Muzzleldrs Does rifling work with round ball?

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
And again with the listing of the number of results from a Google search.
Did you notice that the very first answer was "300 yards"?


Well, of course going from a smoothbore to a rifle is an improvement if you train your men - and to some extent even if you don't, because a few men will be good shots regardless. But if you can get one hit out of fifty on a realistic target it is exceeding the actual performance of the Union armies at Gettysburg.



But you and nine hundred of your friends standing in a line, and nine hundred people all shooting at you with smoothbore muskets? Ten volleys at a hit rate of one in two hundred and you've lost forty-five friends.

British experts quoted the battle range of the smoothbore Brown Bess as 200 yards, and as we've seen it could be used outside that range.



Now, as it happens I found an online source which actually shows the test cards in Fuller. What I'm going to do is to overlay a double line of infantry on the smoothbore ones, assuming that the men are 5 foot 8 inches tall (which is 17/18 of the total height of the 6 foot cards, and which is the average height of an adult American male as of the Revolutionary War - which is when I have data for it).



View attachment 357632

As you can see, at 100 yards the men are completely peppered. In fact, there are 17 hits on the legs, 12 hits on the body, and at head/neck height there are 9 balls which have a good chance of hitting.
So out of 50 shots fired here there are more than 30 hits (60%).

At 200 yards there are about 9 hits on the legs, 8 hits on the body, and 2-3 balls at head-neck height - so about 20/50 (40%)

At 300 yards, there are 4 hits on the legs, 2 on the body and 1 at head height. So 6-7 hits out of 50, or about 2 in 15 (13%).

Since 13% is still more than ten times as accurate as Union troops at Gettysburg, I would say that the theoretical accuracy of the smoothbore musket allows for the possibility of effective firing at 300 yards.

If you and 900 friends stood in a two-deep line 300 yards away from 900 men shooting at you with smoothbore muskets at this level of accuracy, each volley would hit more than 100 of you. I think I'll decline to join you...
That is all well & good, but no army in the world converted from rifles back to smooth bores... or crossbows for that matter.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
And I have seen evidence supporting the notion that the average ACW soldier would have been better off with a smoothbore.
At the Battle of Stones River 60 percent of Confederate infantry & 40 percent of Union infantry had smoothbore muskets. June 1863, none of them were armed with smoothbores. Apparently, General Wilder & other commanders of the era did not share that notion.
 

Booner

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Boonville, MO.
At the Battle of Stones River 60 percent of Confederate infantry & 40 percent of Union infantry had smoothbore muskets. June 1863, none of them were armed with smoothbores. Apparently, General Wilder & other commanders of the era did not share that notion.

I think he's implying that at the distances most CW battles were fought, say, within 100 yards, a smoothbore loaded with buck and ball was just a deadly and a '61 Springfield using the Minnie' ball. I think that it's one of the Civil War's great myths, that Capt. Minnie's wonder bullet revolutionized warfare. I say this as most soldiers of that period didn't understand the concept of the "ballistic arc" or "ballistic curve" where in order to hit a target at distance, the sights have to be adjusted so the weapon is shooting at an incline. When I was in basic training in the early '70's, I know my drill sergeants didn't understand it. I was told that the bullet from an M16 flies so fast, it actually raises after it leaves the muzzle.

No Drill sergeant, the laws of gravity applies to the M16 as it did to the weapons of the Civil War.

It's a given that some soldiers never fired their weapon until their first time in battle. So we have a lack of training, and it's beyond me why they didn't have shooting practice, especially at varied distances, so they would get a sense of how to use their sights and judge distances. A year or so ago we had a thread on this forum about the speed of the minieball and I posted a spreadsheet showing the ballistics of a .69 caliber round ball, a .58 caliber Minnie', and a 55 grain .556 caliber. I'll see if I can find it, but if I can remember correctly, at a distance of under 100 yards, the .69 round ball didn't give much up to the .58 caliber Minnie'. It was at the farther distances where the Minnie' really came into it's own. But I don't think the officers understood how to use this to their advantage, as I would like to think that if they had, they would have trained their men to be more effective. Battles would have been fought at farther distances. The "killing zones" would have been wider. But this wasn't understood, or if it was, it wasn't trained.

