How important was individual marksmanship in the American Civil War and Other Gunpowder Era for Generic Line Infantry? Specifically in volley fire?

LesBrain

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The Admin said I can repost this topic if I can edit it a bit. So if it still doesn't match posting standards of this site, just remove it and PM me and I'll edit it some more because its a topic I really want to discuss!

The stereotype of Napoleonic Warfare and indeed any gunpowder wars before multi-loading rifles became mass produced is that soldiers just line up and shoot without regard to marksmanship because they assume that an enemy will get hit in the mass fire of volley. So much that I seen comments about how you don't even have to hold your rifle properly and you just shoot it in the American Civil War and earlier because you are guaranteed to hit an enemy in the mass rigid square blocks they are stuck in.


However this thread on suppressive fire in modern warfare made me curious.


https://www.reddit.com/r/WarCollege/comments/7vkubw/how_important_is_individual_marksmanship_is_in/


The OP states despite the cliche that hundreds of bullets are spent to kill a single enemy and most tactics in modern war involves spraying at an enemy to get him to become too scared to shoot back and hide while you have one person sneak up behind the now cowering enemy and kill him, plenty of marksmanship training is still done in modern warfare.


So I have to ask if marksmanship was important even in volley fire seen in Gunpowder warfare prior to multi-bullet chamber guns such as in the American Civil War and other earlier time periods in particular Napoleonic? Is it misunderstood much like modern suppression tactics is by people where they get the wrong impression that you just spray bullets on an enemy and marksmanship doesn't matter because your buddies will sneak behind them and kill them? Is it more than just "spray bullets nonstop and hope it hits the guy in front of you who's in a bayonet block"?


If its true that soldiers in the era single loading gunpowder weapons particularly the Napoleon years just shot bullets aimlessly without bothering to try to target on an enemy because they expected their mass volleys to hit so many marching enemy troops in square formations......... Why did they still hold rifles in the basic aiming stance and arm structure? Why didn't they just tell soldiers to hold rifles from the hips and shoot in any angle or any stance they want?

I mean to go specifically in the Civil War, even with the use of mass formations and volley fire, I seen some re-enactors attempt to try to accurately simulate the training of the era and this always includes learning to hit target objects replicas of real marksmanship gear from the era spot-on against the popular image of soldiers of the ACW just shooting mass volleys without concentrating on hitting targets!
 
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There's a lot going on here, so let me touch on a few key points. If anyone more knowledgeable on this subject needs to correct me, please do!

There are significant philosophical differences between Civil War and modern tactics.

1) The key to single shot weapons is massed fire power. It took an experienced rifleman 20 seconds to reload, so units tried to keep continuous fire by company / section of regiment if they could to keep up a constant fire at all times. That also means men tried to stay in some form of a formation on the defensive, even if that meant taking cover behind trees or other things to block spent balls. Neutralizing individual targets wasn't a focus in large scale combat. There are all kinds of anecdotes about men aiming at individual targets, but that's not what they were trained to do.
2) In battle, the chances of accuracy were low. Smoke usually filled the air after a few volleys, occluding potential targets. Raw recruits typically had little target practice. Even experienced men often aimed high, especially when shooting down hill. Plus, even a good shot was limited in his abilities, given the heightened adrenaline of being shot at and men falling around him. The number of balls that hit someone at Gettysburg is something like 1 in 100 for some of these reasons.
3) Some aiming was necessary. Officers often told their men to aim low, because even when accounting for the kick of the rifle, shots were more likely to hit something.
4) Massed fire often did lead to massed suppression - the term is "going to ground." Well trained, professional troops had the nerve to advance through repeated volleys and into an enemy line. Despite the quality of some units during the Civil War, no one had the nerve to advance through massed fire and instead stopped advancing to shoot back - often racking up far more casualties because of it.
 

NDR 5 th NY

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There's a lot going on here, so let me touch on a few key points. If anyone more knowledgeable on this subject needs to correct me, please do!

There are significant philosophical differences between Civil War and modern tactics.

1) The key to single shot weapons is massed fire power. It took an experienced rifleman 20 seconds to reload, so units tried to keep continuous fire by company / section of regiment if they could to keep up a constant fire at all times. That also means men tried to stay in some form of a formation on the defensive, even if that meant taking cover behind trees or other things to block spent balls. Neutralizing individual targets wasn't a focus in large scale combat. There are all kinds of anecdotes about men aiming at individual targets, but that's not what they were trained to do.
2) In battle, the chances of accuracy were low. Smoke usually filled the air after a few volleys, occluding potential targets. Raw recruits typically had little target practice. Even experienced men often aimed high, especially when shooting down hill. Plus, even a good shot was limited in his abilities, given the heightened adrenaline of being shot at and men falling around him. The number of balls that hit someone at Gettysburg is something like 1 in 100 for some of these reasons.
3) Some aiming was necessary. Officers often told their men to aim low, because even when accounting for the kick of the rifle, shots were more likely to hit something.
4) Massed fire often did lead to massed suppression - the term is "going to ground." Well trained, professional troops had the nerve to advance through repeated volleys and into an enemy line. Despite the quality of some units during the Civil War, no one had the nerve to advance through massed fire and instead stopped advancing to shoot back - often racking up far more casualties because of it.
The obvious exception were the Sharpshooters who did practice marksmanship. To qualify for the US Sharpshooters, an individual had to hit a pie pan 10 times in a row at a distance of two hundred yards.
 
