Rhetorical question


October 17, 2006, 09:16 PM
Hi All...

I'm no military tactician or scholar so this question is posed just to generate interesting opinion and discussion - everyone is welcome to jump in.

Suppose one or both armies involved in the Civil War had armed most of their infantry with cap & ball revolvers - perhaps even 2 per man (without the rifles) and had a smaller part of their infantry armed with the rifles.
Do you think the side with the "traditional" infantry arms would have an advantage or would the advantage fall more to the "infantry" full of pistoleers?

My opinion - The Napoleonic "battle wisdom" of single-shot rifle-toting infantry making frontal assaults on entrenched riflemen and/or well-placed cannon really, really discredits the word "wisdom" no matter what you are armed with.
So it seems to my very unlearned mind that "infantry" armed with 6-shot revolvers capable of having deadly (or seriously wounding) effect at 25-50 yds might - with some changes in tactics - be an incredibly effective fighting unit and maybe even capable of "steamrollering" a traditional infantry and/or artillary configuration (of the day). :)

So what say Ye All ???

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October 17, 2006, 10:00 PM
I would take the rifles myself. I would take a Whitworth rifle. The problem with the pistols is the range in my opinion, up close yes it would be effective, but if you was out at say 150 yards, then what? Accuracy is better with the rifle too, and shot placement is very important. Me personally I want a sharpshooter unit with pistols as a backup.

October 17, 2006, 10:15 PM
I sort of agree with that. Rifles for assault and position defense, pistols for repelling close assaults. In other words, I think we are saying BOTH. I certainly wouldn't be up for charging 100 yards with a weapon with a 50 yard effective range.

To answer rhetorically, it would be foolish to assault a fortified or even a hasty fortified position from 100 to 150 yards out armed with only a six gun or two.

If you attacked in chaotic fashion, with forces sneaking around to the flanks and rear, while you distracted from the front, you would have a small chance. But the "honorable" protraction of war as used since the 16 and 1700s is not exactly a pistol duel.

October 17, 2006, 10:20 PM
Yep, I want both, no way I would leave a rifle behind for another pistol! :)

Gaucho Gringo
October 17, 2006, 10:21 PM
The calvary on both sides used revolvers more and more in their tactics as the war wore on. Also they started using repeating rifles more too. They discovered the value of massed firepower along with fast movements worked well. But being too few in numbers they had no real effect on battlefeild tactics except in a few cases. Now if there would have been 75,000 or 100,000 calvary armed with 2 revolvers and a repeating rifle for each man it would have made for a totally different war. Custer was one of the few Union officers who understood what increased firepower was capable of doing and it was due to this that he managed to get out of situations that otherwise would have meant defeat.

4v50 Gary
October 17, 2006, 10:26 PM
Irving Bell Wiley wrote that some minie-ball armed Union soldiers taunted their Confederate counterparts once they discovered that they were armed with smoothbore muskets. The advantage to the former of course is the longer range.

Considering the quality of marksmanship training in those days, I doubt if there were few really capable of handling a revolver (Texans of course being the exception - or at least the Texans of the 1860s thought so). The long arm(ed) man will have the ballistic advantage and can stay out of range, like a battleship against a destroyer, and pummel his opponent from a distance in relative safety. Then it's a matter of waiting for him to break and then routing him at the point of a bayonet.

October 17, 2006, 11:38 PM
Hi Gaucho...

Thas's a Fac, JacK !.

During the Civil War the (more or less) predominant thinking about the use of Cavalry seemed to focus more on the reconnisence and messenger roles - as opposed to using them as a highly mobile (and well-armed) strike force.
As Custer, and some others, demonstrated though, the mobility of the Cavalry made even such a "short-range" weapon as the Cavalry Saber a viable and dangerous tool of War. Bit of Irony I guess that some warriors astride painted ponies and armed with lances would later remind the U.S. Cavalry of that quaint detail. :banghead:
Then there are the Panziers - the highly-effective "steel" Cavalry of a later war - but I don't think they were armed with C & B revolvers ! ;)

October 17, 2006, 11:46 PM
That same was written about the Whitworth rifle when it was invented.

