Discussion Repeaters Versus Muzzleloaders

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CowCavalry

Corporal
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
I should perhaps make something clear, perhaps for the first time if I haven't stated it properly yet.


The argument has never been that repeaters are a downgrade or even a sidegrade compared to the weapons used by the Union army in the Civil War.

The argument is:

- Repeaters have disadvantages as well as advantages.
- There is no feasible way to get enough repeaters to equip the Union Army (or even one army thereof; you could probably equip a corps but that's about it) even by the end of the war.
- If you compare a repeater to a rifle musket used by someone properly trained in how to use it, then which weapon is superior depends on the engagement range.
- If you wanted to upgrade the Union Army's fighting capabilities enormously, it would be cheaper and much more possible to train them to properly use the weapons they already had.


Of course, if you were able to both rifle train the army and equip them all with repeaters, it would be better than doing either by itself (at least at defeating the Confederate army).
All good points and I would add that the logistical problems of the additional ammunition required to realize the potential of repeating arms would not have been overcome during the war. Without proper training, it is imaginable to have soldiers fire all the ammunition in their packs quickly and then be out of service for the rest of a battle.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I would add that the logistical problems of the additional ammunition required to realize the potential of repeating arms would not have been overcome during the war. Without proper training, it is imaginable to have soldiers fire all the ammunition in their packs quickly and then be out of service for the rest of a battle.
Well, we know this because it absolutely did happen in 1870-1 (and that was with the Dresye, which isn't even a repeater).

Per someone talking about the Franco-Prussian War:

...The infantryman of 1861 carried 60 rounds (70 for riflemen), which would give him twenty minutes of firing and loading as quickly as he could. The infantryman of [1870], who also carried 70 rounds, could blow through that in a little under six minutes. Indeed, because so many more units relied on open rather than close order, there wasn't much to stop your infantry going to ground, blowing through the contents of their ammunition pouches aimlessly, and then pulling back. The Bavarians in 1870 were notorious for this: one of their officers wrote "Our troops have no fire discipline. The men commence firing and transition immediately to Schnellfeuer, ignoring all orders and signals until the last cartridge is out the barrel." A Prussian wrote that they "feel they have done their duty simply by firing off all their ammunition, at which point they look over their shoulders expecting to be relieved." Prussian analysts after the war discovered that Bavarian infantry needed to be resupplied with ammunition at least once in every battle with the French- a dangerous process for the men required to drag crates of ammunition to the front line, given the flatter trajectories of bullets and the longer ranges of artillery...
 
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Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
This doesn't wash. You've repeatedly made claims without backing them up; the least you could do when challenged is either point someone in the direction of a reference or back off from the claim.

Your claim suggests that it was more likely for someone to have teeth inside a wound than a bullet, despite bullets being the thing they were having shot at them.
When military surgeons operate, they make notes. Obviously, this is not during a triage or other emergency aide situation. Those surgical notes are archived & reports are made based on the collected findings. I don't, as you keep saying, claim anything. I just report what has been documented. I happen to be thinking about doing a post on explosive bullets, so have an example of a surgeon's report at hand:
.
"September 1, 1862 patient with a wound of the right thigh, inflicted by an explosive ball, which entered the right thigh, which entered the internal femoral region, centered of the middle third, fracturing & commenting the femur...." etc, it is very detailed.

During the age of black powder warfare, men stood shoulder to shoulder, several ranks deep. Large caliber lead projectiles & artillery rounds sent a spray of objects into surrounding individuals. The objects removed from wounds, as a result, included cloth & decorative metallic uniform items, splinters of bone & teeth from men who were not struck by the projectile at all. Rounds that passed through and through carried leather, bits of cloth & all manner of debris into wounds inflicted on men in the following rank. The nature of the slow large ball striking a man in uniform meant that, more often than not, pieces of uniforms, under garments, & equipment were carried into the wound. One ball & lots of other items were routinely removed from wounds. The medical reports are full of that kind of grim detail. If you give it some thought, the relatively large number of objects other than bullets removed from wounds makes perfect sense. I don't see the need to dig into my bookshelf to prove that.

