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The Deadly Space by Aaron Klass

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  • 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.
    Aaron Klass
    Cpl., 1st Colo. Vol Inf., Co. D
    Horsetooth Mess
    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

  • #2
    Re: The Deadly Space by Aaron Klass

    Hi Aaron,

    There will be much more knowledgeable artillery experts reviewing this soon, but if I may point out some things:

    1) in any paper, but especially college level, go back to the original sources. "Voices of Battle" etc are getting their information from somewhere, unless they are publishing original research. Check their bibliography/footnotes and go back to that orginal source, review it for errors in interpretation, and quote that original source. The exception would be original research within the modern book (the example I can think of right off hand is not civil war: Robert Hardy's "Longbow" has an appendix on the effects of a longbow on armor at various ranges, which was done specifically for that book. )

    2) The rifling issue in artillery is one issue among several. What about ammunition choices (roundshot vs.canister?) Overshooting and undershooting? (Range finding issues) Artillery spotting is not widely employed, I believe, until after the ACW. At Gettysburg, I understand, the Confederates had a fairly hefty artillery bombardment prior to Pickett's Charge, but overshot their targets, rendering it ineffective. (Again, real experts will correct me.)

    Your hypothesis may have merit, but I think you need to develop it more.

    Last edited by JohnTaylorCW; 02-06-2008, 03:32 AM. Reason: It's late.....
    John Taylor


    • #3
      Re: The Deadly Space by Aaron Klass


      Glad you are considering the academic life. The hobby can always stand more professionals in our ranks. If you are considering any graduate work, however, one of the first things you will be advised to do is to survey the existing secondary literature and see where your arguments and ideas fit in. Recently, topics like this one have received some very useful coverage. For a fine synthesis of the current understanding of Civil War weapons, tactics, and combat experience you really owe it to yourself to read Brent Noseworthy's Bloody Crucible of Courage. Sure, it's thick but it is also invaluable and speaks to many of the points you raise in your paper. (And, hey, there's one used on Amazon right now for $3.60. You can't beat that, right?) Also, specifically on the smoothebore-rifled artillery issue there is an article in North & South (v.7 no.5) Aug 2004 by Stephen D. Fratt "The Guns of Gettysburg: Technical Augmentation, Not Tactical Revolution" that examined the role of artillery at Waterloo vs. that at Gettysburg. A fun read and informative.

      In the Dave Grossman line of thought there have been a host of psychological studies of ACW soldiers in battle. It has been a while since I looked at Grossman, but I never have been comfortable with his treatment of the Civil War. There are some better, more specific titles out there. Among my favorites are Gerald Linderman's Embattled Courage, Earl Hess' The Union Soldier in Battle, and Gerry Prokopowicz' All For the Regiment. There are certainly others as well. Expanding your reading list from the footnotes of these authors will help you to know what has already been done and give you some good ideas about what methods you want to use for your own work.

      Good luck and happy reading,
      [FONT=Garamond]Patrick A. Lewis

      "Battles belong to finite moments in history, to the societies which raise the armies which fight them, to the economies and technologies which those societies sustain. Battle is a historical subject, whose nature and trend of development can only be understood down a long historical perspective.”


      • #4
        Re: The Deadly Space by Aaron Klass

        And I understand you produced this for a writing class and they have funny rules sometimes, but GET RID OF THAT MLA JUNK! It ain't history if'n it's in MLA! Footnotes, my man, footnotes will set you free!

        ...Just funnin'/ need more sleep :D

        [FONT=Garamond]Patrick A. Lewis

        "Battles belong to finite moments in history, to the societies which raise the armies which fight them, to the economies and technologies which those societies sustain. Battle is a historical subject, whose nature and trend of development can only be understood down a long historical perspective.”


        • #5
          Re: The Deadly Space by Aaron Klass


          I'll agree with Pat that Bloody Crucible of Courage would be very valuable for what you are doing. I've just started going through the painful process of writing my thesis as well. From what I've read, and I may be a bit off because I'm definately not an artillery expert so anyone correct me if I am wrong, but I believe there were still a lot of smoothbore Napoleons used by both sides throughout the war. So the rifling of artillery, although it did have a large affect, did not completely make the smoothbore guns such as the Napoleon obselete.

          I agree with the comment above that you should look at the type of rounds the guns fired as well. Another thing to think about would be the lack of vision for artillery due to smoke, they could be just as prone to miss as infantry when they can't see due to all the black powder smoke from thousands of muskets and their own guns. I hope thats been somewhat helpful.

          Jake Koch
          The Debonair Society of Coffee Coolers, Brewers, and Debaters

          -Pvt. Max Doermann, 3x Great Uncle, Co. E, 66th New York Infantry. Died at Andersonville, Dec. 22, 1864.
          -Pvt. David Rousch, 4x Great Uncle, Co. A, 107th Ohio Infantry. Wounded and Captured at Gettysburg. Died at Andersonville, June 5, 1864.
          -Pvt. Carl Sievert, 3x Great Uncle, Co. H, 7th New York Infantry (Steuben Guard). Mortally Wounded at Malvern Hill.


          • #6
            Re: The Deadly Space by Aaron Klass

            Originally posted by ncc1701 View Post
            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.
            First thing that occurs to me is, have you looked at the medical statistics of the war to see what percent of wounds and deaths were received from artillery vs. musket/rifle fire, compared to previous wars?

            If better artillery was causing higher casualty rates, that would predict a higher percentage of casualties from artillery than from musketry or other weapons, compared to previous wars. Yet that doesn't seem to be true, depending on how one interprets the statistics.

            To play devil's advocate, how would you counteract what Phil Andrade and Rory Muir are saying below? I realize you're saying that artillery had increased its effective range, to compensate for the increased range of rifled muskets, and therefore the fact that infantry could force artillery further away was compensated by the fact that artillery could kill as effectively as before, even at a greater distance.

