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Introduction

Ajhall issued the challenge, to prove whether or not the rifled musket really made that much difference in warfare, the conventional wisdom being that the greater accuracy of the rifled musket greatly changed warfare.

Though I generally do not like “conventional wisdom”, having done no research myself I pretty much always agreed with the idea just because it seemed plausible. I actually recall mentioning the fact on occasion, even as recently as this year.

The Weapons

The smoothbore musket is accurate to maybe 50 yards when aimed. A round ball fired from a smooth barrel is fairly unstable and just not very accurate. At over 50 or so yards hitting a target becomes as much a matter of luck as skill.

Rifling the barrel of a musket and using a hollow-based conical bullet that expands when the bullet is fired causes the bullet to spin and greatly increases accuracy. The various rifled muskets used in the American Civil War are accurate to 300-400 yards or more in the right hands, though with the sighting systems available hitting a target at more than 200-250 yards involved a high amount of skill not likely found in the average soldier.

Additionally, the improved ignition systems (percussion cap) of the more modern rifled musket was a great improvement over the earlier flintlock systems, allowing soldiers much less chance of misfire…which at minimum forced the soldier to recharge his weapon, and actually could take the soldier out of the battle altogether to find another weapon. It also sped up the loading process by eliminating the need to pour powder into the flashpan, which could be difficult in the middle of a battle and impossible while walking/running.

And the use of hollow-based conical bullets also sped up the reloading process somewhat. The round balls used in smoothbore muskets were cast slightly smaller than the bore of the barrel for easier loading, then the paper from the cartridge was crammed into the barrel over the ball to prevent it’s rolling out. Fumbling with the wad of paper seems pretty difficult while under fire This is probably slower than simply inserting a slightly loose conical bullet into the muzzle. And though each additional fired round in either musket makes ramming more difficult as partially burned powder accumulates in the barrel, ramming is much more easily accomplished with the hollow-based conical bullet.

For these reasons I have always assumed that the greater accuracy and firing rate of the percussion lock rifled musket definitely influenced tactics, casualty numbers, etc, of the ACW. Surely the number of men struck by bullets was much greater in the ACW than in earlier wars.

Fighting Tactics

By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, infantry tactics with smoothbore muskets had evolved to massed fire from tightly packed groups of infantrymen. The men stood shoulder to shoulder and fired in volleys at another tightly packed formation also firing in volleys. Usually the units would make some provision for firing from multiple ranks. Either the first rank would kneel and the second rank would fire over their heads while the first rank reloaded, the second rank would step forward/first rank backwards, or the second rank would fire between the heads of the men in the first rank when they reloaded. Either method would send twice the lead flying in the direction of the enemy compared to a single rank, and lessen the time between volleys.

These formations would usually stand in an open field, 50-100 yards apart. Each unit would fire volleys at the other, with the goal being one formation or the other would take so many casualties that the commander of the unit would order a retreat, or the men in the formation would lose heart and run away. Usually one or both sides had artillery to aid in the process of disheartening the enemy, and if available cavalry would also be used to encourage the enemy to break ranks and run.

As mentioned above, the reloading process of the flintlock musket made it extremely difficult to reload on the move, moreso than with the later percussion lock, so once placed the formation usually did not move unless under mutually supported fire from another formation.

In the ACW, the formations were usually much longer lines of one or two ranks. Again, though much easier to reload, the rifled musket was difficult to load while walking or running, so a formation would usually load before moving, hold their fire until in position, then fire a volley. If a frontal assault was ordered, men would “fire at will” having to stop to reload before firing each round. This caused a formation to disorganize and fall apart fairly quickly, so the order to “charge” was usually not given until the formation was within range to fire at the enemy, which means that they were also in the enemy’s range.

There were various tactics used to overcome that issue, usually the assault was in multiple waves, or a single wave where the attackers massed on a single point in the defender’s line.

Taking Aim

We are told that often the soldiers considered it “ungentlemanly” to actually take aim when firing into a formation, in the American Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, and American Civil War. That they just fired in the general direction without aiming. I personally think that though there probably is some truth to that, it is more likely that it was an explanation to excuse men not aiming their weapons for other reasons.