If I can't find that spreadsheet, here's a post I made in response to the effectiveness of using buck an ball vs the Minnie using a ballistic calculator to back up what I said.

begin……………………...
"Buck and ball was just as deadly as a minie ball." I could agree with your statement, (although I wouldn't use the word "deadly"), if you would state the range. Since I believe the majority of the stand up fights between the armies were a little less than 100 yards apart, with the soldiers of each army standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and aimed fire was not needed, (just point and shoot into the mass), then yes, B&B was just as effective as a Minnie. Beyond 100 yards where a soldier is aiming at one individual, no.

Round balls, which is what a buck and ball projectile is, has a terrible Ballistic Coefficient (BC), compared to a Minnie ball, (0.083 for a round ball, vs 0.18 for a Minnie-on a side note, the lowly 22 long rifle rimfire has a BC of 0.14). BC is the measure of how well a projectile "flies" though the air, meaning how well it retains it's energy going downrange. The higher the BC, the better the projectile retains it's energy, and fights the effects of air resistance and wind drift. As an example, if there were a 10 mph crosswind, it would drift a ball off to the side of it's intended flightpath by 22.2 inches at 200 yards. The Minnie would be blown off from it's intended flightpath by only 10.1 inches. So a Minnie might still be able to hit a man with an aimed shot at 200 yards, but the ball would miss. For the purpose of wind drift, we are assuming both rounds are just as accurate, that they are both being fired from a rifled barrel. Of course the B&B was fired from a smooth bore, and is not as accurate as a rifle. The effect of gravity is the same for both types of rounds, so that isn't considered, but velocity is.

The ball also looses it's energy faster than a minnie. The weight of the ball in a B&B load is 412 grains vs 510 for the minnie. If, as you say, the B&B and minnie have the same muzzle velocity, the Minnie will retain it's velocity longer. At the muzzle, with a velocity of , say 900 fps, the B&B, due to it's lower weight starts out with 741 ft/lbs of energy; the Minnie, also at a muzzle velocity of 900 fps has 917 ft/lbs of energy, (more mass). At 500 yards, the round ball has a velocity of 411 fps and energy of 154 ft/lbs verses the Minnie with a velocity of 626 fps and an energy of 443 ft/lbs, (more weight and a higher BC). If it were possible for the ball to leave the muzzle with a velocity of 1200 fps (hypersonic), it's velocity at 200 yards would be approximately equal to that of the Minnie at the same distance of 200 yards, ( approx.730 fps), buts it's energy would be 140 ft/lbs less than the Minnie, (670 vs 530 ft/lbs), so you can see how fast a round ball looses it's velocity and energy verses the heavier/higher BC Minnie.

Again, at the closer range where most fighting occurred, the B&B was every bit as good as the Minnie, but when you start to extend those ranges, the Minnie is the better round, as least ballistic-wise. How effective a soldier could be with either weapon is a separate issue.
…………………………...
end
 
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Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I think that it's one of the Civil War's great myths, that Capt. Minnie's wonder bullet revolutionized warfare.

Minié. He was French.


But I don't think the officers understood how to use this to their advantage, as I would like to think that if they had, they would have trained their men to be more effective. Battles would have been fought at farther distances. The "killing zones" would have been wider. But this wasn't understood, or if it was, it wasn't trained.
The fundamental problem is a lack of musketry training - in many cases a complete lack. Warren complained in November 1864 that 5th Corps contained (at least) 3,900 men who had never fired their weapons once.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
That is all well & good, but no army in the world converted from rifles back to smooth bores... or crossbows for that matter.
I'm not sure of your point? The rifle has a higher performance ceiling, so if you train your troops you're almost always going to get better performance out of a rifle than a smoothbore - and to go from rifle to smoothbore is to admit that you're not training your troops properly.