            At the Battle of Gettysburg, where the Federal artillery fired some 33,000 rounds, the official Confederate casualty returns show 4.9 wounded for every man killed, while at Chickamauga, where heavy woods prevented artillery, the Union army fired only 7,325 artillery rounds, and the Confederates reported 6.3 wounded for every one killed. For the war as a whole, one statistic shows that only 5.5 per cent of wounds treated were from artillery fire, compared with 94 per cent from bullets, but the number is somewhat misleading since, as Napoleon remarked, canons kill men. Many of those smashed by artillery projectiles never reached the surgeons to have their wounds recorded. An expert on Napoleonic warfare, Rory Muir, reckons that just over 20 per cent of all casualties were the result of artillery fire in the Napoleonic Wars, against an upper limit of 12 to 15 per cent in the American Civil War. The disparity was due partly to the wooded terrain of many Civil War battles, but more perhaps to the increased firepower of infantrymen who could shoot down gunners from a longer range.
            The relevant part of Rory Muir's book is here, from Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon, p. 46:
            What was it like to be a soldier on a Napoleonic battlefield? What happened when cavalry regiments charged directly at one another? What did the generals do during battle? Drawing on memoirs, diaries, and letters of the time, this dramatic book explores what actually happened in battle and how the participants' feelings and reactions influenced the outcome. Rory Muir focuses on the dynamics of combat in the age of Napoleon, enhancing his analysis with vivid accounts of those who were there--the frightened foot soldier, the general in command, the young cavalry officer whose boils made it impossible to ride, and the smartly dressed aide-de-camp, tripped up by his voluminous pantaloons. This book sheds new light on how military tactics worked by concentrating on the experience of soldiers in the firing line. Muir considers the interaction of artillery, infantry, and cavalry; the role of the general, subordinate commanders, staff officers, and aides; morale, esprit de corps, and the role of regimental officers; soldiers' attitudes toward death and feelings about the enemy; the plight of the wounded; the difficulty of surrendering; and the way victories were finally decided. He discusses the mechanics of musketry, artillery, and cavalry charges and shows how they influenced the morale, discipline, and resolution of the opposing armies. This is a volume that will fascinate all readers with an interest in military history, European history, or the psychology of combat.

            [If] we allow that half of all men killed in action (who seldom amounted to more than one-fifth of all casualties) fell to artillery fire, this still means that only just over 20 per cent of all casualties [among the mid 18th century French military] were the result of artillery.

            The second breakdown of casualties comes from the American Civil War, a century later than the Invalides figures. These show that 94 per cent of wounds were attributable to bullets and only 5.5 per cent to artillery. Again we must allow for the greater lethality of artillery fire, but after making every allowance we are left with an upper limit of 12 to 15 per cent of casualties being inflicted by artillery.
            He goes on to discuss various interpretations of casualty rates in the Napoleon period as well.

            Hank Trent
            Hank Trent


            • #7
              Re: The Deadly Space by Aaron Klass

              Comrade Klass,

              I'd add a couple points to what has been said. In almost every conflict, infabtry weapons have been the great killer, while artillery has been the great wounder. Now, it is true that artillery kills, yet because it is an area weapon, it is less likely to kill due to the many variables involved, from it's trajectory, to it's fragmentation pattern, to the position the fragment cone was facing when the round detonated.

              What artillery (of all types) has in spades is "shock" & "morale" effects. An infantryman finds it trying enough to be in combat with his enemy, but it can be unnerving beyond his willpower to lay under artillery fire and simply have to "take it". At the range the direct-fire artillery of our period began firing, an infantryman could not hope to hurt his opponent. He was too far away to take well-aimed fire at an artilleryman, and thus was powerless to respond to the threat against him, save trying to become one with the earth, or taking to flight.

              In all things, however, it is not so much the use of rifling that changed the use of artillery and/or made them more accurate. The military has a saying that the most important part of any weapon is "the nut behind the butt plate". In other words, the soldier operating it. The single biggest factor in the accuracy of any artillery weapon is the training of the crew. Without well-trained crews, even the most accurate of weapons will become diminished in their capacity to inflict damage.

              As Hank pointed out, a review of period military medical reports will open up a whole new view of things. They must, however, be taken in context, and as with all sources, you need to read carefully to understand just what is being said. It may be very factual, but also be a "yeah, but..." type of description. Multiple period sources are the only way to approach this sort of subject.

              Lastly, you'll find that all of this can change on a year-by-year basis, and I am talking about the subject at hand. The efficacy of artillery, bith US & CS, depended upon many factors and those could vary with each passing year, and within the many theatres of operation. What is true of federal Artillery at, say, Fredericksburg may well be opposed to that of federal batteries at Petersburg, or Vicksburg, etc.

              Anyway, best of luck and don't get discouraged when you realise the magnitude of the task at hand. Folks here can (and should) be critical of eachopther's work, but I can't imagine that ever being done in anyother way than one of support.
              Tim Kindred
              Medical Mess
              Solar Star Lodge #14
              Bath, Maine


              • #8
                Re: The Deadly Space by Aaron Klass

                I'd suggest reading what General Hunt wrote concerning the use of US artillery at Gettysburg during the charge. He went to his grave believing that if the Federal artillery in the center of the line hadn't wasted their ammunition during the CS bombardment, then they would of broke the charge before it hit the federal line. As it was, the batteries facing the charge basically only had canister left. As the CS forces advanced, the guns on the US right and left were enfilading the line. First would have been the Rifled guns and the smoothbores. His report is the OR’s along with most of the Corp Chief’s of Artillery and Battery commanders.

                Brian Baird