How Civil was fighting during the Civil War? – Questioning the efficiency of firearms and battle tactics throughout the American Civil War

Historians often question whether or not it is ideal to compare the past and present. These things from the past and present can be ideas, beliefs, or, in this case weaponry. Up against their modern counterparts, weapons from the Civil War stand no chance, but instead of directly comparing weapons between these eras, one should focus on comparing the level of efficiency of weapons for their time. For example, in the current United States military, weapons must be extremely efficient and reliable to make the cut. Today, in the military, the M16 assault rifle is considered to be the standard and most commonly used weapon by soldiers. One could consider this weapon very civilized (as far as weapons go), as it is accurate and consistently deadly from up to nearly 2000 feet.

In the most recent conflict before the Civil War, the Mexican-American War, cavalry (soldiers on horseback) and artillery (soldiers who used large-caliber weapons like cannons) were key in the planning of battles and eventually winning the war. At that point, infantry (soldiers who marched on foot) were not incredibly effective because their standard weapon was usually a smoothbore musket, a weapon with high muzzle-velocity, but very short range. By the time the Civil War came around, rifles, which were much more efficient than those used during the Revolutionary War and had much better range than smoothbore muskets, were being mass produced. Cavalry were virtually driven off the battlefield and the infantry was greatly slimmed down since generals on both sides of the war decided that allocating a majority of soldiers to the infantry would be most effective.

The rifle greatly shaped the battle tactics that generals used throughout the Civil War. In the end, rifles proved to be much more effective while defending than attacking. The reason being that infantry were typically organized in line formations when attacking, and those defending typically erected small fortifications for cover, giving themselves the slightest advantage.

In conclusion, there are to many factors that come into play regarding the efficiency of these rifles to come to a concise answer. Surprisingly, rifles at the time performed well on the target range; they were accurate. Yet on the battlefield, troops were in mortal danger and did not put much time into aiming before firing off a shot, reloading, and repeating. Some estimates show that less that one percent of bullets fired in the Civil War actually caused a casualty to the other side. Given this information, one could say that the firearms used in the Civil War were efficient and somewhat civilized when, but the incorporation of these weapons into the battle tactics of the infantry proved to be greatly inefficient.

The Standard-Issued .58 Caliber Model 1863 Muzzle Loading Springfield Rifle

M16 Assault Rifle


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