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Old May 17, 2011, 02:21 AM   #1
Newton24b
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accuracy of weapons

id like to know just what kind of accuracy of military rifles, sharps included, is possible. would it be possible to consistently hit the head of a horse at 300 yards with your military issue rifle pre 1860?
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Old May 17, 2011, 08:42 AM   #2
tpelle
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Don't have any of the rifles you mentioned, but I think that hitting the head of a horse at 300 yards would take a pretty good marksman if the horse were moving at a gallop.

I think we need more info:

Is the horse moving? If so, at a walk, trot, or gallop? Is it moving towards you, laterally, or on the oblique?
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Old May 17, 2011, 09:33 AM   #3
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I can't speak with authority, but based on the accuracy of my 1862 Springfield, I believe that a well-trained sharpshooter, with time, a stationary target and a well-maintained firearm could consistently hit a target the size of a horse's head at 300 yards.

I haven't shot that far, but I've shot 150 yards with that rifle and, from a rest and with no wind, I can consistently group three rounds within a four or five inches. After three rounds, fouling seems to take its toll, though, and it takes a pretty good scrubbing to get the accuracy back. Bear in mind, that's with a 150 year old gun that not only had a lot of use during the late unpleasantness, but also took its fair share of deer in the years that followed. It wasn't always well-maintained. I think that in its early days, in the hands of a marksman, it would have been a holy terror.

I'm told that 1853 Enfields had an accuracy edge and the Whitworth rifles, using hexagonal bullets, may have had no peer in accuracy from a muzzle loader.
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Old May 17, 2011, 09:51 AM   #4
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What do you have against horses?

There were recorded "sniper" shots in the Civil War, out to 800 yards. The P-1853 Enfield was considered to be just about as accurate as the Whitworth rifle, up to 600 yards. After that, is when the Whitworth really made a difference.
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Old May 17, 2011, 10:12 AM   #5
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If you had watched "Top Shots" on TV - you could have seen the accuracy of the Sharps. These guys were tops marksmen/women and most of them couldn't hit the broadside of a barn with it. It didn't seem to hit consistent. But - they were used to modern firearms. I've never shot a Sharps and I have to believe that some of the fellows on here that have them are probably pretty good with them - but like anything, it takes practice, practice, practice.

In regards to the rifled muskets - many years ago I was part of a shooting competition at Camp Grayling, Michigan. We were shooting on the 1,000 meter machine gun range at pop up/down targets that were about 2" X 4'. We could shoot any Civil War musket/rifle/carbine - total time 1 hour and as many shots that we wanted. We were tow man teams taking turns at being shooter/spotter. I was shooting and Enfield that belonged to my partner and he was shooting a Mississippi Rifle. We both did pretty well on the 2 X 4 foot targets up to about 600 yards once we figured out the wind and the elevation we need to make the minies drop onto the target. At 1,000 meters, they had a full size horse with a rider cut out of 3/8 " steel. It was a temptation to us all and we took shots at it once in a while. Not too many fellas hit it with a rifled musket. One fellow had a Henry rifle though and you could hear the "pings" - once he got his range and windage, he did very well. In comparision, one of my friends tried out his Smith carbine. He is an excellent shot but he couldn't hit shinola beyond 200 yards with it. Like anything else, the various models will be as accurate as the shooter and if they know their weapon, they can do a lot better than the "average joe". As the saying goes . . . "beware of the man who shoots just one gun".
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Old May 17, 2011, 10:24 AM   #6
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I forgot to mention that when we were shooting at Camp Grayling, we were standing in pits and able to "rest" the rifles/weapons on supports such as blankets rolled up, etc. These long range shots were not done "offhand". It truly was an eye opening exeriment and a lot of fun. We also did an experiment the night before. The fellow who was shooting his Smith was a junior high history teacher. He had his kids make life size human cut-outs of men and paint them in various uniforms. Some regular Yank/Reb with no flashy brass, some in Zouave uniforms, some with gold colored belt plats and breast plates, etc. We then lined up at 50 yards and given the order to load and fire as many shots as we could for a two minute time period. it was interesting - those with the flashy belt plates, breast plates, etc. received more hits than those in run of the milll uniforms. It was amazing how many of us used the belt plates, breast plates, etc. as aiming points because they caught our eye. It proved the theory of why a lot of soldiers stripped off their breast plates, cartridge box plates, etc. After recording the results, we then used them for firing cannister from cannons. We fired several rounds of cannister directly at them and then counted the hits - which were very few. We then fired cannister the way it was intended - at the ground in front of the ranks so that it ricocheted (sp?) up into the ranks. The damage from the cannister fired in that manner was devastating. Many of us voiced our thoughts of what it must have been like at Cemetery Hill as the troops reached the high water mark and the Union guns were loaded with double and triple cannister loads.
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Old May 17, 2011, 11:00 AM   #7
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I can hit a five gallon bucket more often than not with my repro Enfield at 300 yards. Not benched, just using something to prop against.
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Old May 17, 2011, 12:34 PM   #8
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Up to the time when rifles became general issue, riflemen and rifle units were considered the military elite (as opposed to the military units that were socially elite). They were relatively late in coming to the battlefield and there might be argument about how much difference they made but they were true specialists. Among other things, they sometimes utilized some unusual firing positions, when possible, including a reclining position supporting the rifle with the feet. In keeping with their belief about obvious targets (if you could see it, it was a viable target), they all tended to dress in green with black distinctions and equipment, including in the US Army. In fact the US Army had a mounted rifle unit, still in existence, only not on horses any more.
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Old May 17, 2011, 02:36 PM   #9
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Maybe I'm reading more into the original question but on any of the slower moving (black powder) bullets you are going to start picking up a lot of drop at the longer ranges. If you are at a target range that's one thing but in the field even a mistake of 25 yards or so at that distance is going to likely miss- fortunately for the hayburner
You planning on horse hunting?
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Old May 17, 2011, 06:55 PM   #10
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The big changes were the conical bullets and the percussion cap. A rifle made before them wasn't much different than those made after.

