Why was small arms fire so ineffective in the 19th century? - Page 5

October 13th, 2009  
"but IMHO the smoke after the first volleys was the big show stopper: You cannot hit what you cannot see, so massed directional volleys and also"

Good point, and cold weather or vegetation makes the smoke hang longer. Some armies were still using black powder cartridges into World War I, although most have converted by then.

Teddy Roosevelt commented on the U.S. using black powder and the Spanish using smokeless powder in the Spanish American War.

You can still watch combat footage of the Poncho Villa period in Mexico. You can see the smoke just blanket the positions.

Most modern reenactors use pyrodex powder, so you don't get the visual impact by watching them.
October 13th, 2009  
Here is that amount of ammunition the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars allocated for training. keep in mind that they had a good reputation across Europe for even practising musketry.

Cavalry: 30 blanks, 10 ball, 3 flints
Infantry: 60 blanks, 30 ball, 3 flints
Light infantry: 60 blanks, 50 ball, 3 flints
Rifle Corps: 0 blanks, 60 ball, 3 flints

Source: The British Military, Its System and Organization, 1803-1815. By S.J. Park and G.F. Nafziger.

It's probably out of print now. Nafziger is one of keenest scholars on this period of history.
October 13th, 2009  
Originally Posted by Lavite

Most modern reenactors use pyrodex powder, so you don't get the visual impact by watching them.
Most use FFF black powder. I tried pyrodex both pure & mixed with black powder, uncompressed Pyrodex is useless.
October 14th, 2009  
frpm http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/tactics.html

This is an article that gives some more insight on the ideas, tactics and probs of the time:

Why Did They Do That?
18th Century Military Tactics
by Donald N. Moran

During the last half of the sixteenth century a major breakthrough was made. A firing mechanism was invented which relied on a spark produced by a flint striking a steel plate to fire the weapon. This weapon was much lighter, did not require the matchlock's holding stand and could fire twice as fast. This was the flintlock musket. But, here again, after being fired, the musket was useless when the soldiers were engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
In the year1642 we find the first mention of the Bayonet. The name comes from the French cutlery manufacturing center of Bayonne, whose daggers and knives were well known at that time as "bayonets". These were "plug" bayonets. They were, quite simply, nothing more than daggers whose handle was modified to be inserted down the barrel of the musket. Although primitive, they did resolve the vulnerability of musketeer in close quarter battle.
This weapon had several drawbacks. The musket could not be fired with the plug bayonet in place. And, frequently it would become detached during use, leaving the musketeer semi-defenseless again. In 1671 another Frenchmen invented the socket bayonet. This foot long spear like device employed a metal sleeve which slipped over the end of the barrel. This permitted the musket to perform its firing function as well as that of the traditional pike. It revolutionized warfare and relegated the pikemen to the pages of history. However much this improved the musket, equipped with a socket bayonet, it was still very cumbersome. The famed British "Brown Bess" musket was very inaccurate. At fifty yards a well aimed musket*ball would have an eighteen inch variance. The musket was heavy, weighing over ten pounds, had a barrel at least three feet long and was difficult to aim. A flint was good for about twenty firings and frequently had to be replaced on the battlefield. Furthermore, the invention of smokeless powder was still a century away. After the first volley, the battlefield was obscured by smoke. Soldiers had to be trained to fire at areas rather then individual targets. With ample training a soldier could, in the stress of battle, fire three rounds per minute.
Battlefield tactics had to be modified to accommodate this new weapon. Linear tactics were developed. Instead of the large squares of pikemen moving as a block, the musketmen were usually lined up in three ranks, bringing the maximum number of muskets to bear on the enemy. Firing rank-by-rank, the massed musketmen could fire a devastating nine volleys per minute!
Tactics of this era sought to simply blast their opponents off the battlefield with concentrated musket fire. Unfortunately for the soldiers, it became a tactical fact of life, that a regiment was rated not by how well it could deliver a volley of musket fire, but rather, how well they could stand after receiving a volley.
As regimental reputations were built on battlefield gallantry, they began to develop more colorful uniforms. This was psychological warfare. A distinctive uniform of a well known regiment would instill fear in their opponents, often causing them to retreat rather than stand and fight. Each of the European nations created their own styles and colors of uniforms. This system remained in place until World War I. Since then, some individual regiments still have "full dress" or ceremonial uniform in addition to the service or field uniform.
Our for bearers were rightfully concerned when facing some of the British Regiments sent here to put down the rebellion. Some of them had fierce reputations and were known throughout the western world!
The traditional enemy of the colonists was the Indian. The tactics used to fight the Indians were quite different from those of massed European armies. Our use of Indian tactics inflicted numerous casualties upon the British, but if did not win battles.
It wasn't until the Continental Army, and to a lesser degree, the militia, mastered the art of 18th century warfare - - - standing in ranks and trading volleys and finally capturing the battle field at bayonet point, did we start winning battles.
With the loss of one third of their men, the British never forgot the lessons learned at Bunker Hill. They were always cautious about attacking Americans when in fortified positions. But, by the later stages of the war, the lines of the blue clad, battle hardened, American Continentals also struck terror in their hearts.
Linear tactics remained the rule through* out the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth centuries. The mass carnage caused by the invention of the machine gun in World War I forced these time honored tactics to change.
... and donīt ask me why the first part came out formatted centered, or wha itīs two parts, or why one part is bold, just posted a quote: Tried several time to allign left and join everything and unbold, but I guess I am too stupid for those modern methods...

