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Thread: Small Arms Effective Range vs Engagement Range

  1. #1
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    Small Arms Effective Range vs Engagement Range

    I haven't found too much info on the amount of training the troops (north or south) were given using their firearms (i.e. marksmanship or range time). So, when considering rifled small arms, what was the preferred max range where engagement was initiated? I understand that tactical considerations (terrain, weather, unit size, etc....) would have been considered. I'm asking because, as an average shot and with practice, hitting silhouette-sized targets out to 400 yards is not unreasonable. But other than pickets or sharp shooters, did Civil War units engage that far our?
    Thanks for the input,
    - milsurpshooter

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    Don Dixon is offline
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    In August 1857, Captain Henry Heth was assigned to a board convened to test breech loading rifles. At the conclusion of the tests, Heth was retained on detached duty to design a course in small arms marksmanship for the Army. Heth’s resulting system of target practice, which was largely based upon French military marksmanship theory and manuals, was adopted for Army use on 1 March 1858. The new manual was based on the theory that most U.S. soldiers were not experienced riflemen, and that few were even familiar with arms. The soldiers were first to be taught the nomenclature, disassembly, and reassembly of their weapons, so that they would become comfortable with their arms. Next, they completed an intensive series of aiming drills with their weapons, conducted both indoors and outdoors. As the soldiers mastered these concepts, they moved on to simulated firing using only percussion caps. This exercise involved snuffing out a lighted candle placed three feet from the muzzle of their weapon. If the soldier properly sighted the rifle and exercised proper trigger control and follow through, the muzzle blast from the percussion cap would extinguish the candle flame. One of the objectives of Heth’s marksmanship training system was to train the soldier to take up a firing position in which he could support the recoil of the piece when it was fired, and to accustom him to recoil when his rifle was fired. As the soldiers mastered these steps, they moved outdoors to practice range estimation. Due to the curved trajectory of the Minié ball, range estimation was absolutely critical. Once one moved beyond point blank range, relatively small errors in range estimation resulted in shots below or above the target. The Federal Army’s 1862 Manual of Target Practice -- essentially Heth's manual with his name removed -- stressed the absolute necessity of training soldiers in range estimation and devoted 10 pages to instructing officers on how to do it. As U.S. Army soldiers moved on to live firing, they were to fire at distances from 150 to 1,000 yards at the following targets, which were divided by horizontal and vertical black lines crossing at the center:

    Distance in Yards Height of Target in Feet Width of Target in Inches
    150 and 225 6 22
    225 and 300 6 44
    325, 350, and 400 6 66
    450 and 500 6 88
    550 and 600 6 110
    700 6 132
    800 6 176
    900 6 220
    1,000 6 264

    The six-foot height of the target required that the soldier understand the importance of range estimation and be able to accurately estimate range. Regarding the widths of the targets, the expectation was that a trained soldier should be able to hit an individual enemy soldier at ranges to 300 yards, the area occupied by an artillery piece and crew at 600 yards, and the area occupied by an artillery section of two guns at 1,000 yards.

    In Heth’s system, there were three classes of marksmen, based upon firing four rounds each at 150, 225, 250, 300, 325, 350, and 400 yards. The soldiers with the highest number of hits were to be drilled at distances beyond 400 yards and afforded an opportunity to advance in class. No individual marksmanship qualification badges, decorations, or pay bonuses were authorized in the system, but officers were encouraged to post their men’s scores and to encourage a spirit of competition between the men. The Army had no marksmansip qualification standard for anyone until 6 October 1862. On that date, the Army issued General Order (G.O.) 149, which stated that “No person shall be mustered into the service of the United States as a member of the Corps of Sharpshooters, unless he shall produce a certificate of some person, duly authorized by the Governor of the State in which the company is raised, that he has in five consecutive shots, at two hundred yards at rest, made a string [measure] not over twenty-five inches; or the same string off-hand at one hundred yards; the certificate to be written on the target used as the test.”

    That was the theory. In actual practice, marksmanship instruction and firing on anything resembling a target range in both the Federal and Confederate armies was non-existant in training camps, and virtually non-existant when units deployed. Billy and Johnny didn't know how to shot. And, shooting hunting firearms at small game at hunting distances does not, did not, teach people how to shoot military firearms at militarily useful distances.

