Why did so many attacks in the CW fail?

Cycom

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Feb 19, 2021
Location
Los Angeles, California
Why did so many attacks within battles or general offensives fail? More specifically, why did they fail to even occur?

I’m watching a documentary on YouTube about Chickamauga, and the multiple failures of various attacks to materialize (or if they do, the lateness throws a wrench the plan) really sticks out and makes me remember more than a few others. The doc explains how the three Confederate columns that were meant to cross the creek and strike at Rosecrans’ left flank were late and as a result ran into problems. One division dealing with the Fed’s Spencer rifles and got stuck there for hours. Another, due to miscommunication, didn’t press the attack and instead bivouacked for the night.

Being late in getting formed up and then attacking just seems to mess up the masterplan. Bragg had the opportunity to smash into Rosecrans’ army before he could escape to Chattanooga. Another thing that stood out was that prior to the main engagement, the lateness of the Rebels to exploit a big opening and possibly capture or decimate an entire Federal division was a major lost opportunity. Apologies that I cannot recall who was involved here…bad short term memory!

These are just a few examples of many. So why did these mishaps occur? Why were there so many instances of armies being late to the fray?

So far I am reasoning that some of the possibilities maybe the inherent difficulties of readying and deploying divisions/corps, especially in the context of primitive (for our time) communication technologies. Also, hesitancy and incompetence among more than a few generals, both North and South.

Your thoughts?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The new tactics maybe resembled the use of firearms to recreate at a higher level the original advantage of the mounted archer.
Not really, no. The mounted archer explicitly relied on firing on the move, while Civil War carbine tactics were mounted infantry use (which means dismounting to shoot, they're infantry who get around on horses). It's the sabre which was used mounted in shock action, and the revolver was used in mounted melees.


I think it's possible that the common failure of attacks in the Civil War is due to these two factors, both stemming from lack of experience:


1) Less ability to generate the conditions in which an attack would be a good-odds one. That is, the skills of reading ground to identify vulnerable points/mass troops at the point of decision/set up support/put in a combined arms attack, and staff work not extracting orders down in a timely fashion, plus the troops generally aren't drilled well enough to "default" to a good way of attacking.*

2) Less ability to identify whether an incipient attack is a good-odds one, on the part of the attacking commanders.

When combined, these notional factors would mean that it was more likely for a bad-odds attack to be launched as if it were a good-odds one.


* by way of contrast, the British at the Alma suffered a command SNAFU and things could have gone badly in assaulting a strong position on the heights over a river - there was something of a breakdown of control - but the attacking brigades defaulted to their training and this produced an effective assault.
 

tony_gunter

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Mississippi
I would like to point out that the army was largely volunteer and the vols tended to hit the ground when faced with deadly fire. It's no surprise that Sherman's regulars were the first to place their flags on enemy works at Vicksburg. Many assaults that should have been successful numerically failed for lack of impetus. Many assaults that should have been tightly fought engagements were not so tightly fought because the enemy closed to hand-to-hand distance through some error in positioning: Bragg's failure to defend the military peak at Missionary Ridge, Stevenson's failure to shift skirmishers in time at Champion Hill, Pemberton's failure to guard the meander ditch at Big Black River (I'm sure there are tons of examples, those are the ones that pop into mind). Volunteers preferred to take cover and plink away at each other from a comfortable distance.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Volunteers preferred to take cover and plink away at each other from a comfortable distance.
It's not at all surprising, because there are several psychological pressures taking place at once. This includes fear of death, but also the urge to strike back - it is far, far more psychologically difficult to run for twenty seconds towards enemy fire without being able to reply than it is to hit the ground and shoot back, reload and shoot back. This is despite how the latter is more dangerous as you are prolonging your time in the killing zone.

A trick that sometimes turned up in European warfare in the gunpowder age was "advancing with unloaded muskets" - your men cannot drop to the ground and shoot back, not without a lot more effort, and so the advance was more likely to continue to the point it made contact. Similarly this is why those African spearmen could give modern European riflemen a hard time - since it's usually morale that decides whether a charge works, high morale and the only way of striking back being to physically reach an enemy with a spear could do a lot for the impetus of the attack.

It's actually a good reason why commanders who "took care" of their men and didn't launch them on unsupported attacks could often get good results when they did decide to go for it - because their men were used to success, or at any rate hadn't gone through many failed attacks, and so their morale was better and they had a higher chance of sustaining the attack.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
This is actually an interesting bit of statistics, it's called survivorship bias.

