The Deadly Space by Aaron Klass
I have been formulating this theory for some time, and plan on writing a prolonged version of it for my masters thesis. I thought to post it after reading the comments left on the article "Taking it Like a Man" posted on this forum. I'm curious to see what you all think. It was written for a college writing class, so forgive my too-in-depth explanations. It was written for people who know a lot less than you all. Thanks!
The Deadly Space:
How Rifled Artillery Changed Warfare
On the afternoon of July 3, 1863, 15,000 men from George C. Pickett’s division in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia attacked the center of the Union line on top of Cemetery Ridge, just south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Of the 15,000 men in Pickett’s division who began the charge, just 5,000 would make it back to the safety of the Southern lines when the fight was done (“Voices of Battle” 1998). Most historians of the American Civil War will attribute these high casualty numbers to the pre-War introduction of the rifled-musket in Union and Confederate arsenals. However, it was not the introduction of the rifled-musket, but the introduction of rifled artillery that was responsible for the high rates of killed, wounded, and missing men in the Union and Confederate armies. The psychology of the combat infantry, when compared to that of the artillerist, leads one to conclude that the far reaching, accurate cannon of both armies were responsible for inflicting the heaviest tolls. This paper will examine the common assumptions that more accurate muskets and the introduction of repeating rifles were responsible for high numbers of killed and wounded soldiers on Civil War battlefields. It will then refute these claims through analysis of the psychology of the infantrymen on both sides and introduce a new explanation for these findings based upon newly incorporated technology in the field artillery of the period and analysis of the psychology of the cannoneers on both sides. It was not the musket, but the cannon that was the killer.
Before the Civil War, wars were fought with smoothbore, muzzle-loading muskets. They were loaded form the muzzle, that is, the open end of the barrel, and fired a round ball which was molded to a slightly smaller caliber than the bore of the musket in order to facilitate ease of loading. The result of this was that when the powder charge was detonated, the ball would bounce down the smooth bore of the barrel. The bouncing of the projectile greatly reduced the accuracy of the longarm (Bond 2002). With this musket, an infantryman had approximately a one-in-one thousand chance of hitting his target (Bond 2002). Just before the Civil War, the model 1855 rifled-musket became the primary longarm of the U.S. army. This musket still loaded from the muzzle, but had a rifled bore instead of a smooth one. Rifling refers to grooves that run from the breech of the barrel to the muzzle and twist as they go. With rifling, when a projectile is fired, it will grip these twisting grooves and begin to spin on a horizontal axis. The spin of the ball increases accuracy and distance. With a smoothbore musket, a soldier could hit a man-sized target at 100 yards. With the 1855 Springfield, the same soldier could theoretically hit the bulls-eye on a target out to 400 yards (Barnett 2007). The projectile was lethal out to a half mile. This estimate assumes, however, that the men wielding these weapons were shooting to kill, when in reality, a study performed during the Second World War by S. L. A. Marshall showed that only approximately 25% were firing their weapons at the enemy (Marshall 50). By the end of the second year of the war, in late 1862, the vast majority of U.S. troops were armed with either the model 1855 or model 1861 Springfield, which were virtually identical weapons, or the model 1853 Enfield, a British imported arm that had the same range and accuracy as its American-made, Springfield counterpart (Barnett 2007). An infantryman in the Civil War was expected to be able to load and fire his weapon three times in a minute, but in the heat of battle, this was an unrealistic expectation (Barnett 2007).
At the beginning of the war, as rifles were taking over as the primary infantry weapons of both sides, the firearm industry was working to improve the effectiveness of the common soldier by increasing his rate of fire. Weapons designers of the period began to focus their energy on developing a weapon that could be loaded once and fired many times, called a repeating rifle or a repeater. The repeater that gained the most notoriety during the war was designed by Christopher M. Spencer, and was called the Spencer repeating rifle. The Spencer was loaded through the butt of the stock and a lever-action would eject the spent shell casing from the previous shot while chambering a new round (Austerman 16). With this new weapon, a soldier could increase his rate of fire from approximately three shots a minute to 20. It held a seven-shot magazine which could be loaded quickly (Austerman 16). One Confederate trooper remarked on the Spencer’s effectiveness on the battlefield by declaring that “’a calm, cool ‘dead shot’ behind a…spencer repeating rifle has more moral force than a Gatling gun’” (qtd. in Austerman 16). His statement is not a comment on the killing power of the Spencer, but instead the psychological power of a rapid-fire weapon. Historians generally explain that it was the introduction of both rifled muskets and repeating rifles that were responsible for the heavy tolls exacted on both sides in the heat of battle.