This doesn't change that at even 300 yards the performance ceiling of the smoothbore as a weapon is high enough that you can achieve useful results with it.


At the Battle of Stones River 60 percent of Confederate infantry & 40 percent of Union infantry had smoothbore muskets. June 1863, none of them were armed with smoothbores. Apparently, General Wilder & other commanders of the era did not share that notion.
For the reasons I already alluded to above, it's one thing for a soldier to be better off with a smoothbore and another for their commanders to admit it.
Some commanders did think that the smoothbore was superior (famously the Irish Brigade stuck to them) but for most of them - well, it's a natural psychological thing for a soldier to blame his tools rather than admit that he isn't good enough, and if target practice is as uncommon as it was in the armies of the Civil War then there's no real way for someone to be confronted with the data.
 

yulzari

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Joined
Jul 25, 2017
We have wandered far from the OP but, to give in to the digressions, we focus too much upon the weapon itself. It is part of a weapon system whose performance limits are prescribed by the weapon but whose performance within those limits are prescribed by the ability, training and experience of the user who forms the other part of the system. Not to mention his physical and mental health and the environmental conditions of the day and those preceding it.

A good ACW rifle musket has a performance envelope with an hugely greater performance at longer distances than any smooth bore. However, with the typical ACW user, these benefits are rarely gained and the users are capable of effective fire at little more than smooth bore effective ranges. The contemporary performance of the trained British infantry directed by trained officers in the Crimea shows how the rifle musket can prove immensely superior at a far distant enemy. I refer once again to Brett Gibbons book on the subject and it made the battlefield a very different place from hitherto.

Given the typical ACW infantryman he would have been at least equally served by a simpler smooth bore with a simple rear sight, at the actual ranges employed in general. Could he have been able to make proper use of his rifle musket then the smooth bore would be an inferior weapons system but he could not, and a smooth bore would be a superior one in this case.

Now some infantrymen did have adequate shooting skills and experience. A very few training also. It would make sense to group these within the battalion as a company of marksmen to employ to drive off artillery and cavalry from the vicinity and engage infantry at long ranges. These companies might even be grouped together separately from their battalions by a higher command for mass similar employment.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
Now some infantrymen did have adequate shooting skills and experience. A very few training also. It would make sense to group these within the battalion as a company of marksmen to employ to drive off artillery and cavalry from the vicinity and engage infantry at long ranges. These companies might even be grouped together separately from their battalions by a higher command for mass similar employment.
I've often thought that this would be the ideal way to use not only the men of the Union Army in the first 18 months of the Civil War but also the weapons (because a lot of what was available were smoothbores or second-rate rifles and the first-rate rifles like Enfields or Springfields were comparatively rare) - each regiment puts everyone with good eyesight or marksmanship skill into their flank companies, each flank company gets issued good rifles and trains in marksmanship and range estimation, and then for tactical employment the flank companies of the brigade are grouped together into a light battalion which provides long-range musketry and skirmishing.

It's only a slight modification of the system used by Wellington's enormously successful Peninsular army, and once you have enough rifles that you can issue them to everyone then you can use the trained flank company men to teach the rest of their regiments.
 

FedericoFCavada

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Location
San Antonio, Texas
In keeping with the OP, the rifle using patched round balls, a .530 with a patch from a U.S. Model 1817 Common Rifle or Model 1841 Percussion Rifle, aka. "Mississippi Rifle" was a specialists' weapon. A heavier ram rod was required, and it was slower to load than the tried and true smooth-bore (gnashes teeth, hoists smooth-bore over head and invokes ol' General Ripley's performance about how the volunteer who runs away, abandoning his expensive government property on the field clearly did not deserve a rifle musket...). The whole goal of rifle development in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s was to try to figure out how to mate the two: a rifle with all the advantages of precision, accuracy, etc. with the higher-rate of fire of the musket. From the Baker, there was the Brunswick, in which a round ball had a "belt" of lead that precisely fitted two rifling grooves in the barrel. There was the Delvigne system, where a round ball was hammered by the ramrod until it distorted in shape such that it took to the rifling grooves. This, in turn, led to the Thouvenin system where a "pillar" in the breech served as an anvil while the ramrod hammered the bullet into the grooves. Cap'n. Minié came up with a soft lead bullet with a cavity in the rear with a small metal slug or cap, which would be driven forward into the bullet to flare the "skirt" into shallow rifling grooves. This system, in turn, was re-tinkered by Burton to omit the metal cap. The British Pritchett bullet epitomized the paper-cartridge technology such that it was a paper-patched bullet, using a portion of the paper cartridge wrapping as the patching. The Wilkinson-type and Austrian Lorenz had a solid bullet with a skirt that would obturate or compress on firing such that it would take the rifling.