If you're struck somewhere with a Minie ball and end up in the hospital with huge lacerations, then sure, that looks really painful when you reach the hospital. But what happens if you're hit in the same place at the same range with a smoothbore ball?
Well, the smoothbore ball is higher velocity. (The old Brown Bess musket had a muzzle velocity of over 1,500 feet per second, versus 900 feet per second for the Enfield rifle-musket.)
They're about the same mass, but the greater muzzle velocity means that the smoothbore ball has three times as much muzzle energy - and at Civil War firefight range of ~100-150 yards, the smoothbore ball still has more energy.

This means the smoothbore ball hits harder. So the reason for the difference is that the Minie ball makes a big hole which you survive (at first). The smoothbore ball at the same range in the same place makes a big hole which kills you straight off.


It's the same reason why in WW1 the introduction of helmets seemed to increase the number of head wounds suffered by soldiers. It's because with the helmets head injuries were survivable but landed you in the hospital - without one you were just dead.
Unfortunately, this does not seem to be true. Civil War era Minie rounds were actually liable to do more damage than Napoleonic era smoothbore balls. However, your argument does hold up if you compare smoothbore weapons from 1740-1840 against rifled weapons from a later than the Civil War but pre-WWI era. It is an odd situation that seems counter-logical, but the Minie round actually does cause more injury while moving slower.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It is an odd situation that seems counter-logical, but the Minie round actually does cause more injury while moving slower.
What is the mechanism for that, though? The smoothbore round is travelling supersonically and would cause cavitation at ranges where the minie round is moving subsonically and would not, and besides that the smoothbore round has up to three times the energy.

You would expect the smoothbore round to (1) dump more energy into the body (because it is moving faster to begin with), (2) cause a wider direct wound path (because the ball is wider) and (3) the cavitation means that points not actually in the direct wound path would nevertheless be damaged.

Identical hit locations should see more damage done by the smoothbore ball, because there is more energy to cause that damage.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Since we would not expect smoothbore versus rifle musket to produce any significant change in hit locations, it should be possible to compare the hit locations of those who made it to the hospital.

The most lethal location to be struck is the head (fatal both ways) and then the chest, so if the minie is more lethal than the smoothbore we should expect to see smoothbore injuries (that made it to the hospital) distributed more evenly than minie ones that made it to the hospital. This is because the same % of smoothbore hits and minie hits are to the torso, so if one is more deadly it will be killing people with torso hits before they make it to the hospital (while the other one will not be killing people with torso hits and they will make it to the hospital).
 

NH Civil War Gal

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Since we would not expect smoothbore versus rifle musket to produce any significant change in hit locations, it should be possible to compare the hit locations of those who made it to the hospital.

The most lethal location to be struck is the head (fatal both ways) and then the chest, so if the minie is more lethal than the smoothbore we should expect to see smoothbore injuries (that made it to the hospital) distributed more evenly than minie ones that made it to the hospital. This is because the same % of smoothbore hits and minie hits are to the torso, so if one is more deadly it will be killing people with torso hits before they make it to the hospital (while the other one will not be killing people with torso hits and they will make it to the hospital).

The most lethal location is the abdomen and especially the small intestine and liver. There could be almost instant bleed out OR survive long enough to get to hospital and quickly die of infection. Chest injuries, while deadly serious, were a lot more survivable.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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The most lethal location is the abdomen and especially the small intestine and liver. There could be almost instant bleed out OR survive long enough to get to hospital and quickly die of infection. Chest injuries, while deadly serious, were a lot more survivable.
My apologies - I did mean the torso in general. I'm referring to it in comparison to the limbs.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I can find right now an article that argues that the Minie was more lethal because it was made of lead (as opposed to smoothbore balls, which it implies were made of iron and were "harder" - not correct) and another that argues the Minie was more dangerous because it carried much more energy. This is also incorrect because, as we've looked at, the muzzle velocity of a smoothbore was higher and so it carried much more energy.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
I can find right now an article that argues that the Minie was more lethal because it was made of lead (as opposed to smoothbore balls, which it implies were made of iron and were "harder" - not correct) and another that argues the Minie was more dangerous because it carried much more energy. This is also incorrect because, as we've looked at, the muzzle velocity of a smoothbore was higher and so it carried much more energy.
That is not what I am talking about. The round ball of a smoothbore tends to mushroom on impact and remain intact, causing a single wound path through the body -- which the higher velocity tends to make more likely. The Minie bullet is conical. It is moving a bit slower, but the bullet tends to tumble after impact, creating an erratic course thought the body and the bullet has a greater tendency to fragment, causing multiple wound paths through the body. The slower velocity actually makes it cause more harm. As I said, counter-logical, but still true.
 