When the defenders could pot the cannoneers at a range greater than the smoothbore cannons could shoot accurately, artillery was of little good.

Napolean's troops were armed with smoothbore muskets, at least for the most part. Millions of rounds fired with few casualties. Look here for a book about the Whitworth and statements of the effectiveness of the musket.

Damn, "The Story of the Guns" used to be posted there, free to DL, get a 404 now, a shame, really, there were 13 full books stored there. 629 megs of them, including Howe on gunsmithing.

Oh, well. I did tell people about this some months ago.



October 17, 2006, 11:59 PM
I can't really agree with the advantage of a revolver laden infantry.
1. Revolvers are slower & more difficult to load, & once in close range and out of bullets you're out of luck.
2. No matter how many bullets you've loaded, it takes only 1 well placed rifle shot to offset any advantage provided by one man's extra bullets. Does a revolver have as much lethality as a musket?
3. The revolvers belonging to casulties could all too easily be picked up and used by the enemy at the most inopportune time. So any perceived advantage could quickly become a disadvantage if they fell into the wrong hands at the wrong time. Imagine supplying the enemy with the implements that could help lead to one's own destruction! :what:

October 18, 2006, 03:51 AM
Can't put a bayonet on a revolver:neener:

Low Key
October 18, 2006, 08:03 AM
Get a good rifle and fight like a sniper, anybody sticks their head up and they get a free chunk of lead whizzing through it. Keep a couple of 1858 remington revolvers and spare cylinders on you for use on anyone that accidentally gets in close.

October 18, 2006, 08:08 AM
But when they did carry revolvers, they carried REVOLVERS ! Wasn't it bloody Bill Anderson and 5 others when killed were found to have 30 some revolvers between them?


Low Key
October 18, 2006, 08:18 AM
They didn't worry about concealment, just hang as many revolvers on you as your legs can support! :D Too bad you can't get away with such things anymore.

October 18, 2006, 09:09 AM
A Marine and his rifle is the most deadly weapon on the plannet . Pistols and blades are secondary .

October 18, 2006, 09:31 AM
I'm a newbie to the forum, but enjoyed reading the above responses. I have a 1860 Colt(Pietta) and the 1858 Remington (Uberti) and purchased both because of Civil war curiosity. I live in Northern Virginia, and am surrounded by battle fields. Manassas I & II are very expansive, and the engagements a little difficult to "Feel". The one battle field that I have trod over at some extent is Saylors Creek. This was one of the last battles prior to the surrender at Appomatox. Its a great place since the location is out of the path for most folks. Also it is a condensed battle field, but it provides a curious person the possibility of actually walking around the entire area in a short time.

It took me about a year to master the Remington, and I can now reach out to 50 yards with fairly good accuracy(I'm no Marksman). I'm getting closer with the Colt, but it will still be a while. Also, a couple months ago, my son and I hooked up with some re-enactors that allowed my son (an excellent marksman) to fire their Enfield.

So putting what I've found as far as accuracies, at least for the Saylor's creek battle. A force comprised of the Enfields would have been over run by a equally sized force armed with dual Remingtons... but this is due to the close proximity.. True the Enfield guy would take out 1 enemy on the initial shot, but the closing rate would quickly favor the revolver guy.. As long as the initial force does not lose its will and runs like heck into the oncoming fusillade.

The bottom line is that the proposed hypothetical depends on much more than just the weapon. Field position, troop morale, start to weigh heavy. I know one thing for sure. I wouldn't want to be storming across a field towards an entrenched force armed with either. If they are Enfields, your gonna go down about 150-175 yards out. If they are revolvers, I fugure you might make it to 25 yards, with half the Company dropping at 50-75 yards.

