Smoothbore vs Rifled Muskets

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tmh10

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The Weapons
The smoothbore musket is accurate to maybe 50 yards when aimed. A round ball fired from a smooth barrel is fairly unstable and just not very accurate. At over 50 or so yards hitting a target becomes as much a matter of luck as skill.

Rifling the barrel of a musket and using a hollow-based conical bullet that expands when the bullet is fired causes the bullet to spin and greatly increases accuracy. The various rifled muskets used in the American Civil War are accurate to 300-400 yards or more in the right hands, though with the sighting systems available hitting a target at more than 200-250 yards involved a high amount of skill not likely found in the average soldier.

Additionally, the improved ignition systems (percussion cap) of the more modern rifled musket was a great improvement over the earlier flintlock systems, allowing soldiers much less chance of misfire…which at minimum forced the soldier to recharge his weapon, and actually could take the soldier out of the battle altogether to find another weapon. It also sped up the loading process by eliminating the need to pour powder into the flashpan, which could be difficult in the middle of a battle and impossible while walking/running.

And the use of hollow-based conical bullets also sped up the reloading process somewhat. The round balls used in smoothbore muskets were cast slightly smaller than the bore of the barrel for easier loading, then the paper from the cartridge was crammed into the barrel over the ball to prevent it’s rolling out. Fumbling with the wad of paper seems pretty difficult while under fire This is probably slower than simply inserting a slightly loose conical bullet into the muzzle. And though each additional fired round in either musket makes ramming more difficult as partially burned powder accumulates in the barrel, ramming is much more easily accomplished with the hollow-based conical bullet.

For these reasons I have always assumed that the greater accuracy and firing rate of the percussion lock rifled musket definitely influenced tactics, casualty numbers, etc, of the ACW. Surely the number of men struck by bullets was much greater in the ACW than in earlier wars.

Fighting Tactics
By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, infantry tactics with smoothbore muskets had evolved to massed fire from tightly packed groups of infantrymen. The men stood shoulder to shoulder and fired in volleys at another tightly packed formation also firing in volleys. Usually the units would make some provision for firing from multiple ranks. Either the first rank would kneel and the second rank would fire over their heads while the first rank reloaded, the second rank would step forward/first rank backwards, or the second rank would fire between the heads of the men in the first rank when they reloaded. Either method would send twice the lead flying in the direction of the enemy compared to a single rank, and lessen the time between volleys.

These formations would usually stand in an open field, 50-100 yards apart. Each unit would fire volleys at the other, with the goal being one formation or the other would take so many casualties that the commander of the unit would order a retreat, or the men in the formation would lose heart and run away. Usually one or both sides had artillery to aid in the process of disheartening the enemy, and if available cavalry would also be used to encourage the enemy to break ranks and run.

As mentioned above, the reloading process of the flintlock musket made it extremely difficult to reload on the move, moreso than with the later percussion lock, so once placed the formation usually did not move unless under mutually supported fire from another formation.

In the ACW, the formations were usually much longer lines of one or two ranks. Again, though much easier to reload, the rifled musket was difficult to load while walking or running, so a formation would usually load before moving, hold their fire until in position, then fire a volley. If a frontal assault was ordered, men would “fire at will” having to stop to reload before firing each round. This caused a formation to disorganize and fall apart fairly quickly, so the order to “charge” was usually not given until the formation was within range to fire at the enemy, which means that they were also in the enemy’s range.

There were various tactics used to overcome that issue, usually the assault was in multiple waves, or a single wave where the attackers massed on a single point in the defender’s line.

Taking Aim
We are told that often the soldiers considered it “ungentlemanly” to actually take aim when firing into a formation, in the American Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, and American Civil War. That they just fired in the general direction without aiming. I personally think that though there probably is some truth to that, it is more likely that it was an explanation to excuse men not aiming their weapons for other reasons.

Men being shot at are naturally frightened, to the extent that they were/are often just going through the motions that they were trained to do. This is the purpose for military training and drilling in the first place, for soldiers to act properly without thinking in situations where there is not time to think. There are accounts of men forgetting to pull the trigger and just ramming multiple unfired rounds into the barrel, men pulling the trigger constantly forgetting to reload, etc. In the confusion and noise of battle, it is easier to do this than one might think.