I can't imagine anybody would have those books in any case. I got those exceedingly grim medical books filled with perfectly awful photos & illustrations when doing research on the Sanitary Commission here in Middle Tennessee. Dr. A.N. Read, Sanitary Commission is one of the living history characters I do.

I will, however, share a remarkable reference I found online this morning. I don't know how many times someone has brought up the question, "Were arrows more effective than smoothbore muskets?" The Journal of the American Revolution, May 16 2013 'Battle Wounds: Never Pull an Arrow Out of a Body' is about the work of a Dr. Joseph Howland Bill's. His "Notes on Arrow Wounds" is considered to be the definitive work on arrow wounds.

It is quite a read, perhaps the most surprising part is Dr. Bill's demonstration that arrows inflict wounds "with a fatality greater than that produced by any other weapons". He was an army doctor serving in the West when the war started & transferred east in 1862 where he served in the Civil War, so he had something to compare arrow & bullet wounds with.
 
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Saphroneth

Captain
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Feb 18, 2017
When military surgeons operate, they make notes. Obviously, this is not during a triage or other emergency aide situation. Those surgical notes are archived & reports are made based on the collected findings. I don't, as you keep saying, claim anything. I just report what has been documented. I happen to be thinking about doing a post on explosive bullets, so have an example of a surgeon's report at hand:
.
"September 1, 1862 patient with a wound of the right thigh, inflicted by an explosive ball, which entered the right thigh, which entered the internal femoral region, centered of the middle third, fracturing & commenting the femur...." etc, it is very detailed.
Okay, sure. And what you said was that the most common thing removed from wounds was teeth/bone fragments.

You can't just show an anecdote that sometimes this happened. I've shown you an anecdote that sometimes the Spencer jammed so thoroughly it had to be completely disassembled to fix it, but I haven't gone from there to assert that this was the most common thing to happen to the Spencer.

The medical reports are full of that kind of grim detail. If you give it some thought, the relatively large number of objects other than bullets removed from wounds makes perfect sense. I don't see the need to dig into my bookshelf to prove that.
I'm sure you don't see the need. But the fact remains that if you claim that teeth/bone fragments were the most common thing, you should provide a citation to the effect that they were the most common thing - not just that it sometimes happened.

Of course, I would be quite willing to accept it if shown - certainly a bullet that broke bone might mean the wound would need a few pieces of bone extracted as well as the singular bullet. But you have a very bad habit of asserting numerical statements ("most common") and providing anecdotal evidence ("it happened once").
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I don't know how many times someone has brought up the question, "Were arrows more effective than smoothbore muskets?"
The answer is no, they were not. A way we can determine this is looking at how those who had access to highly skilled archers reacted in Japan in the 1500s when muskets arrived, which is that they adopted them en masse and replaced most of their archers with them.
 

rob63

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 13, 2012
Location
Indiana
No one has questioned the advantages of repeating arms using self contained metallic cartridges here in so much as I can tell. What they are disputing is the inferred claim that if the US armed forces would have dumped the head of the ordnance dept, James Ripley and had a more progressive officer placed there, the US soldier would have somehow been armed with state of the art shoulder arms and the war shortened by some years. Others in this thread have pointed to the realities of the situation and have made a good case why this wasn't going to happen (couldn't happen) during the war.
I would like to expand on this thought from a different angle; the realities of manufacturing a new, previously untried, weapon system. I also hope to expose the myth about Ripley being the problem.

Christopher Spencer may have obtained his patents in 1860, but he did not have a factory to produce his weapon in, nor did he even have a working model, let alone a production ready weapon. It was not until May of 1861 that he finally had a working model.

He did have connections though, through his employer, who was a neighbor of the Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, and got approval for a Navy test that took place in June. The Navy order was approved the same month. They then sought an order from the Army. This resulted in Captain Dyer of the Ordnance Department performing tests in August. His recommendation led to General McClellan ordering a Board of Examination to test the rifle in November of 1861. It is perfectly normal that the Army wanted to have a trial period for a completely new weapon system, the future success of breech-loading weapons is only obvious in hindsight. The Army's actual experience up to that time with breech-loaders, such as Hall's, were all failures.

