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Old July 29, 2012, 03:32 PM   #26
Rachen
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Pickett's division was carrying out General Lee's orders. Not General Pickett's. The reason it was called "Pickett's charge", is because the men that marched across the field that day were mostly General Pickett's men. As a side note, Pickett hated Lee for the rest of his (Pickett's) life for destroying his division and "killing his boys".
I stand corrected.

Wow. I thought Lee would have thought better. After all, he has expertly orchestrated the Yankee whipping at Fredericksburg. Did he show any unusual symptoms at Gettysburg? Like fever, nausea, headache or stiff neck?

Because viral meningitis was prevalent on both sides and can really wreck havoc on a tactical officer's thought processes. And the road leading to Gettysburg from Chancellorsville was paved with a stifling summer heat and mosquitos.
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Old July 29, 2012, 04:36 PM   #27
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Lee was an aggressive and audacious commander. He liked taking the battle to the enemy and he was good at it. At Gettysburg however he didn't have enough information to make a better decision. He also believed his troops were pretty much unstoppable. He didn't realize how decimated some of his regiments were. The artillery that was supposed to clean out the Union center went over their heads. He underestimated how many troops the north had or how well they were dug in. He took the fight to the enemy with everything he had and lost. That's all there was to it.
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Old July 29, 2012, 05:07 PM   #28
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The first semiautos were based on existing designs. Browning's first semiautomatic was a modified lever action rifle that used gas to work the action, and that required smokeless powder. A gas operated BP weapon would require complete cleaning after very few shots.

The idea of a simple blowback action may seem obvious in retrospect, but it really required very original thinking. Who would have thought to design a rifle in which the bolt was held in battery by a spring?
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Old July 29, 2012, 05:39 PM   #29
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Interesting how we went from a discussion of Why No Black Powder semi-or full auto firearms to a discussion of Lee at Gettyburg.
I have read that Lee had some serious health problems at the time, heart disease or something similar. Following Jackson's death the Army of Northern Virginia was reorganized into three corps with the inevitable reshuffling and breaking up of established relationships and the promoting of people who probably were promoted beyond their level of competence-Richard Ewell and A. P. Hill. I have read that Lee fought Gettyburg the way the Union generals had fought their battles-piecemeal attacks, vague orders from above-IIRC on the evening of July 1 Lee told Ewell to attack Culp's Hill "if practicable"-Ewell didn't. Then there was some serious wrangling between Lee and Longstreet.
Upon seeing the Union position Longstreet said "If General Meade is there we had better leave him alone." I read that after Fredericksburg Longstreet became a firm believer in the Tactical Defensive-find a strong position and let your enemy attack you. One of the Great Lessons of the Civil War that took a long time to learn was that the Defense had outrun the Attack-the great range of the rifled musket made the old Napoleonic tactics of massed charges ineffective and the old 18th Century practice of maneuvering till your enemy was in a bad position then striking at his exposed flank as Frederick II often did was more effective.
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Old July 29, 2012, 06:07 PM   #30
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Materials and machining might have allowed automatic weapons to come about slightly before they actually did, but sometimes you just need a "flash" of insight to bring it all together.

But your question is still a good one - I've often thought the same thing about other developments in math and science. Sometimes, you'll have two or more people coming up with the same mathematical or scientific insights within a few years of one another, working completely independently. I think it's true that sometimes, you have "an idea whose time has come".

For that matter, why did it take so long to come up with the theory of relativity? If you look at Einstein's original 1905 paper on special relativity, it's only about twenty-five pages long, and the mathematics required to describe special relativity doesn't go much beyond high-school algebra and freshman calculus. Any scientist or mathematician from the early 1800s would have understood it, had they seen it. Einstein's paper does reference Maxwell's electromagnetics equations, but even those had been around for over 40 years.
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Old July 29, 2012, 07:03 PM   #31
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This seems to have become a "Rebel" vs "Yank" issue. The fact is that the C.S. couldn't even produce metallic ammunition. They threw away captured Spencers and Henrys as soon as captured ammo was exhausted because C.S. Ordnance could not make the cartridges or make the machinery to make them.

