Lee wanted muzzle loading carbines?

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
I seem to remember reading rescently, but as usual can't remember where, (these senior moments seem to last for days), that Robert E. Lee requested that suppliers of carbines to the Confederate cavalry concentrate on producing or procuring muzzle loading carbines as opposed of breech loaders due to reliability and/or ammunition issues that were occuring. Do any of the very knowledgeable posters on here know if there is anthing to that, or has my imagination just run disasterously amuck, (a never unlikely occorance)?

Than you very much to any of you guys who care to respond.

Ps: I realize how silly this may seem!

John
 

redbob

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I believe that it had more to do with availability, at the start of the War; the Enfield Carbine (both Cavalry and Artillery models) along with other foreign models was readily available for Southern purchase and those are what came in. Carbines by their nature are more complicated to manufacture and especially their cartridges. While the South did manufacture some carbines (an example being the Sharp's copy), the manufacture of them and their ammunition was in my opinion beyond the South's abilities.
 

ucvrelics

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The breach loader was indeed a great invention but the ammo was a nightmare as each maker had his own ammo. Gen Lee knew very well as did his Chief of Ordnance Gen Alexander the problems with the breach loader. The Union army had the same problem Gen. Wilson had to leave 10000 cav troops behind on his march into Alabama & Georgia as he wanted all troopers to have Spencer so he would not have to carry 4 different type rounds.
 

CowCavalry

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
Unreliable ammo and lack of manufacturing facilities for breech loaders may be a good reason. Playing devils advocate: Reloading a muzzle loader on the move while on horseback seems to be just as big a problem to overcome. Breech loader still not simple, but IMHO the better of the choices.
Cavalry isn't going to use a rifled long arm mounted much, it would be used dismounted as in mounted infantry. If mounted, shotguns, revolvers, and sabers would be the most useful I believe.
 

Don Dixon

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Fairfax, VA, USA
After Major General J. E. B. Stuart complained regarding the “deficiency of good arms” in the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Lee, responded on 15 August 1863 that after the Battle of Brandy Station and before the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign, 2,000 Austrian rifles had been sent to Culpeper Court House, Virginia, to arm Stuart’s troopers. The arms had either been returned or thrown away by the troopers. They had also refused to accept 600 Enfield and Mississippi rifles. The cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia apparently regarded itself as knights arrant, for whom the only proper weapons were the revolver and the saber, with the use of infantry long arms being beneath them. This prejudice was not shared by the troops of Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood in the west. After the war, Hood wrote that “our cavalry were not cavalrymen proper, but were mounted riflemen, trained to dismount and hold in check or delay the advance of the enemy.” After their inauspicious start, Federal cavalrymen learned the same lesson. They ultimately became classic dragoons, trained to fight mounted with pistol and saber, as well as dismounted with the carbine, using the horse primarily as a battle taxi. Having learned that lesson, the Federal cavalry of the Army of Potomac consistently whipped Stuart’s cavalry for the remainder of the war. (O.R., I, 29/2, 648)

Lee is quoted as observing to Captain Justus Scheibert, a Prussian Army observer with the Army of Northern Virginia, that he had armed a brigade with breechloaders as a trial. But, “In an hour and a half the men had already exhausted their ammunition. Back they came from the front. We cannot manufacture so much [ammunition], nor transport it, unless we get results. I strive to cut [the use of ammunition] to the least. We need a weapon that demands time to load, so the man knows he must value the shot – not fire before he directs it to a consequence.” The problem of ammunition supply verses ammunition expenditure was a universal problem, one which militated against the adoption of breech-loading and then repeating arms for infantry in the Federal Army, as well. It continued to be a matter of concern in the U.S. Army as late as the development of a select fire capability for the M14 rifle in the mid-1950s. (Scheibert, A Prussian Observes the American Civil War, 58)

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

Rusk County Avengers

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After Major General J. E. B. Stuart complained regarding the “deficiency of good arms” in the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Lee, responded on 15 August 1863 that after the Battle of Brandy Station and before the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign, 2,000 Austrian rifles had been sent to Culpeper Court House, Virginia, to arm Stuart’s troopers. The arms had either been returned or thrown away by the troopers. They had also refused to accept 600 Enfield and Mississippi rifles. The cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia apparently regarded itself as knights arrant, for whom the only proper weapons were the revolver and the saber, with the use of infantry long arms being beneath them. This prejudice was not shared by the troops of Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood in the west. After the war, Hood wrote that “our cavalry were not cavalrymen proper, but were mounted riflemen, trained to dismount and hold in check or delay the advance of the enemy.” After their inauspicious start, Federal cavalrymen learned the same lesson. They ultimately became classic dragoons, trained to fight mounted with pistol and saber, as well as dismounted with the carbine, using the horse primarily as a battle taxi. Having learned that lesson, the Federal cavalry of the Army of Potomac consistently whipped Stuart’s cavalry for the remainder of the war. (O.R., I, 29/2, 648)


I am learning so much right now...