CavRTO

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Joined
Oct 16, 2021
As a correction, this refers to the superiority at the point of contact and assumes no major other factors. For example if the enemy is behind a deep river that can only be crossed at certain specific points then having a 5:1 manpower advantage might not even be enough - you can only get a small number of troops into battle at the point of contact. It doesn't matter if you have 80,000 men stacked up on the north side of a river if there's only one bridge and the enemy's 4,000 men completely dominate the bridge.

On the other hand, it isn't necessary to outnumber your enemy's complete army 3:1 to gain 3:1 superiority in a specific point of contact. You can do something like this for example:

View attachment 419418

The green army outnumbers the black one less than 2:1, but has concentrated 4:1 superiority on the point of decision.

A lot of the more complex level of tactics is about trying to create this situation at a specific point of contact, without letting your opponent (1) know what's going on or (2) successfully counter what you're doing. Other ways to multiply the effective strength of a force include flanking the enemy or mounting a converging attack on a hinge in their line, as just two examples.


Of course, in the example above, if the black army realizes what is going on they can strip their flanks to reinforce the centre and the green attack will be repulsed.

A way to prevent this is what is called a "fixing" attack. If those 4,000 man forces attack their 5,000 man counterparts, they can embroil them in fighting and make it harder for black to pull troops away.

Other details like the echelon attack and the manoeuvre sur le derriere are of the same basic idea. They are intending to create a situation where you can focus enough strength to win on a fraction of the enemy army, and thus deal with the enemy army "a bit at a time"

I can find right now an article that argues that the Minie was more lethal because it was made of lead (as opposed to smoothbore balls, which it implies were made of iron and were "harder" - not correct) and another that argues the Minie was more dangerous because it carried much more energy. This is also incorrect because, as we've looked at, the muzzle velocity of a smoothbore was higher and so it carried much more energy.
I hope this brings some clarity to the argument.
 

CavRTO

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That is not what I am talking about. The round ball of a smoothbore tends to mushroom on impact and remain intact, causing a single wound path through the body -- which the higher velocity tends to make more likely. The Minie bullet is conical. It is moving a bit slower, but the bullet tends to tumble after impact, creating an erratic course thought the body and the bullet has a greater tendency to fragment, causing multiple wound paths through the body. The slower velocity actually makes it cause more harm. As I said, counter-logical, but still true.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I hope this brings some clarity to the argument.
Yes, that's the article I found. It's the one which repeats a claim that the Minie bullet had a "vastly increased" striking power, resulting in more serious wounds.


That is not what I am talking about. The round ball of a smoothbore tends to mushroom on impact and remain intact, causing a single wound path through the body -- which the higher velocity tends to make more likely. The Minie bullet is conical. It is moving a bit slower, but the bullet tends to tumble after impact, creating an erratic course thought the body and the bullet has a greater tendency to fragment, causing multiple wound paths through the body. The slower velocity actually makes it cause more harm. As I said, counter-logical, but still true.
So, to be clear, is the argument that the Minie ball fragments and so causes multiple wound paths, while the smoothbore passes through the body and thus delivers less energy to the wound?


The erratic path shouldn't actually affect anything since it could swerve "away from" a dangerous point as often as "onto" one.



As it happens, we do have some useful information at Inkerman.


At Inkerman, the British expended 199,820 rounds of small arms ammunition (176,670 Minie balls and 23,150 smoothbore balls), and 2,066 artillery rounds, and inflicted the best part of 11,959 casualties* (from which those inflicted by the French 7e Legere and their 2 engaged batteries should be deducted), i.e. 1 hit per 16.7 small arms rounds expended. Of those wounded, it was found that 91% had been hit by Minie balls.

* NB: Russian casualty reports exclude minor wounds.



Now, obviously there is a little difficulty here in disambiguating the data, but of the small arms rounds fired 88% were Minie and they produced 91% of the wounds (irrespective of those killed). If the smoothbore were more likely to produce wounds and less likely to produce fatal injuries, we should expect that the smoothbore would be overrepresented in the wounded, but this is mathematically impossible (though unfortunately in this case we can't disambiguate misses).