A bigger factor is the population numbers. Someone (Catton?) said that the South could have an army or could support an army; it could not do both.

Practical auto weapons awaited the development of smokeless powder, both because black powder fouled too much and because it did not have the necessary pressure spike to properly function an auto weapon. So even if some southern Browning or Maxim had invented a machinegun he could not have gotten it to work very well without smokeless powder.

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Old July 29, 2012, 09:49 PM   #32
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Wow. I thought Lee would have thought better. After all, he has expertly orchestrated the Yankee whipping at Fredericksburg. Did he show any unusual symptoms at Gettysburg? Like fever, nausea, headache or stiff neck?

Because viral meningitis was prevalent on both sides and can really wreck havoc on a tactical officer's thought processes. And the road leading to Gettysburg from Chancellorsville was paved with a stifling summer heat and mosquitos.
I have read that Lee had some "health issues" at the time, but it is likely an excuse for his failed attack. Pickett's charge was based on solid military tactics of the day. The enemy had been attacked on both flanks of it's line. Therefore both flanks would've been reinforced from the center, leaving the center as the weakest point. Solid reasoning. Problem was, Lee's men had to cross an open field that was over a mile long with no cover, under artillery fire the entire way in order to pull off this attack. The solid reasoning did not lend itself to the open terrain. Also I agree with Hawg. I believe that Lee started believing that his army was invencable.
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Old July 30, 2012, 01:40 AM   #33
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Metallic cartridges. The South could not produce them. The North did, but even if a fully automatic weapon was designed, the black powder fouling would limit its usefulness. BTW, if one were designed, it would have been steam powered like the proposed Confederate aero plane (the inventor wanted to carpet bomb the Union armies, sink their squadron of ships and rain Greek fire on Northern cities ).

As to the South winning the battles up to '63, they lost Fort Donelson to Grant in '62. This made holding Kentucky and Western Tennessee untenable. When Bragg and Kirby Smith attempted to recapture Kentucky, the campaign failed when Perryville was lost. Shiloh wasn't a Confederate victory and Beauregard withdrew the army to Corinth after that battle, leaving Grant in the field. Let's not forget New Orleans which was captured by Farragut in '62. All the way out west in New Mexico, Sibley's was losing to Canby at Glorietta Pass. Missouri was lost to the Confederacy at Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern) in '62 too. Turning to Virginia and Lee, his invasion of Maryland didn't result in a victory at Antietam/Sharpsburg. Along the Atlantic coast, New Bern, NC was captured. Fort Pulaski in Georgia was captured.

Here are some Confederate Victories in 1862: Front Royal where Jackson beat Banks, Seven Days Battle, Fredericksburgh, Seccessionville (James Island near Charleston, SC).

Overall, I think the high water mark for the Confederacy was 1862. Had they won Perryville, Kentucky would have been theirs. From it they could threaten Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania. The North would have to garrison those states (Think political demands on the Fed gubmint from the governors and Congress) as opposed to going on the offensive. Had Pea Ridge been won, the Trans-Mississippi's resources would be available to the Confederacy. Finally, had Lee pulled off his invasion of Maryland and returned to Virginia without battle, it would have demonstrated to France and England the Confederacy's viability (like Saratoga did during the Revolution). Foreign recognition, aid and assistance would have made Union victory less likely. By 1863, it was already off the table for the European powers. England wouldn't and Napoleon III would not act without England's concurrent consent.
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Old July 30, 2012, 09:50 AM   #34
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Good points Gary. I didn't say they won every major battle, I said most. Likewise they lost most major battles from 63 on.
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Old July 30, 2012, 11:08 AM   #35
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I've actually seen blow-back weapons fired with black powder, including a Sten gun. They become unusable normally before the first magazine is expended due to powder fouling.