But I guess that answers a question I've had off and on for a few years: Why was Western Cavalry so superior to Cavalry in the East.

I thought the Mounted Rifleman tactic was it, glad you posted this.
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
I appreciate very much all you guys responding to my question. I got some answers that surprised me and some that didnt. I had never heard the Lee quote by Scheibert before, thank you Mr. Dixon.

I was under the impression that ammunition for breech loaders manufactured by the Confederacy was unreliable.

Thanks again to all hands!

John
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
After Major General J. E. B. Stuart complained regarding the “deficiency of good arms” in the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Lee, responded on 15 August 1863 that after the Battle of Brandy Station and before the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign, 2,000 Austrian rifles had been sent to Culpeper Court House, Virginia, to arm Stuart’s troopers. The arms had either been returned or thrown away by the troopers. They had also refused to accept 600 Enfield and Mississippi rifles. The cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia apparently regarded itself as knights arrant, for whom the only proper weapons were the revolver and the saber, with the use of infantry long arms being beneath them. This prejudice was not shared by the troops of Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood in the west. After the war, Hood wrote that “our cavalry were not cavalrymen proper, but were mounted riflemen, trained to dismount and hold in check or delay the advance of the enemy.” After their inauspicious start, Federal cavalrymen learned the same lesson. They ultimately became classic dragoons, trained to fight mounted with pistol and saber, as well as dismounted with the carbine, using the horse primarily as a battle taxi. Having learned that lesson, the Federal cavalry of the Army of Potomac consistently whipped Stuart’s cavalry for the remainder of the war. (O.R., I, 29/2, 648)

Lee is quoted as observing to Captain Justus Scheibert, a Prussian Army observer with the Army of Northern Virginia, that he had armed a brigade with breechloaders as a trial. But, “In an hour and a half the men had already exhausted their ammunition. Back they came from the front. We cannot manufacture so much [ammunition], nor transport it, unless we get results. I strive to cut [the use of ammunition] to the least. We need a weapon that demands time to load, so the man knows he must value the shot – not fire before he directs it to a consequence.” The problem of ammunition supply verses ammunition expenditure was a universal problem, one which militated against the adoption of breech-loading and then repeating arms for infantry in the Federal Army, as well. It continued to be a matter of concern in the U.S. Army as late as the development of a select fire capability for the M14 rifle in the mid-1950s. (Scheibert, A Prussian Observes the American Civil War, 58)

Regards,
Don Dixon

Assault rifles today are often used in semi-auto or 3-shot burst modes rather than full automatic. In any era, at the maximum rate of fire, it doesn't take long for a man to shoot off all the ammunition he can carry.
 

yulzari

Private
Joined
Jul 25, 2017
Sounds like a criticism of the quality of the officers who should be controlling the men's fire through their NCOs and not letting them fire everything off at will.
 

leftyhunter

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Location
los angeles ca
Sounds like a criticism of the quality of the officers who should be controlling the men's fire through their NCOs and not letting them fire everything off at will.
To be fair that problem has remained to this day. To actually train soldiers to strive towards" one shot one kill" takes a lot of time and money spent on training which few soldiers on either side received.
Other then the Sharpshooter Battalions most ACW troops were poorly trained especially compared to contemporary West European soldiers.
Leftyhunter
 

Jeff in Ohio

Corporal
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Sounds like a criticism of the quality of the officers who should be controlling the men's fire through their NCOs and not letting them fire everything off at will.