The changes in metallurgy and precision machining that we associate with the post war era, had their start early in the 1800s.
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Old May 18, 2011, 08:32 AM   #11
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Keep in mind, the military rifles/rifled muskets were designed to do what they needed to do. Namely, hit men a fighting distances. From what I have learned reading, most CW shots were hastily aimed at enemy under 100 yards away. These 'weapons' were not designed for long range accuracy.
I have seen the best of the best have trouble finding black in competition at 100 yards using rifled muskets.
OTOH, I have seen some highly tuned ml rifles with bullets (e.g. Whitworth) make a single, five shot, hole at 200 yards.
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Old May 18, 2011, 08:43 AM   #12
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Why shoot at the horses head? The body of the rider and/or the body of the horse makes a much easier target.
That said, A Sharps with a good load would certainly make for an interesting afternoon for the horse.
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Old May 18, 2011, 09:01 AM   #13
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Quote:
id like to know just what kind of accuracy of military rifles, sharps included, is possible. would it be possible to consistently hit the head of a horse at 300 yards with your military issue rifle pre 1860?
Tests conducted with period smooth bore muskets show you basically could not hit a barn door at 200 yards. I don’t know if they attempted to see what a smooth bore musket could hit at 300 yards.

Rifled round ball rifles were capable of hitting people out to 300 yards. Tim Murphy tumbled a British General at Saratoga at 300 yards. http://www.americanrevolution.org/murphy.html But such a thing were extreme range and remembered because it was so exceptional. Like a no hitter base ball game.

The Minie ball had not totally displaced the round ball caplock by the time you get to 1860, but by 1865 it was the standard service round. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mini%C3%A9_ball http://www.historynet.com/weaponry-t...-mini-ball.htm

In theory you could hit someone at 300 yards if you aimed at him. In practice this was rare. The rifled muskets of that era seldom shot to point of aim. One account I read, the Union soldier was an experienced squirrel hunter, and he took several fine beads at General Forrest on a horse. General Forrest was a long way off by the account, but he had to be close enough to recognized as a General, but the Union soldier said that his musket was so ill sighted and bored that the only reaction he got from General Forrest was a recognition that someone was firing in his direction. General Forrest eventually cleared out of the area.

You only have to shoot a rifled caplock musket, to find out that the bullets drops an incredible amount. I think mine dropped 18 inches going from 100 yards to 150 yards. I suspect the bullet drop from 100 yards to 200 yards might be measured in yards, not feet. Getting your elevation correct at 300 yards would require sighters.
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Old May 18, 2011, 12:16 PM   #14
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Quote:
Getting your elevation correct at 300 yards would require sighters.
Nah, I can run my sights up to the 300 yd mark and nail a five gallon can at 300 yds. I can't do it every shot but I might could if I benched it.
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Old May 18, 2011, 02:06 PM   #15
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Just like rifles today, Civil War rifled muskets were probably capable of better accuracy than those who were shooting them. But there are several points to be made here.

For one thing, you probably remember that black powder was being used and after a couple of volleys, the battlefield was a smokey place. That had been true earlier as well, during the Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Another possibly more important things was that these were mostly all single shot muzzleloaders. That didn't affect accuracy but in some (but not all) cases the matter was decided face to face. By that time, however, casualties would have already been high and such conditions are not conducive to steady shooting and they still aren't.

All those heavy bullet rifles of the 19th century had fairly good range but did have a lot of drop. The .45-70 from that period, still somewhat popular in some quarters, still exhibits the same characteristics. But firing for the infantry was by volley (everyone in the rank firing at once), which helps hit probability (I expect). Some use was made of aiming stakes later in the century, which is something done to roughly establish known distances on the battlefield but it requires that you stay in one place and hope the enemy comes the way you expect. Rifles later on had very high sight settings, perhaps a little optimistic sometimes.

Finally, generals in the Civil War had in many cases cut their teeth, so to speak, in the Mexican War and had been reading books written earlier that did not take into account the increased accuracy and therefore the effectiveness of rifled muskets. Casualties were terrible, even to include horses.
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Old May 22, 2011, 11:48 AM   #16
shafter
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Quote:
I forgot to mention that when we were shooting at Camp Grayling, we were standing in pits and able to "rest" the rifles/weapons on supports such as blankets rolled up, etc. These long range shots were not done "offhand". It truly was an eye opening exeriment and a lot of fun. We also did an experiment the night before. The fellow who was shooting his Smith was a junior high history teacher. He had his kids make life size human cut-outs of men and paint them in various uniforms. Some regular Yank/Reb with no flashy brass, some in Zouave uniforms, some with gold colored belt plats and breast plates, etc. We then lined up at 50 yards and given the order to load and fire as many shots as we could for a two minute time period. it was interesting - those with the flashy belt plates, breast plates, etc. received more hits than those in run of the milll uniforms. It was amazing how many of us used the belt plates, breast plates, etc. as aiming points because they caught our eye. It proved the theory of why a lot of soldiers stripped off their breast plates, cartridge box plates, etc. After recording the results, we then used them for firing cannister from cannons. We fired several rounds of cannister directly at them and then counted the hits - which were very few. We then fired cannister the way it was intended - at the ground in front of the ranks so that it ricocheted (sp?) up into the ranks. The damage from the cannister fired in that manner was devastating. Many of us voiced our thoughts of what it must have been like at Cemetery Hill as the troops reached the high water mark and the Union guns were loaded with double and triple cannister loads.
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This is a very informative post. Thanks!
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