Practical accuracy: 1798 AH k.u.k. musket vs. 1807 flintlock rifle
 

FedericoFCavada

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Does anyone shoot patched round balls out of their rifle musket, I wonder?

I'm only using wad-cutter type Minié/Burton bullets in mine, but I do shoot my patched round ball rifles way more often...
 

67th Tigers

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Nov 10, 2006
This is the hit rate from the P1842 smoothbore in volley firing tests (10 files firing) against a target consisting of 11 files of infantry:

1588858289428.png
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
This is the hit rate from the P1842 smoothbore in volley firing tests (10 files firing) against a target consisting of 11 files of infantry:

View attachment 357683
That's roughly in accord with what I get by putting the Fuller plates on the tests.

It's actually interesting to contemplate that against a target consisting of a couple of dozen files of infantry that's a few hundred yards away, you have an interaction of the expanding spread of the musket balls and the distance - it's like you have a circle which expands at a linear rate but where the circle centre keeps going down at an accelerating rate.

It's only once the circle is entirely below the ground that hits become actually impossible.
 

FedericoFCavada

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I've never really understood this overly negative animus towards Ripley. The man worked wonders in doing what he did...

"It was a joke, son... Ya missed it! I'm too fast fer ya!"

Kidding aside, he really did do that. The Vermonters were offended. Certainly very many people at the time had negative animus against Ripley... including, eventually, ol' Abe Lincoln himself.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
"It was a joke, son... Ya missed it! I'm too fast fer ya!"

Kidding aside, he really did do that. The Vermonters were offended. Certainly very many people at the time had negative animus against Ripley... including, eventually, ol' Abe Lincoln himself.
I know people have criticized him for not mass-ordering breechloaders (which is foolish because he did) and I can sort of understand his views when all domestic rifle production combined was struggling to get over 10,000 a month in the long first year of the war - a division abandoning their rifles on the field would represent weeks of production.
 

Rhea Cole

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Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
As is obvious in the postings of this thread, the volume of words expended on speculation about smoothbore musket v rifle in the Civil War runs to Carl Sagan numbers. I have seen ordinarily mild mannered friends get red in the face & raise their voices, smoothbore, rifle, smoothbore, rifle, smoothbore, rifle & on & on. I am quite sure that this has been the case from the patenting of a rifling tool by English gunsmith Arnold Rotsipen in 1635. By the 1850's, European gov'ts had adopted rifled & discarded their smoothbore muskets. (Cadmus Wilcox, Rifles & Rifle Practice: An Elementary Treatise Upon the Theory of Rifle Firing. 1859.

A review of the facts would seem to be in order & answer the question:
"What is the history of rifles superseding smoothbore muskets?"

Joshua Shaw obtained a patent for a fulminate of mercury cap in 1822. He received an $18,000 prize from Congress in 1847. Quite a princely sum in those days. The flintlock's days were numbered. In 1824 British Captain John Norton solved the relatively slow loading of rifles by designing an enlongated bullet. French captain Claude-Etienne Minnie' in 1847 created his self named cylindro-conical bullet. The first army wide adoption of the rifle was under King Louis-Philippe of France in 1849.