One month after the conclusion of these tests Spencer's representative wrote to the Secretary of War proposing to manufacture 10,000 rifles. Ripley issued the contract the very same day that he received the proposal. Ripley may not have been an enthusiastic supporter, but he hardly dragged his feet on issuing a contract. Once Spencer had his contract it took him over a year before he finally delivered his first rifle on the last day of 1862.

That delay has nothing to do with Ripley whatsoever. It was the natural result of attempting to mass produce something that had previously only existed in a working model form, Spencer spent more months working out the kinks with his weapon before he had something that could actually be produced. There was also time spent purchasing the necessary machinery, making the needed tooling, and obtaining materials. All of this at a time when demands for labor and materials were already stretched to the breaking point.

To put the difficulties in perspective, from June of 1861 to June of 1862, the total production of all rifle muskets in the US, by all of the manufacturer's combined, was only 15,000 rifle muskets. That's for a weapon that was already in production before the war started.

The Ordnance Department eventually asked Spencer to switch production from rifles to carbines because they would use less metal and would be quicker to produce, issuing a contract for carbines in July, 1863. Spencer did not deliver the first carbine until Nov. 1863. I think it worth noting that simply changing from rifle production to carbine production took 4 months to complete. Starting from scratch was a much greater problem, it is no wonder it took so long to begin deliveries.

Ordnance records show that in the fall of 1864 the Union cavalry possessed a grand total of 9,847 Spencer carbines. That is a year after the contracts for carbines had first been let. Equipping an army is not a simple matter.

Ripley is not the reason the Spencer was slow to be delivered. It simply suffered all of the problems associated with developing and producing a new weapon during a time of war, problems that Ripley correctly foresaw. Ripley was apparently pretty bull-headed and very difficult to work with, but the notion that he delayed the introduction of the Spencer is simply a myth perpetuated by authors that repeat what is in previously flawed works.
 
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Saphroneth

Captain
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Feb 18, 2017
He did have connections though, through his employer, who was a neighbor of the Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, and got approval for a Navy test that took place in June. The Navy order was approved the same month. They then sought an order from the Army. This resulted in Captain Dyer of the Ordnance Department performing tests in August. His recommendation led to General McClellan ordering a Board of Examination to test the rifle in November of 1861. It is perfectly normal that the Army wanted to have a trial period for a completely new weapon system, the future success of breech-loading weapons is only obvious in hindsight. The Army's actual experience up to that time with breech-loaders, such as Hall's, were all failures.

One month after the conclusion of these tests Spencer's representative wrote to the Secretary of War proposing to manufacture 10,000 rifles. Ripley issued the contract the very same day that he received the proposal. Ripley may not have been an enthusiastic supporter, but he hardly dragged his feet on issuing a contract. Once Spencer had his contract it took him over a year before he finally delivered his first rifle on the last day of 1862.
Do you know if we have the results of those tests? It could be interesting to see if they look into stoppage rate etc.
 

wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Good thread. Its worth noting, that repeating weapons, like US mortar scows, and Confederate ironclads, have an impact beyond numbers. Especially in the western theater, the Confederate soldiers became aware that some US regiments had breach loaders and repeaters, using enclosed cartridges. That produced an asymmetry that the soldiers could not correct, even if they captured the rifles.
How willing was the Confederate army willing to fight at Chattanooga, after the big killing at Chickamauga? There were US units with repeating rifles, known or suspected, and Confederate units armed with shotguns and whatever else could be found.
 

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
The answer is no, they were not. A way we can determine this is looking at how those who had access to highly skilled archers reacted in Japan in the 1500s when muskets arrived, which is that they adopted them en masse and replaced most of their archers with them.
I strongly disagree... and at the same time I fully agree with your statement.

On a civil war battlefield I would rather have a unit of 500 longbow men, than a unit of 1000men with enfields.
The longbow men would be massively more effective in their ability to shoot an enemy to pieces in an open field.