Also, the reloading process of the muzzleloading musket was so involved that the men just didn’t have time to aim, especially when firing in volley. The goal was to send the maximum amount of lead possible towards the enemy and taking time to aim was less important than each soldier quickly reloading so the group could fire another volley.

I am reminded of footage I saw as a kid on the evening news…of American soldiers fighting in Vietnam from a bunker….holding their M-16s over their heads firing out of the bunker totally without aiming. Is this so different than a man hastily reloading, throwing his musket to his shoulder, quickly firing without aiming, and performing the reloading process again?

Another consideration comes from the ignition systems both of the flintlock and percussion lock musket. During ignition, the flashpan on the flintlock contains an open, burning charge of black powder, throwing sparks and smoke upwards and to the right of the musket after the trigger is pulled. Also, the flint striking the frizzen causes pieces of flint to fly, and though they mostly fall into and around the flash pan, it is possible for them to fly towards the shooter’s face.

Although the percussion lock’s charge is contained in a brass primer, there is also a smaller flash and often flying pieces of brass when the hammer strikes the cap, and often the entire cap flies off of the nipple. It is natural reflex for the eyes to close when there are foreign objects flying towards them, and human nature to close the eyes in anticipation of fire or foreign objects about to fly near the eyes when one knows that they are about to.

Also, the smoke from both black powder and fulminate of mercury (the charge contained in a percussion cap) is very acrid and greatly irritates the eyes.
For these reasons I feel that it is highly probable many soldiers using both smoothbore and rifled muskets actually had their eyes closed while firing the weapons.

Additionally, the smoke from the black powder used in both weapons is thick and blocks the frontal view of the soldier immediately after firing the weapon. If there was no wind blowing, after a few volleys the view on the battlefield would be so obscured by smoke that neither side would be able to aim at the other. Add additional smoke from other units, and even more smoke from the artillery, in a short period of time the entire battlefield would be covered in a cloud of thick white smoke.

In other words, it is very likely that a soldier firing a muzzleloading weapon, whether flintlock or percussion lock, was not actually taking aim at his target. Regardless of the reason, failure to aim would negate most of the benefit of the rifled musket over the smoothbore musket, only the capability of faster reloading would remain, and that benefit would be recognized mainly from volley fire.

Evolution of Tactics
Looking at the battle tactics of the American Civil War compared to those of the Napoleonic Wars, and also the American Revolution, tactics definitely did evolve. The earlier wars were fought nearly completely with troops standing in the open formation to formation, with the occasional attack against defended fortifications.

Less than a year into the ACW, troops were taking cover behind walls, fences, and other existing protection, and soon were building their own personal protection on the battlefield. Massed fire was still important, but nearly gone were the formations standing in the open “toe to toe”. With the invention of the metal shovel, Union soldiers were “digging in” on the battlefield, and it became common to start digging some kind of protective cover in nearly every battle as soon as the soldiers were in place. Memoirs mention Confederate soldiers using frying pans, pieces of wood, or anything else they could get their hands on to dig in. Later in the war during the move towards Richmond, deep trenches were used and the “trench warfare” that was to be used in the First World War was created.

But were these the result of the greater accuracy of the rifled musket? Or the result of soldiers being led mostly by officers without military training, who saw no problem with soldiers taking cover to fire at a massed enemy, and weren’t held to age old conventions by tradition? Or merely the evolution of warfare in the United States?

I think of the “Sunken Road” at the Battle of Shiloh, the first instance that I personally know of with soldiers defending a hastily chosen position with some cover. The Union soldiers under BG Benjamin Prentiss and BG W.H.L. Wallace took cover behind the low bank of an old roadbed and defended against a larger massed Confederate force for seven hours. Both men had served briefly in the US Army during the Mexican War, but neither were West Point nor military academy graduates and therefore not steeped in the traditions of Napoleonic tactics taught by military instructors.

Maybe a little ironic, the soldiers they defended against were for a portion of the time being personally led by Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, a West Point graduate of 1826, who had spent most of his adult life in the US Army. His men assaulted the Union position time after time with incredible casualties…a position that they very likely could have bypassed hours earlier…and finally overtook it after a massed fire of 50 cannon fired at the position for a period of time.

