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Springfields & Enfields vs. Canister!
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Author:  Joe Meyer [ Mon Aug 18, 2014 5:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Springfields & Enfields vs. Canister!

I've been revisiting Allan Nevins four-volume work, The War for the Union, which, I think, as a whole and for its interrelational scope of military, political, social and economic treatments, must be considered as one of the best narratives of the entire story every written. However, in Volume I of that particular work, there is a treatise regarding the Union Ordnance Bureau, in which Nevins lays out a number of general thoughts that gave me some pause in reflection. One of those is given below. Nevins wrote his books in the late 1950's, before the flood of earstwhile centennial works that added to (or in some cases severely muddled) our knowledge of the event. Yet, one must either accept, reject or modify such generalities based upon the totality of primary source knowledge. I wonder which of those notions might be appropriate here!

"The Civil War was primarily an infantryman's war, in which artillery played but a secondary part. Being a war of movement over great distances and rough terrain, so that the transport of even light fieldpieces like the popular Napoleon gun often involved great difficulty, it was best suited to mobile forces. Moreover, the rifled Springfields and Enfields had an effective range equal to that of field guns using canister, so that infantrymen could usually silence all but the best sheltered batteries and largest ordnance."

Author:  Robert Frost [ Mon Aug 18, 2014 8:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Springfields & Enfields vs. Canister!


Since you did not pose a question here, I assume you are throwing this out for discussion. As such, I would say the statement concerning the rifle vs. artillery crews is correct. If one accepts that a unit, not individual rifleman, had an effective range of 300-400 yards (various authors), and that Union artillery guidelines stated the use of canister appropriate out to 400 yards, then those infantry willing to stand canister flung their way could impact the gun crews. Additionally, the guns would necessarily be positioned in the open whereas infantry might be able to find some cover.

I think that PDT values in these games reflect the reality of the situation. Whether the crew kill value accurately reflects, I don't know.

Author:  C. Hecht [ Tue Aug 19, 2014 1:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Springfields & Enfields vs. Canister!

I guess skirmishers or sharpshooter companies could have done it better with less threat to them because of using the cover that the ground provided.

Author:  KWhitehead [ Tue Aug 19, 2014 8:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Springfields & Enfields vs. Canister!

As with most things its more complicated. Skirmishers were the dangerous threat to artillery since they could take their time firing and see the results of their fire. An artillery piece was very vulnerable to rifle fire. Not just because their crew had to stand up to work the piece but because they had horses that were very big targets. Loss of horses could cause a piece to be withdrawn just as quickly as loss of crew to man the gun.

But negating this is the fact that usually guns were not deployed without supporting infantry and their skirmishers who would keep the enemy back far enough not to be a threat. Most infantry weren't that good of shots so they had to be relatively close, probably 300 yards, to get any hits. Line infantry while having more guns to fire than skirmishers were even worse at hitting a selected target. It also depended what was around the gun as well. Infantry support would draw off fire.

Then there is a purely physical limitation. The guns weren't all that effective against line infantry unless they could use canister. The fused Shells just weren't that accurate and couldn't be used effectively below three or four hundred yards. Canister on the other hand was most effective at 200 yards but started falling off rapidly at distances increased. By three hundred yards the spread was rendering the ammo useless. Couple this with the fact that a typical Ammo Chest contained only 4 canister rounds for a total of 16 per gun and you have a pretty limited situation where the artillery can be effective both distance and time wise.

Which boils down to tactically, artillery stayed away from infantry except as part of a defensive line. In a defensive line it could prepare withdrawal routes, position the gun with supports, and wait for the attacker to come within its sweet spot of 100-200 yards.

Author:  bjhorrocks [ Fri Aug 22, 2014 12:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Springfields & Enfields vs. Canister!

I entirely reject the notion that the war between the states was primarily an "infantry" war. Some of the battles were fought over rough terrain, true, but the majority were fought over farms, low laying hills and most, if not all, with a road network. It's true that thick brush, forests, rivers and steep mountains pose a movement restriction on artillery, but they pose almost as much of an obstruction on infantry and certainly cavalry. Wagon trains? Forget it.
Canister as we all know was a last ditch defensive load. And it was very effective, again, as we all know. The beauty of artillery is the ability to reach out and touch someone. To disrupt maneuver, blast defensive positions and cost causalities at a distance much greater than small arms.
Since man has had the ability to make projectiles fly, armies have been a combined force with all arms supporting the other.

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