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




 
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March 14th, 2009  
perseus
 
 

Topic: Why was small arms fire so ineffective in the 19th century?


I was recently watching a movie about the exploits of ‘Stonewall’ Jackson and his adventures during the American civil war. In the battle of Fredericksburg, the Union army had to charge across a plain and ditch and was stopped short of a wall. There they stood in a line where they were plummeted with fire from the Confederates soldiers hiding behind it. Yet it is not the carnage that astonishes me here but how many survived, in fact most of the Union army still managed to retreat time and time again despite repeated attacks. Out of 114 000 men engaged, the Union army suffered ‘only’ 12,653 casualties (1,284 killed, 9,600 wounded, 1,769 captured/missing. Why so low?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Fredericksburg

It seems to me the small arm weaponry used by soldiers was still slow firing, and remained so well into the 20th century. Why did they not simply give them revolvers? Better still adapt the revolver into a long barrelled weapon capable of firing say six reasonably accurate shots over a space of 6 seconds? Surely this would have rendered any offensive impossible against similar numbers of soldiers.
March 14th, 2009  
A Can of Man
 
 
I actually came across that thought before... the one about having revolvers modified with longer barrels and perhaps even a larger magazine.
A complete mystery as to why it never happened.
Actually I do believe such a weapon did exist (a revolver type rifle of sorts) but I don't know when it was introduced and just how popular or unpopular it was.
March 14th, 2009  
Partisan
 
 
Good point, here's my thought, for what they're worth.

There was one pistol, a Mauser, I can't remember which model, but it had a wooden holster, which could double as a stock. From what I recall it was quite dangerous up to nearly 1000 yards. I believe that Winston Churchill had one in the Boer War, so it was around for a while. I'm pretty sure that it was used in WWI, as well - damn more research to do..

Back to the original point, I think that it was basically down to engineering and expense in the first instance. The shorter the barrell, the shorter the range, as early firearms weren't that accurate they were combined into volley fire. As time progressed and accuracy longer range kills became possible, but generally the pistol was considereed a CQB weapon. The more accurate, longer range pistols costing more, as opposed to the cheaper mass produced rifles. Also where would you put your bayonet?

Also I feel that a pistol sort of became an officers badge, I can still remember in the Gulf, a Marine officer bitching that he only had a 9mm, whilst I had an SA80. I'm glad that IW in the British Army are now virtually all SA80, never could get on with pistols.
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March 14th, 2009  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Partisan
Good point, here's my thought, for what they're worth.

There was one pistol, a Mauser, I can't remember which model, but it had a wooden holster, which could double as a stock. From what I recall it was quite dangerous up to nearly 1000 yards. I believe that Winston Churchill had one in the Boer War, so it was around for a while. I'm pretty sure that it was used in WWI, as well - damn more research to do...

You are talking about the 1896 Mauser often referred to as the “Broom handle" in 7.63 Mauser, which is a bottle neck cartridge. The 1896 Mauser was also built in 9mm Parabellum/9x19/9mm Luger/9mm NATO (its the same round) with a red "9" carved into the butt. There was also a selective fire model with a 20 round magazine called the Schnellfeuer, the selector switch was fitted on the left side of the frame. A number were also built in Spain and the Chinese built a small number in 45ACP. Its a very complicated firearm, and would be horrendously expensive to build today.

I still come across them on occasions, sadly many are badly rusted and usually poor bores. In fact I think I have one tucked away in my vault at work in storage.

Churchill did indeed have one, just before he was captured he dumped the weapon before it was found, otherwise he could have been shot as a spy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Partisan
Back to the original point, I think that it was basically down to engineering and expense in the first instance. The shorter the barrell, the shorter the range, as early firearms weren't that accurate they were combined into volley fire. As time progressed and accuracy longer range kills became possible, but generally the pistol was considereed a CQB weapon. The more accurate, longer range pistols costing more, as opposed to the cheaper mass produced rifles. Also where would you put your bayonet?

Also I feel that a pistol sort of became an officers badge, I can still remember in the Gulf, a Marine officer bitching that he only had a 9mm, whilst I had an SA80. I'm glad that IW in the British Army are now virtually all SA80, never could get on with pistols.
A point to remember, a revolver was more complicated to make then a single shot muzzle loading musket or rifle. As Partisan stated, the pistol/revolver is indeed a close quarter battle weapon.

There was a revolver carbine built, one of the problems for the firer was the flame cutting of the left arm, because of the cylinder gap between the cylinder and the barrel.
March 14th, 2009  
perseus
 
 
Like this you mean?

http://www.alfa-proj.cz/en/products/...arms/carbines/

One of these reminds me of the contraption that Lee Van Cleef used in one of the Spaghetti Western's!
March 15th, 2009  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by perseus
Like this you mean?

http://www.alfa-proj.cz/en/products/...arms/carbines/

One of these reminds me of the contraption that Lee Van Cleef used in one of the Spaghetti Western's!

The site you showed are modern types using metalic cartridges, but the idea is the same.

The one I was talking about was a cap and ball.
http://www.adfoldwest.com/pistol-uberti.html (go right to the bottome of the page)

Those shown are modern day replica's of the originals built in Italy. Those I have shot and handled are actually very good. I owned an 1858 Remington 44 replica years ago, I was amazed how accurate it was.
March 15th, 2009  
LeEnfield
 
 
During the first half of the 19th Century the muzzle loading musket was still the main tool of the infantry which was not very accurate to say the least. During the American civil war you saw the largest progress in weapons for hundreds of years. The introduction of rifled barrels, percussion caps, the the brass cartridge, along with SLR and machine guns
March 16th, 2009  
BritinAfrica
 
 
One of the major problems regarding black powder firearms was the black powder residue which built up considerably during rapid fire. The muzzle loading rifles had major problems ramming a bore sized bullet into a barrel caked with the black powder residue build up.

This problem was solved with the Minie bullet which was undersized hollow base bullet, making it easier to ram into the barrel. On firing the “skirt” of the bullet expanded, gripping the rifling.

During the Battle of Rorkes Drift, the Martini Henry rifle barrels became too hot to touch, and soldiers often reverted to trying to pry stuck cases out of the chamber with their bayonet because of the black powder residue build up.
July 2nd, 2009  
George
 
Colt built a variety of revolving rifles in a number of calibers. The big concern wasn't the cylender gap( the men had long sleeve wool jackets) but a chin fire from flash jumping from mouth to mouth resulting in a ball through the left fore arm. There was also concern about ammo usage. remember it could be shipped by rail, but had to go by wagon from the nearest point. The Union Army was saved from annialation @ Chicamauga by 2 Regiments, 1 with 5 shot Colt revolving rifles(56 cal?) & 1 with...hmm, sharps, Spencer, Henry, can remember exactly. Low casualties occured by relativly small number of troops actaully being involved in combar vs the number present. The Confederate disaster @ Franklin (5 CS Generals KIA) ended before most of the CS Army of Tennessee arrived on the field
July 17th, 2009  
bulldogg
 
 
Pretty sure it was the Sharps.

War is a fertile field for innovation, always has been, always will. Smokeless powder was a result of what they learned on the battlefields of 19th century wars. Submarines, radar, paramedics, pennicilin, gas masks, latex condoms... the list is incredible. It would make a good thread... "What War-time Innovation has gifted the world".
 


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