Eight months later finds the Confederate forces at Fredericksburg under Lt. Gen Longstreet in their own “sunken road”, behind a four foot wall enhanced with log breastworks and abatis, and the men under Lt. Gen Jackson behind a wooded ridge, each soldier having dug in the best he could. Longstreet, a West Point graduate who had spent his entire adult life in the US Army, and Jackson, a West Point graduate who after nine years in the US Army accepted a teaching position at Virginia Military Institute, obviously ignored the traditions that they had been taught. The commander of the overall Confederate forces, General Robert E. Lee, was a West Point graduate, had spent his entire adult life in the US Army, and had been the commandant of West Point, obviously was fine with his army taking cover and not standing in the open.

For whatever reason, fighting tactics had obviously evolved by the end of 1862.

The Hypothesis
The hypothesis is: Due to greater accuracy, rifled muskets caused much higher casualties in battle over smoothbore muskets.

Is there any way to really determine this? The only possibility that I can think of is to look at individual battles in the different conflicts, and try to determine if there was a significant increase in casualties after the advent of the rifled musket. Since each battle was fought with different numbers of men, the logical way to look at it is to take the number of soldiers engaged in each battle, and determine the percentage of those soldiers who were hit by flying bullets.

I looked at 16 of randomly chosen battles during the Napoleonic Wars. (I chose 16 because I was tired of looking and decided not to look for a 17th) I chose battles throughout the various campaigns, but limited it to those that the “killed and wounded” numbers could be separated from the “missing in action”, “captured”, “died of sickness”, or other non-battlefield casualty statistics. Where the number of soldiers actually engaged was determined over the number of soldiers available, I chose the former. Of these, I determined the percentage of soldiers present or engaged who were killed or wounded in each battle.

Next I looked at 16 randomly chosen battles of the American Civil War. I chose battles both of the Eastern and Western theaters. In one case I used the numbers from an entire campaign (Seven Days) rather than the individual battles, because I used one campaign’s numbers from the Napoleonic Wars. I did not use minor battles or skirmishes due to the fact that though figures for them are readily available for the ACW, they aren’t as available for the Napoleonic Wars.
Finally, just for interest, I took two battles from the American Revolution that were fought by the two armies in the open. One was a British victory, the other a Continental victory, and determined the percentages of killed and wounded as with the previous battles.

What do I hope to prove with this exercise? It stands to reason that if the hypothesis is true, battles fought with smoothbore weapons should necessarily have lower casualty percentages than those fought with rifled weapons.

Problems
My first issue with a study such as this is that making it purely scientific is impossible. Every battle in both wars should be considered, but that is neither possible nor practical. And as no two battles were fought exactly alike, there can never be an “apples for apples” comparison. Also, fairly early in the ACW both armies started using cover when possible and practical, something seldom done during the Napoleonic Wars.

The term “casualties” , especially with individual battles in the Napoleonic Wars is too often a lumped sum of “killed”, “wounded”, and “missing or captured”, and of course any casualty that was not hit by a bullet skews the results. In many cases my “casualty” number involved subtracting the number of “missing” from a total number of casualties. That possibly skews the numbers if a substantial number of “missing” soldiers had been killed or wounded.

Likewise, it is hard to determine in some cases how many soldiers in an army actually were engaged in a battle, you often are given the number of men available on the field, but just don’t know how many of these were actually engaged and how many were in reserve, didn’t make it to the battlefield, etc. The data for some of the battles distinguishes between the two, for other battles we just don’t know.

A problem with this exercise is the effect of artillery on casualty numbers. Exploding shells were used both in the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, but they were largely ineffectual in both. Though solid shot did cause casualties, it was not in great numbers, the effect was more to incite fear than to cause massive casualties. Exploding shells in the ACW were much improved and were used with greatly increased effectiveness on both sides, though Union shells are considered much more effective than Confederate ones. Canister shot, not used to any extent until the ACW, was very effective at close range and also caused an increased number of casualties.

The effect of artillery should necessarily skew the casualty numbers, but since the hypothesis calls for increased numbers of casualties in the ACW, artillery should merely increase those numbers even more, and though artificially, should confirm the hypothesis.

