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Login Name Post: Early War Marksmanship and Effective Range of Infantry Weapons        (Topic#306093)
tenngun 
Cannon
Posts: 7326
tenngun
03-31-18 03:49 AM - Post#1677349    

    In response to Artificer

So many of the officers were fresh out of civilian jobs and as green as their men. Had the hunted most would have done so with small game and fowl. Ranges of twenty five yards or there abouts. They had no experience at estimating ranges. The rainbow trajectory of most any muzzle loader resulted in men being put in to line readied to fire and giving a volley and in that time the enemy marching enough closer that shot flew over their heads.

 
Artificer 
Cannon
Posts: 7058
03-31-18 08:19 AM - Post#1677365    

    In response to tenngun

  • tenngun Said:
So many of the officers were fresh out of civilian jobs and as green as their men.



Absolutely right.

Not only that, but there was no sizeable force of Veteran NCO's or Prior NCO's who could take over the job of teaching these things to raw recruits.

Gus

 
tenngun 
Cannon
Posts: 7326
tenngun
03-31-18 05:22 PM - Post#1677461    

    In response to Artificer

And we are always experts at winning the last war. Never before in America had such armies engaged or delt with such a large front.
Then the addition of railroads and telegraphs brought a undreamed of change to the war.

 
Artificer 
Cannon
Posts: 7058
04-01-18 01:40 PM - Post#1677598    

    In response to tenngun

  • tenngun Said:
And we are always experts at winning the last war. Never before in America had such armies engaged or delt with such a large front.
Then the addition of railroads and telegraphs brought a undreamed of change to the war.



Please understand I am not trying to be personally critical of you or put words in your mouth, but this goes to the statement/belief that is too often used to explain why “Napoleonic and even actually earlier Battle Tactics” were used in the early stages and for much of the UnCivil War. Such thinking does not take into account the primary Infantry Weapons available in the early years of the War.

Going back to my original post, probably the most deadly accurate of all troops at the beginning of the War, were those who got training with the M1855 Rifle Musket (RM for abbreviation from now on) at 200 to 700 yards and especially those troops who used these RM’s in combat prior to the War. However, there just were not that many Officers and Men who had that training and experience and some of them went home to the South at the beginning of the War. These Veterans could have formed a nucleus of Marksmanship Training for both sides as long as the New Troops they taught were actually armed with a new Model RM. But, that is the “gorilla in the room” as most troops did not have the new Minie’ Ball firing RM’s at the beginning of the War, so we must consider what Arms were available.

By far the most common Arms available on both sides at the beginning of the War were Smoothbore Muskets with a maximum effective range of 100 yards that was the same going all the way back to the AWI and earlier. These included 700,000 M1816/22/30/40 that had been converted to Percussion and some that were then converted to Percussion, 275,000 M1842 Percussion Muskets and some civilian contract copies; and believe it or not there were still a fair number of “English” or Brown Bess muskets left over from the War of 1812. (There was a Michigan Regiment at Gettysburg that was still armed with Brown Besses in 1863, though I don’t know whether or not they were converted to Percussion.) So there was no such thing as “Long Range Tactics” that were possible with those Arms. OK, so what about other Military Rifles?

Approximately 70,000 Model 1841 “Mississippi” Rifles were produced by Harpers Ferry and contractors between 1846 and 1855 and there were also left over M1817 Rifles converted to percussion. However, these were Round Ball Rifles used with Patches and not Minie’ Ball RM’s. Their maximum effective range might have been 300 yards, but probably 200 yards was the combat effective range just as it had been for RB Rifles going back to the AWI. BTW, this Model Rifle was THE most common Arm contracted for with Southron Armsmakers in the early stages of the War, as it had such a good reputation with Southron Troops using it in the Mexican War AND they knew how to make Round Ball Rifles.

