Tell me more! Shoot low

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ucvrelics

Major
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Alabama
One thing you have to remember is that most yankees (hope I don't get a time out for that) had never fired a weapon before. If you aimed low you would not fire over their heads. A bullet hitting the dirt in from of an enemy had way more effect then going over their head. When the musket went off it had a kick as you know, so officer would always tell the raw troops aim low.

If its OK with the moderators I will tell a modern day story???? My first day at the Fort Dix (1982) M16 range I was told Fire Center Mass. That always stuck with me. Years later as an M60 tank instructor, I had a tank crew on table 6 that kept firing low and the dirt hit would jump up and knock the target down. When I ask the tank commander about the hits scored and said you didn't hit the target he replied. "Yea but we scared the Sh!$ of of him"
 

Ara Oko

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Sep 28, 2019
Yeah, put simply, most soldiers fresh to war shoot high. The learning curve is pretty high.
When Americans stormed ashore in Normandy, their troops also shot high until they realised the nazis were seriously trying to kill them, and were pretty good at it.
The Americans soon turned it around.
Its a phenomenon that seems fairly common in green troops whatever age or country they come from.
Telling to shoot low would mean that the natural inclination to shoot high should be compensated for and thereby be more effective.
I did say it was simple.. Sorry.
 
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John Winn

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State of Jefferson
Rifled musket rounds have a curved trajectory. At 100 yards, for instance, if one aimed at the belt buckle the ball would pass over the head of the targeted man. Add to this a lot of smoke and the tendency was to shoot too high. There's also problems if shooting up or down hill but that's a somewhat different beast. So, it made sense to advise to shoot low so as to try and avoid missing altogether. A hit in the leg is better than no hit.
 

ucvrelics

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When Americans stormed ashore in Normandy, their troops also shot high until they figured out the germans were seriously trying to kill them, and were pretty good at it.
The Americans soon turned it around.
When Americans stormed ashore in Normandy
You are spot on with this, but you need to be careful quoting modern day issues ( the wjc pc police) and the N word is a No No. Please do not use the Germany N word but I guess wjc doesn't monitor these threads.
 
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Ara Oko

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You are spot on with this, but you need to be careful quoting modern day issues ( the wjc pc police) and the N word is a No No. Please do not use the Germany N word but I guess wjc doesn't monitor these threads.
I see. I'm still a relative neophite really, thanx for the heads-up.
 

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
The trajectory of the minnie ball had a singular parabolic arc. The rings of the bullet damped any wobble, but gave it a drag coefficient that resulted in a relatively steep drop at the end of its flight. As a result, its trajectory was a looping parabolic arc rather than steady decline you would expect. Spencer Sober of the 105th Ohio wrote home about target practice after the Battle of Perryville. A piece of paper was tacked to a big tree & the men took turns shooting at it. ( I will dig out the distance) The result was a large chunk of bark knocked off the tree trunk above the target & only a small number of hits in the paper.

minnie ball trajectory.jpeg

Chart: 67thtigers.blogspot.com/2010/ballistics.html.

www.whitemuzzeloading.com/long range muzzleloading.htm Is an excellent source for an expert description of this phenomena.

"To hit a target at 225 yards, a soldier had to set his sights at 300 yards & aim below the feet of the target. Line officers, both Confederate & Union, dealt with the difficulty of hitting a target two hundred yards away in a straight forward way. They didn't try. They ordered their men to set their sights for 100 yards & only shoot at 150 yards or less."
Doc White

In time, veteran soldiers mastered their weapon & were able engage at longer distances. However, the parabolic trajectory of the relatively slow bullet was still a challenge to even the most experienced veteran.
 
