Discussion Repeaters Versus Muzzleloaders

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MikeyB

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Sep 13, 2018
Aside from cost and ammunition consumption, were there any areas with respect to performance that a Springfield or Enfield was superior to a Henry or Spencer. For instance, were they more accurate in trained hands or significantly more range?

What led me to this question was, I was speculating today. What if the Union raised a sharpshooter brigade and gave them repeaters? Would this just be the most elite unstoppable force in warfare in 1865?
 

CowCavalry

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Aug 17, 2017
Aside from cost and ammunition consumption, were there any areas with respect to performance that a Springfield or Enfield was superior to a Henry or Spencer. For instance, were they more accurate in trained hands or significantly more range?

What led me to this question was, I was speculating today. What if the Union raised a sharpshooter brigade and gave them repeaters? Would this just be the most elite unstoppable force in warfare in 1865?
I am no expert but I would speculate that the .577 and .58 cal muzzleloaders had much greater range and energy at that range than the repeaters had. The .44 cal Henry round is anemic, I am not so familiar with the Spencer rounds.
 

leftyhunter

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Location
los angeles ca
Aside from cost and ammunition consumption, were there any areas with respect to performance that a Springfield or Enfield was superior to a Henry or Spencer. For instance, were they more accurate in trained hands or significantly more range?

What led me to this question was, I was speculating today. What if the Union raised a sharpshooter brigade and gave them repeaters? Would this just be the most elite unstoppable force in warfare in 1865?
I doubt there is any such thing as " the most elite unstoppable force in warfare in 1865".
Yes certain regiments might perform better then others but there are many factors that go into that equation.
As far as the question ; is a repeater better then a single shot? Most militaries stayed with single shot rifles until roughly twenty years after the ACW when from roughly 1888 to 1895 major militaries transitioned to bolt action rifles.
Leftyhunter
 
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Carronade

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Sharpshooters specialize in individual, well-aimed shots. Even today, sniper rifles are semi-auto or bolt-action, as opposed to the assault rifles used by most infantry.

The firepower of repeaters was more relevant to units like Wilder's Lightning Brigade or cavalry with Spencers.

With any Civil War weapon, a soldier could shoot off all ammunition he carried in an hour or so of intense fighting.
 

leftyhunter

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los angeles ca
Sharpshooters specialize in individual, well-aimed shots. Even today, sniper rifles are semi-auto or bolt-action, as opposed to the assault rifles used by most infantry.

The firepower of repeaters was more relevant to units like Wilder's Lightning Brigade or cavalry with Spencers.

With any Civil War weapon, a soldier could shoot off all ammunition he carried in an hour or so of intense fighting.
Also @MikeyB a good example of the value of repeaters was the 20 Ind vs the Georgia State Militia. The GSM attacked and the 20th Ind with Spencer's defended. Not a good day for the GSM.
There were a fair amount of international military observers on both sides so definitely the Spencer and Henry rifles were well known to the major armies by 1864. Both rifles were also easily bought on the private market. One source stayed that a Spencer rifle was sold in Louisville KY gun stores for $44.00 which was not inexpensive but still any international military observers could buy one.
No nation seemed eager to adopt or copy either rifle.
Leftyhunter
 
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Harvey Johnson

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The firepower advantage of the repeaters was enormous. Most fighting took place in ranges of 400 yards or less. Both the Spencer and Henry were lethal at such ranges.

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that every soldier who used a repeater was convinced of its overwhelming advantages. Union cavalry Brigadier General James Wilson wrote: “There is no doubt that the Spencer carbine is the best fire-arm yet put into the hands of the soldier. . . . Our best officers estimate one man armed with it [is] equivalent to three with any other arm.”

When Wilson fought against Forrest, the Yankee general had 12,000 Spencer-armed troopers.
 
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Don Dixon

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.. were there any areas with respect to performance that a Springfield or Enfield was superior to a Henry or Spencer. For instance, were they more accurate in trained hands or significantly more range?
The Springfield, Enfield, and Lorenz [with Austrian Army ammunition], were superior to the Henry and Spencer in both range and accuracy. The Henry and Spencer were superior in volume of fire at close range. The .44 Henry [essentially a prototype .44-40 cartridge] is a pistol cartridge equivalent.

