weaponry and battle tactics
Based largely off the following books.
-Battle tactics of the civil war – Paddy Grifith Yale university press new haven and London 1989
-The rifle Musket in civil war combat reality and myth Earl Hess University of Kansas press 2008
-General stand watie's Confederate Indians University of Oklahoma press 1998
-The campaigns of Nathan Bedford forret's Calvary Da Capo press 1996
Primitive weapons used in the civil war
During the civil war not everyone had a fully functional rifled musket. Many primitive and sub standard weapons were used. For a extreme example Pikes and Bowie knives were used early in the war, rocks were thrown when men ran out of ammo. Confederate forces in Missouri were forced to surrender after a skirmish with the more numerous Indians inflicting causalities with bow and arrows. A Texas regiment charged union lines in New Mexico armed only with spears. Arrows, war clubs and lances were used in fighting with Indians. The sword and bayonet still played a role in civil war casualties. Saber charges were made until the end of the war. Successful Calvary charges with swords even on entrenched, rifle pits positions, were successful even as late as march 1865 when the 17th Indiana did so with great success.
Neither side could equip its army fully with the new refiled musket. The CSA started with only 10% equipped with the rifled muskets. In July 1861 Tennessee troops were armed 69% flintlock 20% smothbore 11% rifle. At Shiloh Alexander Stewards brigade had 53% smothbore and 103 flintlocks. The CSA army of Tennessee in august 1863 was equipped with 36% smotthbore and 12% substandard rifle musket. The same army in June 64 12% still had smothbore.
The armies at times struggled to even arm their men. Many of John Bell Hoods men were still unarmed in 64. Jan 1864 Thomas Duckends Arkansas brigade “wholly unarmed.”. At Fredricksburg confederates captured union flintlocks after the battle. At Gettysburg the most advanced army in war, the north had over 10% of its regiments equipped with smothhbore, and many had sub par refiles as a solider of the 100th Indian stated his regiments imported Belgian rifle “I don't believe one could hit the broad side of a barn with them.” Soldiers would fire in two lines and union solider James Tinkham said “Our front rank who, were more afraid of them [second rank] than of the rebels.”
Rifle musket vs smothbore
“It might be more reasonable to talk of some minor improvements over Napoleonic performance”
-Paddy Griffith Battle tactics of the civil war Yale university press new haven and London 1989
The rifle musket had better specs than that of the smothbore especially in regards to range. Theoretically it was a Superior weapon, though in combat during the civil war, its advantages were often negated. The smothbore buck n shot within 100 yards was considered equal or better than mini ball within that range. The rifle was “Claimed not proven to be better aim” within the range of the smothbore. Some generals north and south reused to “upgrade” to the rifle musket from the smothbore. Individuals, entire regiments, and generals kept the smothbore over the rifle believing it to be a better weapon. It was not a universal opinion that the riffled musket performed better.
"It is difficult to find any evidence at all to support the suggestion that Civil War musketry was delivered at ranges much longer than those of Napoleonic times...Civil War musketry did not ... possess the power to kill large numbers of men, even in very dense formations, at long range."
-Paddy Griffith Battle tactics of the civil war
The average combat range in Napoleonic wars using the smothbore was around 70-100. It was thought by many because the rifle has much greater range, the combat of the civil war must have been at far greater distances. However even in modern wars such as ww2, Korean and Vietnam [Slight less] all averaged small arms fire around 100 yards. The rifled muskets performance in battle, was not significant changed from the smothbore, neither were its ranges “Although the theoretical range of the rifled musket was several times that of a smothbore, much of the fighting nevertheless occurred at ranges equal to or only slightly more than that found during previous wars.” It was hard to see a man 200-500 yards off, even more so in the chaos, confusion and smoke filled civil war battles, plus a solider would have to work in the trajectory of the new rifled musket longer than 100 yards.
Various combat effects reduced the performance of the musket in civil war combat. Terrain ,smoke, visibility and stress reduce performance. The smoke alone on battlefield could hide large formations. A major reduction was lack of practice by the average solider and understanding of the muskets trajectory [see training]. So that what a solider could do in combat vs the specs of the musket, were far apart from each other. Most all casualties happened within 100 yards or less, some long range firing happened 200 yards plus, but often with little effect. Causalities were caused from 30-75 yards from musket fire in prolonged battles. Even than the loses were not always great, In a battle that lasted 4-5 hours at less than 100 yards, a union units total loses were just 50 wounded/killed.