I've also looked at the army medical history records, from the period when smoothbores and minie balls were both in use:


Charles Greenleaf (on the Peninsula):

I assisted Surgeon Milhau, U. S. A, medical
director of General Heintzelman's Corps, to receive the wounded at that point. Nearly all were wounded in the upper portion
of the body by the minie balls and fragments of shells

H.E.Brown (on the Peninsula)

The only articles deficient were chloroform and ether; and this, I
think, was not due to any neglect, but to the fact of the unusually large number of wounded, we having to attend not only to
those of our own division, but to all of those wounded in the battle of May 31st, the ground of which was occupied by the enemy
until Saturday afternoon. Nearly all of our men brought in were wounded with the conoidal or minie ball. I saw but one by
cannon or round balls. There was one case of bayonet wound, and this man had two wounds from gunshot and five bayonet
wounds; and these last, he asserted, he received while lying on the field, after being wounded. The rebels captured by us were
wounded with the bayonet, with round ball and buck shot, and with the conoidal ball, and some few had shell wounds, the
conoidal ball, however, preponderating.


Medical director McParlin (on the Northern Virginia Campaign):

The wounded, I may say, were not sufferers
to any extent from vicissitudes of weather. It was a fine season, with frequent midsummer rains. The wounds inflicted in the
various actions were, I believe, principally from minie balls and shell at ordinary range.


Philip Adolphus, on the Chancellorsville campaign:

Indeed, every engagement demonstrates an abundant supply of superior quality
of all arms, when compared with earlier contests. Very few round balta, buckshot and slugs are now employed by the rebels,
whilst, at the battle of Winchester, a large part of their ammunition was of the kind last mentioned.


G.G.Shumard, on Perryville:


The battle of Perryville was fought on October 8, 18C2,
and for the number actually engaged, may well be considered one of the bloodiest and most severely contested of the war.
The weapons employed by the enemy consisted of Minie, Enfield, and Springfield rifles, and common muskets. Most of the
wounds inflicted were from conical balls, and were large and severe, the balls appearing to have entered the body sideways,
revolving.



Ira Russell on Prarie Grove:


The troops of
the enemy were armed with Enfield rifles, Austrian muskets, shot guns, and a few squirrel rifles. Most of the severer wounds
were caused by conical balls ; but the nearness of the contending forces at times gave to round balls nearly the same penetrating
and crushing effect. I saw conical balls of three sizes ; grape, round shot, round muBket bullets of at least two sizes, and
buckshot.


CFH Campbell, on First Bull Run:

The wounds
were all from gunshot, and principally of the lower extremities, produced by round musket balls, buckshot, and, in one or two
instances, bv sphero-conical balls, fired at a range of from sixty to two hundred or three hundred yards. These wounds were,
in no instance which presented itself to the writer, of a necessarily fetal character.



WC Spencer, on the Peninsula:


The wounded men were removed from the field by an
organized body of litter-bearers and ambulances. The men were exposed to both artillery and musketry fire at short range, and the majority of the wounds were produced by conical balls; few, by the round ball or buckshot.


DW Hand, on the Peninsula:

My brigade of four regiments, and at that time about two thousand
seven hundred strong, lost forty-four killed and two hundred wounded. They were exposed to musketry fire at short
range, and were mainly injured by conical balls.

John A. Lidell, on Seven Pines:

I think General
Richardson's division suffered a loss of about five hundred killed and wounded. The wounds were inflicted mainly by the old
round bullet and buckshot cartridge. There was, however, a goodly number of wounds made by the conical bullet; but the
majority were inflicted by the former missiles.


Obviously the OCR is sub-par, here, but in most cases there is a pattern where the wounds seen are more often minie balls than smoothbore. This is all in the period when smoothbores and rifle-muskets were in mixed use - the reason I've included Adolphus is because he's noting the point when the transition to rifle-muskets is essentially complete.


As noted, what we should expect if the minie ball is more lethal is that men struck in the torso tend to survive wounds when hit with smoothbores that would kill them with the Minie ball. The anecdotal evidence does not support this strongly, and we would need to look at some kind of statistical evidence to confirm the case.

Is there such a statistical analysis out there, either way? For example, if we had wound locations and projectile type either from a given battle or summed across the war.
 
Last edited:

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Yes, that's the article I found. It's the one which repeats a claim that the Minie bullet had a "vastly increased" striking power, resulting in more serious wounds.