October 14th, 2009  
Sorry, I have not read the entire thread. I am going to say barrel rifling was the malfunction. They simply did not have the aim or range to inflict the damage to beat out airburst shells.
October 14th, 2009  
A nice article, Rattler. Thanks for sharing. And like it points out, the Americans didn't win the war by shooting from behind trees as the myth goes. They won it by fighting in conventional European formations and with the bayonet.

The one significant exception is the Battle of Kings Mountain. Back wood settlers who really had no interest in the war, massed out of the hill country, attacked and exterminated a British led force with rifle fire after the British threatened to burn them out. After the battle, the frontiersman dispersed and just went home, threat removed.

The battle had a ripple effect on the rest of the British campaign in the region.
October 14th, 2009  
Thanks George

Originally Posted by rattler
but IMHO the smoke after the first volleys was the big show stopper: You cannot hit what you cannot see, Rattler
This is a good point which is often missed. I wonder if gunpowder/muskets would have allowed the attacking side to be more successful in more modern battles eg Somme, it effectively does two jobs in one providing the wind in right!
December 12th, 2009  
Gary of CA
A good book to read is Prof. Earl Hess's The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat. Hess argues that the percentage of casualties were no greater with the superior rifle musket of the Civil War era than that of the smoothbore musket of the Napoleonic period.

What the rifle musket did was enable a soldier who did know how to shoot, to shoot farther than he could otherwise do had he been armed with a musket. One thing to remember is that marksmanship was not really taught in the Civil War army. It depended on the regiment's colonel and then only if the ordnance officer would supply the ammunition. Most officers thought it was a waste of time, lead and powder.

Now, as to why men missed so much, read David Grossman's book, On Killing.
December 12th, 2009  
I belive it is because of two main reasons.

first it was how the ammunition fit the rifle. the mini ball was a vast improvement on the musketball, but it still shared the problem of a imperfect fit. Many of the firearms used( in particular the CSA) where smoothbore and not rifles. The smooth bores did not give the ball the 'spin'as rifling does making it far less accurate.

Secondly i believe it was because nearly every rifle produced lacked all but the most basics of sites. The only thing most rifles had was a small brass bump at the end of the barrel. This discouraged individually aiming and instead focused on a leveled group volley adhering to the theory of massed concentrated fire.

In short the firearms where still impossible to aim properly, a skilled soldier could put a ball through a window at 100 yards. The problem was most soldiers on both sides where draftees with little training, and still bound to a officer's order to fire.

Sharp shooters enjoed targeting sites, unrestricted orders to engage, and a high degree of skill as only the best in a brigade would be given into the sharpshooter's company ( assuming the brigade even formed one) As a reward, the sharpshooters enjoyed a much more effectiveness when engaged, and it is because of the lack of the luxuries that the common infantryman suffered from why they performed lower than could be expected.

As the war progressed losses became greater, but lets not forget weather and fatigue would play a large effect. I've been out in the cold for extended periods of time. After a while its hard to control your hands, or keep objects steady. I would imagine they suffered from this too.

Sorry for the bad grammar, and spelling- im dead tiered @_@
December 12th, 2009  
Now, as to why men missed so much, read David Grossman's book, On Killing.
Care to give us a short summary?

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