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Thread: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

  1. #1

    Default EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    As much as I accept that the Napoleonic-era rifle/musket/whatever was grossly inaccurate, when I read accounts like here, I become skeptical. When I read lines like:

    "Napier claimed that in Spain he witnessed volleys
    fired by British infantry where out of 300 musketballs
    fired none hit the target."


    I become EXTREMELY skeptical.

    Unfortunately for me, the only thing I have to go on is, essentially, casualties.


    The Battle of Waterloo, with these grossly inaccurate muskets/rifles, had about 45,000 casualties with one side numbering 72,000, and the other side numbering 68,000, then an additional 50,000


    In comparison, the Battle of Gettysburg, with insanely more accurate rifles/muskets, had about 50,000 casualties, with one side numbering 90,000, and the other side numbering 70,000 (at best)


    Considering the immense differences in gun technology, I have to roughly assume that Napoleonic-era guns are simply nowhere near as inaccurate as the impression I'm getting in my head. Though being autistic-y, I should say the impression in my head is essentially that of Empire Realism---where a single volley at maximum range kills nothing, and another volley at middle-range kills about 5-15, out of a unit of 200.


    So where do these massive casualty figures come from? I sincerely doubt it could be from melee combat, or artillery fire, or cavalry charges, meanwhile Gettysburg was almost entirely an infantry affair for the first two days.

  2. #2
    hitokiri2486's Avatar Centenarius
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    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    Well, to be fair, casualties include the following: killed in action, wounded in action. Sometimes the figures include missing in action as well, though if not the #s missing are mentioned separately. For example, 30,000 casualties and 5,000 missing.

    I imagine most of the casualty figures are made up of wounded, whether it be light injuries or eventually fatal injuries.
    Let me persuade you with my powerful logic skills.

    In light of the Total War series, a quote from the theologian whom I respect the most:

    The Heavenly City outshines Rome, beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness.
    St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

  3. #3

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    I included dead and wounded when I said "casualties". My concern isn't lethality---just accuracy.

    Confederacy: 23,231
    (4,708 killed
    12,693 wounded
    5,830 captured/missing)

    Union: 23,055 (3,155 killed
    14,531 wounded
    5,369 captured/missing)


    French:
    25,000 killed and wounded
    7,000 captured
    15,000 missing


    Coalition:
    15,000 British and allies killed and wounded
    7,000 Prussians killed and wounded

  4. #4

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    I really like the NER mod but I had to change to another one because I felt the casualties were rather low from musket fire.Various accounts say most casualties were from musket or artillery rather than bayonet but the musket was inaccurate,
    I don't really know in spite of all the varying statistics I've read over the years but there's no doubt a lot of people got killed somehow.
    http://napoleonistyka.atspace.com/in...ts_for_muskets
    Some info here but I doubt it's ay more reliable than other statistics.
    Last edited by Jihada; March 23, 2010 at 12:23 AM.

  5. #5
    Primicerius
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    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    having fired smooth bore muskets of the era and looking through endless documents to their efficiency I will attest to the fact..yeah..they are very inaccurate even under the best circumstances.the chances of hitting what you are aiming at over distance were very slim indeed

  6. #6
    Jom's Avatar A Place of Greater Safety
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    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    One of the greatest generals of the age, or indeed any age, Alexander Suvorov did not trust the accuracy of muskets, hence his quotation:

    "The bullet is a fool, the bayonet is a fine chap"

  7. #7

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    Quote Originally Posted by Chevalier IX View Post
    having fired smooth bore muskets of the era and looking through endless documents to their efficiency I will attest to the fact..yeah..they are very inaccurate even under the best circumstances.the chances of hitting what you are aiming at over distance were very slim indeed
    But if you were in a battalion with 600 of your mates pointing your musket at another battalion of 600 men say 100 metres away, you'd not be needing to aim at any one man.
    It doesn't matter if your shot flies left or right, it'll most likely hit someone.
    Contemporary accounts show that a lot of misses occured due to shots going high. Hence officers would order their men to shoot at the enemy's legs.