Men being shot at are naturally frightened, to the extent that they were/are often just going through the motions that they were trained to do. This is the purpose for military training and drilling in the first place, for soldiers to act properly without thinking in situations where there is not time to think. There are accounts of men forgetting to pull the trigger and just ramming multiple unfired rounds into the barrel, men pulling the trigger constantly forgetting to reload, etc. In the confusion and noise of battle, it is easier to do this than one might think.

Also, the reloading process of the muzzleloading musket was so involved that the men just didn’t have time to aim, especially when firing in volley. The goal was to send the maximum amount of lead possible towards the enemy and taking time to aim was less important than each soldier quickly reloading so the group could fire another volley.

I am reminded of footage I saw as a kid on the evening news...of American soldiers fighting in Vietnam from a bunker....holding their M-16s over their heads firing out of the bunker totally without aiming. Is this so different than a man hastily reloading, throwing his musket to his shoulder, quickly firing without aiming, and performing the reloading process again?

Another consideration comes from the ignition systems both of the flintlock and percussion lock musket. During ignition, the flashpan on the flintlock contains an open, burning charge of black powder, throwing sparks and smoke upwards and to the right of the musket after the trigger is pulled. Also, the flint striking the frizzen causes pieces of flint to fly, and though they mostly fall into and around the flash pan, it is possible for them to fly towards the shooter’s face.

Although the percussion lock’s charge is contained in a brass primer, there is also a smaller flash and often flying pieces of brass when the hammer strikes the cap, and often the entire cap flies off of the nipple. It is natural reflex for the eyes to close when there are foreign objects flying towards them, and human nature to close the eyes in anticipation of fire or foreign objects about to fly near the eyes when one knows that they are about to.

Also, the smoke from both black powder and fulminate of mercury (the charge contained in a percussion cap) is very acrid and greatly irritates the eyes.

For these reasons I feel that it is highly probable many soldiers using both smoothbore and rifled muskets actually had their eyes closed while firing the weapons.

Additionally, the smoke from the black powder used in both weapons is thick and blocks the frontal view of the soldier immediately after firing the weapon. If there was no wind blowing, after a few volleys the view on the battlefield would be so obscured by smoke that neither side would be able to aim at the other. Add additional smoke from other units, and even more smoke from the artillery, in a short period of time the entire battlefield would be covered in a cloud of thick white smoke.

In other words, it is very likely that a soldier firing a muzzleloading weapon, whether flintlock or percussion lock, was not actually taking aim at his target. Regardless of the reason, failure to aim would negate most of the benefit of the rifled musket over the smoothbore musket, only the capability of faster reloading would remain, and that benefit would be recognized mainly from volley fire.

Evolution of Tactics

Looking at the battle tactics of the American Civil War compared to those of the Napoleonic Wars, and also the American Revolution, tactics definitely did evolve. The earlier wars were fought nearly completely with troops standing in the open formation to formation, with the occasional attack against defended fortifications.

Less than a year into the ACW, troops were taking cover behind walls, fences, and other existing protection, and soon were building their own personal protection on the battlefield. Massed fire was still important, but nearly gone were the formations standing in the open “toe to toe”. With the invention of the metal shovel, Union soldiers were “digging in” on the battlefield, and it became common to start digging some kind of protective cover in nearly every battle as soon as the soldiers were in place. Memoirs mention Confederate soldiers using frying pans, pieces of wood, or anything else they could get their hands on to dig in. Later in the war during the move towards Richmond, deep trenches were used and the “trench warfare” that was to be used in the First World War was created.

But were these the result of the greater accuracy of the rifled musket? Or the result of soldiers being led mostly by officers without military training, who saw no problem with soldiers taking cover to fire at a massed enemy, and weren’t held to age old conventions by tradition? Or merely the evolution of warfare in the United States?