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nc native

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NC Piedmont
The trajectory of the minnie ball had a singular parabolic arc. The rings of the bullet damped any wobble, but gave it a drag coefficient that resulted in a relatively steep drop at the end of its flight. As a result, its trajectory was a looping parabolic arc rather than steady decline you would expect. Spencer Sober of the 105th Ohio wrote home about target practice after the Battle of Perryville. A piece of paper was tacked to a big tree & the men took turns shooting at it. ( I will dig out the distance) The result was a large chunk of bark knocked off the tree trunk above the target & only a small number of hits in the paper.

View attachment 346017
Chart: 67thtigers.blogspot.com/2010/ballistics.html.

www.whitemuzzeloading.com/long range muzzleloading.htm Is an excellent source for an expert description of this phenomena.

"To hit a target at 225 yards, a soldier had to set his sights at 300 yards & aim below the feet of the target. Line officers, both Confederate & Union, dealt with the difficulty of hitting a target two hundred yards away in a straight forward way. They didn't try. They ordered their men to set their sights for 100 yards & only shoot at 150 yards or less."
Doc White

In time, veteran soldiers mastered their weapon & were able engage at longer distances. However, the parabolic trajectory of the relatively slow bullet was still a challenge to even the most experienced veteran.
That ballistics chart tells the story very well why so many commanders told their men to fire low. With the heavy bullets that were in use during the Civil War, shots traveled an arching trajectory thus it was hard to use your sights on the point where you wanted your shot to hit, especially at longer distances. I remember reading that at even close distances of 100 yards or less, men were often told to aim at the belt buckles of the men that they were shooting at.
 
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Rhea Cole

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I spoke with a good friend who is a small arms expert. He has a deep hands on knowledge of Civil War rifled muskets & all their idiocratic wonders. He says that the parabolic trajectory of a minnie ball is like that of a football thrown by a quarterback. However, in the case of the minnie ball, the quarterback has to aim a few yards short of the feet of his target to have it pass five feet above that spot to land on the receiver's numbers. Not a very intuitive thing to accomplish. The other similar characteristic is that in both cases, men near the shooter & the Q.B. both have the ball sail harmlessly over their heads.

Hood's repeated assertion that the safest place to be was close to the enemy line was, in that sense correct. Like so many of Hood's beliefs, it applied to the relatively green soldiers of 61-62 & was suicidal against veterans in 1864.
 

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
It is useful to consider that a man-sized target at 150 yards is about the size of this letter 'i'. What the infantry officers were trying to create was a beaten zone through which the enemy would have to pass, not pick off individuals in the ranks.
Thanks everyone. While we are on it, is it true that veteran troops in a defense line would have the best shots do all the shooting and the rest do the loading?
There are many incidences where defenders worked in teams to maintain a high rate of fire. It only seems logical that the best shots would be favored, but with the military who knows?
 
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Carronade

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Thanks everyone. While we are on it, is it true that veteran troops in a defense line would have the best shots do all the shooting and the rest do the loading?
I think that happened mainly in trenches or fortifications, particularly if there was a firing step. Rather than have everyone stepping up to fire and back to reload, it was easier to pass the weapons.

Passing weapons back and forth also suggests that they weren't paying much attention to details like sight setting, more concerned with keeping up a good volume of fire.
 

Dave Hull

Sergeant Major
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Jul 28, 2011
Location
Northern Virginia
Another reason for misses, folks are generally horrible at estimating distances, especially if the terrain is relatively flat. Point of aim with a rifled musket is considerably off from point of aim at 100-125 yards. Anything out past 150 yards, 8 out of 10 could not tell what distance the target is from the barrel. Throw in a little smoke, the odd whizzing of rounds passing overhead and dodging bowling balls bouncing toward troops in the open, chances of missing the target go up exponentially. Better to aim low and hope for a good bounce.

Troops did not practice rifle marksmanship like the modern military. Like everything, marksmanship can be taught and with time and keen eye sight can become mastered. But even with the emphasis on training (dating myself here with the qualifier of open sight site shooting,) it was not unusual to see regular Soldiers and Marines struggle qualifying with their weapons, anywhere above Marksman (the lowest qualification bracket.)
 