OK, what about the number of M1855 RM’s available and that actually used a Minie’ Ball that were effective at much longer distances than the Arms previously mentioned? Total production before the War was 80,000 and those were split up between the Pre-War Regular U.S. Army as well as having been sent to National Armories in both the North and the South. 10,000 had been sent to California, so they were not available for use in the East or what they considered “The West,” that we now consider the Mid-West.

The Model 1861 Rifle Musket did not get into production and sent to Troops until very late in 1861 at the earliest and not in any major quantity until 1862. British Enfield Rifle Muskets were purchased during the same period by both the South and the North, the latter because even with Springfield Armory and other Contractors in the North manufacturing M1861’s at full production output, they could not keep up with demand for the New Minie’ Ball firing RM’s.

What this tells us is the Overwhelming Majority of Weapons available to BOTH sides in the early stages of the UnCivil War were no more accurate than Arms dating back to the Revolutionary War, though of course with the Percussion System, they were more weather proof and more “sure fire.” So it was just not possible to have any really Long Range Accuracy with most of the Arms available and a MAJOR FACTOR of why they had to stick with “Old Fashioned Linear Tactics” dating back from before the Revolutionary War. But even this does not account for the “Other Gorilla in the Room” that explains why “Napoleonic or Linear Tactics” were so widely used throughout the War.

The other “Gorilla in the Room” was the fact that even with the most Up To Date Percussion RM’s, Breechloaders and even early Cartridge Arms in the UnCivil War were still using Black Powder. When large bodies of Troops fired ANY Black Powder Arm, they still had to deal with the effects of Black Powder. One Volley by either side made it difficult to see or be seen until the smoke cleared. Two or more quick Volleys often/usually unintentionally set up a “smoke screen” that masked both sides from being clearly seen. If you can’t clearly see your target, you can’t accurately hit the target at long range, nor even rather close range. So even if a Unit had Long Range Capable, Minie’ Ball Firing RM’s; there were only going to be so many times they could fire at extended range in between waiting to have the smoke clear. As both sides closed and firing increased, it was difficult to see other than large formations to shoot at beyond 100 yards. This is no doubt the reason they were still using “Outdated” Linear Tactics, even though the effective range of Minie’ Ball Firing RM’s was so much greater than earlier Smoothbore Muskets.

Gus

 
tenngun 
Cannon
Posts: 7326
tenngun
04-01-18 04:35 PM - Post#1677650    

    In response to Artificer

That’s all true. I think I wasn’t real clear. The Last war America fought was the Mexican war and that was the one I was referring to. The armies that fought in Mexico were about the size of WTBS divisions.
The principles of war go back to Egypt but manipulating men on the ground in this whole new way was on as yet unknown American skill. The Feds would deploy almost twice as many men as the entire population of Washington’s America. The south almost half as many. Battlefields had never been any where near as large. And to the inexperienced officer, from company to corps grappling with this was an unknown frontier.

Edited by tenngun on 04-01-18 04:38 PM. Reason for edit: No reason given.

 
smoothshooter 
45 Cal.
Posts: 984
04-01-18 06:39 PM - Post#1677679    

    In response to tenngun

Given the trajectories of rifled muskets, beyond 175-200 yards, a range estimation error of even 75 feet could result in a clean miss even high or low, with no wind and perfect zero of the sights, neither of which was a common circumstance I would think.

More open troop combat formations that became commonplace as the war progressed made hits more difficult as well because the chances of aiming at one individual, missing him, and hitting another one beside or behind him by accident were greatly reduced.

Edited by smoothshooter on 04-01-18 06:41 PM. Reason for edit: No reason given.

 
Artificer 
Cannon
Posts: 7058
04-02-18 03:35 AM - Post#1677710    

    In response to smoothshooter

  • smoothshooter Said:
Given the trajectories of rifled muskets, beyond 175-200 yards, a range estimation error of even 75 feet could result in a clean miss even high or low, with no wind and perfect zero of the sights, neither of which was a common circumstance I would think.