A weapon that has to be broken down and cleaned every 15 shots so that it will continue to function isn't particularly useful, and can be very, very deadly to its owner in certain situations.

When Winchester and Remington started developing semi-automatic .22 and .25 caliber rifles in the late 1800s, they purposfully made them so that standard .22 and .25 ammunition couldn't be chambered because most of it at that time was still loaded with black powder.
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Old July 30, 2012, 11:19 AM   #36
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"He was the only officer with the resolve and power to have been able to STOP General Pickett from carrying out that catastrophic mistake at Gettysburg."

If Longstreet couldn't change Lee's mind to send Pickett's division across the field, what makes you think Jackson could?

Lee admired and highly valued Jackson fighting ability, but he respected Longstreet's abilities as a counselor, sounding board, and confidant above all others. In some ways, they had almost a father-son relationship, something that I doubt anyone could have ever had with Thomas Jackson given his personality and his quirks.

Remember, Lee secured Longstreet's promotion ahead of Jackson.

And also remember, had Jackson been at Gettysburg, it's very likely that he and Lee wouldn't have been together at the time of Pickett's Charge -- he likely would have been leading his troops in either a diversionary attack designed to bleed off troops from the center, or he would have been otherwise attacking a softspot in the Union line as a back up.

As for Pickett, he was but one of THREE divisional commanders in the charge; the other two divisions were led by Brig. Gens. Pettigrew and Trimble. Pickett, as a Maj. Gen., was senior commander on the field.

He also accompanied his troops for a significant distance through the march (I really hesitate to call it a charge), but stopped well short of the final "high water mark."

Before anyone accuses me of calling Pickett a coward for stopping short, as the senior field commander you could not expect him to march right at the head of his troops the whole way. In fact had he, I'd have questioned his sanity..



"Wow. I thought Lee would have thought better. After all, he has expertly orchestrated the Yankee whipping at Fredericksburg. Did he show any unusual symptoms at Gettysburg? Like fever, nausea, headache or stiff neck?"

Funny you should say that. There are reports of Lee not feeling well at times during the battle, and some historians have speculated that he actually had a mild heart attack or mini-stroke that affected his judgement on the third day.
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Old July 30, 2012, 11:38 AM   #37
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On the subject of cartridge cases...

the kind of deep drawing of brass necessary to make cartridge cases larger than a pistol case wasn't possible at this time. It didn't truly become possible until the late 1800s, and even then balloon head cases, which are easier to draw than the solid head cases we have to day, stayed standard in commercial ammunition well into the 20th century.

Cartridge cases of the Civil War era, up through the early 1880s, were primarily drawn copper.

Copper is far softer and easier to work than brass, and it was possible to use it.

But, that comes at a price... Being far more maleable, copper "sticks" to the chamber a lot more tenaciously while there is pressure in the barrel, making a blowback weapon any larger than a .22 questionable at best.

And, because of the nature of copper, any amount of sticking in the chamber could very likely result in the extractor ripping the rimfire rim off the case, or pulling through the rim, leaving an empty case stuck in the chamber.

That very issue, stuck copper cases, was a big problem with the early Trapdoor rifles chambered in .50-70 and the early .45-70 rounds. The chamber would foul a bit, the case would become stuck, and the extractor would rip through.
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Old July 30, 2012, 11:44 AM   #38
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"Finally, had Lee pulled off his invasion of Maryland and returned to Virginia without battle, it would have demonstrated to France and England the Confederacy's viability (like Saratoga did during the Revolution). Foreign recognition, aid and assistance would have made Union victory less likely. By 1863, it was already off the table for the European powers. England wouldn't and Napoleon III would not act without England's concurrent consent."

I think Lincoln could have effectively neutralized the threat of foreign intervention in the war, even had the South kept winning, by simply releasing the Emancipation Proclamation no matter what was happening.

The last thing England and France wanted was the war to be about slavery, for them to be seen to be supporting the cause of slavery.