Don Dixon

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Fairfax, VA, USA
In August 1857, Captain Henry Heth, USA, was assigned to a board convened to test breech loading rifles. At the conclusion of the tests, Heth was retained on detached duty to design a course in small arms marksmanship for the Army. Heth's resulting system of target practice, which was largely based upon French military marksmanship theory and manuals, was adopted for Army use on 1 March 1858. The new manual was based on the theory that most U.S. soldiers were not experienced riflemen, and that few were even familiar with arms. The soldiers were first to be taught the nomenclature, disassembly, and reassembly of their weapons, so that they would become comfortable with their arms. Next, they completed an intensive series of aiming drills with their weapons, conducted both indoors and outdoors. As the soldiers mastered these concepts, they moved on to simulated firing using only percussion caps. This exercise involved snuffing out a lighted candle placed three feet from the muzzle of their weapon. If the soldier properly sighted the rifle and exercised proper trigger control and follow through, the muzzle blast from the percussion cap would extinguish the candle flame. One of the objectives of Heth's marksmanship training system was to train the soldier to take up a firing position in which he could support the recoil of the piece when it was fired, and to accustom him to recoil when his rifle was fired. As the soldiers mastered these steps, they moved outdoors to practice range estimation. Due to the curved trajectory of the Minie ball, range estimation was absolutely critical. Once one moved beyond point blank range, relatively small errors in range estimation resulted in shots below or above the target. The Federal Army's 1862 Manual of Target Practice - essentially Heth's manual with his name removed - stressed the absolute necessity of training soldiers in range estimation and devoted 10 pages to instructing officers on how to do it. As U.S. Army soldiers moved on to live firing, they were to fire at distances from 150 to 1,000 yards at the following targets, which were divided by horizontal and vertical black lines crossing at the center:

Distance in YardsHeight of Target in FeetWidth of Target in Inches
150 and 225622
225 and 300644
325, 350, and 400666
450 and 500688
550 and 6006110
7006132
8006176
9006220
1,0006264

The six-foot height of the target required that the soldier understand the importance of range estimation and be able to accurately estimate range. Regarding the widths of the targets, the expectation was that a trained soldier should be able to hit an individual enemy soldier at ranges to 300 yards, the area occupied by an artillery piece and crew at 600 yards, and the area occupied by an artillery section of two guns at 1,000 yards.

At approximately 100 yards. With the rifle musket held level and the top of the front sight held even with the top of the sighting notch of the rear sight, your shot will be over the top of the enemy's head at about 125 yards with most of the Civil War rifle muskets. That is why one reads frequent accounts of troops in the woods being showered with leaves and branches during fire fights. The shots then come back down into a second danger space at about 250 yards. Additionally, troops - particularly untrained ones - have a natural tendency to shoot high.

What was necessary for the troops to be effective was that they be trained in the hold offs required by the sights on the Springfield rifle musket or Muster 1854 System Lorenz rifle. The Enfield had more effective sights if snuffy was ever trained how to use them. With the Muster 1854, the Austro-Hungarian Army wrote a very effective training manual, but the Federal and Confederate ordnance departments never bothered to translate it from German to English. So, training on the more than 250,000 Muster 1854s the Federals bought and the 100,000 the Confederates bought would have been through trial and error on a rifle range until they figured out the hold offs. Opps. The troops rarely, if ever, got range time. No wonder they thought the Austrian arms were inaccurate.

In Heth's system, there were three classes of marksmen, based upon firing four rounds each at 150, 225, 250, 300, 325, 350, and 400 yards. The soldiers with the highest number of hits were to be drilled at distances beyond 400 yards and afforded an opportunity to advance in class. No individual marksmanship qualification badges, decorations, or pay bonuses were authorized in the system, but officers were encouraged to post their men's scores and to encourage a spirit of competition between the men. The Army had no marksmansip qualification standard for anyone until 6 October 1862. On that date, the Army issued General Order (G.O.) 149, which stated that "No person shall be mustered into the service of the United States as a member of the Corps of Sharpshooters, unless he shall produce a certificate of some person, duly authorized by the Governor of the State in which the company is raised, that he has in five consecutive shots, at two hundred yards at rest, made a string [measure] not over twenty-five inches; or the same string off-hand at one hundred yards; the certificate to be written on the target used as the test."