Back in the 1980’s when I was doing most of my WBTS reenacting, I found original documentation in one of my books that detailed how to estimate range by how clear certain parts of the body of enemy soldiers could be seen at different ranges out to 500 yards. Since I spent a lot of time on Rifle Ranges in those days, I tried it on the ranges and found it pretty accurate. I then passed that information along to the Instructors at the Marine Corps Scout Snipers Instructors School. They were very surprised at the information and when they tried it out, they also found it very accurate. They had never heard of the information and when they asked me where it came from, they were amazed it came from the UnCivil War time period. I would love to pass that information along, but I don’t remember it all nowadays and the book I found it in was loaned out years ago and never returned.

Even with the Adjustable Sight Leaves on Springfield Rifle Muskets, it was true they had to “Aim at the Knee’s” of enemy soldiers in close in fighting in the woods. The 100 yard rear sight notch was pretty accurate for that distance and could be used to 200 yards with aiming at different parts of the body. The Short Leaf 300 yard sight was normally used beyond that distance and they were taught to aim a bit low until the distance was about 300 yards. I’m convinced the 500 yard sight was only effective against troop formations by the majority of soldiers, though some expert marksmen learned to hit individuals at that range. Already noted in the Pre War Years how some U.S. Soldiers were trained in how to set their sights and aim at different parts of the body to hit between 200 and 700 yards. So accuracy of the Springfield was good enough to do these things as long as the Troops were trained and had experience with shooting at longer distances. Of course, if they did not have that training, then we are back to explaining why the troops were often directed to fire at 100 yards.

The Enfield Rear Sight had a notch to fire at 100 yards and notches on the Sight ladder for every 100 yards beyond that out to 900 and some 1,000 yards. Though again it took training and experience to use the sights at extended ranges, U.S. Major General John Sedgwick was killed at Chancellorsville by Confederate Marksmen at a range of between 800 and 900 yards with standard Enfield Rifle Muskets. (It is sometimes incorrectly assumed/stated it was done using Whitworth Sniper Rifles, but that was not correct, as it was standard Enfield RM’s they used.)

Further the British had developed more written information on how to use their adjustable sights before the UnCivil War and they began with using a “half sight” or half front sight to be dead on at 100 yards. They also taught how to use “aiming with fine sight will give a little less elevation and aiming with a full sight a little more” when shooting at distances between the 100 yard sight settings. This information was passed along when both Confederate and Union Arms Buyers bought Enfield Rifles in England.

Of course such information was best used by Skirmishers who were sent well ahead of the Main Battle Line and deployed in a single line, loose formation in advance and/or on the flanks of the main body. These men took advantage of cover and would fire from the prone or kneeling positions. With the looser/single line formation, they did not have to worry as much about clouds of Black Powder smoke spoiling their aim. Hardee’s Manual groups these men into “fours” and calls them “Comrades in Battle,” not unlike what we call a Fire Team today. These troops drew the enemy's fires, developed his position, and warned comrades of imminent clash.

  • smoothshooter Said:
More open troop combat formations that became commonplace as the war progressed made hits more difficult as well because the chances of aiming at one individual, missing him, and hitting another one beside or behind him by accident were greatly reduced.



I am not sure what you are referring to? “Open Order” was a looser order than a Main Battle Line, but was only generally used when fighting in woods or in thick cover such as in the Seven Days Battles and at the Wilderness, because they could not maintain close to shoulder to shoulder order in a Battle Line in areas/conditions like that. Smaller Units might have gone to “Open Order” when behind field fortifications or entrenchments, to extend their line as wide as the Enemy’s Main Battle Line. However, if that Smaller Unit did that and charged an Enemy’s Main Battle Line with more men in the Enemy’s line than the Smaller Unit, the only hope was if the Smaller Unit’s Charge broke the spirit of the larger Unit. If the Smaller Unit’s charge did not break the enemy’s will/spirit, then the Smaller Unit got shot to pieces and especially by Opposing Combat Veterans.