The problem is that training a man to use a musket to civil war levels, can be done in a few hours.
Training a longbowman take years.

The issue with ammo is worse than with a breechloaeder. With a rate of fire of about 12 arrows a minute, a longbow man goes true arrow very fast.
But he can carry fewer arrows (usually 12 or 24) than the 60+ cartridges a civil war soldier carried, Arrows take up a lot more space than cartridges, they take more time to make, is reliant on animal parts and so on.

Even if trained longbow men had existed in even limited numbers, it would have been a challenge to transport arrows in the numbers needed.

So the moment you look at the question in its entirety training time, suppl and all that, the musket is by fare the superior weapons.

And this was also the case with early firearms. (15th - early 17th century)

My Bachelor thesis in medieval archaeology was about this specific topic. Sir John Keegan claimed that they where just smoke and a bang and more dangerous to the user than the enemy.
He might have been knighted for his work on military history, but in this case he was simply wrong.
 
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Saphroneth

Captain
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Feb 18, 2017
On a civil war battlefield I would rather have a unit of 500 longbow men, than a unit of 1000men with enfields.
The longbow men would be massively more effective in their ability to shoot an enemy to pieces in an open field.
So the moment you look at the question in its entirety training time, suppl and all that, the musket is by fare the superior weapons.

And this was also the case with early firearms. (15th - early 17th century)
There's actually also an issue of accuracy, damage and firing distance; certainly you can have an arrow fly further than a bullet can hit a man sized target, but we should compare the range at which one can fire accurately to hit a target and do damage with the range at which one can fire accurately to hit a target and do damage.
Or we should compare the effective range of "area fire" with the effective range of "area fire".
(Note that someone hit at any given range with an arrow is actually considerably more likely to survive than someone hit at that range with a musket ball.)

Certainly just about every bow culture that ever encountered guns switched over to them, and it wasn't just an issue of "these are easier to train with". Napoleonic soldiers treated archers with absolute contempt, recording how composite bow arrows barely had the strength to penetrate woolen uniforms, and one Elizabethan soldier claimed to have seen hundreds of men killed with bullets and not one by a longbow. They also cited the superior range and lethality of the musket, as well as its superior general utility (can be fired from behind cover, prone, etc). Frederick the Great remarked that it took two full years to make an infantryman, who trained in far more varieties of tactical evolutions than any previous armies, and soldiers in the Early Modern period often served for life; training was not the issue.


Consider what actually happened at Agincourt. The French knights advanced hundreds of yards over a muddy field, and when they got close the longbowmen actually downed their bows and began getting involved with knives and hand tools instead of continuing to shoot. This means there are two options:
1) They'd expended all their ammunition without deciding the battle.
2) They hadn't, but decided they'd be more effective with knives than with bows at close range.



Against an unarmoured enemy at close range, longbows could be devastating. But at the same range a musket volley by soldiers with much less training than the longbowmen needed would also be devastating, more so in fact, and it's simply not fair to compare longbowmen with years of training with muskets used by men who don't know how to use them. Compare longbows used by experts with muskets used by equivalently skilled men, or longbows used by amateurs with muskets by amateurs, and the musket wins every time.
 
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Saphroneth

Captain
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Feb 18, 2017
Narrative of the Voyages and Services of the Nemesis from 1840 to 1843 :

"On this occasion one of the Chinese officers, with cool determination and a steady aim, deliberately discharged four arrows from his bow at Captain Hall, fortunately without effect. Had they been musket-balls, however, he could scarcely have escaped. A marine instantly raised his musket at the less fortunate Chinese officer : the aim was unerring, and he fell. An attempt was first made to save him for his coolness and courage ; but in the heat of an engagement it is impossible to control every man, nor is it probable that the officer would have allowed himself to be taken prisoner."

Qi Jiguang, 1560 (17 years after the arrival of the matchlock to SE Asia)

“It is unlike any other of the many types of fire weapons. In strength it can pierce armor. In accuracy it can strike the center of targets, even to the point of hitting the eye of a coin [i.e., shooting right through a coin], and not just for exceptional shooters…. the arquebus is such a powerful weapon and is so accurate that even bow and arrow cannot match it, and … nothing is so strong as to be able to defend against it.”


