“Incredible Shots Of The Civil War”

That’s the title of a fascinating article at Bivouac Books.  I was introduced to it via e-mail this week.  Here’s an excerpt.

There is an old adage that for every soldier killed in the Civil War his weight in lead was fired on the battlefield. While it is impossible to prove that statement, it is a certainty that an enormous amount of ordnance was expended during those four bloody years. More than 3,250,000 soldiers were engaged in 2,261 engagements which produced some 673,301 battlefield casualties. With the amount of iron and lead fired in anger it is inevitable that certain shots stand apart from the rest. On one hand there are those shots, like the one which killed Gen. John Sedgwick, which stand out as incredible feats of accuracy. Far more common, however, were random shots which produced incredible results. This article provides examples of both the incredibly accurate and the incredibly strange.

Following the Battle of Gettysburg, it was noted that:

“Some idea of the tremendous work at Gettysburgh may be inferred from the fact stated that more shells were discharged in the single battle of Gettysburgh than were employed in all the battles that Napoleon ever fought.”

Occasionally the lead was flying so fast and furious that bullets collided in mid-air. A correspondent writing from Vicksburg mentions just such a curious relic:

“I lately saw at the headquarters of Col. Slack‘s brigade, two Minie bullets which had once told a history. One was a rebel bullet of English Manufacture, smuggled over by our dear brethren in Britain to shoot their dear brethren in America. The other was a national ball of the Springfield rifle type. The former was fired from a rifle pit at Jackson at our skirmishers. The latter was fired from our line of skirmishers at the rifle pit. They met midway in the air, were welded by the compact and fell harmlessly to the ground. They are now firm friends, sticking each to the other closer than brother or lover.”

. . .

The failure to properly train Civil War recruits in the use of firearms often led to on-the-job training in the heat of battle. This of course resulted in shots being wasted and many weapons becoming disabled due to improper handling. A period account bears this out:

“On the field of Gettysburg there were 27,574 guns picked up and of those 24,000 were found to be loaded, and half of them were double loaded. One fourth had from three to ten loads in, and many had five or six balls to one charge of powder. In some cases the powder was above the ball, in others the cartridges were not broken at the end, while in one musket twenty three balls, sixty two buckshot and a quantity of powder were all mixed up together.”

While most sensible soldiers wouldn’t think of firing a weapon which had multiple loads in the barrel, Confederate Private William W. Patteson made a point of firing everything but the kitchen sink during an 1862 battle in the Shenandoah:

“I had shot my gun so often (and wiped it but once) that when I had rammed down one Minie ball and nine buckshot I thought I would put in some more. I put in nine more buckshot and some paper. In ramming down the extra charge the ramrod stuck fast. I could not move it up or down. Augustine said: ‘If you fire your gun in that condition, it will burst. Turn it up and drive the ramrod down on that  rock.’ I did so, but as the enemy were about to charge I had to leave the ramrod in. Thinking the gun might kick me over, I knelt down so I wouldn’t have far to fall. It was well I did.

“When the enemy came out of the woods, moving straight toward us, I said to my cousin: ‘Watch that Yankee on the dark sorrel horse.’ Well, when the shot went off, I fell one way and the gun another, the horse had no rider, and a gap was cut through their lines. That ramrod, the eighteen buckshot, and the Minie ball did the work. My captain said: ‘See here, young man, where did you get that piece of artillery?’ I replied that it was a gift from General Jackson. ‘Well now,’ said he meditatively, ‘General Jackson should have had it mounted on wheels, so it wouldn’t kick you over.’ “

There’s much more at the link.  Very interesting reading for military history and Civil War buffs.


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