  8. #8
    Nanny de Bodemloze's Avatar Treason is just dates
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    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    Quote Originally Posted by emperorpenguin View Post
    But if you were in a battalion with 600 of your mates pointing your musket at another battalion of 600 men say 100 metres away, you'd not be needing to aim at any one man.
    It doesn't matter if your shot flies left or right, it'll most likely hit someone.
    Contemporary accounts show that a lot of misses occured due to shots going high. Hence officers would order their men to shoot at the enemy's legs.
    I think your first sentence answered your 2nd.

    At 100 meters, how could it be very accurate? If most of the "aiming" problems were up and down, not as much left and right, at 100 meters even the slightest (like a centimeter) change in aiming angle will send that bullet into dirt or into a cloud, let alone something as inaccurate as an imperfect sphere being shot out of a non-grooved barrel that doesn't come close to holding that sphere perfectly to begin with. Give me and 600 of my idiot friends a modern sniper rifle, shoot bullets just past our heads with other explosions behind us, and I'm not sure we could kill anyone at 600 meters. And I've even watched war movies so I kindof know how to shoot: yelling shooting from the hip like rambo!!

  9. #9

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    I'm not sure what you're trying to say there but the point is that you are not supposed to hit the guy you are aiming at 100 metres away, hell often you were not trained to aim! You just reloaded as fast as you could and fired as fast as you could. The wall of men in front of you meant that your shot had a good chance of hitting, provided you were not aiming too high or low.
    Sergeants would use spontoons to try to level the muskets at the correct height, obviously after the first volley this wasn't practical. Hence most shots which missed, certainly in the centre of battalions, were flying high or low, since sideways would often hit someone else anyway.

  10. #10
    Nanny de Bodemloze's Avatar Treason is just dates
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    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    When you state "It doesn't matter if your shot flies left or right, it'll most likely hit someone", I guess my point is that in the 600v600 100m example you gave, you are right, it doesn't matter left or right...BUT up and down is a huge problem and it likely won't hit someone. A line of 600 men, 3 or 4 deep would be how wide? 500 feet with about 200 facing? But a man of that era is only 5 1/2 feet tall. Again, up and down IS the problem. Now, if they were stacked (LOL), I bet you'd hit more!

  11. #11
    Juvenal's Avatar love your noggin
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    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    Smoothbore muskets were inaccurate. The ball was loose in the barrel due to ammunition size variability and in order to allow fast loading. Therefore when fired, the ball would take a zigzag path down the barrel as the expanding gasses vented past it. The final direction in which it emerged could not be predicted with any precision.

    The other problem with Napoleonic era muskets was that they put out a lot of smoke, so the first volley was generally the only one that could be aimed anyway. Because of this inaccuracy, smoothbore muskets were best used in volley fire at close range against massed targets.

    Gettysburg was fought at much longer ranges by loose firing lines. The soldiers used mostly rifled muskets which took longer to load but gave better accuracy in aimed fire. It was the invention of the Miniť ball which allowed practical rifled-muskets, because they expanded to fit the barrel when fired and could therefore be loaded without using a hammer.

    I believe the vital difference between Gettysburg and Waterloo was that at Waterloo musket volleys were generally fired at very close range (30 yards or less) and at massed formations (shoulder to shoulder). At Gettysburg, the lines were looser, there was more aimed and individual fire, and they engaged at longer distances, often from cover such as breastworks or fences.

    Don't forget that Artillery at Waterloo also benefitted from massed targets: French attack columns, and Anglo-Allied 4-rank lines and squares. At Gettysburg no one ever needed to form square and the opposing battle lines were very long compared to Waterloo.

    So in conclusion, the casualty rate at Waterloo was higher due to proximity and formation density, not musket accuracy.
    Last edited by Juvenal; March 23, 2010 at 09:21 AM.
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  12. #12

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    Quote Originally Posted by The Nanny View Post
    BUT up and down is a huge problem and it likely won't hit someone.
    But I already said that in my first post!