Yu Song-Nyong, Korean official in the Imjin War:

"In the 1592 invasion, everything was swept away. Within a fortnight or a month the cities and fortresses were lost, and everything in the eight directions had crumbled. Although it was [partly] due to there having been a century of peace and the people not being familiar with warfare that this happened, it was really because the Japanese had the use of muskets that could reach beyond several hundred paces, that always pierced what they struck, that came like the wind and the hail, and with which bows and arrows could not compare."

"Today, the Japanese exclusively use muskets to attack fortifications. They can reach [the target] from several hundred paces away. Our country’s bows and arrows cannot reach them. At any flat spot outside the walls, the Japanese will build earthen mounds and “flying towers.” They look down into the fortifications and fire their bullets so that the people inside the fortifications cannot conceal themselves. In the end the fortifications are taken. One cannot blame [the defenders] for their situation."

"After a short while a number of enemy soldiers suddenly emerged and started attacking us with ten or more muskets. The ones hit by the bullets were killed instantly. Yi immediately ordered the archers to counterattack using their bows, but their arrows fell far short of their target."
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2010
Location
Arlington, Virginia
Gettysburg is an interesting case. We have the resupply requests, and a few statements from ordnance officers are in the OR, and we know that this is roughly what was expended:

800,000 .57 rifle-musket cartridges (for Springfield and Enfield rifles*)
100,000 .69 rifle-musket cartridges (for M1842 converted to rifles)
200,000 .54 rifle-musket cartridges (for Lorenz rifles)
200,000 .69 musket cartridges
30,000 Sharp's cartridges (of these, Berdan's sharpshooters recorded they expended 14,400 rounds, and so the remainder is likely the cavalry)

= 1.33m infantry and cavalry weapon cartridges

The artillery expended 32,781 rounds (this includes a significant number of unfired rounds lost in caisson explosions etc.). The rebels had 24,200 casualties by the latest research by Busey and Busey, of which 4,890 were unwounded captured, leaving 19,310 men who were hit (including be melee weapons, a very small percentage which we'll ignore).

If all casualties were by small arms, then the effectiveness would be 70 rounds per casualty.

Of the hit, 3,446 were "killed", and the remaining 15,864 were various degrees of wounded (2,004 classed as mortal). Thus ca. 18% of these hit were killed outright, as you'd expect from artillery hits by solid shot. Of the corps which broke down by ammunition nature, only 11.6% of expenditure was solid shot. These are corps account for roughly half the expenditure, and was only about 3,800 solid shot were expended. The ratios indicate a lot of the artillery casualties must have been from shrapnel

Comparing to Inkerman, the Federals expended ca. 15 times the artillery ammunition and ca. 6 times the small arms ammunition for less than twice the number of hits.

Now, had either side been well trained in rifle shooting, it would likely have been decisive.
One problem with relying on resupply requests to determine rounds fired -- and I think this applies whether the battle is Gettysburg or Inkerman -- is that ammunition resupply will only be requested for men still in the ranks, and then only for their specific needs.

In a battle where thirty or forty percent of the men have been killed, wounded, or missing -- and those of course including the most heavily engaged -- the actual expenditure will be far higher than the amount needed to fill the boxes of the remaining men, many of whom may not have been engaged at all.

The Texan resupply request after the Alamo, for example, was zero. Nonetheless, there were rumored to have been bullet wounds among some of the Mexicans.

A few other comments before I take another breather from this discussion.

The idea of any medical department meticulously retrieving and counting all the projectiles of individual types that inflicted wounds, mortal or otherwise, from every corpse, walking wounded, or ambulance case after a major battle is ridiculous on the face of it. And as Rhea Cole pointed out, any list that purports to while omitting bone fragments underscores the point.

The question of the efficacy of a longbow relative to firearms was settled more than 500 years ago by the men actually using them.