Most commanders avoided indecisive long range firefights, they did not want to waste ammo and would only allow their soldiers to shoot at 150 yards or less, some would wait for 50-70 yards to first open fire, and on some occasions 30 paces. Only experts and trained shot would attempt over 150 yards such as snipers. The French following the Crimean war removed long range sights from their rifle musket seeing it largely as a waste of ammo. Only specialized, trained skirmish and sniping soldiers took advantage of the rifles increased range. As the war progressed after years of high causalities and drop in motivation made longer ranges more often, and soldiers less likely to assault.
Civil War battle ranges Initial contact
-[ Keep in mind This is were the first shots were fired, often the combat would end up 30-70 yards as one side advanced or charged].
Mark Grimsley calculated a average range for the entire war of 116 yards, he said smothbore was 80-100.
Brent Nosworthy said “critical engagement” 80-120 yards.
Earl Hess calculated for the entire war only 94 yards
At seven pines avg 68 yards only one reference to 200 yds [ that closed to 30 yards]
61-62 a average of 104 yards
63 a average of 127 yards
64-65 average 141 yards [ only half above 100 yards]
Overall for the war In the east 136 yards
Overall for the west 100 yards [ Griffith said the heavy Forrest terrain reduced western ranges]
“Decisive moment” was only 33 yards
Rate of fire /Fire effectiveness/ Civil war tactics
The rifle performed very similar to the smothbore in its effectiveness in battle. Americans were viewed as generally good shooters at the time compared to Europeans. Napoleonic rates of shots fired to casualty was around .5 to .6%. Americans using the same weapons [smothbore] in mexican war caused a causality at a rate of .8%. The civil war ratio of small arms shots fired to causality was .68 to 1.5%, about 1 causality for every 100 shots fired. At Gettysburg an average of 200 rounds were fired for one casualty, that is equal to Napoleonic times. Historians such as Allen C Guelzo calculated even lower numbers of 1 casualty for every 250-300 shots fired.
Rate of fire
The civil war musket could be loaded in practice in about 30 seconds by most well drilled soldiers. But just as with accuracy and range, in combat was not as impressive. There were 17 movements needed in the manual to load a musket properly to fire. Doing this with the noise, confusion, fear and other distractions of battle was no easy thing. In the heat of battle soldiers loaded their musket multiple times yet without firing a single shot. One gun was found loaded 23 times at Gettysburg. Other mishaps such as unopened cartage, ball behind powder etc were common and lead to misfires. Of the 24,000 muskets at Gettysburg retrieved by the north, half had 2 rounds and 20% 3 or more rounds loaded one had 20. 10% of muskets became unsuitable in combat. Misfires could be as high as 25%.
Commanders would conserve ammo in case of a charge from the enemy and fear of losing their ground. Units only brought enough ammo to last 30 min if they were to reload every 30 seconds. So while waiting for ammo, they would conserve it and slow the rate of fire.The rate of fire for entire units averaged 1 round per 2.1 min [included some breach loaders]. The slowest rate recorded was 1 shot fired every 4.6 min, the fastest recorded was 1 shot every 30 sec. Breach loaders averaged 1 shot every 12 seconds. Often faulty weapons, and lack of ammo had much to do with this.
Civil war Tactics
Many believe that the weapons of the civil war [The rifled musket] was a great improvement over the smothbore and this led the older Napoleonic linear tactics outdated and the reason for high causalities and the eventual entrenchments of late 64 and 65. That the generals of the civil war were slow to change the old ways and used outdated tactics. This is rejected now by many historians. The only aspect were the rifled musket changed civil war tactics was in sniping and skirmishing, the only places that the new musket was able to realize its full advantages. These changes happened early in the war on both sides, both sides were fast to change tactics when the rifled musket changed warfare. The generals who were in the battles, trained with the weapons and saw the results, also were in the best position to determine the correct tactics. They chose Linear Napoleonic tactics.
Many now believe the rifled musket was not a vast improvement in combat over the smothbore and that is the reason the Napoleonic tactics were still used, still effective, and the best tactics to win the engagement. Historian Allen C Guelzo argues The gunpowder of the time produced a great deal of smoke when fired. battles began with artillery firing for some time, and skirmishers had been firing at each other for some time. By the time the main lines of infantry began approaching each other, visibility was significantly obscured. Once the infantry began the main engagement, visibility quickly was reduced to almost nil. One solider from the 1st Minnesota wrote home the smoke “did not permit us to see anything clearly... we directed our fire at red flashes through the smoke.” Another solider said “The atmosphere was black with the smoke of battle...there was scarcely telling friend from foes.” Lack of viability due to terrain and smoke often causes friendly fire.