The next problem is the effect of soldiers behind cover. At some point in many of the chosen ACW battles, soldiers from one side or the other are behind cover defending against attackers. At Fredericksburg, most of the Confederates were behind cover, and most Confederate casualties were due to a break in the lines and being flanked behind their cover. What affect did cover have on the casualty numbers?

Looking at the question of cover, will the casualty numbers of defenders behind cover be so low as to skew the numbers? Let’s look at battles in particular that could be described as “shooting fish in a barrel”, Fredericksburg, Pickett’s Charge, and Franklin.

All situations were somewhat similar, a significant number of defenders were behind some type of fortifications, defending against an enemy charging over a long open area. The Confederate casualty percentage at Fredericksburg was 6.51%, and as mentioned that number is due to Union forces taking advantage of a break in the lines. We will find that casualty percentage the lowest the Confederates suffered in all of the battles studied, so obviously cover made a huge difference in the Confederate casualties. But, though the Union casualties were high, they were not unusually so, with a percentage lower than some battles where the Union Army was victorious.

With Pickett’s Charge, it is a little difficult to determine how many Union soldiers actually were engaged in the battle. Muster of II Corps on June 30, 1863 was around 22,000…remove the typical noncombatants (musicians, teamsters, cooks, ambulance drivers, animal handlers, etc), make a rough guess of soldiers too sick to fight, another guess of men that were wounded the previous day and unfit for duty, you end up with somewhere around 10,000 Union soldiers actually engaged. Union casualties that day were 1500. As the Confederate artillery barrage preceding the charge was “largely ineffectual”, having fired over the heads of the Union artillery, located behind and to the left of the Union infantry, we have to assume that nearly all 1500 casualties were from the Confederate soldiers that breeched the Union line. That’s 15% casualties to a defender that was well protected behind fortifications, and an attacker that marched for over a mile before reaching the defenders.

We can expect the Confederate casualty rate to be very high in Pickett’s Charge and it was, though made even higher due to some very effective artillery fire from Big Round Top.
At Franklin, the numbers are similar to Fredericksburg, with the Union defenders taking a significantly lower casualty percentage. Though the South took a high percentage, as with the Union at Fredericksburg, their percentage was often higher, even in some battles that found them victorious.

So yes, cover will make some difference in the casualty rates. But only a small number of battles involved an entire force behind cover, in most battles listed, cover played a small part if at all in the overall battle. So even if the numbers are skewed due to the use of cover, it should not be to such a great extent as to influence the overall results. Also we should keep in mind that though cover likely reduces the defender casualties, it also increases the attacker casualties, so the skewed numbers will actually correct themselves somewhat in comparison to a battle with little of no cover utilization.

It should also be mentioned that in some of the battles Union soldiers utilized breech-loading rifles. Though there are battles that these may have affected the outcomes of, they did not significantly affect the outcomes of any of the battles researched, so their overall effect was not considered.

Looking at the data
So what do the numbers show? The two American Revolution battles are really for interest only, to take the war’s numbers into consideration I would definitely use the results for many more battles. But it is interesting that the casualty percentages of two battles using primarily smoothbore muskets (there were some flintlock rifles used by militia sharpshooters in the Battle of Cowpens) were the highest of all.

The Battle of Kulm and the Coalition’s 73% casualties do affect the numbers more than any single battle researched. But removal of that battle still makes the overall average of the Napoleonic Wars within one percent of the ACW’s overall average.

But looking at the overall numbers, whether or not the Battle of Kulm in included, casualty percentages in the battles utilizing rifled muskets were not significantly higher than battles using smoothbore rifles. Adding the Battle of Kulm actually makes the ACW percentages lower. The use of effective exploding rounds in the ACW obviously did not affect the outcome of the study in a huge way, if it did, it makes the hypothesis even less plausible.

The only real question here is how the use of cover changed the outcome. But even if it did, no attacker percentages were within 10 percentage points of one half of the percentage of the Coalition at the Battle of Kulm.

