The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat
Reality and Myth
Earl J. Hess
The Civil War's single-shot, muzzle-loading musket revolutionized warfare-or so we've been told for years. Noted historian Earl J. Hess forcefully challenges that claim, offering a new, clear-eyed, and convincing assessment of the rifle musket's actual performance on the battlefield and its impact on the course of the Civil War.
Many contemporaries were impressed with the new weapon's increased range of 500 yards, compared to the smoothbore musket's range of 100 yards, and assumed that the rifle was a major factor in prolonging the Civil War. Historians have also assumed that the weapon dramatically increased casualty rates, made decisive victories rare, and relegated cavalry and artillery to far lesser roles than they played in smoothbore battles.
“Provides the single best example of what tactical and combat studies of our field should do.”
—Journal of the Civil War Era
“An important, well-documented book that provides the first systematic study of the rifle’s true impact on the battlefield.”
—Civil War HistorySee all reviews...
“One of Hess’s greatest contributions is his discussion of such things as the different types of rifles and ammunition used, target practice, the distribution of ammunition in battle, cleaning the rifle under fire, sharpshooters or snipers, rates of fire, accuracy, fire discipline,and much more. Detailed endnotes and numerous tables are quite informative, and the author’s skillful use of quotations makes for entertaining reader. ... An excellent book. It is well written and should be read by anyone interested in military history.”
—The Journal of Southern History
“An effective critique of the traditionalist orthodoxy of the rifle musket’s revolutionary effect. . . . Provocative, stimulating, . . . will reward patient readers with its insights and will be of interest to anyone concerned with nineteenth-century warfare.”
“Hess’s arguments are forceful, . . . . [He] has produced an outstanding study of the rifle musket during the Civil War. His research is saturated with primary sources, his writing is lucid, and his arguments are logical. Hess has delivered a mighty blow to the ‘rifle revolution’ theory.”
—Journal of Military History
“With this book, Hess has only added to his reputation as one of the leading Civil War scholars writing today. All serious students of the Civil War, especially of Civil War tactics and the minutiae of combat 1860s style, will want to own this book. . . . It will [repay ] readers many times in terms of value and knowledge gained. This book is highly recommended!”
—TOCWOC-A Civil War Blog
“Equipped with careful research, a plethora of examples and statistics, and commendable contextual research on warfare, Hess's work will reshape the debate on the modernity of the Civil War and is an essential read not only for Civil War scholars but also for military historians.”
“ Hess hits a bull’s-eye with this fresh, provocative book.”
—Daniel Sutherland, author of Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861–1865
“A most welcome, meticulous, important, and easy-to-read addition to the literature.”
—Paddy Griffith, author of Battle Tactics of the Civil War
“Should be required reading, not just for students of the U.S. Civil War, but for anyone interested in the history of warfare.”
—Mark Grimsley, author of And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May–June 1864
“A landmark study.”
—William C. Davis, author of The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the ConfederacySee fewer reviews...
Hess presents a completely new assessment of the rifle musket, contending that its impact was much more limited than previously supposed and was confined primarily to marginal operations such as skirmishing and sniping. He argues further that its potential to alter battle line operations was virtually nullified by inadequate training, soldiers' preference for short-range firing, and the difficulty of seeing the enemy at a distance. He notes that bullets fired from the new musket followed a parabolic trajectory unlike those fired from smoothbores; at mid-range, those rifle balls flew well above the enemy, creating two killing zones between which troops could operate untouched. He also presents the most complete discussion to date of the development of skirmishing and sniping in the Civil War.
Drawing upon the observations and reflections of the soldiers themselves, Hess offers the most compelling argument yet made regarding the actual use of the rifle musket and its influence on Civil War combat. Engagingly written and meticulously researched, his book will be of special interest to Civil War scholars, buffs, re-enactors, and gun enthusiasts alike.