I think of the “Sunken Road” at the Battle of Shiloh, the first instance that I personally know of with soldiers defending a hastily chosen position with some cover. The Union soldiers under BG Benjamin Prentiss and BG W.H.L. Wallace took cover behind the low bank of an old roadbed and defended against a larger massed Confederate force for seven hours. Both men had served briefly in the US Army during the Mexican War, but neither were West Point nor military academy graduates and therefore not steeped in the traditions of Napoleonic tactics taught by military instructors.

Maybe a little ironic, the soldiers they defended against were for a portion of the time being personally led by Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, a West Point graduate of 1826, who had spent most of his adult life in the US Army. His men assaulted the Union position time after time with incredible casualties...a position that they very likely could have bypassed hours earlier...and finally overtook it after a massed fire of 50 cannon fired at the position for a period of time.

Eight months later finds the Confederate forces at Fredericksburg under Lt. Gen Longstreet in their own “sunken road”, behind a four foot wall enhanced with log breastworks and abatis, and the men under Lt. Gen Jackson behind a wooded ridge, each soldier having dug in the best he could. Longstreet, a West Point graduate who had spent his entire adult life in the US Army, and Jackson, a West Point graduate who after nine years in the US Army accepted a teaching position at Virginia Military Institute, obviously ignored the traditions that they had been taught. The commander of the overall Confederate forces, General Robert E. Lee, was a West Point graduate, had spent his entire adult life in the US Army, and had been the commandant of West Point, obviously was fine with his army taking cover and not standing in the open.

For whatever reason, fighting tactics had obviously evolved by the end of 1862.

The Hypothesis

The hypothesis is: Due to greater accuracy, rifled muskets caused much higher casualties in battle over smoothbore muskets.

Is there any way to really determine this? The only possibility that I can think of is to look at individual battles in the different conflicts, and try to determine if there was a significant increase in casualties after the advent of the rifled musket. Since each battle was fought with different numbers of men, the logical way to look at it is to take the number of soldiers engaged in each battle, and determine the percentage of those soldiers who were hit by flying bullets.

I looked at 16 of randomly chosen battles during the Napoleonic Wars. (I chose 16 because I was tired of looking and decided not to look for a 17th) I chose battles throughout the various campaigns, but limited it to those that the “killed and wounded” numbers could be separated from the “missing in action”, “captured”, “died of sickness”, or other non-battlefield casualty statistics. Where the number of soldiers actually engaged was determined over the number of soldiers available, I chose the former. Of these, I determined the percentage of soldiers present or engaged who were killed or wounded in each battle.

Next I looked at 16 randomly chosen battles of the American Civil War. I chose battles both of the Eastern and Western theaters. In one case I used the numbers from an entire campaign (Seven Days) rather than the individual battles, because I used one campaign’s numbers from the Napoleonic Wars. I did not use minor battles or skirmishes due to the fact that though figures for them are readily available for the ACW, they aren’t as available for the Napoleonic Wars.

Finally, just for interest, I took two battles from the American Revolution that were fought by the two armies in the open. One was a British victory, the other a Continental victory, and determined the percentages of killed and wounded as with the previous battles.

What do I hope to prove with this exercise? It stands to reason that if the hypothesis is true, battles fought with smoothbore weapons should necessarily have lower casualty percentages than those fought with rifled weapons.

Problems

My first issue with a study such as this is that making it purely scientific is impossible. Every battle in both wars should be considered, but that is neither possible nor practical. And as no two battles were fought exactly alike, there can never be an “apples for apples” comparison. Also, fairly early in the ACW both armies started using cover when possible and practical, something seldom done during the Napoleonic Wars.

The term “casualties” , especially with individual battles in the Napoleonic Wars is too often a lumped sum of “killed”, “wounded”, and “missing or captured”, and of course any casualty that was not hit by a bullet skews the results. In many cases my “casualty” number involved subtracting the number of “missing” from a total number of casualties. That possibly skews the numbers if a substantial number of “missing” soldiers had been killed or wounded.