British General Francis Rawdon Chesney stated that the elongated bullet had "the advantage of encountering less resistance with an equal mass; consequently any piece in which it may be used, whether a musket or a great gun [cannon], will produce a shock equal to that of a considerably larger calibre, but having a spherical projectile." Wounds inflicted by elongated rifle projectiles were many times more destructive than those of round balls. Both bullets would expand upon contact with bone, but the shock of the rifled bullet was magnitudes greater, which accounts for its greater lethality.

In 1854, James H. Burton, Acting Master Armorer of the Harpers Ferry armory, resolved problems associated with Minnie's design by inventing a cheaper, improved expanding round in 1854. The combination of Burton's round, improved cartridges & caps would be used by both sides during the Civil War.

European armies engaged in a number of tests to compare the efficacy of smoothbore & rifled muskets. On average, the rifled musket was about four times as accurate when compared with a smoothbore musket. At 250 yards, rifles were effective at twice the range of smoothbores. "Army Rifles", Scientific American #5 July 20, 1861 p 41

Testing showed that the type of rifling produced dramatic disparities in effective range. Standard issue models were effective at 500 yards, marksmen's models twice that at 1,000 yards. In tests done in 1857, a Whitworth rifle was able to penetrate 33 planks of wood. The superiority of the rifle over the smoothbore was no longer in doubt.

One of the curious differences between rifle & smoothbores is that the friction of the rifling reduced the muzzle velocity of the rifle by about 50% to 500 feet per second. That had ballistic implications. Because of that & the dramatic increase in range, it was no longer enough to just have soldiers level their muskets & fire. The first adaptation to the arcing trajectory of rifled bullets was to train soldiers to place their thumbnail on the barrel & use it as a back sight.

In 1854, the first School of Musketry was established at Hythe in England. Cadres of men from every army corps were detailed there & then returned to their units to train others. Skeptics dismissed this as useless because battles would still be fought at close range with the issue settled by the bayonet. As you can see, it was ever thus. Jomini, the leading military theorists of his age, was positively dismissive of the rifle's potential.

Be that as it may, General Francis Rawdon Chesney stated that with the adoption of rifled muskets it would "no longer be possible for one army to throw out clouds either of mounted or light infantry... without being opposed by similar means." Artillery would no longer be placed in the line of battle because the effective range of rifled muskets was equal to cannon. In Civil War combat, Chesney was proved correct.

Tests done at Hythe led him to the conclusion that direct cavalry charges were no longer possible. It was simple math. Field Marshal Colin Campbell claimed that a regiment armed with rifled muskets would be able to unleash 10,000 rounds against a cavalry charge that began at the usual 1,000 yards. Due to their shorter range, troops armed with Brown Bess muskets only fired six volleys at very close range. He also pointed out that a British square had never been broken, but the implication of the increased range of the rille was sobering.

The Crimean War (1853-56) was the first instance where the smoothbore musket v the rifle put to the test. Author Wellesly, the first Duke of Wellington recommended that rifles become standard issue in the British army. In 1855 his decision was justified when rifles were employed "with destructive effect upon Russians in the Crimea, who... were still armed with old smooth-bore musket."

In the Battle of Alma (1854) skirmish tactics by men armed with rifles inflicted 2 to 1 casualties on Russians. Marshal von Moltke, in his analysis of the battle attributed the Russian defeat on their reliance on Napoleonic bayonet charges & lack of rifles. There were still those who believed that Zouave tactics involving quick rushes could overcome the rifle's lethality at range. Men who had been on the receiving end of the British skirmish tactics had a different view of the subject.

"A perfect cloud of riflemen, hid in a thick brushwood, opened a very violent & very accurate fire against our artillery at the distance of 800 paces... it was more the fire of rifled small arms than that of artillery of the enemy which reached our artillerymen, of whom the greater part were killed or wounded."
Russian General Todleben

As the postings in this thread indicate, the smoothbore v rifle debate continued. However, beginning with the Prussian breachloading needle rifle in 1851, every army in Europe had adopted rifles by 1858. In 1854, Major Alfred Mordecai of the U.S. Ordnance Department traveled to Europe at the head of a commission that included George McClellan. As a result of the commission's report, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis orders intensive tests to evaluate the merits of rifled muskets. It was discovered that the Burton designed projectile was the best overall design. All of the rifle projectiles were scoring 30-80% hits at ranges where round balls from smoothbore muskets failed to hit the target entirely.