With the lack of visibility, only massed infantry fire was effective, and this reality is reflected in the tactics of the time. Guelzo argues that rifling only truly benefited the sharpshooters on the skirmish line, who fought before their visibility was obscured, but the main line of infantry could not take advantage of the benefits of rifling. Under the stress of battle, virtually every infantryman asked about aiming on the battlefield replied that in practice, the best one could do was "simply raise his rifle to the horizontal, and fire without aiming." Eyewitnesses report entire companies aiming their rifles at a 45 degree angle facing the sky and discharging their rifles at Bull Run. Such untrained soldiers could not be expected to engage an enemy much further than point blank range with any level of accuracy. Thus Guelzo doubts that contemporary military leaders blatantly ignored technological advances. Rather, generals did not alter their tactics not due to ignorance, but because the battlefield had not changed substantially from the Napoleonic era.
What other tactics could be used? Snipers and skirmishers were “brushed off” the battle once the main lines came into play. Any unit alone would be overwhelmed by firepower and if not connected in a line or had its flanks unprotected would than be flanked by devastating fire. Skirmishers could not be counted on to take and capture and hold strategic sites. Sending multiple small units in various directions would just lead to defender getting first volley and causing high causalities and a retreat. You had to mass men in large numbers in a attack to withstand volleys from the defender and counter with high concentrated fire. Or to keep up the pressure until the enemy gave way or out of ammo. Even when in a solid formation Individual fire was ineffective against solid lines of advancing enemy it was also more inaccurate. “Volley fire was always more accurate than individual fire because it was supervised” Individual fire just pecked at the enemy formation but volleys had the power to cause panic and crush the morale of the enemy, causing a retreat.
Rifled musket or Artillery won Fredricksburg
Maybe the battle most used to say that frontal assaults were less successful and the rifle musket changed combat is Fredricksburg. However that battle took place over long open terrain tacking up hill at entrenched dug in positions in the winter, the confederates also had a stonewall. The question should be should this attack have been made in the first place? Lieutenant Colonel Hawkings said if the union attacks “it will be the greatest slaughter of the war” Lieutenant Colonel Joesph Taylor said it would be“Murder not warfare.”
At this battle somewhat early in the war smoothbores were not all the uncommon on both sides. The confederates had the high ground and a stonewall to shoot behind. They also had all there best shots shooting while passing back muskets to men lying down undercover behind the wall, who than reloaded and handed back loaded weapons. This tactic enabled the south to keep up a rapid fire of their best shots in each regiment for the entire engagement. Despite all this, the union actually did make a breakthroughs in the line, but General franklin with his 50,000 troops, failed to send in his men when he should have, and confederate general Jackson counterattacked and pushed the north back. Bad leadership also doomed the attack from the start as the attack was generally carried out by one brigade at a time and union troops often received friendly fire in the back.
The Confederate Artillery at Fredricksburg
“A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it”
-Confederate Artillery specialist Alexander porter
All the confederate artillery were placed where they could fire across the entire field at all advancing soldiers. So when advancing the union men were hit from every angel. That battle had the largest % of causalities for either side in a major engagement from artillery fire. 50% of union losses were from artillery. Artillery normally made up around 6-12% of causalities. Artillery, not the rifled musket caused the devastating causalities of the north.
When artillery fire was not dominate such as when the union attacked Prospect Hill. Losses were 3,000 CSA and 3,100 USA despite the advantage of the hill and woods for the defenders. The confederate line was temporarily broke but Burnside sent no more reinforcements focusing his attack elsewhere.
But the losses for the north were around 12,500 For the south around 5,000. Given that half of the causalities reported were from artillery fire, that would bring northern causalities from the rifle musket and smothbore musket, to a total of 6,000-6,250 against the confederates on the high ground behind a stonewall with only best men firing a rapid fire. Hardley a example of a vast advantage of the musket in defensive combat.
“If the same battle were to be fought over again, every day, through a week of days, with the same relative results, the army under Lee would be wiped out to the last man, the army of the poromac would still be a mighty host, the war would be over, the confederacy gone”
Than compare with Chancellorsville a few months later. The south were more outnumbered in manpower than at Fredircksburg. Yet they won the battle by a maneuvering flanking attack. The losses for the north were around 17,000. For the south around 13,000. So being attacked the north lost 4,000 more men at Chancellorsville, at fredricksburg they lost 7,500 more. Not a drastic difference given the circumstances of the attack and artillery fire at fredricksburg. Frericksburg would later be taken by frontal assault during the Chancellorsville campaign.