Conclusions
Looking solely at the percentage of casualties to engaged soldiers, it is clear that the rifled musket did not cause significantly increased casualties over the smoothbore musket.
It is obvious that if soldiers did not aim their weapons, most of the advantages of the rifle were negated. I suspect that in many if not most cases, for whatever reason soldiers did not aim their weapons, and this likely had a huge effect on the number of men being struck by bullets.
As stated, the real effect of soldiers behind cover on those percentages cannot be determined, but in my opinion, in most cases the effect was minimal, because it is very likely that both defenders and attackers were not aiming their weapons.

http://www.americancivilwarforum.com/smoothbore-vs-rifled-muskets...did-they-really-make-that-much-difference-343.html
 

FourLeafClover

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Thanks Ted, for me this was very informative. Having never fired a musket. I had never given much thought to the amount of detritis flying around the eye area of the shooter. Not to mention all the other smoke and drech flying around in the air.
Little wonder that careful aim was not a priority.
The percentages make interesting reading. I remember reading somewhere, perhaps not ACW related. But it took on average 12lbs of lead to score a hit with a musket ball.(might have been Napoleonic).
 
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There are a couple of factors that seem to be forgotten. Two that come to mind are: 1. While walls and such might have been rare, some regiments would fight prone, or behind a declivity, or from woods edge or brush that makes them hard to see. 2. The average ranges of engagements seem to have become more distant as a result of the weapons. If the weapon is more accurate, you use it sooner...and try to keep your enemy farther away so that he doesn't hit you easily either.
 
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rob63

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I was reading about the fight for Devil's Den at Gettysburg when I came across a reference to the actions of Ward's Brigade that I thought was interesting because it actually specifies the range at which they began firing and indicates how effective it was. This is from the official records:


Reports of Brig. Gem. J. H. Hobart Ward, U. S. Army, commanding Second Brigade and First Division.

"After placing my brigade in the position assigned, Major Stoughton, of the Second U. S. Sharpshooters, reported to me with his command. I directed him to advance his command as skirmishers across the field in front of mine for half a mile and await further orders. They had scarcely obtained the position designated before the skirmishers of the enemy issued from a wood in front, followed by heavy lines of infantry. Captain Smiths battery of rifled guns, posted on the eminence on my left, opened on the advancing enemy, as well as Captain Winslows battery on my right, the enemy replying from a battery near the Emmitsburg road. The supports of the first two lines of the enemy were now coming up in columns en masse, while we had but a single line of battle to receive the shock. Our skirmishers were now forced to draw back. My line awaited the clash. To the regiments on the right, who were sheltered in a wood, I gave directions not to fire until they could plainly see the enemy; to those who were on the left, not to fire at a longer distance than 200 yards.

The enemy had now approached to within 200 yards of my position, in line and en masse, yelling and shouting. My command did not fire a shot until the enemy came within the distance prescribed, when the whole command fired a volley. This checked the enemy's advance suddenly, which gave our men an opportunity to reload, when another volley was fired into them. The enemy now exhibited much disorder, and, taking advantage of this circumstance, I advanced my right and center with a view of obtaining a position behind a stone wall, about 160 yards in advance, and which the enemy was endeavoring to reach. While advancing, the rear columns of the enemy pressed forward to the support of the advance, who rallied and again advanced. This time our single line was forced back a short distance by the heavy columns of the enemy. In this manner for the space of one and a half hours did we advance and retire, both parties endeavoring to gain possession of the stone wall."

The Confederates were apparently pretty good shots themselves and effectively targeted officers; the following is noted at the end of the same report:


"The Twentieth Indiana lost its colonel (shot through the head), than whom a more gallant soldier and efficient officer did not exist. The great State of Indiana may well feel proud of John Wheeler, the hero, the patriot, and the honest man. He was worthy to command the glorious Twentieth, and his command was proud of him.