Head to head, at 400 yards, smoothbores had a dismal 4.5% accuracy rating compared with 52.5% of rifles. At 300 yards, rifles were achieving 74% accuracy.
Another interesting head to head result compared the Enfield v Springfield rifles. The Springfield was able to penetrate an iron target at 2,400 yards. Due to acknowledged quality control problems, the Springfield was found to be superior to the Enfield. "Rifled Muskets in Oho." Scientific American, July 1861.

Evident by postings on this forum, debate about the ability of soldiers to take advantage of the rifle's range has raged on unabated since the Civil War. An 1861 Scientific American article pointed out that "any western youth can beat nine out of then [eastern soldiers] in off hand practice... [poor marksmen were] as likely to end the balls flying over the heads of the foes or into the ground not 20 rods off, as into the ranks of the enemy."

On the eve of the Civil War in 1859, American arsenals held a total of 503,644 smoothbore muskets & 106,598 rifles & converted rifled muskets. The converted flintlocks were "so much weakened in the process of alteration, as to become almost as dangerous when discharged to the person at the breech as the one in front of the muzzle" At the early stages of the war, only 10% of Confederate recruits carried rifles. Austrian Lorenz & Mississippi models predominated. The smoothbores were characterized as "curious relics of a more unenlightened age [only suitable for museums.]" It would not be until 1863 that rifles became ubiquitous on both sides. From that point onward, the hundreds of thousands of rifles manufactured in the U.S. & England became standard issue. The age of the smoothbore musket was over.

Note:

Whatever the supposed efficacy of smoothbore muskets in the Civil War may have been, nobody was manufacturing new ones. With rare exceptions, antique smoothbores were joyfully discarded & replaced by rifles. The experience of Bragg's infantrymen who carried the hammer of their 'curious relics' in their pockets into combat at the Battle of Stones River is one of the issues we discuss with visitors at Stones River N.B. I carry a .69 ball found on the battlefield along with various Minnie' balls in my haversack to show visitors what the ammunition used during the battle looks like. It isn't an exaggeration to state that the Battle of Stones River was the last great smoothbore battle.


IMG_5240 copy.jpg

Stones River N.B. Living History Volunteers deploy a cannon at the
position held by the Chicago Board of Trade Battery December 31, 1862.
Confederate Infantry armed with smoothbore muskets could have only watched from the tree line.
The extreme effective range of their muskets was only to the tour road perceptible above the heads of the mounted men.
The field was carpeted with the bodies of the men who attempted to dislodge the C.B.T. battery & the Pioneer Brigade armed with rifles that supported them.

Another theme of our programs is to discuss the fact that Union cannon on the Nashville Pike were impervious to counter fire from Confederate infantry armed with smoothbores when they attempted to cross the cotton field & achieve victory on the first day of the battle. At Stones River, the short range & lack of accuracy of smoothbore muskets was not an abstract academic exercise. It was a life & death tactical reality.

Ordinarily, in non-lock down years, we would be preparing for our Tullahoma Campaign programs in June. Even muzzle loading rifles were obsolete when confronted by Wilder's Brigade armed with Spencer repeating rifles. That was the beginning of the end of muzzle loaders of all kinds, let alone museum pieces like Napoleonic smoothbores.


IMG_0325.jpg

Cemetery of Confederate Unknowns.
Beech Grove, Tennessee May 5th 2020 by the author.