What if the Union raised a sharpshooter brigade and gave them repeaters? Would this just be the most elite unstoppable force in warfare in 1865?
They wouldn't have been a sharpshooter brigade, because the Henry and Spencer were not sharpshooter weapons due to their limitations in range and accuracy. The problem was that marksmanship training in both armies was virtually non-existent. IF a commander trained his troops to shoot, it was notable. For example, MG Abner Doubleday complained to BGl Ripley in May 1862 regarding the wastage of ammunition for practice [RG156, E21, B271, #1026, NARA]. Even if your troops had hunted before the war, hunting doesn't train troops to use military weapons at militarily useful distances. That is why lines of troops literally bellied up to each other at 125 yards or less and slugged it out. They didn't know how to shoot, and had never been trained to do anything more than fire their weapons. There is a difference. Under those circumstances, the Henry and Spencer could have been useful given their volume of fire and the short distances at which most fire fights occurred, assuming you had the logistical resources to keep them feed with ammunition. It is questionable that the Federals could, and the Confederates definitely could not not. They never figured out how to draw copper cartridge cases. But, a sharpshooter brigade -- LOL.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 
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They both had their slot in usefulness. Repeaters were what you would want in stopping a larger enemy attack in its tracks. Being able to not only shoot numerous attackers, but the fear factor on the enemies side would disrupt their goal. Also more usable on horseback. At a more luxurious distance with about equal combatants the single shot would be a better weapon. The Henry was .44 caliber and the Spencer was .52 so not much different from the .577 or .58. One other advantage of the repeater was rim fire cartridge which the South was not equipped to manufacture, only capture. Metallic cartridge being a more substantial constructed against paper wrapped cartridges, also in wet situations
 

Harvey Johnson

First Sergeant
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Oct 22, 2014
One other advantage of the repeater was rim fire cartridge which the South was not equipped to manufacture, only capture. Metallic cartridge being a more substantial constructed against paper wrapped cartridges, also in wet situations.
Agreed. Metal cartridges were an important advantage thereby suggesting that criticisms contending that Army ordnance could not adjust (given time) to supply Spencer ammunition are exaggerated. While there's do doubt that Spencer-equipped soldiers exhausted their ammunition at times, as at Olustee, evidence of the weapon's preference among soldiers due to its superior firepower is immense.
 

FedericoFCavada

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Aside from cost and ammunition consumption, <snip>
What if the Union raised a sharpshooter brigade and gave them repeaters? Would this just be the most elite unstoppable force in warfare in 1865?
The Union did. The U.S.S.S. of Hiram Berdan. The soldiers greatly preferred the combustible cartridge breech loading Sharps rifle (hence "sharpshooter") to the initial issue of the Model 1855 Colt revolving rifle. Nonetheless, the discarded Colt revolving rifle offers a single incident, namely the defense of Snodgrass Hill at Chickamauga by the 21st Ohio Infantry with the five shot Colts that perhaps answers your query about ammunition consumption, and what even a clumsy repeater using combustible cartridges was capable of.

From Wikipedia: "

The Confederates made their first assault on the 21st O.V.I. around 11 a.m. They continued to attack throughout the morning and afternoon, but each attack was repulsed by a murderous fire from the regiment's five-shot Colt Revolving Rifles. So heavy was the volume of fire that the Confederates were convinced that they were attacking an entire division, not just a single regiment. At around 3:30 p.m., Lt. Colonel Stoughton, seated on his horse at the rear of the regiment, was fired upon by a rebel sharpshooter. Ignoring the warning, Stoughton dismounted and walked to the front of the line, where another shot rang out and the colonel, struck through the left arm, fell to the ground severely wounded. Command of the 21st O.V.I. passed to Major Arnold McMahan. Stoughton would die on November 19 from an illness that set in during his convalescence.[3]

By late afternoon, the 21st was desperately low on ammunition. Soldiers plundered the cartridge boxes of the dead and wounded in a frantic attempt to procure Colt's ammunition. When this reserve was depleted, a runner was sent to the rear to search the ordnance trains, but quickly discovered that they had left with the rest of the retreating Union army for Chattanooga. At dusk, having exhausted all of their ammunition, the 21st retired to the rear of the ridge, having expended 43,550 rounds of ammunition.

The 21st was ordered to fix bayonets and occupy the extreme right flank. They managed to procure one last round of ammunition for each man. After each firing their round, the men, remaining in their position, were surrounded and quietly captured. Major Arnold McMahan, 120 soldiers and the colors of the 21st O.V.I. were now in the hands of the enemy.

In six hours of fighting, the 21st Ohio, numbering about 540 men, lost 265 killed, wounded or captured. 46 men would eventually be sent to Andersonville prison. Only ten of the prisoners would survive."