So, to be clear, is the argument that the Minie ball fragments and so causes multiple wound paths, while the smoothbore passes through the body and thus delivers less energy to the wound?


The erratic path shouldn't actually affect anything since it could swerve "away from" a dangerous point as often as "onto" one.



As it happens, we do have some useful information at Inkerman.


At Inkerman, the British expended 199,820 rounds of small arms ammunition (176,670 Minie balls and 23,150 smoothbore balls), and 2,066 artillery rounds, and inflicted the best part of 11,959 casualties* (from which those inflicted by the French 7e Legere and their 2 engaged batteries should be deducted), i.e. 1 hit per 16.7 small arms rounds expended. Of those wounded, it was found that 91% had been hit by Minie balls.

* NB: Russian casualty reports exclude minor wounds.



Now, obviously there is a little difficulty here in disambiguating the data, but of the small arms rounds fired 88% were Minie and they produced 91% of the wounds (irrespective of those killed). If the smoothbore were more likely to produce wounds and less likely to produce fatal injuries, we should expect that the smoothbore would be overrepresented in the wounded, but this is mathematically impossible (though unfortunately in this case we can't disambiguate misses).




I've also looked at the army medical history records, from the period when smoothbores and minie balls were both in use:


Charles Greenleaf (on the Peninsula):

I assisted Surgeon Milhau, U. S. A, medical
director of General Heintzelman's Corps, to receive the wounded at that point. Nearly all were wounded in the upper portion
of the body by the minie balls and fragments of shells

H.E.Brown (on the Peninsula)

The only articles deficient were chloroform and ether; and this, I
think, was not due to any neglect, but to the fact of the unusually large number of wounded, we having to attend not only to
those of our own division, but to all of those wounded in the battle of May 31st, the ground of which was occupied by the enemy
until Saturday afternoon. Nearly all of our men brought in were wounded with the conoidal or minie ball. I saw but one by
cannon or round balls. There was one case of bayonet wound, and this man had two wounds from gunshot and five bayonet
wounds; and these last, he asserted, he received while lying on the field, after being wounded. The rebels captured by us were
wounded with the bayonet, with round ball and buck shot, and with the conoidal ball, and some few had shell wounds, the
conoidal ball, however, preponderating.


Medical director McParlin (on the Northern Virginia Campaign):

The wounded, I may say, were not sufferers
to any extent from vicissitudes of weather. It was a fine season, with frequent midsummer rains. The wounds inflicted in the
various actions were, I believe, principally from minie balls and shell at ordinary range.


Philip Adolphus, on the Chancellorsville campaign:

Indeed, every engagement demonstrates an abundant supply of superior quality
of all arms, when compared with earlier contests. Very few round balta, buckshot and slugs are now employed by the rebels,
whilst, at the battle of Winchester, a large part of their ammunition was of the kind last mentioned.


G.G.Shumard, on Perryville:


The battle of Perryville was fought on October 8, 18C2,
and for the number actually engaged, may well be considered one of the bloodiest and most severely contested of the war.
The weapons employed by the enemy consisted of Minie, Enfield, and Springfield rifles, and common muskets. Most of the
wounds inflicted were from conical balls, and were large and severe, the balls appearing to have entered the body sideways,
revolving.



Ira Russell on Prarie Grove:


The troops of
the enemy were armed with Enfield rifles, Austrian muskets, shot guns, and a few squirrel rifles. Most of the severer wounds
were caused by conical balls ; but the nearness of the contending forces at times gave to round balls nearly the same penetrating
and crushing effect. I saw conical balls of three sizes ; grape, round shot, round muBket bullets of at least two sizes, and
buckshot.


CFH Campbell, on First Bull Run:

The wounds
were all from gunshot, and principally of the lower extremities, produced by round musket balls, buckshot, and, in one or two
instances, bv sphero-conical balls, fired at a range of from sixty to two hundred or three hundred yards. These wounds were,
in no instance which presented itself to the writer, of a necessarily fetal character.



WC Spencer, on the Peninsula:


The wounded men were removed from the field by an
organized body of litter-bearers and ambulances. The men were exposed to both artillery and musketry fire at short range, and the majority of the wounds were produced by conical balls; few, by the round ball or buckshot.


DW Hand, on the Peninsula:

My brigade of four regiments, and at that time about two thousand
seven hundred strong, lost forty-four killed and two hundred wounded. They were exposed to musketry fire at short
range, and were mainly injured by conical balls.