The evolution from smoothbore muskets to repeating rifles is a narrative that I am very familiar with. Only a short drive from my home is a poignant relic of the Battle of Hoover's Gap. Bate's Confederate infantry repeatedly attempted to dislodge Wilder's Brigade armed with seven shot Spencer Repeating Rifles which had blitzed through the narrow gap in the hills south of Murfeesboro TN on the morning of June 24, 1863. Bewildered by the volume of fire that poured down on them without letup, many of Bate's veterans raised their muzzle loading rifles over their heads & were allowed to enter Wilder's line. Those who were not so fortunate were given soldier's graves where they lay. After the war, a local farmer gathered them up & placed their remains here along side a veteran of the Continental Line & early pioneers. The cemetery is atop a low hill adjacent to the Beech Grove / Bell Buckle exit on I-24 about 15 miles southeast of Murfreesboro. The access to the cemetery is up a steep drive on Confederate Cemetery Road.

map to the confederate cemetery beech grove.jpeg
 
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Rhea Cole

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Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I'm not sure of your point? The rifle has a higher performance ceiling, so if you train your troops you're almost always going to get better performance out of a rifle than a smoothbore - and to go from rifle to smoothbore is to admit that you're not training your troops properly.

This doesn't change that at even 300 yards the performance ceiling of the smoothbore as a weapon is high enough that you can achieve useful results with it.



For the reasons I already alluded to above, it's one thing for a soldier to be better off with a smoothbore and another for their commanders to admit it.
Some commanders did think that the smoothbore was superior (famously the Irish Brigade stuck to them) but for most of them - well, it's a natural psychological thing for a soldier to blame his tools rather than admit that he isn't good enough, and if target practice is as uncommon as it was in the armies of the Civil War then there's no real way for someone to be confronted with the data.
I actually don't have any personal points to make, I just cite the evidence of contemporary tests & battlefield experience. The results speak for themselves.
 
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Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
As the postings in this thread indicate, the smoothbore v rifle debate continued. However, beginning with the Prussian breachloading needle rifle in 1851, every army in Europe had adopted rifles by 1858. In 1854, Major Alfred Mordecai of the U.S. Ordnance Department traveled to Europe at the head of a commission that included George McClellan. As a result of the commission's report, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis orders intensive tests to evaluate the merits of rifled muskets. It was discovered that the Burton designed projectile was the best overall design. All of the rifle projectiles were scoring 30-80% hits at ranges where round balls from smoothbore muskets failed to hit the target entirely.

Which says nothing about what the range at which hits can be achieved is. Of course (as I've repeatedly accepted and reiterated) in trained hands the rifle is significantly superior - the problem is that bit about "in trained hands". The trained hands in question being the ones who can achieve a hit rate useful on the battlefield with the smoothbore out to a couple of hundred yards - if you can't hit at more than a few % hit-rate with a smoothbore at 200 yards, then you will not be able to achieve more than a few % hit-rate with a rifle-musket at the same range.


Head to head, at 400 yards, smoothbores had a dismal 4.5% accuracy rating compared with 52.5% of rifles. At 300 yards, rifles were achieving 74% accuracy. Another interesting head to head result compared the Enfield v Springfield rifles. The Springfield was able to penetrate an iron target at 2,400 yards. Due to acknowledged quality control problems, the Springfield was found to be superior to the Enfield. "Rifled Muskets in Oho." Scientific American, July 1861.

The accuracy numbers here sound feasible (and note that 4.5% accuracy is still over four times the actual accuracy at Gettysburg), but the penetration of an iron target at 2,400 yards seems frankly incredible (as in, hard to believe). A Springfield rifle ball is 32 grams (so a volume of 3 cubic centimetres) and has a radius of 8.5 mm (so a cross sectional area of 2.2 square centimetres); this means it's about 1.5 centimetres long.

Lead is about eleven thousand times as dense as air, so it should lose the majority of its velocity travelling through eleven thousand times its length in air. To travel 2,400 yards it has to travel through a minimum of 2,400 yards of air, which is 220,000 centimetres - which is over a hundred thousand times the length of the ball.