That was the theory. In actual practice, marksmanship instruction and firing on anything resembling a target range in both the Federal and Confederate armies was non-existent in training camps because the soldiers weren't issued weapons until they were mustered into Federal or Confederate service, and virtually non-existent when units deployed. Billy and Johnny didn't know how to shot. And, shooting hunting firearms at small game at hunting distances does not, did not, teach people how to shoot military firearms at militarily useful distances.

There was a group of marksmanship theorists, whom I think of as the "rifle partisans" in the U.S. and foreign armies. In addition to Heth, First Lieutenant Cadimus Wilcox was one of the rifle partisans - American and European - who believed that rifled arms would utterly revolutionize warfare. They believed that with the increased range and accuracy of rifled arms in the hands of properly trained troops, the enemy would simply be unable to close with you. Wilcox wrote:

"Without entering into a detailed enumeration of the changes that the improved rifle will produce in tactics, a brief statement will be made as to its probable effect.
"Fields of battle will be more extended than formerly; there will be more difficulty in estimating the variety and number of the adversary; more difficulty in properly placing troops on the field, and directing their movements. Keeping them together, holding them well in hand so as to mutually protect and sustain each other, will, in future, require the greatest care. As fields of battle will cover more ground than formerly, new tactical means to obviate the disadvantages resulting from this will be required; that continuity of lines required by tactics will no longer be necessary.
"Formerly the position of the enemy could be approached to within 300 yards without experiencing much loss from the fire of his infantry. Now this fire is destructive at 1000 or 1200 yards, and well directed at 600 yards, becomes irresistible. The range of the rifle permitting battles to commence at considerable distance, without great care on the part of the general, his whole lines may become exposed at once to a destructive fire; the position assigned to troops not immediately engaged will require as much attention as those that are so engaged. The distances between lines in battle are fixed by tactics, and much importance seems to be attached to this feature: this will probably give way to a different order…
"With the improved rifle, the infantry fire is fourfold more destructive than formerly; hence the necessity, in order to secure the full effect of the arm, to have a thorough system of instruction in target practice; every infantry soldier should be so instructed before he enters his battalion every company should be thoroughly instructed at target practice and the skirmish drill; but as some men will excel others in the use of the rifle, and have greater aptitude for the duties of light troops, the fourth battalion of each regiment should be formed of such soldiers."
"The improved rifle against cavalry
"Formerly cavalry could take up its position in columns of squadrons in full view of the infantry to be charged, at a distance of 400 yards, and could approach within 300 yards without experiencing much loss. Under the existing condition of the infantry armament, cavalry will be within its sphere of action at 1200 or more yards, and as it approaches nearer the fire will become more and more destructive.
"The chances of success with cavalry are much lessened in the presence of the new arms.
"Improved rifle against artillery
"Formerly artillery began battles; it could take its position at pleasure in front of infantry and deliver its fire without incurring danger or loss from the fire in return of the infantry. Now that the range of the rifle is equal, if not superior, to that of field-pieces, the influence of light artillery in battles will be lessened…It is clear that field artillery, with its present range, cannot with any chances of success remain in action in front of infantry; its comparative efficacy is lessened, and even by extending the range by increase of calibre, or by a successful application of the principle of rifling, cannot restore it to its former comparative condition. The infantry rifle has now a range equal, or greater, than the limit of distinct vision, and greater even than the extent offered by field of battle in general, and should a range of several miles be given to artillery it would still fail to restore it to its former comparative state.
"The new rifle clearly gives to infantry, in all secondary operation of war, and in the defence of position, an element of force that it did not possess formerly." [emphasis added] (Wilcox, Rifles and Rifle Practice, Chapter VI)

While deliberate, aimed fire tends to go out the window when bullets come flying in your direction, Control of fires is a command function, and a failure of control is a command failure. Well trained troops will fire very deliberately, because their training causes them to believe that they can and will hit what they aim at.