John A. Lidell, on Seven Pines:

I think General
Richardson's division suffered a loss of about five hundred killed and wounded. The wounds were inflicted mainly by the old
round bullet and buckshot cartridge. There was, however, a goodly number of wounds made by the conical bullet; but the
majority were inflicted by the former missiles.


Obviously the OCR is sub-par, here, but in most cases there is a pattern where the wounds seen are more often minie balls than smoothbore. This is all in the period when smoothbores and rifle-muskets were in mixed use - the reason I've included Adolphus is because he's noting the point when the transition to rifle-muskets is essentially complete.


As noted, what we should expect if the minie ball is more lethal is that men struck in the torso tend to survive wounds when hit with smoothbores that would kill them with the Minie ball. The anecdotal evidence does not support this strongly, and we would need to look at some kind of statistical evidence to confirm the case.

Is there such a statistical analysis out there, either way? For example, if we had wound locations and projectile type either from a given battle or summed across the war.
Look, you are going after this in a way that is not likely to produce an answer simply because your approach is to bring in lots and lots of data that will always be vague and not look at the actual question you want answered.

If you want to actually know what the wound tracks created by a bullet (round ball, Minie ball, whatever) looks like, you need research and technology that did not exist in 1861-65. (For that matter, the velocity of Minie style bullets would start going up after the invention in 1865 of a practical/safe way of making guncotton.)

The man responsible for most of that is a doctor and scientist named Kocher. He won the Nobel for an advance in thyroid surgery, but did tons of work on wounds and ballistics as part of his attempts to make warfare more humane. In particular, he worked with Swiss Colonel Rubin to create the first Full Metal Jacket rounds for military use (higher velocity, but creates less damaging wounds). In 1894 he presented his paper "Die Verbesserung der Geschosse v. Standpunkte d. Humanität" (improvement in bullets from the standpoint of humanity).

Kocher, born in 1841, would be the first to prove that the actual exit hole from a bullet was smaller than the exit wound it caused, with the rest of it caused by the Pascal Law of Hydrodynamics (Wm. MacCormack confirmed this with a similar experiment in the 1890s). The alternate theory around the Civil War time was that the centrifugal force from the spinning of the rifling made the exit wound larger.

Kocher also is responsible for demonstrating cavitation in bullet wounds and describing the reciprocal relationship between cavitation and the penetration of the bullet. To do that, he invented the gelatin and soap compound still used to track bullet paths today. Kocher also proved that bullets did not deform/mushroom because of "superheating" from being fired.

If you want to actually look at what a particular type of bullet fired from a particular type of gun actually does to the human body, you need to start by looking at the work of Kocher -- because everything else you need to know is based on what he did.

I have never come across pictures of the entry/exit wounds for Civil War Minie rounds. There are however studies of them, with the entry and exit wound pairs, in a series of paintings.. Amazingly accurate ones, as far as I can tell. Exit wounds are pretty darn big.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
I have never come across pictures of the entry/exit wounds for Civil War Minie rounds. There are however studies of them, with the entry and exit wound pairs, in a series of paintings.. Amazingly accurate ones, as far as I can tell. Exit wounds are pretty darn big.

I have seen studies at the time, and the smoothbore tended to produce large exit wounds, typically 6" in diameter, without much displaced material outside of the permanent wound track. We now recognise this as the effect of cavitation. Round balls at < 100 yards are faster, and also lose energy quicker when they hit a target. This produces a large temporary cavity.

Contrariwise, if a conical ball didn't hit a bone then it went straight through without producing much cavitation. The exit wounds were typically of similar size to the entry wounds. The rifle-musket projectile's initial velocity is similar to a modern low chamber pressure pistol ball, like .38 or .45 ACP.

The threshold at which cavitation starts is around 1,000 fps with modern shaped projectiles, but it would be lower with less aero(hydro)dynamic forms. Minie balls start below this threshold, and hence never produced temporary cavities. Musket balls with the regulation load have initial velocities of around 1,500 fps, and hence are above this threshold. Worse, as a far less hydrodynamic form, they dump energy much quicker and will induce cavitation at lower velocities.

Modern experiments bare this out - a British .75 flintlock produces huge temporary cavities at 150 yds.

Essentially, if you were hit in the torso with a round-ball at less than 100 yards or so, you we dead. The temporary cavity would rip open the heart and the victim would die. If you were hit with a conical ball and it missed the heart and major blood vessels (i.e. went through the lung) you might live if the wound was promptly treated.