This means that the Springfield ball should not retain any significant initial velocity; it's falling effectively under gravity. And the Enfield ball (which was almost exactly the same size) should be falling at the same rate; if the Springfield can penetrate an iron target at 2,400 yards, then it's a very thin iron target and the Enfield ball can do the same.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
@Rhea Cole , I think it would help if you were able to identify what it is that I (for one) am actually arguing, and then engage with that argument.

I am arguing that:

- The actual battlefield hit rate of the weapons in the Civil War, at the ranges of typical combat in the Civil War, is such that the usual hit rate is 1 in 50 (2%) or less at a typical range throughout the whole war of ~150 yards.

- The capabilities of the smoothbore musket are such that you can achieve a hit rate much better than 2% at a range of 150 yards, if you are actually aiming it properly.

- This indicates therefore that the dominant factor in the hit rate of soldiers in the Civil War was not the capabilities or inadequacies of their weapons but the inadequacies of their training and the usual problems soldiers face in aiming their weapons correctly in battlefield situations.

- Other contemporary armies (such as the British and the Prussians) correctly recognized this and trained their men in marksmanship as well as equipping them with rifles in place of smoothbores, and they got much better battlefield hit rates at much longer ranges than American Civil War combat.

- Without this training, a man does not simply become more accurate because he has been given a rifle instead of a smoothbore.


I am not arguing that the smoothbore was better than the rifle, except under certain specific conditions (combat at a short enough range that buckshot is able to cause damaging wounds, or when the smoothbore's greater kinetic energy at short range causes fatal wounds as opposed to non-fatal wounds for the same shot with the rifle-musket).
 

yulzari

Private
Joined
Jul 25, 2017
I hope that no one is under the impression that my post was lauding the smooth bore as a better weapon than the rifle.

With the inventions of assorted bullets expanding in the breech on ignition permitting easy muzzle loading as well as rifled bores, the rifle musket was clearly a better device than a smooth bore. My contention is that this was wasted upon the majority ill trained troops of the ACW and these troops might as well have had cheaper, more easily made and used smooth bore muskets akin to the British Pattern 1842 without performing any worse.

The rifle musket is is a better weapon than a musket; but it needs a rifleman behind it to make that difference. ACW armies were replete with infantrymen but woefully short of riflemen.
 

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Which says nothing about what the range at which hits can be achieved is. Of course (as I've repeatedly accepted and reiterated) in trained hands the rifle is significantly superior - the problem is that bit about "in trained hands". The trained hands in question being the ones who can achieve a hit rate useful on the battlefield with the smoothbore out to a couple of hundred yards - if you can't hit at more than a few % hit-rate with a smoothbore at 200 yards, then you will not be able to achieve more than a few % hit-rate with a rifle-musket at the same range.




The accuracy numbers here sound feasible (and note that 4.5% accuracy is still over four times the actual accuracy at Gettysburg), but the penetration of an iron target at 2,400 yards seems frankly incredible (as in, hard to believe). A Springfield rifle ball is 32 grams (so a volume of 3 cubic centimetres) and has a radius of 8.5 mm (so a cross sectional area of 2.2 square centimetres); this means it's about 1.5 centimetres long.

Lead is about eleven thousand times as dense as air, so it should lose the majority of its velocity travelling through eleven thousand times its length in air. To travel 2,400 yards it has to travel through a minimum of 2,400 yards of air, which is 220,000 centimetres - which is over a hundred thousand times the length of the ball.

This means that the Springfield ball should not retain any significant initial velocity; it's falling effectively under gravity. And the Enfield ball (which was almost exactly the same size) should be falling at the same rate; if the Springfield can penetrate an iron target at 2,400 yards, then it's a very thin iron target and the Enfield ball can do the same.
I suppose your substituting your preconceptions for the recorded test results of the 2,400 yard Springfield test is the difference between us. The British head to head tests between the Enfield & the Whitworth showed even more dramatic disparities than did those with the Springfield. The Enfield had serious problems due to relatively poor quality standards. This was recognized by all concerned at that time. As a result, Enfields consistently did poorly in head to head tests with contemporary rifles. I don't just make things up.
 
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