Had the Army of the Potomac been trained to Heth's or Wilcox's standard, Pickett's grand assault wouldn't even have reached Cemetery Ridge, because, at every 50 yards, beginning at 1,000 yards they would have had to have passed through a beaten zone of fire. If they stopped to fire at you, that just meant that they passed more time in the beaten zones. But, the Army wasn't trained to shoot then, and it for sure isn't trained to shoot now. That requires time, effort, skilled instructors, ammunition, ranges, and most importantly command emphasis. Rock painting, grass mowing, and leaf raking, are construed to be much more critical skills.

Although Heth articulated an army wide theory of marksmanship instruction, the instruction was not centralized, and the U.S. Army lagged far behind almost all of the armies of Europe. The French had established the Ecole de Tir [School of Musketry] at Vincennes, with branch schools at Grenoble, Saint Omer, and Toulouse. Each regiment in the French army was required to send a detachment of several officers and enlisted personnel to the school for an intensive four-month course. At the conclusion of the course, they returned to their regiments as cadre to teach their troops how to shoot their new rifle musket. To add emphasis, the school was commanded by a brigadier general. With the adoption of the Pattern 1853 rifle musket, the British established a School of Musketry at Hythe, England, -- commanded by a full colonel - with a two and a half month course to train officer and enlisted cadre, who were then responsible for training their regiments on the new Pattern 1853 weapons and on marksmanship. The Spanish (1855), Dutch (1855), Swedes (1855), and Russians (1857), established similar schools. Every summer, even before the adoption of Muster 1854 System Lorenz rifles, Baron von Augustin brought cadre from the k.k. Army regiments to Vienna for train-the-trainer instruction on marksmanship and arms maintenance. All of the schools placed emphasis on estimating distances, since without the ability to estimate range the rifles of the day could not be accurately fired at targets at a distance. By comparison, the U.S. Army had Heth's manual.

But, how could we possibly be confused regarding our belief that America was the nation of riflemen.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 
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jackt62

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New York City
I don't remember the exact statistic, but under CW conditions and firearms, the chances of any single shot hitting a target was maybe something like 1 in 150? Does anyone have the exact number?
 

BillO

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Quinton, VA.
I don't remember the exact statistic, but under CW conditions and firearms, the chances of any single shot hitting a target was maybe something like 1 in 150? Does anyone have the exact number?
If you want a giggle check out the estimated hit rates of the ACW and then Viet Nam. Some things never change.
 
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Carronade

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Pennsylvania
For consideration:

At Gettysburg there were about 170,000 troops, not all firing small arms of course, and about 50,000 casualties including unwounded prisoners; many of the casualties due to artillery and some to bayonets etc. Say 30-40,000 casualties from rifle (or carbine) fire.

If every rifleman fired just one shot, it took 4-5 to inflict a casualty. If they averaged ten shots, 40-50/casualty. Fifty shots over the course of three days' fighting, 200-250, etc. Of course some casualties were hit multiple times.

Someone here probably has figures for the ammunition expended in various battles, which we could compare to losses.
 

Coonewah Creek

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Northern Alabama
The trajectory of the minnie ball had a singular parabolic arc.
Excellent graphic. The only other explanatory text I might suggest attaching to the graphic "NOT TO SCALE" (inches on the Y-axis and yards on the X-axis). The parabolas look pretty extreme on the chart. But then again, maybe its purpose is to first just get your attention. If that's the case, it certainly does that! :wink:
 
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