Likewise, it is hard to determine in some cases how many soldiers in an army actually were engaged in a battle, you often are given the number of men available on the field, but just don’t know how many of these were actually engaged and how many were in reserve, didn’t make it to the battlefield, etc. The data for some of the battles distinguishes between the two, for other battles we just don’t know.

A problem with this exercise is the effect of artillery on casualty numbers. Exploding shells were used both in the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, but they were largely ineffectual in both. Though solid shot did cause casualties, it was not in great numbers, the effect was more to incite fear than to cause massive casualties. Exploding shells in the ACW were much improved and were used with greatly increased effectiveness on both sides, though Union shells are considered much more effective than Confederate ones. Canister shot, not used to any extent until the ACW, was very effective at close range and also caused an increased number of casualties.

The effect of artillery should necessarily skew the casualty numbers, but since the hypothesis calls for increased numbers of casualties in the ACW, artillery should merely increase those numbers even more, and though artificially, should confirm the hypothesis.

The next problem is the effect of soldiers behind cover. At some point in many of the chosen ACW battles, soldiers from one side or the other are behind cover defending against attackers. At Fredericksburg, most of the Confederates were behind cover, and most Confederate casualties were due to a break in the lines and being flanked behind their cover. What affect did cover have on the casualty numbers?

Looking at the question of cover, will the casualty numbers of defenders behind cover be so low as to skew the numbers? Let’s look at battles in particular that could be described as “shooting fish in a barrel”, Fredericksburg, Pickett’s Charge, and Franklin.

All situations were somewhat similar, a significant number of defenders were behind some type of fortifications, defending against an enemy charging over a long open area. The Confederate casualty percentage at Fredericksburg was 6.51%, and as mentioned that number is due to Union forces taking advantage of a break in the lines. We will find that casualty percentage the lowest the Confederates suffered in all of the battles studied, so obviously cover made a huge difference in the Confederate casualties. But, though the Union casualties were high, they were not unusually so, with a percentage lower than some battles where the Union Army was victorious.

With Pickett’s Charge, it is a little difficult to determine how many Union soldiers actually were engaged in the battle. Muster of II Corps on June 30, 1863 was around 22,000...remove the typical noncombatants (musicians, teamsters, cooks, ambulance drivers, animal handlers, etc), make a rough guess of soldiers too sick to fight, another guess of men that were wounded the previous day and unfit for duty, you end up with somewhere around 10,000 Union soldiers actually engaged. Union casualties that day were 1500. As the Confederate artillery barrage preceding the charge was “largely ineffectual”, having fired over the heads of the Union artillery, located behind and to the left of the Union infantry, we have to assume that nearly all 1500 casualties were from the Confederate soldiers that breeched the Union line. That’s 15% casualties to a defender that was well protected behind fortifications, and an attacker that marched for over a mile before reaching the defenders.

We can expect the Confederate casualty rate to be very high in Pickett’s Charge and it was, though made even higher due to some very effective artillery fire from Big Round Top.

At Franklin, the numbers are similar to Fredericksburg, with the Union defenders taking a significantly lower casualty percentage. Though the South took a high percentage, as with the Union at Fredericksburg, their percentage was often higher, even in some battles that found them victorious.

So yes, cover will make some difference in the casualty rates. But only a small number of battles involved an entire force behind cover, in most battles listed, cover played a small part if at all in the overall battle. So even if the numbers are skewed due to the use of cover, it should not be to such a great extent as to influence the overall results. Also we should keep in mind that though cover likely reduces the defender casualties, it also increases the attacker casualties, so the skewed numbers will actually correct themselves somewhat in comparison to a battle with little of no cover utilization.

It should also be mentioned that in some of the battles Union soldiers utilized breech-loading rifles. Though there are battles that these may have affected the outcomes of, they did not significantly affect the outcomes of any of the battles researched, so their overall effect was not considered.