Delbruck's "The Dawn of Modern Warfare" has a nice excursus on the rate of fire in the 18th century, at the end of which he noted that the actual rate of fire with the rifle musket -- with live rounds -- was about one and a half shots a minute and with the Dreyse about five in a well trained unit, with a sergeant who had managed seven in a minute on the range being regarded with amazement.

The count of 350+ Zulus buried after Rorkes Drift is the sum total of known Zulu casualties. Since the number buried included the wounded murdered there, the "500 wounded" on top of the 350 was and remains speculation -- unless of course you want to show the British hospital reports indicating how many of the 500 had bullet vs bayonet wounds and how many survived long term to collect pensions. Still, it's interesting that all the additional hits based on the speculation still ends up with a shot to hit ratio only slightly superior to Inkerman. And that's with breechloaders against men forced to come close enough to use assegais.

That just reinforces the sense that both sets of calculations are based on fantasy.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The count of 350+ Zulus buried after Rorkes Drift is the sum total of known Zulu casualties. Since the number buried included the wounded murdered there, the "500 wounded" on top of the 350 was and remains speculation -- unless of course you want to show the British hospital reports indicating how many of the 500 had bullet vs bayonet wounds and how many survived long term to collect pensions.
Except that the number of 500 wounded comes from Ltc. Crealock's journal, where he states "351 dead were found and 500 wounded". It's not a number pulled out of thin air, it's a primary source - unless that is you want to assume that he double counted several hundred people.

One problem with relying on resupply requests to determine rounds fired -- and I think this applies whether the battle is Gettysburg or Inkerman -- is that ammunition resupply will only be requested for men still in the ranks, and then only for their specific needs.

In a battle where thirty or forty percent of the men have been killed, wounded, or missing -- and those of course including the most heavily engaged -- the actual expenditure will be far higher than the amount needed to fill the boxes of the remaining men, many of whom may not have been engaged at all.
In the case of Inkerman, if we assume every single dead British soldier on the field (600) represented a box of fully expended but un-replaced ammunition then the effect that has on the ammunition consumption numbers is on the order of 42,000. Including this pushes the number of shots fired per rifle-musket hit up from ~1 in 16 to ~1 in 20, or similar adjustment.

In the case of Gettysburg, if we assume every single dead Union soldier on the field (~3,155) represented a box of fully expended but un-replaced ammunition then the effect this has on the ammunition consumption numbers is on the order of 220,000. Including this pushes the number of shots fired per hit up by about 10 to 15, or similar adjustment.

While the numbers generated are certainly approximate, it doesn't change that the two battles are noticeably different.


The idea of any medical department meticulously retrieving and counting all the projectiles of individual types that inflicted wounds, mortal or otherwise, from every corpse, walking wounded, or ambulance case after a major battle is ridiculous on the face of it.
Really? I mean, the Army of the Potomac tabulated the nature of every single casualty they suffered; for the Russians at Inkerman, if you've actually extracted a bullet from a wound it's relatively simple to record "round ball" or "minie ball" (or "shrapnel ball"), and since extracting bullets was part of the process of treatment it's something they'd be doing anyway so noting it down is just a matter of organization.

Of course, if that's not what happened it does rather raise the question as to why the Russians would notate X number of minie ball injuries; it's certainly possible all that information is fabricated, but there's no clear motive as to why they'd claim artillery casualties as minie casualties.
 
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wausaubob

Major
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Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
And from Hoover's Gap on, veteran Confederate infantrymen began to shy away from advancing on US positions suspected of having repeating weapons. They did it, but at a terrific cost in lives and moral.
The entire Confederate army of Tennessee became strangely passive after Chickamauga. After facing units that had repeating weapons, they gave up their positions along the Tennessee River, on Lookout Mountain, on Orchard Knob and then the forward trenches, without much of a fight.
Reluctance to engage in a big killing, shortage of percussion caps, or reluctance to get killed in what was shaping up as the possible last battle of the war, anyone would be an adequate explanation for not wanting to face the firepower of US soldiers.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Indeed, the AoP at Gettysburg were so low on ammo, as the ammo trains mostly weren't there, that captured rebel ammo was issued. See the report of the 1st Corps ordnance officer.
 
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