been annihilation of the Zulus. The tactical lesson learnt by the British was the need to form close order squares against the Zulus etc., which were then extremely effective in African warfare.

The Boer war was of course a completely different conflict, fought with smokeless powder against an enemy who concealed themselves and dug in. The primary determinant of hitting the enemy was finding them. After the war, competitions showed that the British shot much better than the Boers, but of course the Boers fought from concealment. That's hardly a factor in 1862 or so.
 
Joined
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Location
Lockhart, Texas
I'm the 401st person to reply to this question and I admit I've not read all 400 posts before mine. So I may be repeating others' opinions. I've read a whole lot of soldiers' memoirs in researching my five CW novels, so have some background of the thoughts of the individual enlisted soldier. As a general statement, I think by the latter half of the war, the Reb soldiers who remained in the ranks, ie those who hadn't died of sickness or wounds and who hadn't deserted, were likely better fighters man-for-man than their Union opponents who may have just put on the blue uniform. On the whole each company by then was a tight-knit group of survivors who well knew each other, including their company officers who likely had risen from the ranks. I suspect they fought for each other as much as for any cause. Other factors have to include rural vs urban upbringing of soldiers, drafted vs volunteered, and in a broad manner, defending their homeland. Tough question to answer 150 years later.
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
@Saphroneth & @67th Tigers May I ask your sources for the figures you quote regarding Inkerman? Not because I doubt anything you wrote, but because I am interested in learning more about the battles of the Crimean War, especially these kinds of tactical details. Thank you.

John
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I'm the 401st person to reply to this question and I admit I've not read all 400 posts before mine. So I may be repeating others' opinions. I've read a whole lot of soldiers' memoirs in researching my five CW novels, so have some background of the thoughts of the individual enlisted soldier. As a general statement, I think by the latter half of the war, the Reb soldiers who remained in the ranks, ie those who hadn't died of sickness or wounds and who hadn't deserted, were likely better fighters man-for-man than their Union opponents who may have just put on the blue uniform. On the whole each company by then was a tight-knit group of survivors who well knew each other, including their company officers who likely had risen from the ranks. I suspect they fought for each other as much as for any cause. Other factors have to include rural vs urban upbringing of soldiers, drafted vs volunteered, and in a broad manner, defending their homeland. Tough question to answer 150 years later.
The Confederate soldiers and troopers, man for man were better fighters. But the US soldiers were much better supported. Their camps were cleaner, their diets better, and their equipment could be renewed easier than was the case for the Confederate regiments. Eventually that led the US troops to be healthier and have higher morale.
The US had a massive advantage in artillery. And the US soldiers were supported by a navy and by water borne transport. There was no real comparison between the logistical support of the US armies and the Confederate armies after April 1863.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
@Saphroneth & @67th Tigers May I ask your sources for the figures you quote regarding Inkerman? Not because I doubt anything you wrote, but because I am interested in learning more about the battles of the Crimean War, especially these kinds of tactical details. Thank you.

John
I first came across the hits per expended comparison in Hew Strachan's work. The ammunition expenditure is in the History of the Royal Artillery.
 

mcrow43

Private
Joined
Feb 5, 2021
The Confederate soldiers and troopers, man for man were better fighters. But the US soldiers were much better supported. Their camps were cleaner, their diets better, and their equipment could be renewed easier than was the case for the Confederate regiments. Eventually that led the US troops to be healthier and have higher morale.
The US had a massive advantage in artillery. And the US soldiers were supported by a navy and by water borne transport. There was no real comparison between the logistical support of the US armies and the Confederate armies after April 1863.
I don't think that's true early in the war. I think both sides were equally inexperienced at the time. I think where the difference was is I think the Southern Soldier was fighting an invasion of their homeland where for the most part the North wasn't. So the average Southern soldier may have had more conviction and willingness to fight with a fervor than the Union boys.

I think it was more to do with kicking a bee's nest than Southern boys being better. By the end, it may have been true because almost all of the Confederate soldiers were veteran soldiers by that time where the mass of Union soldiers had more fresh recruits.
 
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