They did use a Single File, Loose Order when attacking the Flanks, BUT if the opposing forces correctly “refused the flank” at the end of their Main Battle Line, then that Single File got shot to pieces and survivors were forced to withdraw.

As mentioned above, Skirmishers were sent out in a loose/open formation, BUT they also had to withdraw when the Opposing Battle Line was advanced against them.

Gus

 
tenngun 
Cannon
Posts: 7326
tenngun
04-02-18 10:09 AM - Post#1677738    

    In response to Artificer

Besides things like avarage eyesight and non corrected vision playing apart there was also the sighting system. The second leaf is uncomfortable to aim through and the third leaf very uncomfortable. The front sight covers two or three men at two hundred yards and the best part of a squad at 300..... if the shooter could focus on them..... accurate rifles don’t help if you can’t aim the gun well.

 
Artificer 
Cannon
Posts: 7058
04-02-18 01:12 PM - Post#1677765    

    In response to tenngun

I'm kind of surprised you find the Springfield front sight too thick, as it comes to a point at the top of the front sight? Or are you referring to a repro front sight?

Yes, one may have to move their cheek position higher on the stock to use the short leaf and especially the long leaf, but that is necessary for the trajectory of the Minie' Ball.

Gus

 
tenngun 
Cannon
Posts: 7326
tenngun
04-02-18 03:38 PM - Post#1677793    

    In response to Artificer

The trajectory requires it for sure, however it takes lots of practice to be able to use it and get a good sight picture. The blades does point , again good if used correctly, but shooting at long range it’s easy to move too low in the picture and cover up your target.
A bit of a fail happens when one considers real battle conditions. Getting a good sight picture on a thin blue (or grey) line approximately three hundred yards away (250-400)under the stress of battle it’s a wonder they got a hit at all.
In the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’ the Sargent tells the men “ if they see five Germans take a shot, one, don’t waste your ammunition” . The M1 would outshoot a riffled musket, and the WW 2 men were taught to shoot in away no WTBS soldier could hope for.
I don’t know if any real sergeant said this, but for sure it was wise use of ammo.
It took a mans weight in lead to kill him, and all in all the blu bellies and Johnny reb did pretty well.

 
Artificer 
Cannon
Posts: 7058
04-02-18 04:14 PM - Post#1677799    

    In response to tenngun

"It took a mans weight in lead to kill him"

Please understand this is no criticism of you, BUT this was a hugely exaggerated myth, even during the period. It actually took between 250 to 300 shots to mortally wound/kill a man, BUT that included a whole lot of shots fired from Smoothbore Muskets.

But lets take the 300 shots only with Rifled Muskets and see what the figures are then. At 1.14 Oz. per Minie' Ball, that's under 21 1/2 pounds of lead at most and of course that is due in part because they often had to blast away at each other when the black powder smoke hid each side from view.

The other end of the Spectrum were the Sharpshooters (period term for Snipers) on both sides, who with under a hand full of shots at most, hit their individual targets as far away as 800 to 900 yards, like Union General Sedgwick. However, that kind of shooting required careful aiming the Average Soldier in a Battle Line could not do.

When soldiers could rest their RM's on field fortifications or even split rail fences, or fired prone; the number of hits to balls fired went way up and that was with the common soldiers. This is part of the reason that Skirmishers were more effective and got a larger number of hits than the average soldier in a Battle Line - until they were driven away by an opposing Main Battle Line.

Gus

 
tenngun 
Cannon
Posts: 7326
tenngun
04-02-18 04:58 PM - Post#1677804    

    In response to Artificer

well yes it was an exaggeration, one that seems to be said at the time, however the fact it was said bears some light on the subject, that the avarage expectation was to miss. About 2000 shots to equal a small mans weight.
Sharp shooters were better for sure, something that holds true in any war.