The Numbers:

The American Revolution

Battle

Side1

Eng

Cas

%

Side2

Eng

Cas

%

Battle of Camden

British

2100

313

14.9

Continentals

3700

310

24.3

Battle of Cowpens

British

1150

149

12.95

Continentals

1912

310

16.2

Average percentage

13.9

20.2

Overall percentage 17.0

The Napoleonic Wars

Battle of Tolentino

Austria

11938

800

6.7

Naples

25588

1720

6.7

Battle of Kulm

France

32000

5000

15.6

Coalition

15000

11000

73.3

Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube

France

28000

3000

10.7

Austria

80000

4000

5.0

Battle of Leipzig

France

195000

38000

19.4

Russia

430000

54000

12.5

Six Days’ Campaign

France

30000

3400

11.3

Prussia

120000

17500

14.5

Battle of the Nive

France

62000

5914

9.5

Allies

64000

5047

7.88

Battle of Corunna

UK

16000

900

5.6

France

16000

1500

9.3

Battle of Raszyn

Austria

29000

2300

7.9

Poland

14000

1350

9.6

Battle of Wagram

Austria

136000

23750

17.4

France

162000

27500

16.9

Battle of Smolensk

France

50000

7000

14

Russia

30000

10000

33.3

First Battle of Polotsk

Russia

22000

5000

22.7

France

18000

6000

33.3

Battle of Wavre

France

33000

2500

7.5

Prussia

17000

2500

14.7

Battle of Orthez

UK

44000

2096

4.7

France

36000

2619

7.2

Battle of Toulouse

France

42430

3236

7.6

UK

49446

4647

9.3

Battle of Aspern-Essling

Austria

95800

22500

23.4

France

66000

23000

34.8

Battle of Maloyaroslavets

France

20000

2500

25

Russia

23000

6000

26

Average percentage

13.6

19.6

Overall average 16.6

The American Civil War

Battle of McDowell

Union

6500

254

3.9

CSA+

6000

416

6.9

First Manassas

Union

18000

4584

8.7

CSA+

18000

1969

10.9

Seven Days’ Battles

Union

107100

9800

9.4

CSA+

92000

19252

20

Second Manassas

Union

62000

10000

16.1

CSA+

50000

8300

16.6

Battle of South Mountain

Union+

28000

2250

8

CSA

18000

1885

10.4

Battle of Antietam

Union+

75500

11648

15.4

CSA

38000

9298

24.4

Battle of Chancellorsville

Union

133868

11278

8.4

CSA+

60892

11285

18.5

Battle of Fredericksburg

Union

114000

10884

9.5

CSA+

72500

4724

6.5

Gettysburg

Union+

90000

17675

19.6

CSA

75000

17750

23.6

Wilderness

Union

101895

14283

14

CSA

61025

9423

15.4

Cedar Creek

Union+

31945

5665

30.2

CSA

21000

2910

16.8

Shiloh

Union+

48894

10162

20.7

CSA

44699

9740

21.7

Corinth

Union+

23000

2496

10.8

CSA

22000

2470

11.2

Stones River

Union+

41400

9220

22.2

CSA

35000

9239

26.3

Chickamauga

Union

60000

11413

19

CSA+

65000

16986

26.1

Franklin

Union+

27000

1222

4.52

CSA

27000

5550

20.5

Average percentage

13.7

17.2

Overall average 15.45

Looking at the data

So what do the numbers show? The two American Revolution battles are really for interest only, to take the war’s numbers into consideration I would definitely use the results for many more battles. But it is interesting that the casualty percentages of two battles using primarily smoothbore muskets (there were some flintlock rifles used by militia sharpshooters in the Battle of Cowpens) were the highest of all.

The Battle of Kulm and the Coalition’s 73% casualties do affect the numbers more than any single battle researched. But removal of that battle still makes the overall average of the Napoleonic Wars within one percent of the ACW’s overall average.

But looking at the overall numbers, whether or not the Battle of Kulm in included, casualty percentages in the battles utilizing rifled muskets were not significantly higher than battles using smoothbore rifles. Adding the Battle of Kulm actually makes the ACW percentages lower. The use of effective exploding rounds in the ACW obviously did not affect the outcome of the study in a huge way, if it did, it makes the hypothesis even less plausible.

