Thursday, June 3, 2010

Brief Interlude

I was saying in last nights' post that i would try to present something of the Firing Rules for the Grant ACW project.

Before I do, I want to go ahead and make some general comments that have been percolating about as I've cycle to and from work and taken the baby out on her evening pram ramble.

For a start let me say that I know very little about the performance of the small arms and field artillery of the American Civil War. I chose this period as much from a desire to learn about it as I did to resurect Charles Grant Seniors' ACW rules. That being said, I am trying to fill the gaps in my knowlege as fast as I can. The internet has been very useful to me on tactics and though I blush a little to say it, the weapon data in Airfix Magazine Guide #24, American Civil War Wargaming by Terence Wise. I know, I really ought to be reading Paddy Griffiths, but I can't afford him at the moment and TW is at hand!

My understanding of the basics of the period was that rifled muskets and breech-loading rifles had sufficient range and accuracy to make serving smooth bore (SB) and the newer Breach Loading (BL)artillery sufficiently dangerous that it could no longer be used offensively - that is it could not be prolonged forward to support infantry attacks. BL artillery could play on attackng infantry at a distance from which they could not easily reply, while the cannister discharges of the SB guns made them quite formidable defensive weapons still. These with entrenched infantry who were using more accurate and faster-firing long-arms meant the defensive was the stronger tactical means and accounts in large part for the huge casualties sufferd by both sides.

It is currently my belief that the war began with smooth-bore percussion cap muskets being the most common infantry small-arm with rifled percussion muskets and then breech-loading rifles superceeding them as the Civil War progressed.

Looking at some of the more common weapons of the war, we see that the standard weapon in the early months of the War was the M1842 percussion, muzzle-loading smooth-bore. This weapon had an effective range of 150yds and a battle-field range of 75yds. The most common weapon on both sides (so Mr Wise says!) was the M1861 Springfield Muzzle-loading rifle. It had an effective and a battle range of 500 and 250yds respectively. The performance of the  Enfield and Remington muzzle-loading rifles was comparable. All weapons had similar rates of fire to the M1842 of 3 rounds per minute. The Sharps and Henry Breech loading rifles has similar ranges to the Remington M1862 of 600yds effective and 350 "battle", but vastly superior rates of fire; 16 and 20 rounds per minute respectively.

Turning now to the most common field artillery of the period we can see why the Guns were forced onto the defensive. The following are maximum effective ranges:

Shot: 1000yds
Shell: Min - 250yds Max - 800yds
Cannister: 250yds

Shot: 1200yds
Shell: Min - 250yds Max - 900yds
Cannister: 300yds

12PR RBL Whitworth
Shot: 2000yds
Shell: Min - na Max - na
Cannister: 300yds

3" RBL Rodman
Shot: 1800yds
Shell: Min - 250yds Max - 1400yds
Cannister: 300yds

20PR Parrott Rifle
Shot: 1900yds
Shell: Min - 250yds Max - 1400yds
Cannister: 300yds

I could continue, but I think that really the artillery (especially the SB types) was in a tough spot supporting attacks with the classic blast of cannister to soften things up! Shell couldn't help at rifle battle ranges, and shot couldn't blow huge holes in the more dispersed infantry formations of the time. They could do considerable execution upon charging infantry however.

Now, looking at the Grant Rules with this in mind, I have decided to adopt the Grant 10yds to the inch ground-scale.

Knowing little about ranges other than that the "musketry" range is  18", what must we deduce? 18" translates to 180yds which is close enough to the 150yd range of the M1842 percussion musket for me to assume that this is what Grant may have had in mind.

The 60"\600yd range he gives SB artillery in "The War Game" is obviously quite conservative, but I could swallow this as an effective range for unsighted SB artillery. Likewise I can but the 24"/240yd cannister range sufficiently to import the rules complete into the ACW rules.

This begs the question though, did Grant bother with additional rules to handle rifled weapons? Part of me thinks he may have; he always seemed on a quest for realism in all his writings. Another part is discouraged from this view when I think of what material may actually have been available to him in the late 1950s! this is even more the case for Featherstones' Horse and Musket rules which claim to be able to be used up to the Franco-Prussan War yet which apart from a mitraieuse rule seem terribly generic.