“Men fired in battle their first shots with the army rifle, the value of the rifle as to accuracy was in a greater degree lost for want of proper training”
-Stephen Benet ordinance dept USA
Generals and military training manuals of the day, had units spend a great deal of time drilling and cleaning their weapons, yet target shooting was almost non existent in the civil war, target practice was“all but ignored.” There was no course in the entire united states to train men with the new rifle musket before the war. Even at the end of war 1865, there was only 50,000 federal soldiers in the federal army, the rest were state volunteers.
Typical officers were citizens soldiers with no more training than the average soldiers. They spent time drilling and working on maneuvers and soldier life. Often men were involved in multiple battles before ever shooting their weapon for practice. During The 24th Michigan's only target practice, 3 men were wounded and 1 was killed. The commander's reason for not practicing was “Live fire was almost as dangerous to the men who were delivering it as the enemy.” The 35th mass never held target practice for fear of other soldiers in the army reaction to live fire in the camp.
However it was usually lack of ammunition that made target practice rare or non existent. Because of this, live firing long range target practice was almost non existent in either army. The 13th mass formed in august 61, had there first target practice in the spring of 64 after fighting in 6 battles. Even as late as 64 a large portion of the union army was not familiar with their weapons. General Meade ordered 10 rounds target practice for all units in the spring of 1864 “To familiarize men with their weapon, It is believed numerous men have been in combat without firing their guns, guns filled to muzzle with cartilages.” In General Bragg's army of Tennessee not until the summer of 63 was the army given basics in loading and firing.
Target practice vs in Battle
Accuracy took a big hit from target practice while in battle. Crack shots while hunting or target practice as one solider put it “when in battle could not hit a barn.” Major Sykes commanded some regulars [well trained, drilled army units not volunteers] at Bull Run. Even his men who had been trained shooting when in batten “They were excited, and some of the recruits fired at the stars” and “It does disconcert one's aim to be under the direct fire of canon and musketry.” Others had “Guns raised at 45 degrees , I was fully assured that their bullets wouldn't hit the Yankees, unless they were nearer to heaven.”
The rifled musket bullet took trajectory upward passing above human level and needed special training to account for the trajectory, the smothbore did not. Yet Training schools did not start until the after the war. Men were simply told to “aim low” or at the knee to offset upward kick back of their weapon. This led to many soldiers unable to shoot with accuracy. As a example Around Vicksburg 25-26 June 1863 at a distance of 15 steps volley after volley were fired, with no causalities on either side. In open terrain a full volley given at 75 yards caused not one single hit. Some battles that lasted half a hour at 100 yards and less yet caused no causalities.
As calculated by Paddy Griffith the success achieved by the attacker, of the major 25 battles of the civil war vs Napoleonic wars.
Napoleon Civil War
Tactical victories 48% 36%
Strategic victories 60% 56%
Pyrrhic victories 24% 44%
Decisive victories 27% 20%
Lack of success in attack had more to due with morale, bad commands, lost orders, loss of ammo, unable to push forward due to exhaustion, generals not following orders, unclear orders, smoke and lack of vision, noise, and confusion all effected major attacks rather than the impact of the rifle musket. It was much easier to coordinate defensively over miles on the larger civil war battlefield's than coordinate a successful attack. For example in 1865 five orders were received by one unit, all contradictory. Lack of viability and confused when pushing into enemy territory alone caused many attacks to slow or fail. Local attacks that were successful were than often countered by fresh troops attacking and retaking the ground, thus the “Attack” failed.
As the war progressed after years of high causalities drop in motivation made longer ranges more often, and soldiers less likely to commit fully to a assault. Veteran soldiers were less willing to die, more careful, and less enthusiastic after years of fighting. Men forced into service in drafts were also less willing to die for the cause. However the success rate of the attacking army in the civil war compared to the attack % success was close to Napoleonic times[slight lower]. In Europe 1859-71 multiple attacks won major victories using the same tech as the civil war. Even frontal assault's on highly fortified positions could and were successful till end of war.
Some battles that were declared won by the defender, were actually won by the attacker. For example Shiloh day one the south attacked and won a great victory. Day two the north was reinforced and attacked the south, they won a great victory. Both days the attacker won, yet the “defender” [ the union] won the battle. Multiple battles were won by large counter attacks by the defender such as second manasas.