The only real question here is how the use of cover changed the outcome. But even if it did, no attacker percentages were within 10 percentage points of one half of the percentage of the Coalition at the Battle of Kulm.

Conclusions

Looking solely at the percentage of casualties to engaged soldiers, it is clear that the rifled musket did not cause significantly increased casualties over the smoothbore musket.

It is obvious that if soldiers did not aim their weapons, most of the advantages of the rifle were negated. I suspect that in many if not most cases, for whatever reason soldiers did not aim their weapons, and this likely had a huge effect on the number of men being struck by bullets.

As stated, the real effect of soldiers behind cover on those percentages cannot be determined, but in my opinion, in most cases the effect was minimal, because it is very likely that both defenders and attackers were not aiming their weapons.

So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment or give me a
.

11 Comments:

  • Copper77: Excellent job fstroupe. Very compelling data. That had to have taken you a while to compile all of it. Great work!
  • Ajhall: I’m amazed. This is probably the best blog post I’ve seen here so far. It’s publishable (and I think many ACW publications would find the subject matter interesting to their readership). I can’t say I’m surprised by the conclusions, but it’s great to see some serious data to back up my suspicions.
    I don’t know if I have anything that could add to your conclusions. I can say this blog shows the "conventional wisdom" needs a serious reassessment. Thanks fstroup for the great blog.
    BTW, I did a double take when I saw the almost 75% casualty rate at the Battle of Klum. That’s mind-boggling.
  • fstroupe: To be honest, it was a little too easy to feel like a serious work. I know that there are a lot of words, but that is the kind of stuff I’ve done online for most of the past decade. Nothing for me to crank out a few thousand words in a short time.
    But I guess it felt kind of easy because most of the issues are things I have thought about for a long time, i.e. men not aiming when firing. Mainly because I want to close my own eyes when firing a replica, and noting that you really don’t have time to aim when an officer is yelling at you to reload quickly to prepare for the next volley. Only the proving or disproving of the hypothesis is something I have never really considered.
  • Johnny Reb: Have you thought about adding data for the Crimean war? The Russians had smoothbore against the English and French that had the rifled Minies.
    The Russians got stomped even though they greatly outnumbered the English/French.
    Good stuff, fs. I don’t know if I would have had the patience to gather that much data. :P
  • Ajhall: Once I get my butt in gear, I’m going to put out some historical info on small arms development which includes the Crimean War.
    It is very much a mistake to assume the rifled musket was an unknown quantity by the time of the ACW. It had been extensively tested by both the French and the English, and the effects of both minie balls and smoothbore round shot at both short and long ranges were well documented and understood. There was an understanding in theoretical circles that the minie ball weapon might well demand a new tactical thinking process, but this was the subject of much debate. US Army officers were hardly unaware of these debates. Anyway, I’ll go into more detail soon.
  • russ h: people can’t understand why i take issue with Stonewall Jackson.the answer is in some part that he didn’t adjust to the the rifled ball.Longstreet is criticized for myriad shortcomings and not given his due in seeing the increased advantage in fighting defensively, and from behind any sort of fortification or natural cover.Garnett at Kernstown retreated when his ammunition was exhausted to be admonished by Jackson to " give them the bayonet ", and died trying to resurrect his honor.the bayonet hasn’t been effective since Minie changed so dramatically the killing range of rifles.ask John Sedgwick if you can " hit an elephant " at a half a mile.Jackson was great at gittin’em there,not so great when engaged.times had changed since Napoleon.
  • fstroupe: America has always been notorious for zero improvements to weaponry and tactics between wars. One of the few exceptions was the 1841 Springfield (Mississippi Rifle), Jefferson Davis got Congress to purchase a number of them while he was Secretary of War and a US Senator just prior to the Mexican War.
    From 1920 to 1936 or so, smart young officers like George S Patton and Dwight D Eisenhower tried to get the military hierarchy and Congress to see the benefits of tanks and other armored vehicles, parachutes, etc. They were brushed off until the late 30s-1940 when Patton was allowed to train a tank brigade, and after the successful German paratrooper assault into the "low countries", the US Army formed the first Airborne Test Platoon. (though the first successful parachute drop of soldiers took place in Brooks Army Airfield in 1930...the Germans and Russians were impressed but the US was unmoved)