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The obvious exception were the Sharpshooters who did practice marksmanship. To qualify for the US Sharpshooters, an individual had to hit a pie pan 10 times in a row at a distance of two hundred yards.
True. But even so, they weren't used in a modern "sniping" sense. They were much akin to a European-style organization intended for skirmishing and firing well at long distance, as opposed to knocking out specific targets.
 

Pat Answer

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These are still the days of the single-shot weapon. One did have to mass men in order to produce a volume of firepower that would demoralize an opposing unit. But while individual marksmanship wouldn't be the key that doesn't mean troops would not try to aim!

In general on these matters I defer to this man:
1595250835747.png
1595250899512.png
 
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These are still the days of the single-shot weapon. One did have to mass men in order to produce a volume of firepower that would demoralize an opposing unit. But while individual marksmanship wouldn't be the key that doesn't mean troops would not try to aim!

In general on these matters I defer to this man:
View attachment 366897View attachment 366898
My main source is Paddy Griffith's Battle Tactics of the Civil War. And also Guelzo's Gettysburg, but Guelzo was the professor who assigned Paddy Griffith to me, so one in the same, I suppose.
 
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PatW

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As mentioned above, volley fire in the Civil War was largely a matter of volume of fire.

My brother used to own black powder fire arms. He had a colt navy cap and ball pistol. I remember him firing off all the rounds. And there was a large cloud of smoke between him and the target. It did not take much to realize that a line of infantry would soon lay down a smoke screen. I read a memoir of a guy who was at Shiloh. He was asked by an officer why he wasn’t firing. He replied that he could not see anything. He was told to load and shoot. I guess he just pointed his rifle in the general direction of where he thought the enemy was.

Training emphasized drill and rate of fire. I do not think that units worked on marksmanship. The problem with the rifled musket of the era was its low muzzle velocity. At any kind of range, the low velocity required a soldier to accurately estimate the range to the target and set the sights appropriately. I have read that this skill was virtually never taught. And that meant that the effective use of the rifled musket at longer ranges was largely accidental. As it was, most combat between lines of infantry occurred at ranges of around 100 yards. Skirmishers might have acquired more skill. And in some situations of entrenchments some soldiers would load and let the best shots do the shooting.

There was some use of skilled marksmanship but that was probably the result of a soldier who already knew the skill before enlisting. I do not believe that the military made any attempt to train or utilize such skills. And that is not a surprise. Trained officers were pretty scarce on both sides and trained non commissioned officers even more so. So officers were untrained and had to learn by doing. Marksmanship pretty much fell by the way side.
 

leftyhunter

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The Admin said I can repost this topic if I can edit it a bit. So if it still doesn't match posting standards of this site, just remove it and PM me and I'll edit it some more because its a topic I really want to discuss!

The stereotype of Napoleonic Warfare and indeed any gunpowder wars before multi-loading rifles became mass produced is that soldiers just line up and shoot without regard to marksmanship because they assume that an enemy will get hit in the mass fire of volley. So much that I seen comments about how you don't even have to hold your rifle properly and you just shoot it in the American Civil War and earlier because you are guaranteed to hit an enemy in the mass rigid square blocks they are stuck in.


However this thread on suppressive fire in modern warfare made me curious.


https://www.reddit.com/r/WarCollege/comments/7vkubw/how_important_is_individual_marksmanship_is_in/


The OP states despite the cliche that hundreds of bullets are spent to kill a single enemy and most tactics in modern war involves spraying at an enemy to get him to become too scared to shoot back and hide while you have one person sneak up behind the now cowering enemy and kill him, plenty of marksmanship training is still done in modern warfare.


So I have to ask if marksmanship was important even in volley fire seen in Gunpowder warfare prior to multi-bullet chamber guns such as in the American Civil War and other earlier time periods in particular Napoleonic? Is it misunderstood much like modern suppression tactics is by people where they get the wrong impression that you just spray bullets on an enemy and marksmanship doesn't matter because your buddies will sneak behind them and kill them? Is it more than just "spray bullets nonstop and hope it hits the guy in front of you who's in a bayonet block"?


If its true that soldiers in the era single loading gunpowder weapons particularly the Napoleon years just shot bullets aimlessly without bothering to try to target on an enemy because they expected their mass volleys to hit so many marching enemy troops in square formations......... Why did they still hold rifles in the basic aiming stance and arm structure? Why didn't they just tell soldiers to hold rifles from the hips and shoot in any angle or any stance they want?

I mean to go specifically in the Civil War, even with the use of mass formations and volley fire, I seen some re-enactors attempt to try to accurately simulate the training of the era and this always includes learning to hit target objects replicas of real marksmanship gear from the era spot-on against the popular image of soldiers of the ACW just shooting mass volleys without concentrating on hitting targets!
We do know per various studies that modern American police officers only hit a suspect in a gun fight 17% of the time and 96% of the time the range is five yards or less mostly less. That is without all the smoke and confusion of an ACW battlefield and police officers are far better trained in pistol marksmanship then an ACW soldier was trained in using a ML rifle.
Also marksmanship is a highly perishable skill. It would of been impossible for the Confederacy to supply enough musket balls and black powder to keep it's troops well trained in marksmanship. Even if the Union Army did have a serious marksmanship program for it's infantry unless it's troops are very close to a railroad or major river the logistics and costs of supplying them with say ten rounds per soldier plus the required amount of black powder times how many troops are in camp would be formidable.
Leftyhunter
 

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