Past thread: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/two-battle-reports-of-the-21st-ohio-infantry-at-chickamauga.89881/

NPS Chickamauga: https://www.nps.gov/chch/learn/news/21stohiolivinghistory.htm

Larry Stevens, Ohio in the Civil War: http://www.ohiocivilwar.com/cw21.html

Wikipedia on 21st Ohio Infantry with additional links
 
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James N.

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... The soldiers greatly preferred the combustible cartridge breech loading Sharps rifle (hence "sharpshooter") to the initial issue of the Model 1855 Colt revolving rifle. Nonetheless, the discarded Colt revolving rifle offers a single incident, namely the defense of Snodgrass Hill at Chickamauga by the 21st Ohio Infantry with the five shot Colts that perhaps answers your query about ammunition consumption, and what even a clumsy repeater using combustible cartridges was capable of...
To the Last Round by Keith Rocco
The 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry's stand on Snodgrass Hill at Chickamauga, September 20, 1863.

1579892217479.png
 

Rhea Cole

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The tactical advantage gained by Spencers was significant. It is just possible to load a rifled musket while lying prone, but it isn't easy. Men armed with Spencers could deploy in loose order & fire from cover. After fording a river or landing in boats, it was not at all uncommon for the majority of men to have wet powder. With the Spencer, rain or even an immersion was not a problem. The regulation was for men with rifled muskets to have 40 rounds on their person. The Spencer toting men of Wilder's Lightening Brigade used the nose bags of their horses to carry their ammunition. Each company had a two wheeled ammunition vehicle assigned to it that went forward with the firing line. At no time did they run out of ammunition. In this way, Wilder's men could achieve & maintain fire superiority on opponents three times its size. There was no significant difference between muzzle loading rifles & Spencers.
 

Irishtom29

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Most militaries stayed with single shot rifles until roughly twenty years after the ACW when from roughly 1888 to 1895 major militaries transitioned to bolt action rifles.
Leftyhunter
Yes, they did stick with single shot but they also made the change from muzzle loaders to breech loaders with primed metallic cartridges, far superior to earlier breech loaders that used combustible cartridges and even seperate caps. By 1870 even the Prussian needle gun and the French Chassepott breech loaders were made obsolete by rifles such as the British Snider and American Model 1866 trap door Springfield. Anyway the new breech loaders were less fussy and better shooters than earlier ones. They used full power cartridges and were a sensible transition from muzzleloaders to the smokeless powder magazine rifles of the late 1880s and 1890s and gave good service to the American and British armies in their adventures against native peoples.

During the siege of Plevna in the Russo-Turkish war of the 1870s the Turkish defenders were armed with both a modern breech loader (Remington or Peabody, I forget) and Winchester repeaters. They repelled Russian assaults with long range fire from the breech loaders and a storm of closer range fire from the Winchesters.
 
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Rhea Cole

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Yes, they did stick with single shot but they also made the change from muzzle loaders to breech loaders with primed metallic cartridges, far superior to earlier breech loaders that used combustible cartridges and even seperate caps. By 1870 even the Prussian needle gun and the French Chassepott breech loaders were made obsolete by rifles such as the British Snider and American Model 1866 trap door Springfield. Anyway the new breech loaders were less fussy and better shooters than earlier ones. They used full power cartridges and were a sensible transition from muzzleloaders to the smokeless powder magazine rifles of the late 1880s and 1890s and gave good service to the American and British armies in their adventures against native peoples.

During the siege of Plevna in the Russo-Turkish war of the 1870s the Turkish defenders were armed with both a modern breech loader (Remington or Peabody, I forget) and Winchester repeaters. They repelled Russian assaults with long range fire from the breech loaders and a storm of closer range fire from the Winchesters.
Of course there were two massacres suffered by soldiers armed with breech loaders that jammed after a few rounds. Custer's men were found with the broken blades of their knives scattered around them. The knives were broken in frantic attempts to remove spent rounds jammed in the chamber of their Sharpes. The British in the South African Battle of Isandlwana lost an entire 1,300 man unit to an attack by Zulu warriors when their rifles jammed after as few as ten rounds. All of those men would have been far better off with Spencers that did not jam under battlefield conditions.
 

Irishtom29

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That some of the trooper's Springfield trap door rifles jammed at the Little Big Horn is not denied but how much it happened and the effect on the battle is controversial and not to be taken for granted. Yes, there is evidence of jamming on some cases gleaned from the battlefield but there's no indication of many jams there were as nobody lived to tell about it. And some jammed on Reno Hill but were cleared easily enough and the defense of the hill wasn't threatened by it. Note too the trap door gave fine service at the Wagon Box and Hayfield fights. And when the cartridges were improved with better metal the extraction problem was pretty much fixed.