    Even while Eisenhower was president, though improved jets and missiles were purchased, and nuclear ship propulsion was being designed and built, the Army saw pretty much no improvements.
  • Rhea Cole: At the Battle of Stones River, 60% percent of Confederate Infantry was armed with smooth bores. Almost all of their cannon, which did not play a significant part in this battle, were smoothbores. Somewhere around 30% of Union infantry had smoothbores. The fighting at Stones River was largely in almost flat open terrain and by almost impenetrable cedar breaks At Stones River, it was the artillery that inflicted crippling casualties on the Confederate Infantry. Evening of the first day, artillery along the Nashville Pike smashed back repeated assaults. On the third day, rebel infantry suffered almost 2,000 casualties in about 15 minutes under the fire of massed batteries. In this case the rifled or smoothbore musket was neither here or there regarding casualties. There is one caveat, however, the wound caused by a minnie ball was many times more likely to be lethal than that of a ball. In any case, Stones River is not a valid example of your thesis.
  • John D: Good post, but more one big difference is that in Napoloeonic battles, many casualties were caused by the pursuit of broken infantry formations by cavalry. This would have massively increased the casualty rate but I think I’m right in saying virtually never happened during the American Civil War.
  • Jon: I agree with your analysis of the use of rifled muskets... but I also believe they were more accurate, even if that accuracy was reduced by battlefield conditions and human factors. (There’s even examples of smoothbore troops in Europe routing opponents armed with rifled muskets by using aggressive skirmishing tactics, whereas the rifle armed troops fought in line). So it’s just one of many components.
    Keep in mind though, that moral under fire did not change, so say if a unit breaks when it reached 30% casualties... it breaks at 30%, regardless if that’s by smoothbore or rifle. Greater accuracy from rifles may mean this occurs quicker.
    Also, one has to consider engagement ranges at which soldiers would open fire, which is a heavy subject of debate.
    Personally I know from first hand experience how much more accurate a rifled musket is to a smoothbore. One only has to look at the exploits of sharpshooter outfits to see that. But also agree that many of these benefits were reduced, but not wholly negated by tactics and training.
  • Isaac: I like this study and found it interesting, especially the introductory preamble. One caveat I have though with the casualty figures is that (and I think this data would be impossible to come by, especially for the Napoleonic battles) HOW engaged soldiers were wounded or killed. While explosive shells during the ACW were more commonplace and effective than in the Napoleonic era, in Napoleon’s time artillery (because, arguably, of the decreased range of small arms) be brought up closer to formations of enemy infantry and as such cause more carnage. But more important, I think, than artillery (whichever way it would go for this comparison of the two eras), is the impact of cavalry. For a number of reasons, including less access to quality war horses, as well as the impact longer range small arms had on heavy and shock cavalry (ie, by the ACW these types of forces were rendered obsolete), both Union and Confederate forces had a much smaller percentages of cavalry than did their Napoleonic equivalents. Among other things, this allowed for a routing army to be pursued and cut down to a much greater extent in the Napoleonic era than during the ACW. Imagine how much higher the casualty rates for Second Manassas would have been if Lee’s army had Napoleonic numbers of cavalry to chase down Pope’s routing army. The simple fact of the matter is, without being able to look at detailed hospital records (which I doubt existed/still exist, particularly for the Napoleonic battles) - or fighting actual battles with actual soldiers and technology in a highly unethical and illegal double-blind study, there is really know way of knowing for sure. And even so, I think something as seemingly simple and increased range for small arms, as well as easier, more rapid, and more dependable firing mechanisms, have such varied effects on how battles transpire and on which tactics are effective and when, that even the question and hypothesis in the first case quite possibly overlooks far too much to ever result in something that’s truly accurate. But I loved this article, I really did. Very interesting and provides a lot of food for thought.

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