Home Forums Horse and Musket American Civil War At what range did troops actually open fire? Reply To: At what range did troops actually open fire?


Hess “Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat” has a number of examples, most of them under 100 yards. Some opened fire at 100-200 yards, a couple at 300 yards. Consider many battles were fought in wooded terrain broken by a few clearings. Nosworthy and Griffith have similar info. The rifle musket effect was evolutionary rather then revolutionary as many have maintained over the years. The Minie ball has a much more curved trajectory than modern bullets, requiring training in estimating range, beyond the level of most ordinary troops in this war.


An earlier version of my post :

Nosworthy (Bloody Crucible of Courage), Griffith (Battle Tactics of the Civil War) and Hess (The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat) all indicate that it was slightly longer than combat ranges of smooth-bore muskets in most cases. Minie balls had a low muzzle velocity and a curved trajectory that made range estimation very important at long range. Many ordinary troops did not have such training. Skilled marksmen like Berdan’s rifles were another story. And then the specialist snipers of the Army of Northern Virginia armed with Whitworth rifles were capable of accurate mayhem at 4-500 yards. That said, I’ve read accounts (not primary sources) of units opening fire at 400 yards with standard rifle muskets and scoring some hits.

You also have to figure that most ACW battlefields rarely offered unobstructed fields of fire for long range. Many battles were fought in wooded areas with just the odd field or clearing, though many gamers use open terrain as the default with the odd woods.

Hess and Nosworthy note that officers wanted to arm their skirmishers with rifled weapons. The troops preferred rifled weapons hands down, though that may have been because all were aware that they were the newest thing. Who wants an old cell-phone? Some officers (like the Irish Brigade) preferred smooth-bore muskets because they thought that would increase the reliance on cold steel.

Anyway, all three writers above concur that the oft-told tale of revolutionary change in tactics due to rifled muskets is a myth and that change was more evolutionary. I do think increasing the lethal close range zone from 75 yards to say 125 does make a difference all by itself.

  • This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by vtsaogames.
  • This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by Mike.

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