    Regards,
    Don Dixon
    2881V

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    Excellent reply.
    So, without sufficient firearms training, at what ranges would field commanders (Company, Regiment, etc...) begin engaging enemy formations? Battles such as Antietam and Gettysburg would have afforded the opportunity to engage at such ranges.
    Thnx again,
    - milsurpshooter

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    Don Dixon is offline
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    Approximately 100 yards. With the rifle musket held level and the top of the front sight held even with the top of the sighting notch of the rear sight, your shot will be over the top of the enemy's head at about 125 yards with most of the Civil War rifle muskets. That is why one reads frequent accounts of troops in the woods being showered with leaves and branches during fire fights. The shots then come back down into the danger space at about 250 yards. Plus, troops -- particularly untrained ones -- have a natural tendency to shoot high.

    What was necessary for the troops to be effective was that they be trained in the hold offs required by the sights on the Springfield rifle musket or Muster 1854 System Lorenz rifle. The Enfield had more effective sights if snuffy was ever trained how to use them. With the Muster 1854, the Austro-Hungarian Army wrote a very effective training manual, but the Federal and Confederate ordnance departments never bothered to translate it from German to English. So, training on the 250,000 Muster 1854s the Federals bought and the 100,000 the Confederates bought would have been through trial and error on a rifle range until they figured out the hold offs. Opps. The troops rarely, if ever, got range time. No wonder they thought the Austrian arms were inaccurate.

    Regards,
    Don
    Last edited by Don Dixon; 01-29-2017 at 10:40 AM.

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    Don's right. Paddy Griffith, in his work on the subject, came to the conclusion that average engagement ranges in 1864/5 were between 100 and 150 yards.
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    A good read by Colonel George Willard a ACW combat veteran who fell at Gettysburg.

    http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cg...=root;size=100
    Regards,


    Phil Spaugy

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    John Holland is offline Moderator
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    Too bad we don't have a "Like" button, because I really "Like" all of this great information!

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    Jim_Burgess_2078V is offline
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    Effective Range

    Keep in mind that deliberate, aimed fire tends to go out the window when the bullets come flying in your direction. Soldiers will tend to fire back as rapidly as possible. For that reason line formations delivering a large volume of fire were just as useful for troops armed with rifle-muskets as they were for troops armed with smoothbore muskets. Today the military still relies on volume fire (delivered with automatic weapons) more than on marksmanship.

    Jim Burgess, 15th CVI

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    Hallo!

    Much, up until the later years of the War when thing started looking more like "World War I" with trenches, breastworks, and fortified positions rather than open field "Napoleonic" tactics, was still based on the concept of "leveling" or holding one's musket, rifle-musket, or rifle parallel to the ground. And straight ahead. (Although as early as the F & I War some forward-thinkers were doing firing by the "left or right oblique.")

    So, the weapons were "maximized" by having them parallel to the ground in order to have a linear formation of roughly shoulder to shoulder infantrymen deliver a "horizontal sheet of lead" into an opposing line of "conveniently" equally arrayed enemy infantry. Obviously, being the one to "volley" fire or fire by file or company first gave an advantage. As did having the discipline to stand there and reload a couple or few more times before fixing bayonet and driving the (in theory) shot up and demoralized enemy off the field.

    It is more tedious to research but CW letters and accounts sometimes speak to the battlefield ranges that they opened fire. In the tradition sometimes of Breed's/Bunker's Hill "don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes."

    For example, at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, the 42nd New York and 19th Massachusetts on the Federal left waited until Wilcox's Alabama Brigade was 50 yards from them before they opened up.

    Curt
    Curt Schmidt
    Formerly 17 years a Sherman's Bodyguard
    Married to a descendant of Senator John Sherman's wife

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim_Burgess_2078V View Post
    Keep in mind that deliberate, aimed fire tends to go out the window when the bullets come flying in your direction. Soldiers will tend to fire back as rapidly as possible. For that reason line formations delivering a large volume of fire were just as useful for troops armed with rifle-muskets as they were for troops armed with smoothbore muskets. Today the military still relies on volume fire (delivered with automatic weapons) more than on marksmanship.

    Jim Burgess, 15th CVI

    I agree, and that was to some degree the purpose of my question. After my series of shots at a lone silhouette at 400 yards, where I had almost as many hits as misses (and most of the misses were near), I began to think about how effective a formation of such infantry would have been on a massed opponent. Even under some level of stress, as long as the properly trained/disciplined shooters had their sights set to the proper range, a massed volley on a large formation at 400 yards would have been devastating.

    Thanks for all of the replies!
    - milsurpshooter

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