  13. #13
    Nanny de Bodemloze's Avatar Treason is just dates
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    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    Quote Originally Posted by emperorpenguin View Post
    But I already said that in my first post!
    you did, but it contradicted your 2nd sentence...so I was agreeing with half of what you were saying hehehe its all good, a healthy debate

    cheers

  14. #14

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    Quote Originally Posted by The Nanny View Post
    you did, but it contradicted your 2nd sentence...so I was agreeing with half of what you were saying hehehe its all good, a healthy debate

    cheers
    It didn't contradict my second sentence, only if you completely ignore sentence number three....

  15. #15

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    I was actually using that site someone posted (http://napoleonistyka.atspace.com/in...ts_for_muskets) as my information for the seeming HEINOUS inaccuracy of muskets/rifles of the era.

    I don't understand at all how the vast majority of these battles could be bayonet skirmishes which had the most casualties. The setup of the armies seems to run completely and utterly contrary to this idea.

    For example: If the vast majority of casualties was going to occur from melee combat, why would they not equip the infantry with actual swords/knives which could be easily unsnapped from their belts? And probably becoming more absurd, why didn't they bring shields with them? They could carry it like they did their knapsacks, drop it in front of them to fire, then retrieve it, and charge in for some Medieval-style bloodshed?

    And I don't believe those bullpies about "the heat of combat" making the soldier forget their shield or some BS and that's why shields shouldn't be used. If that's the case, then I could argue that muzzle-loading rifles/muskets shouldn't be used, because "in the heat of combat", many soldiers don't even fire, keep reloading over and over and over, until they finally remember to fire, and blow their eyes out from the shrapnel of what used to be their barrel.



    EDIT: I would have enjoyed Empire Realism's low musket lethality if the AI could handle it. Instead, every battle I've fought with them has been seemingly what I'm being told by all of you---melee entirely, only the AI doesn't even bother to shoot. Their light infantry stop to shoot a little, but their main Line infantry just bumble on into my soldiers for melee combat. If I wanted this , I'd be playing Medieval II or Rome Total War
    Last edited by AndariusHaliusScipio; March 23, 2010 at 03:55 PM.

  16. #16

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    Casualties also include missing/captured. After a unit collects itself after an engagement, it assesses its remaining strength: some men will have been killed, some wounded, and some are just not there. No one knows what happened to them. They get rolled up in the casualty figure as well. Also, remember that most casualties occur during the pursuit phase of an engagement or battle when one side attempts to break contact and retrograde.
    "Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance."

    -GEN George S. Patton, Jr.


  17. #17

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    OH my GOD! Please no mention of captured/missing/wounded!

    I've FULLY INCLUDED THOSE STATS in my brief overview! I'm fully aware that "lethality" is very low for the gun due to the vast majority of actual hits resulting only in injuries, or a sizeable portion of battle casualties being the trampling (not literally) of routing units.


    Unless the Battle of Waterloo was 10% combat and 30,000 casualties just from smushing the routing, I'm still not seeing a coherent picture to match up the numbers of soldiers and casualties with vastly improved gun technology between the American Civil War and Napoleonic Wars

  18. #18

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    Quote Originally Posted by AndariusHaliusScipio View Post
    So where do these massive casualty figures come from? I sincerely doubt it could be from melee combat, or artillery fire, or cavalry charges,.
    On this point, why could it not be artillery? What makes you discount what Napoleon called "The Queen of the Battlefield"?

    According to Mark Adkin in the Waterloo Companion, he estimates artillery fire caused between 45-60% of casualties. Musketry was second to artillery in casualties.

    That said as I have been saying, muskets were bloody dangerous within 100 yards because of the formations used.

  19. #19

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    That would be logical, however my question and argument extends to casualties between these two eras. And American Civil War artillery was just as good, if not better, than Napoleonic era artillery.

  20. #20

    Default Re: EXTREMELY skeptical of supposed claims of this era's musket/rifle inaccuracy

    Well Juvenal wrote a very good post earlier on the tactical differences between the two battles. That said I have no idea what the % for musket/artillery casualties at Gettysburg were...

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