The One hundred and Twenty-fourth New York lost its colonel and major (both shot through the head). Col. A. Van Home Ellis was one of those dashing and chivalrous spirits that we frequently read of, but seldom encounter in real life. He fell while gallantly leading his men in a charge. In this he was ably seconded by Lieutenant-Colonel Cummins and Major Cromwell, the major falling within a few seconds of the colonel, and the lieutenant-colonel being severely wounded."
 

leftyhunter

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A very well thought out post! If I understand correctly the rifled musket did not increase the percentage of casualties compared to the earlier wars of the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars because be it a rifled musket or smooth bore the soldiers can't see what their shooting at with all the smoke and flying embers being thrown about plus their officers are stressing them out to hurry up and fire vs take your time and get it right on the money. The reason that ACW casualties are so high is because there is a lot more people fighting on the battlefield then before and artilery is much improved.
I would think the fact that the rifled muskets had longer range then the smooth bores even if not properly aimed would make them more lethal just because they might hit enemy support troops instead of drooping to the ground. I would think that since the ACW soldiers did not wear eye protection they must of been a lot of eye injuries. One advantage of the rifled musket is that it would cause more lethal wounds and it would be ver effective issued to sharpshotters.

Again a very interesting and informative post!

Leftyhunter
 
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Dugger

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Give me buck and ballView attachment 7327 any day!
Ya....but only if if it gets inside 50/60 yards.....pretty unless prior to that. No spin, knuckle-ball effect....etc. The rifle musket...killer out to 500 yards. I really do question this debate bout rifle vs smoothbore....lotta mis-understood stuff in this one. I reckon we should have been using smoothbores in WWII? Duh.
 
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Ya....but only if if it gets inside 50/60 yards.....pretty unless prior to that. No spin, knuckle-ball effect....etc. The rifle musket...killer out to 500 yards. I really do question this debate bout rifle vs smoothbore....lotta mis-understood stuff in this one. I reckon we should have been using smoothbores in WWII? Duh.
We did use smoothbores in WWII and still today! The 12ga trenchgun! Great for urban and jungle warfare.:thumbsup:
 
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Monitor

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Very interesting post, especially for me, an Aussie without any ACW weapon experience. Hard to understand the justification of the tactics used by both sides early in the war of massed shoulder to shoulder ranks firing in volleys; the complete opposite of everything I was taught during infantyry training in my 1960s Australian army days ('Spread out, don't bunch up!').

As to men closing their eyes and just firing because of the costic powder fumes etc., I read a study some years back, which I think related to WWII, which revealed that many Allied infantrymen would deliberatly NOT aim at an enemy out of conscience! Perhaps this was in fighting the Germans and their Allies. Not so sure that this would be the feeling of men fighting the Japanese who were a completely different kettle of fish!
 

Historyprof

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I believe that, for the average Civil War infantryman, the most practical weapon would have been a smoothbore musket with buck & ball. Much of the fighting was not at long ranges.
 
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Tin cup

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Lots of sniping/skirmishing from one trench line, to another,(Vicksburg, Atlanta Campaign, Petersburg) smoothbore would NOT be any good in those conditions.

I'd take the rifled ANY day over the smooth bore! I want the accuracy of a lubed conical bullet, non-lubed smoothbore's choke up too easily after so many rounds!

Kevin Dally
 

BillO

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In heavily wooded terrain or inside of 80 yards or so the smoothbore is the more effective weapon. The major problem with troops armed with smoothbores is if they get caught in the open much past 100 to 150 yards they are just dead meat. Their only options are to fix bayonets and run towards the enemy or turn and run away.
 

rob63

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I believe that, for the average Civil War infantryman, the most practical weapon would have been a smoothbore musket with buck & ball. Much of the fighting was not at long ranges.
I respectfully disagree. The example of General Ward's report that I posted above indicates that he had confidence in his brigade's shooting ability out to 200 yards. This was a veteran unit at the time of Gettysburg. I am sure he knew what they were capable of.

I have visited a number of battlefields and have noted that when you examine the positions of the opposing armies it quickly becomes apparent that as the war progressed the lines moved further apart. Obviously, this is due to more than simply the rifle-musket, but it is hard to fathom how a smoothbore musket would be just as effective as a rifle-musket under the circumstances.

I would certainly agree that a buck and ball volley delivered at 50 yards would be more effective than a rifle-musket volley delivered at 200 yards, but a unit that begins taking casualties at 200 yards is going to break much sooner than a unit that is unmolested until it gets to 50 yards. I strongly suspect that all of the analysis of casualty figures being similar from different conflicts is an indicator that units break and run once a certain level of casualties have been incurred rather than an indicator of the effectiveness of the weapons. Thus, the same number of casualties would result regardless of the weapon; men can only take so much.

