Jenny Wade ballistics question

infomanpa

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Location
Pennsylvania
Supposedly, a sharpshooter in the attic of the current Farnsworth House Inn killed Jenny Wade. The bullet would have had to travel almost 300 yards and go through 2 doors before it struck Jenny in the back. I am wondering how likely it is that a Springfield or Enfield rifle could fire a bullet with enough velocity that it would still be lethal after traveling that distance and passing through 2 wooden obstacles.
 

cwbuff

Corporal
Joined
Dec 21, 2010
Location
Virginia
This is an interesting question. There are three types of ballistics: 1) internal ballistics (or what happens inside the firearm), 2) external ballistics (or the flight of the bullet), and 3) terminal ballistics (or what happens when the bullet strikes the target). The question involves the external and terminal ballistics. In general, the energy a bullet has when it strikes the target is a function of mass and velocity. Modern rifle cartridges like the 7.62 NATO have relatively high velocity (e.g., 2800 fps) and low mass (147 grains). Civil War rifle muskets have relatively low velocity (1000 to 1500 fps) but have high mass (500 grains). Despite its low velocity, the Minié ball packs a powerful punch. 300 yards is well within the lethal range of a Civil War rifle musket. Some ballistic gel tests have indicated they could penetrate 3 soldiers, especially in soft tissue (no large bones). If the Wade doors in question are soft pine or poplar, then the bullet could have easily passed through the doors and still have enough lethal energy remaining. If the doors are thick hardwood, then I doubt it. I have a US Model 1866 2nd Allin conversion that I shoot. It is a US M1863 Rifle Musket that was converted to a single shot breech loading 50/70 cartridge gun. The 50/70 is a 50 caliber round with 70 grains of black powder. This is similar in ballistics to a 58 Minie ball. It was a favorite of buffalo hunters. I have not tried shooting through boards, but I may try this sometime.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
It is an interesting question. It does seem, though, that in the end she was inside the house and was, indeed, killed so a round had to come in somehow. As there isn't really much in the way of forensic evidence we likely will never know exactly what happened, other than she was shot and killed.

As to if a rifled musket round could have gone through two doors and still killed Jenny I think that's more than possible.
 

Story

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Location
SE PA
There was a forensic study several years ago that was discussed on this forum that questioned the whole Jenny Wade story as to which direction the round actually came from.

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/a-...triguing-new-revelations.155597/#post-2004165

Note - the original link to John Anton's article in Forensic Magazine is now dead, but a cached version w/o photos exists on the internet archive.
https://web.archive.org/web/2019030...etation-slaying-mary-virginia-wade-gettysburg

Key point for this conversation -

In conclusion, forensic data revealed the: 1) preservational state of this historic site is less accurate than believed, 2) fatal bullet missed the parlor door, 3) windowed door bears the fatal bullet’s scar, and 4) Confederates possibly mistook Jennie for a soldier. While the sharpshooter’s precise location cannot be determined without more information, the forensic investigation yielded a purer reconstruction of history.
 

Story

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Location
SE PA

DixieRifles

Captain
Member of the Year
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
Mar 22, 2009
Location
Collierville, TN
I am wondering how likely it is that a Springfield or Enfield rifle could fire a bullet with enough velocity that it would still be lethal after traveling that distance and passing through 2 wooden obstacles.
100%

I dont know the details of the story but I believe it is possible.
i had a replica Zouave rifle and shot at an old house— a simple cabin made with solid wood boards for walls. My range was close but the Minie passed thru 2 walls easily.
 

rob63

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 13, 2012
Location
PA, but still a Hoosier
The following is a table constructed from testing done by the Ordnance Department at the time of the adoption of the Model 1855 Rifle-Musket. It answers the question of how much wood is penetrated at various distances. It looks to me like it was possible; went through 11 inches of wood at 200 yards and over 6 inches of wood at 600 yards..

Table of Penetration - Newly Adopted Arms.png
 
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neyankee61

Private
Joined
Oct 30, 2018
Yet there are stories of how a piece of hardtack stopped a bullet. I have a pocket bible carried by a CW soldier. The story goes this bible carried in his breast pocket stopped a bullet. The bible is dented.
 
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Location
South Texas
After having penetrated 2 doors the bullet has expanded and slowed down considerably.The chunk of lead is no longer a 58 caliber mini ball. It's a chunk of lead moving at a couple of hundred feet per second. From what I've read it hit her in the back then went through the heart. A big chunk of lead versus a human heart? I would think the slow moving bullet would be the "winner".
 
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