The British Martini-Henry was quite reliable in South African conditions and the defenders of Rorke's Drift, who fired their rifles so much they became to hot to hold, were well satisfied with the rifles, as 125 men who fired 20,000 rounds fighting off 5000 men might well be. At Isandlwana the British lost because they were poorly placed on the battlefield: the infantry companies were pushed too far out and were unable to support each other. The book "The Washing of the Spears" gave rise to the once popular notion that the Brits were overrun when their ready ammunition supply on the firing line ran out and more ammunition couldn't be run out to the lines because of logistical failures such as an inability to open the wooden cases in which the ammunition was stored. This notion is now not taken for granted and many consider it debunked. And as Pickett might have said: the Zulus had something to do with it.

Finally note that the Martini gave excellent service in subsequent battles of the Zulu War such as Ulundi and Ginginilovu (Sp?).

Martinis were prone to extraction problems in the sandy conditions of the Sudan. This was fixed when the rolled foil cartridge cases were replaced with improved drawn ones.
 
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Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
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That some of the trooper's Springfield trap door rifles jammed at the Little Big Horn is not denied but how much it happened and the effect on the battle is controversial and not to be taken for granted. Yes, there is evidence of jamming on some cases gleaned from the battlefield but there's no indication of many jams there were as nobody lived to tell about it. And some jammed on Reno Hill but were cleared easily enough and the defense of the hill wasn't threatened by it. Note too the trap door gave fine service at the Wagon Box and Hayfield fights. And when the cartridges were improved with better metal the extraction problem was pretty much fixed.

The British Martini-Henry was quite reliable in South African conditions and the defenders of Rorke's Drift, who fired their rifles so much they became to hot to hold, were well satisfied with the rifles, as 125 men who fired 20,000 rounds fighting off 5000 men might well be. At Isandlwana the British lost because they were poorly placed on the battlefield: the infantry companies were pushed too far out and were unable to support each other. The book "The Washing of the Spears" gave rise to the once popular notion that the Brits were overrun when their ready ammunition supply on the firing line ran out and more ammunition couldn't be run out to the lines because of logistical failures such as an inability to open the wooden cases in which the ammunition was stored. This notion is now not taken for granted and many consider it debunked. And as Pickett might have said: the Zulus had something to do with it.

Finally note that the Martini gave excellent service in subsequent battles of the Zulu War such as Ulundi and Ginginilovu (Sp?).

Martinis were prone to extraction problems in the sandy conditions of the Sudan. This was fixed when the rolled foil cartridge cases were replaced with improved drawn ones.
We can go off into the weeds on this. Custer's men had raw hide bandoleers that caused the cartridges to corrode. Gunked up ammo will cause any weapon to jam. Modern firing tests of the Martini rifles demonstrate a marked tendency to jam after only a few rounds. Modern archeology of both the Little Big Horn & Isandwana show that there was a rout where fleeing, defenseless soldiers were rundown. None of it is very simple. The lecture given by the archeologist who did the revolutionary reassessment at Little Big Horn is fascinating. they were able to follow the movements of an individual Lakota warrior via shell casings & spent rounds. He is the one who made the connection between the knives with the points broken off & jammed Spencers. Grim, but very interesting presentation.
 
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Rhea Cole

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Sharpshooters specialize in individual, well-aimed shots. Even today, sniper rifles are semi-auto or bolt-action, as opposed to the assault rifles used by most infantry.

The firepower of repeaters was more relevant to units like Wilder's Lightning Brigade or cavalry with Spencers.

With any Civil War weapon, a soldier could shoot off all ammunition he carried in an hour or so of intense fighting.
At Franklin infantry armed with Henry rifles annihilated the Missouri regiments who attacked their part of the line. It was troops armed with repeaters who fought the famous jumping from one side of the works to the other repulse of Hood at Atlanta. I don't know what was happening back east, but there were plenty of repeaters in the hands of infantrymen in the Western Theater.
 

Irishtom29

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We can go off into the weeds on this.
Indeed, which I think would be be more fun than talking about what rock is what at Gettysburg.

I used to have the reports of the Little Big Horn investigations made after the fire, interesting stuff. Visiting the battlefield and seeing the markers where the troopers fell it seems evident some companies were routed and others held together better. Ranald Mackenzie and his 4th Cavalry just came to mind, quite a contrast; I was a Palo Duro Canyon last year...oh, I shouldn't get started.

Regards
 
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