There are good indications that Lincoln had the Emancipation Proclamation in his desk in at least a draft form as early as fall 1861.

Lincoln issued the preliminary proclamation in September 1862, at a time when the South was still fairly well in control on the battlefield.

From that point going forward it is very unlikely that Britain and France would have intervened even had Gettysburg been a Southern victory.

After Lincoln signed the proclamation on January 1, 1863, Europe was out of the war no matter what happened.
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Old July 30, 2012, 01:40 PM   #39
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Not arguing with you Mike You made some very good points. Lincoln did preoare it earlier and could have released the Emancipation Proclamation earlier, but he wanted a victory first. The EP politically changed the originally course of the war from preserving the Union. A lot of democrats would have been upset. The victory placated them and made it more acceptable.

Back on topic of a full automatic Civil War weapon so devastating that its mere presence would cause the opposition to sue for peace. A simple cartridge could have been like the early Gatling cartridges - almost bored through metal tubes with recessed nipple so as to keep it tubular. They could easily be reloaded and in a steam power Ager Coffee Mill gun it would have worked. A water driller could reduce the fouling as it fired.

Gee, if I go to gunsmithing school, I wonder if they will let me do this as a school project?
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Old July 30, 2012, 01:54 PM   #40
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Lincoln wanted a victory yes, but I really think he was saavy enough to know that emancipation was by far his best and ultimate weapon against European intervention. I have no doubt that US ambassadors to France and Britain knew of it and were prepared to drop that nugget if it became necessary.

The cartridge concept you speak of was used for several designs during the war but it was difficult to keep spent caps from jamming the machanism of the guns in which it was tried.

A far more successful concept was the Requa Battery Gun, but it was really artillery. The few times it was used it proved to be successful with a decent rate of fire but like other guns of the time quickly overheated and couldnt maintain the rate of fire.

By far the most successful multi round gun of the war was the Napoleon smoothbore firing cannister or grape. It had better range than any smallarm and the large balls, about an inch in diameter, were lethal as hell over a mile or so. But, again, artillery.

One historian I read many years ago supposed that upwards of 90% of the casualties during Picketts charge were due to cannister and, starting at about 700 yards, double cannister.
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Old July 30, 2012, 05:16 PM   #41
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I haven't seen mention of one important aspect: ammunition supply.

Supply was not what it is today, wagon trains of ammunition were slow, and getting it through channels even slower. One of the major objections as repeating weapons came into vogue was the "waste of ammunition" by the individual soldier.

Railroads were still fairly new, and the iron rails short-lived with accidents frequent, with de-railings and track damage. Then, at some point, the ammunition had to be transferred from train to wagon. Roads were poor, often unpassable in rainy weather.

Simply put, rapid firing weapons could eat up ammunition faster than the supply chain could deliver.

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Old July 30, 2012, 06:01 PM   #42
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Oddly enough the Union did an amazing job of supplying troops with the proper ammunition during the war. At some points there were almost 200 different types of ammo going to Union troops.

Primary supply was by rail, and the Union quartermaster corps worked very efficiently with the military railroads authority to ensure proper supply.

As for the guns, the Ager at least used a system similar to what Gary described, metal shells. They were filled with standard. 58 cal paper cartridges with standard percussion caps.

The Agers were used at a number of battles and did fairly well but with the overheating issues and also the jamming I described. At no point though were they a game changer.
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Old July 30, 2012, 06:14 PM   #43
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Oh and I seriously doubt that ammo supply would have been an issue for a few dozen rapid fire guns given that the qm corps had few problems supplying upwards 1 million men in the field armed with rifled muskets.
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Old July 30, 2012, 09:29 PM   #44
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Oh and I seriously doubt that ammo supply would have been an issue for a few dozen rapid fire guns given that the qm corps had few problems supplying upwards 1 million men in the field armed with rifled muskets.
Perhaps so, but line officers always resisted the consideration of rapid firing rifles for general issue, always citing the "waste of ammunition." Generally it would seem that the Army just didn't want one, at least at the expense of long range power. I forget the exact specification, but the rifle had to be capable of "putting down a man and horse" at something like 900 yards. This is partially why the Springfield .45-70 was adopted over the Spencer.

