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Old November 29, 2010, 10:45 PM   #1
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"Rate of Fire"

I'm not sure if this is the best place for this question, but I think I'll get the best answers here.

What kind of rate of fire could the average soldier get out of a Springfield 1863 during the Civil War? (Average loading time, if that's a more accurate question)

What was the general effective range for the 1863? As in, the range where most shots were placed on target. (I don't need any stories about Jebediah Sherman Hathcocks )

I'm going to go see if Google has answers as well, but I'd like to hear from y'all if you have any input.

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Old November 30, 2010, 12:20 AM   #2
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I think that are the shooting range, about 2-3 shots per minute if you are loading as fast as you can. In combat however, probably only one shot per minute is my guess. Imagine frantically trying to reload while running around and shifting positions while people are shooting at you. I think that would show you down significantly.
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Old November 30, 2010, 11:03 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by the rifleer

I think that are the shooting range, about 2-3 shots per minute if you are loading as fast as you can. In combat however, probably only one shot per minute is my guess. Imagine frantically trying to reload while running around and shifting positions while people are shooting at you. I think that would show you down significantly.
During most Civil War engagements, the soldiers were not running around and shifting positions. One side was standing in ranks shooting at the other side coming straight at them. That's one of the reasons that Civil War casualties were so horrendous.
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Old November 30, 2010, 12:11 PM   #4
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I have read that a trained soldier in the Civil War using paper cartridges and Minie balls could fire 5 shots per minute. Question is how long they could sustain that rate of fire, most only carried about 40 paper cartridges. After that it was time to fix bayonets. Average range for infantry engagements was up close and personal, so my guess is that soldiers probably never had to fire more than 100 yds in combat.
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Old November 30, 2010, 01:56 PM   #5
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I'm not sure at what range infantry forces regularly engaged each other, but the books that I've read give me the feeling that three or four rounds a minute was the maximum that a typical soldier could fire in battle.

As far as accuracy goes, I've read in a few places that when casualty numbers were compared to ammunition expended, the "hit" rate was around one or two percent. That seems reasonable, given the ballistics of a minie ball, the rate of fire demanded of the soldiers and the extraordinary stress that they faced.

I'm pretty impressed with a 15 to 20 second time to load and shoot - I've got a Civil War-era Springfield rifle and even with a paper cartridge, it takes me close to a minute to go from empty to pulling the trigger.
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Old November 30, 2010, 02:54 PM   #6
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Depending on weather conditions, the battlefield would soon be covered with the literal haze of battle from the black powder, coming from not only the muskets but from cannon, too. The hit ratio must have been much higher than with smoothbores, at least until it became too hazy to aim. They were hardly foolproof but the pecussion cap was much easier on the soldier firing the musket than a flintlock, which spewed smoke and fire at the rear end, too.
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Old November 30, 2010, 03:18 PM   #7
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I think the general consensus of 3 to 5 shots is pretty accurate. However, the accuracy of the "New" Rifled Muskets employed during the War of Northern Agression was quite impressive. I believe troops were able to engage targets out to 300yds. or more pretty regularly. Snipers out to 800yds. Most battles were fought in lines facing each other at around 100yds. generally. There was often so much lead flying between lines that it was not uncommon for rounds to strike each other in flight and never reach their intended target. I hadn't ever heard the ratio of shots-to-hits before but I can tell you that in Viet-Nam, for regular troops, it was estimated at 50,000 rounds fired for each enemy casualty! It's called "Sprayin' and Prayin'"!
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Old November 30, 2010, 09:09 PM   #8
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At one time, I could get off 4 shots, but my average was three, using paper cartridges like those used in the Civil War. I doubt many soldiers got over 4, but then I wasn't being shot at!

With my Trenton, I can easily hit a man-sized target at 100 yards, but beyond that it is iffy; as noted, soldiers aimed at a line of enemy troops, not at individuals.

(IIRC, that VN figure was not only rifle and ground MG fire, but included the gaszillions of bullets sprayed into the jungle from "Puff" and Hueys, etc.)

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Old November 30, 2010, 09:35 PM   #9
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The figure that sticks in my head is 600yds as the maximum effective range.
As most have noted the engagements took place at closer range.

3 or 4 rounds per minute seems right. The rate would depend on conditions. I'm sure the rebs firing from the sunken road at Fredricksburg had a higher rate of fire than the yanks climbing that hill.

About 295 pounds of iron and lead were fired for each soldier killed in combat.
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Old November 30, 2010, 09:46 PM   #10
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Not quite in the period of interest, but what I recall.

From a Revolution era manual: No man shall be relieved from the Awkward Squad until he can discharge his firelock fifteen times in the space of three and three quarter minutes.

From a Napoleonic wars "gentleman ranker's" memoir: Fired seventy rounds of ball today. My shoulder is black.
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Old November 30, 2010, 10:44 PM   #11
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In my reading a Union soldier was expected to get off 4 shots per minute to pass training. I can only assume that number went out the door while being shot at. I also read where a man would normally shoot his weight in round balls before killing an enemy. The rifles were not all that accurate which is why the soldiers grouped together- to give as little of a target as possible to inaccurate fire.
None of us will actually know though as we weren't there. But from the writings of my Great, Great Grandfather who was a surgeon in the Union Army first until his plantation in Virginia was burnt to the ground by Union troops to his travels as a Confederate surgeon, most any bullet wound was a bad one. There was very little in the way of antiseptics back then with kerosene being the favorite.

If anybody has the interest, I can post one of his wifes letters to her mother telling about the travels with Sibley in the Confederate Army. The travels are mostly Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico fighting Indians and Union troops.
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