I am inclining to the belief that Grant probably had no reliable or complete information on the rifled weapons of the ACW and that he probably ignore them. If this is so, I might be able to look at importing the Musketry and artillery rules directly from The War Game. The only thing stopping me at the time of writing is a small comment that CS Grant makes in the War Game Companion on the transition of the ACW Rules to those of The War Game:

"The rules were new but a number of the mechanisms had been established. at least to some extent, during our American Civil War Games. Of course the style of warfare was different and that meant serious changes. The rules for movement and manoeuvering of troops needed to reflect the ratherstylised and rigid formations of the mid-eighteenth century. The use of cavalry as shock troops rather tha as mounted infantry needed to be catered for. Both artillery and musketry would be seriously less effective one hundred years earlier than they were in the American Civil War, and then there was the issue of morale..."
More information might be necessary!


Ross Mac said...

Oh dear, I'm not familiar with Mr Wises's article but it appears that some aspects may be at odds with many other sources.

If you can spare 2 pounds for a used copy of Paul Stevenson's excellent ACW book from the Wargaming in History series, it is worth 10 times the price.

The following page on arty may also be useful:

Of course, the main issue at hand is what did Charles Grant think. It might be worthwhile plotting the positions of troops during the Sawmill Village and Gettysburg games described in WC, following the descriptions of who fired at who and calculating possible references from there, based on the specified table size as a cross reference for your deduced ranges.

In any event, enjoy the journey of discovery and soldier on!

Mosstrooper said...

Dont think Old School rules take into account the minutiea on weapons ranges /types, Featherstone's Horse and Musket rules seem to cover about 200 years with no change of weapons (Fpw Millitrease and rules for Light Infantry being an exception ). Grant's Napoleonic rules have ranges up to 15" and 20"
( for British rifles) in 5" bands .

Old School ACW said...

Dear Ross,

Sorry not to respond earlier. I've been dealing with a familily emergency.

Obviously I've a lot yet to learn. I have bought the book you've recommended and am looking forward to taking delivery. I've bookmarked the site and will read it through as I can.

Thanks for your post on the OSW site; it's filled an important blank.

Mosstrooper; I thoroughly agree!

Archduke Piccolo said...

You will probably find as many opinions as people offering them!

Terry Wise is i think a good place to start, and then you can refine as more details come to light. I wouldn't mind seeing what Griffiths and Stevenson have to say about the weapons of the Civil War myself.

I think one does need to distinguish between SB and Rifled ordnance. The former appears to have been much more effective at canister range; the latter at longer ranges on account of their accuracy. The is a legend that Union General Bayard was singled out killed by a Whitworth bolt at something over 2000 yards. True or not, it says something about the gun's perceived accuracy!

I'd probably not add any faster firing rates for breech-loading ordnance, though. Although Whitworth was making both BL and ML versions of its cannon, I think the CSA bought only the ML version. I think (I stand to be corrected in these comments, by the way) that the Blakely (field gun) was a similar case.

As far as small arms were concerned, it would appear at first sight that men armed with smoothbores couldn't live on the same battlefield as rifle-armed troops.

I think this would have been true of, say, the more open battlefields of Europe, but such were quite rare in American battlefields. Thick terrain would have been a great equalizer! Possibly the smoothbores would allow you to shoot faster (I know TW allowed them a slightly higher affectiveness than rifles over very short ranges (50 yards or less)). Rate of fire seems to have been much more decisive, as in the Cavalry duels late in the war. Mind you, being able to fight lying down must have been a help! The repeating carbines were (I gather) somewhat outranged by the Enfield carbines and muskets favoured by the CSA, but when you can get off several shots to one, whilst lying down...

My own rule set uses SB, ML rifles and BL rifles for infantry; ML carbines and BL/repeating carbines for cavalry, plus shotguns and pistols for charging weapons. (I sort of feel the necessity to include shotguns, as CSA Genl N.B. Forrest was known to have remarked how ideal that weapon was for Cavalry...)

Archduke Piccolo said...

Something I forgot to mention. Early in the war, the Army of the Potomac appears to have had rifles and SB cannon in the ratio of about 7 to 3 - more than twice as many. By the end of the war the ratio was nearer fifty-fifty. As far as american service was concerned the SB cannon had yet to reach their use-by date.
The Army of Northern Virginia seem always to have had something like a fifty-fifty split, though I don't recall what evidence was cited for this.

What ordnance the Western and trans-Mississippi forces had, I don't know.