Defensive terrain also effected the outcome. Most battles were fought either in the dense Forrest of Tennessee or near Virginia's forests and many rivers. The terrain of the south offered numerous positions easy to defend giving the defender the natural advantage. If we are to accept the assumptions that General Lee was the greatest defensive general of the war. That the army of northern Virginia had the best soldiers and equipment the south had. Maybe even that Virginians defending their home state fought the hardest. Than all of these could play a factor in defensive success in the civil war. Most of the major battles won by the defender, were when lee was defending Virginia.
Reserves of fresh troops were kept to block advancing enemy and allow the defeated army to retreat safety, thus reducing lopsided victories. Unlike in many wars such as the mexican/american war when a line was broken, the whole army would retreat. In the civil war reinforcements would simply be sent to plug the whole. The massive size of civil war armies made it near impossible to defeat an entire army. The few that were Nashville and Appomattox were smaller sized civil war armies.
Constant close combat, not the rifle musket caused late war entrenchments. When general Grant took command he set out to be in constant fighting to drain the south of manpower. The close contact the armies from mid 64-65 led to entrenchments and fortification just as would happen in a smothbore war. During smothbore wars massive entrenchments would occur when armies were in prolonged contact such as sieges. The constant sniping and skirmishing that took place forces men into cover. Combined with the souths losses in the first years of the war and their need to defend key locations such as Richmond, also led to entrenchments. When Atlanta and Richmond were taken, maneuvering warfare started right back up. Early in the civil war entrenchments were also used before the rifled musket became widely used. In the Franco-Prussian war 1870-1871 that involved higher weapon tech [repeaters carbines etc] maneuvering warfare dominated with only light fortifications on a few occasions.
Entrenchments were frowned upon by many generals at the time because soldiers behind entrenchments could not form up fast for counter attacks and are less likely to leave their protection. At Chancellorsville part of what led to the 11th corps destruction was the men could not form up in time to react to Jackson flank attack. Also The best one could do is a stalemate.
“He who remains behind his entrenchments is beaten, exsperance and theory are one on this point”
Carbines ran out of ammo fast, were expensive and needed more supply wagons. The early repeaters were unreliable with many unable to shoot, cost effective muzzle loader was better to produce over breach loaders. The south could not produce them in any large number and the north, because of the cost and use of ammo, did not give them to standard infantry. Generals believed [and it happened] that soldiers would waste ammo with carbines and not take careful aim. Instead they wanted the relabel cheep musket for the infantry solider. With the musket time was taken to aim and reload. However some soldiers were allowed to pay for their own if they wanted one. Shermans army had more breach loaders than any other army. But they were a small minority still. However they were not always relabel. On may 1864 1st Pennsylvanian fired only 12-18 rounds per man per hour. In combat “Repeaters caused similar causalities to musket.” They were also less effective at long range and because of use of ammo they could not hold a position long.
High Causalities of the civil war
It is said because the rifled musket was more deadly, that led to higher causalities during the civil war. However smothbore battles led at times to even higher % loss of man in battles. The average loss in a major battle in the civil war was 9.8% Federal, and 14% confederate. The highest on either side for one battle was confederate loses at Gettysburg 30%. Compared with some Napoleonic smothbore wars and battles that is not massive. The civil war was likely a slight decline over the french revolution. The French Prussian wars losses were greater than the civil wars equaling 27% and 28%. Here are some major European smothbore battle loses.
Zorndorf in 1758 37.5% losses for the Prussians and 50% Russian.
Kunersdorf 1759 Russian 43% Austro-Russian 20%
Mellwitz 1741 22.4% Prussian 23% Austrian
Austerltz 1805 Allies lost 30%
Leipzig 1812 Borodino 32.5% 1813 Leipzig 28%
1745 A english force lost 50% in one attack
Salmanca 30% english loss
Waterloo 61% and 32%
Albueru 1811 44% both sides
Bunker hill Colonials 36% British 48%
Eutaw springs 1781 23% and 34%
Lundys lane 1814 30% and 24%
Last edited by 1stvermont
on Sun Oct 16, 2016 8:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"How do you like this are coming back into the union"
Confederate solider to Pennsylvanian citizen before Gettysburg
"No way sherman will go to hell, he would outflank the devil and get past havens guard"
Southern solider about northern General Sherman
"Angels went to receive his body from his grave but he was not there, they left very disappointed but upon return to haven, found he had outflanked them and was already there".
Northern newspaper about the death of Stonewall Jackson