Analyzing casualty figures is a scientific way of coming to an erroneous conclusion that ignores the obvious. Longer range weapons are better than short range weapons. (Don't take a knife to a gun fight.)
 
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keith herring

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I think one of the most overlooked parts of the equasion is communication. Think about it. If regiment X fired a volley at regiment Y with rifles, there would be so much smoke that the battlefield to their immediate front would be obscured. Where does the rifle overcome that? At typical ranges of 100 yards, buck and ball seems more lethal. It is true that a rifleman with a 1861 rifle can hit more "targets" at 100, 200, 300 yards with aimed shots than a grunt with a 1842 smoothbore. Could a regiment firing a volley of buck and ball score more hits at 100 yards? Without communication modern weapons are negated. A rifled cannon can fire a shell several miles but first person accounts tell us that shell caused littlel effect. Without forward observers with communication the fire did little harm. Old school canister did the execution of artillery at close range. With the communication and battle front cohesion that was possible at the time I believe the smoothbore was uqually effective as the new rifled musket. In my own tests of shooting at paper yankees, I can hit a line of troops "paper targets in a line" with buck and ball with every shot at 100 yards.
 
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leftyhunter

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One factor that we might be overlooking is while without a doubt a trained marksmen with say a Whitworth , Ballard or even a Sharps carbine can do a whole lot of damage at ranges well past that of a smooth bore just how well was the average infantry men taught to fire his rifled musket? Based on my limited experience firing a modern inline musket with semi-smokeless powder a novice shooter has indeed many Union troops were ( because many were immigrants or urban workers who never shot a firearm prior to military service) indeed the same would be true for a smaller amount of CSA troops it would take well over a hundred shots just to give the recruits some confidence that they can hit a target at 100 yards. Does anyone know how many shots the average infantry man was given during his service training ?
Perhaps it could be said that most CW soldiers were better off with buck and ball since they didn't receive adequate training in the use of the rifled musket?

Leftyhunter
 

rob63

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If regiment X fired a volley at regiment Y with rifles, there would be so much smoke that the battlefield to their immediate front would be obscured. Where does the rifle overcome that?
Perhaps it could be said that most CW soldiers were better off with buck and ball since they didn't receive adequate training in the use of the rifled musket?
Those are certainly valid points. It is well known that there was not much marksmanship training given to the soldiers. I haven't read the Hess book, but I have picked it up and read the end notes and think it is similar to the book by Joseph Bilby, Civil War Firearms, that also argues that the smoothbore was as effective as the rifle-musket. He also points out that even on the rare occasions when Civil War soldiers were allowed to practice target shooting, they were never trained in estimating ranges. Bilby's book makes a pretty solid case for the argument that regardless of the merits of the rifle-musket the reality is that in practice it did not prove anymore effective than the smoothbore and he is certainly knowledgeable about the subject. However, he also uses the casualty figures argument as a part of his case.

I think all of the things mentioned so far are all valid reasons to say that the rifle-musket was probably not used effectively at 300 yards or beyond. We all seem to agree that the smoothbore is not effective beyond 100 yards. The question then becomes whether the rifle musket was effective between 100 and 300 yards? I would agree that even anything beyond 200 yards is unlikely given the totality of the circumstances. However, it is not that hard to hit a man size target at 150 yards, even with no training. I would still argue that it is better to have a weapon that allows you to begin firing aimed shots at 150-200 yards rather than 50-100 yards. The enemy begins taking casualties while further away from you and it allows you to reload and fire a second volley before they reach your lines. Even if smoke obscures the enemy after the first volley, I would still prefer to begin firing at the longer range. There is also the previously cited example of a unit that did in fact begin firing effectively at 200 yards. It is just one example, but I am sure those men would not have traded their rifle-muskets for a smoothbore.

Another thing that has been ignored so far is the fact that the tactics did change considerably during the war. The Napoleonic tactics were abandoned for what amounted to siege warfare by the end. Even midway through the war the soldiers had learned to erect barricades whenever possible. The change in tactics was in response to the more effective weapons that were in common use. It is impossible to say to what extent this is due to the rifle-musket because rifled artillery had become common as well; there just isn't a way to separate the effects of the two. However, the rifle-musket surely contributed to the change.
 
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