 
Artificer 
Cannon
Posts: 7058
04-02-18 05:11 PM - Post#1677808    

    In response to tenngun

In the early 1980's and the first time I saw the inside of the USMC Scout Sniper Instructors Course "School Room," I was very pleasantly surprised to see a print of a Confederate Sharpshooter in a tree and taking aim at an unseen enemy soldier.

Of course with a humorous query, I asked them, "You aren't still teaching Snipers to shoot from trees, are you?" Can't write exactly what they said on a family friendly forum, but the response was negative. Then I asked them if they knew WHY UnCivil War Period Sharpshooters often shot from trees when they could? They didn't realize it was to get above the Black Powder smoke from their own side and to get a better aim at higher ranking Officers behind the Enemy's Battle Line.

Gus

 
crockett 
Cannon
Posts: 6279
04-03-18 08:52 AM - Post#1677916    

    In response to Artificer

Does anyone know exactly how the light infantry shooting was set up? Maybe it was WWII but I thought various soldiers took care of various ranges, you didn't have everyone just picking their own targets. So some shooting at troops 500 yards off, then 300, others at 100 yards. It may have been that the military thought shooting at individual targets was a waste of time hence not that much time in target practice.

 
Artificer 
Cannon
Posts: 7058
04-03-18 12:17 PM - Post#1677959    

    In response to crockett

My Dad was drafted in 1945 after VE day, but before VJ day and they fired many rounds at all yard lines up to and including the 500 yard line for qualification. They even fired at 600 and 1,000 yards, though that was not for qualification score.

The rifle sights were set at their "Battle Sight Zero" (BZO) for combat and that meant the "dope" or adjustments from their 300 yard prone firing. They were taught to aim a bit low at closer ranges, depending on how close they were to the enemy. BTW, to this day the BZO remains 300 yards.

OK, we have to get this back into the period discussion or the moderators will likely complain.

The Springfield M1855,61,63 Rifle Muskets all had the shorter of the 2 flip up rear sight leaves that was supposed to be used for 300 yard shooting. For a long time I wondered if that was their BZO like modern Armed Forces personnel still learn to this day. However, I could not find period documentation for it and because of the way they had to aim very low at short range with the 100 yard sight, I can't see the short sight leaf 300 yard setting as their BZO. I believe they left both sight leaves down and used the 100 yard sight most of the time and perhaps only Skirmishers and Sharpshooters (Snipers) commonly employed the sight leaves to shoot at longer ranges.

There is documentation that the best shots in each Company, Battalion, or Regiment were issued special "Sharpshooter" Rifles like the Whitworth or other Target Rifles when available. The next best shots were assigned to the Skirmish Lines, because it was there they could make the best use of their long range skills.

Now because of their mostly uncorrected vision, or the rather poor quality of eyeglasses in those days, some of the Skirmishers may have been able to hit well up to say 300 yards, but not further. Others with better eyesight would have been able to hit up to 500 yards. Sharpshooters (no doubt with the best eyesight) were hitting individual targets at 800 and 900 yards.

So the best answer I can give to your question would be those soldiers who were more capable of hitting at longer ranges, were assigned to shoot at those ranges. Those who were still good at what we might call "Mid Range" or "Mid Long Range," were no doubt ordered not to fire until the enemy was within their accuracy range.

Gus


 
MacLeod46 
32 Cal.
Posts: 10
05-14-18 07:30 AM - Post#1684625    

    In response to Artificer

Thank you for the link. All of that has been of great interest to me since I was a kid and that was a long time ago.

 
Redstick Lee 
36 Cal.
Posts: 58
Redstick Lee
05-20-18 11:49 AM - Post#1685522    

    In response to MacLeod46

to all:

in my section of the South, the best shots were sent to the County Seat to muster in, while the main body were mustered in at local Churches, Court-Houses, Taverns, etc.

My local regiment was the Jacksonville (Al.) Sharp-Shooters.........4 miles away were the White Plains Rangers, and most others from the county were simply the 11th Alabama.

 
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