A quality officer might well control the men's fire by supplying them with ammunition (for muzzle loaders) that took some time to load, and so could not be fired off quickly. These folks had to deal with controlling more than just a few minutes (ie, troops facing a charge being told to hold their fire until the advancing enemy was in proper range - as in "steady, steady, hold on ----- FIRE!"), but also hours and days where the officers and NCOs can't be everywhere at every moment to control their troops, and replacement ammo might be days away.
Some breechloaders used powder in cloth or paper - some special metal containers. So, a sharps cartridge could be made similar to the way a rifle-musket cartridge was made, and if it wasn't the perfect size, it could be used anyway, but making a Spencer rim-fire cartridge demanded precision and good materials. A muzzle loader might not be as accurate, but it could be loaded with pretty mediocre materials and still be of use.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
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Location
los angeles ca
Sounds like a criticism of the quality of the officers who should be controlling the men's fire through their NCOs and not letting them fire everything off at will.
Modern day US police officers are far better trained then ACW era soldiers and fire at much closer range 96% of their shootings being under five yards. Yet modern police officers have been known to " spray and pray" shooting lots of rounds and missing the suspect or only hiring the suspect once plus innocent bystanders.
Point being it's very difficult to control people under stress.
Using realtively untrained troops the ACW era officers and NCOs can only do so much to control fire during substained combat.
Leftyhunter
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
@Jeff in Ohio I believe one of the issues Lee was referencing was faulty ammunition as you refer to above. The idea that if ammunition was such an issue it didn't pay to arm the cavalry with breech loaders. Muzzle loaders would at least be more reliable in that respect. The really irritating part, to me, is that I can't remember where I saw this so cannot check the reliability of the story.

If a confederate trooper captured a Spencer or Sharps, or any other kind of breech loader could he be supplied with the ammunition to keep using it, no matter how superior the weapon might be? It appears that If the ammunition was metallic that could be an issue.

If the reliability of the ammunition or the weapons supplied by confederate manufacturers was an issue, perhaps Lee's request, (if true), would make sense.

Thanks, John
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
@leftyhunter You bring up a fascinating subject. Shooting on a rfile range at an inanimate target make produce a crack shot. How different when someone is shooting back at you and you are in fear of your life. That may have a bearing on things like the great number of incorrectly loaded muskets retrieved on the battle field of Gettysburg or the number of rounds expended as opposed to number of casualties inflicted on Civil War battlefields.

John
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
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Location
los angeles ca
@Jeff in Ohio I believe one of the issues Lee was referencing was faulty ammunition as you refer to above. The idea that if ammunition was such an issue it didn't pay to arm the cavalry with breech loaders. Muzzle loaders would at least be more reliable in that respect. The really irritating part, to me, is that I can't remember where I saw this so cannot check the reliability of the story.

If a confederate trooper captured a Spencer or Sharps, or any other kind of breech loader could he be supplied with the ammunition to keep using it, no matter how superior the weapon might be? It appears that If the ammunition was metallic that could be an issue.

If the reliability of the ammunition or the weapons supplied by confederate manufacturers was an issue, perhaps Lee's request, (if true), would make sense.

Thanks, John
From what I read the Confederacy simply lacked the ability to manufacture metalic cartridges.
Leftyhunter
 

Jeff in Ohio

Corporal
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
The civil war Sharps was breach loading, but did not use cartridges - there was a bullet backed with powder wrapped in a cloth wrapper, inserted bullet first into the barrel. The block had a sharp upper edge, and as it closed, it cut off the rear of that cloth wrapper, thus leaving the power exposed at the rear of the barrel so that the percussion cap could ignite it.
the Spencer did use a metal cartridge.
I have seen civil war era carbines, especially those that used strange cartridges, where the action was frozen in place, but the gun had been loaded with loose power and bullet from the muzzle many times. Whether this happened during the War or decades later, who can say?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It's worth knowing that the Short Enfield was actually considered the best sharpshooting rifle the Confederacy could reliably get hold of. The target shooting Whitworths were extremely rare and hard to get at, but the Short Enfield was considered superior to the Long for sharpshooting (probably a feature of the rifling twist, if I had to guess).

That might well have been the reason.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Sounds like a criticism of the quality of the officers who should be controlling the men's fire through their NCOs and not letting them fire everything off at will.
Perhaps, but it takes real discipline to maintain fire control. Trained European troops had trouble with it in the Franco-Prussian War, though not the Prussians themselves who had strict enough discipline.

It was actually observed that once firing began these troops would just keep firing, ignoring all orders, until the last cartridge was out of the barrel. It's because of the psychological pressures on an infantryman, which include the conflict of "do one's duty" with "get out of danger" - the way they resolve this is to do their duty as fast as possible until they've expended all their ammunition and can thus justifiably retreat.

My understanding is that the magazine cutoff slider found in WW1-era magazine rifles was the result of this. It's intended to give an extra barrier to the soldier firing off all his ammunition as fast as possible, so if needed an NCO can order them to disengage the magazine cutoff in an emergency.
 

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