Not only was rifling incorporated into the small arms of both armies, it was also used on artillery. The incorporation of rifled guns revolutionized the use of field artillery on the battlefield. Prior to the Civil War, artillery was used to bombard enemy positions. It was not particularly accurate and was much deadlier at closer ranges (Hazlett, Olmstead, Parks 23). The rifled guns of the Civil War were accurate out to one and a half miles (Hazlett et al. 24). The result of this drastic increase in range was that the artillery could inflict the same amount of damage at a much longer range than had ever before been possible. A gun of the period called for a nine man crew, though each cannoneer was trained to operate the gun with reduced numbers in case of combat casualties. A well trained crew was expected to keep up the same rate of fire as an infantryman with a musket, that is, three shots per minute (Hazlett et al. 23). This rate was much more easily attainable because the crews of the cannons were removed from battle. They could keep up a rate of fire much more effectively that a soldier in the heart of the fight.
The infantryman has the most trouble with combat killing seeing as he is closest to his enemy. As a result, he has trouble imagining that his is not killing a man. The study done during World War II by Marshall proved that men trained as Civil War soldiers were trained, by shooting stationary targets rather than simulating combat conditions, only fired their weapons at the enemy 25% of the time. According to Marshall’s research, “the 25 percent estimate stands even for well trained and campaign-seasoned troops. I mean that 75 percent will not fire or will not persist in firing against the enemy and his works. These men may face the danger, but he will not fight” (50). Of those firing their rifles, only approximately 2% were firing to kill (Grossman 180). According to a study performed by R. L. Swank and W. E. Marchand, “…2 percent of soldiers…are predisposed to be [combat killers] and apparently do not experience the normal resistance to killing and the resultant psychiatric casualties associated with extended periods of combat” (Grossman 180). The statistics are very different among artillery crews. Because of the crew operated nature of the gun, and the distance between the gun and the enemy, the artillerist has little trouble convincing himself that he is both not killing people and that he is not doing the killing directly (Grossman 107). Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman has been researching combat killing for many years. In his book On Killing, he analyzes the way in which combat killings affect the soldiers performing the kills. He takes many variables into account, one of which is physical distance. When discussing what Grossman calls “maximum range” killing, he writes:
Artillery crews…are…protected by the…powerful combination of group absolution, mechanical distance, and, most pertinent to our current discussion, physical distance.
In years of researching and reading on the subject of killing in combat I have not found one single instance of individuals who have refused to kill the enemy under these circumstances, nor have I found a single instance of psychiatric trauma associated with this type of killing. (108)
Because of the distance placed between the crews of Civil War artillery pieces and the enemy that they were killing, they were able to imagine that they were not killing people. Because of this, the artilleryman is likely to both fire his gun with intent to kill and to avoid the pressures of emotional issues during and following the kill. As a result, artillery crews are much more likely to aim directly for the enemy when in a battle situation than a foot soldier is to aim his rifle be it a smoothbore musket, a rifle or a repeater. The efficiency of the weapon matters little in this situation.
As a direct result of both the increased likelihood that artillery crews were firing rounds directly into the enemy as well as the drastically increased range of the guns of both armies, it is safe to conclude that the high cost of Civil War battles was caused not by the increased effectiveness of the rifle, nor the introduction of the repeater, but the increased effectiveness of the cannon. The newly achieved, long range effectiveness clashed with outdated military techniques. Men were put in danger much further from the enemy than they had been before. The solution to this problem was a revamping of tactics. By war’s end, the fighting no longer involved long lines of men in open fields. Instead, they were digging earthen work forts and fighting from behind cover. The war was fought much as the First World War would be fought 50 years later. The effect of incorporating rifled artillery onto the battlefield was a total reorganization of the way in which wars were fought and paved the way for the bloodier wars of the 20th century.
Cpl., 1st Colo. Vol Inf., Co. D
Pvt., 4th TX Regt'l Light Arty.
"Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't."
"You do solemnly swear that you will support old Abe as long as you live, and be a good boy, God **** you?"
-Captain W. J. Stewart of the 16th United States Infantry swore in a bunch of new recruits with the above oath