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Old July 30, 2012, 09:46 PM   #45
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"but line officers always resisted the consideration of rapid firing rifles for general issue, always citing the "waste of ammunition."

Yet another wonderous example of how the Civil War was in many ways the first 20th century war, but was still fought with 18th century tactics.

The so-called "men will waste ammunition" argument was more a means of enforcing control over the men in the unit, who (the theory goes) couldn't be trusted to do anything unless they were directed to do it by an officer.

And, line officers RARELY were the ones complaining about potential ammunition wasteage. Those concerns were most often broached by those who never took part in a pitched battle, and for whom "war" was, often, an abstract concept, or even a fiduciary one.

Nothing like an upper level general trying to bring a war in under budget by controlling how many shots his men fire in a 24-hour period.

That kind of foolishness lasted in the US army right up through the adoption of the 1903 Springfield.

In fact, I think ammunition wastage concerns were raised when the Garand was adopted, and in some cases troops undergoing basic training during WW II were told to conserve their fire, where as once they got into combat they were told by combat veterans to blast the **** out of anything that might be remotely hostile because ammo is cheap and easy to get, but trained soldiers are not easy to get.
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Old July 30, 2012, 10:33 PM   #46
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If we take a look twenty years or so forward..when the very first Maxium machine guns were being used by the British army in the mid to late 1880's.
They had to forgo their coiled brass ctg's. for solid head ones due to the harsh extraction in the M.G...but even more troublesome were the frequent accounts of these guns jamming from fouling. I would love to see that smoke screen laid down by a beltfull of .577/.450's though!
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Old July 30, 2012, 11:38 PM   #47
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The South had access to a concept that would have ended the war pretty quickly. It's called human rights.

Black powder doesn't lend itself to automatic fire. The South didn't have access to copper and few iron deposits.

BTW everything necessary for photography was available many years before it was actually developed. The same can be said of lots of technology.
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Old July 31, 2012, 02:56 AM   #48
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Neat ideas from alternativists. A few points to consider:
* The American Civil War/War of Secession/War between the States was fought primarily with muzzle-loading black powder weapons, swords, and bayonets. We always start wars with the last war's technology.
* As pointed out in other posts, the South/Confederate States had a shortage of brass already, adding cartridge cases to that shortage would have buried their industry.
* The detachable magazine was not invented until the turn of the Century.
* Black powder does not lend itself terribly well to self-loading weapons, let alone blowback weapons. A weapon that could load and fire 5-10 shots before jamming would have been worse than useless.
* It took a genius like John M Browning to observe the effects of fugitive gases and apply a mechanism to capture and use them to cycle a firearm action. The first practical use of self-loading was in the 1880s, although the Gatling was available at the time of the War.
* Like any other technology, changes come fast and furious during wartime, and the Civil War saw the progression from pecussion muzzleloaders to cartridge repeaters in a very short period of time.
* There was so little time to develop and apply the new/developing technology, and we see samples of lever action rifles appearing very early in the war, but acceptance, manufacturing capacity, and cost considerations kept them from becoming major players.
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Old July 31, 2012, 03:37 AM   #49
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Good points, really starting to be repeated. Ammo saving was being stressed when I went thru basic 42 years ago, nothing really changes in the military. Different look and powder.
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Old July 31, 2012, 11:54 AM   #50
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"The detachable magazine was not invented until the turn of the Century."

That comment got me interested, because I had never before considered the history of the detachable magazine.

From what I can tell, it appears that the first successful, commercially produced detachable magazine was used in the Boarchardt Model 1893 pistol.

As for the first detachable bolt rifle magazine, that looks to be James Perris Lee's 10-shot magazine on the Lee-Metford in the 1880s.

Interesting...
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