If the hit was in the abdomen, the round ball would likely kill as it shattered hollow organs, whereas a conical ball would depend a lot more on shot placement.

The conical ball was, however, particularly good at smashing through bones. The round ball had a much greater chance of deflecting on a glancing blow to a bone. This led to particularly horrific injuries to the extremities.
 
Last edited:

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
Add the fact that volunteer soldiers - and perhaps more crucially amateur staff officers - are learning war as they go…

There are many reasons why assaults failed, but from what I've read over the years the most important factor is psychology. And in the ACW that is especially important because it was full of volunteers and amateurs on both sides at all levels.

Psychology is the reason for linear tactics, dating back before gunpowder. Support for your side while intimidating the enemy. Especially true for volunteer soldiers with no experience and minimal training.

Most Civil War attacks failed before reaching either close combat or significant casualties. Bayonet fighting was rare because a bayonet charge either failed or the defenders broke. Pickett's Charge and the Mule Shoe were outliers.
 

wausaubob

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Except some of the Confederate attacks succeeded. The Confederates were at a disadvantage with respect to artillery. Confederate cavalry was used to gather intelligence and for raiding. It was too precious to be used for frequent fighting. Infantry was the Confederacy's best asset and if they were going to win that infantry had to employed aggressively and early in the conflict.
The US employed linear tactics because the officers were inexperienced and US tactical doctrine was primitive. But even the US shifted towards mobility, attacks on logistical assets and combined arms.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
I have never come across pictures of the entry/exit wounds for Civil War Minie rounds. There are however studies of them, with the entry and exit wound pairs, in a series of paintings.. Amazingly accurate ones, as far as I can tell. Exit wounds are pretty darn big.
I have seen studies at the time, and the smoothbore tended to produce large exit wounds, typically 6" in diameter, without much displaced material outside of the permanent wound track. We now recognise this as the effect of cavitation. Round balls at < 100 yards are faster, and also lose energy quicker when they hit a target. This produces a large temporary cavity.

Contrariwise, if a conical ball didn't hit a bone then it went straight through without producing much cavitation. The exit wounds were typically of similar size to the entry wounds. The rifle-musket projectile's initial velocity is similar to a modern low chamber pressure pistol ball, like .38 or .45 ACP.

The threshold at which cavitation starts is around 1,000 fps with modern shaped projectiles, but it would be lower with less aero(hydro)dynamic forms. Minie balls start below this threshold, and hence never produced temporary cavities. Musket balls with the regulation load have initial velocities of around 1,500 fps, and hence are above this threshold. Worse, as a far less hydrodynamic form, they dump energy much quicker and will induce cavitation at lower velocities.

Modern experiments bare this out - a British .75 flintlock produces huge temporary cavities at 150 yds.

Essentially, if you were hit in the torso with a round-ball at less than 100 yards or so, you we dead. The temporary cavity would rip open the heart and the victim would die. If you were hit with a conical ball and it missed the heart and major blood vessels (i.e. went through the lung) you might live if the wound was promptly treated.

If the hit was in the abdomen, the round ball would likely kill as it shattered hollow organs, whereas a conical ball would depend a lot more on shot placement.
Your reply is pretty much off at a tangent and not dealing with what I said in the part of my post you quoted. I said I'd never seen any photographic studies of entry and exit wounds done during the American Civil War, but I had seen studies done as paintings. You say "I have seen studies at the time", and then say nothing at all about those studies. I would like to see them. Who did them and is it possible to view the pictures online?

I have not seen anyone at all claim that getting hit with a musket ball was a good thing. I certainly have said nothing like that. Given my choice, if I had to be shot by anything, I'd take a nerf ball. Assume that everyone in the discussion believes getting shot will do harm and focus on the 1861-65 musket-ball-vs-Minie-ball issue.

The conical ball was, however, particularly good at smashing through bones. The round ball had a much greater chance of deflecting on a glancing blow to a bone. This led to particularly horrific injuries to the extremities.
So your point is, what, that the Minie ball only smashes bones in the extremities? We should take from you that a Minie hitting the spine or ribs or clavicle will not smash those as well?

Or are you trying to say that the musket ball only bounces off bones in the extremities and will not bounce off the spine or ribs or clavicle? That the musket ball is somehow more effective when it hits the torso than the extremities?
 
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