It is scary just how accurate both rifles and pistols were for that period.


October 18, 2006, 09:58 AM
I`ve been doing a lot of testing with my 44 remmies and have been hitting a 2ft. by 2ft steel target at 100 yards , useing a rest ..useing 35grs of 3F goex .pretty much at will .. and i`m just aiming at the top of the target a man size target at that range would be easyer .and i`m no expert .there are probally some around here that could do it free handed . But it makes me think .. i would have thought a man would have been safe at this distance for sure ...standing against a pistol .. who would have thought ..supprised me . another test ..try shooting a 44 cal B/P pistol with ball and 35 grs of powder into some wet phone books ...another supprise .. and the ball will be as flat as a quarter . Better have more than one phone book even thick ones if you want to see the ball .

October 18, 2006, 10:17 AM
It would depend greatly on two things. Range and mobility. The average cap and ball revolver had an effective range of what 100, maybe 150 yards. The rifles had a greater range. If the riflemen could stay 200 yards out and take aimed shots, I’d say the rifle men would clean house. If however we are talking just about hand to hand combat range, or a highly mobile cavalry that could move quickly around the battle field, then I would give the edge to the pistolieros. I’m not saying that I advocate handguns over rifles in combat, but volume of fire can, in some instances, especially when combined with superior mobility, be an advantage.

October 18, 2006, 10:22 AM
Man, you guys are coming up with some good stuff here so I'll toss out some more of my conjecture and see what comes to light.

First - Franco - excellent analysis points about Saylor's ! I haven't been there but just recently had the great good fortune to ride horseback over a substantial portion of Gettysburg - right on the areas of battle (talk about a sobering ride!). Seems to me the expanse there would also have been a factor working against pistoleros although, Truth be told, the expanse would have worked against ANYbody of Pickett's group trying to assault Cemetery Ridge no matter what circa-1863 weapon they had.

But... in general, I figure even the best snipers (then and now) need a pretty stationary target in order to "make every bullet count" and, speaking for myself, I would intend to be as not stationary as I could be knowing there were snipers about.
As for "6-shots and then I'm dry" - with the muskets et al there was just one shot (unless one was entrenched or barricaded) and then the bayonet and fists. I would rather have "ONE shot - and then 5 more shots" rather than "ONE shot and the bayonet." Certainly if hordes of enemy were coming over the barricade at me I would prefer those other 5 shots.
Artillary, to be effective against infantry, depends heavily upon the infantry being conveniently massed into a group that presents a big target.... I think. Making that assumption, it seems infantrymen advancing in small, scattered, quickly moving groups (as opposed to the ridiculously slow progress of men marching in line over broken ground) would drastically reduce the effectiveness of artillary batteries. Comments anyone?
The picking up of the revolvers by the enemy is interesting but I think it might also work equally to advantage as the pistola could as easily be picked up by a homeboy whose own pistols had been shot dry. Also, we know the rifles of each side were picked up by soldiers of each side anyway so my thinking is the "pick up" thing is a "wash", worst case, except during some severe rout. Comments anyone?
Back to snipers - I am an inverterate woodchuck sniper (Ruger #1 .243 w/8x Leopold) but I don't see how even a large company of snipers would win a battle. Seems to me sooner or later (sooner in my case) the enemy would figure out how to get close to the snipers without giving them a lot of opportunity to pick them off. Where the snipers would take the ghastly tolls would be places like Little Round Top/Devil's Den (in fact the ground in between was referred to as "The Slaughter Pen"). But, were it not for Mr. Chamberlain and his 20th Maine, the snipers on LRT would have been overrun by a herd of hot-headed Alabamians in pretty short order.
Revolvers, I think, may have been a decided advantage in the battles of The Wilderness but I really know very little about those battles other than they were at close quarters and with often limited visibility. Maybe a scattergun would have been even better there! ? Comments anyone?
Still am thinking the increased firepower (maybe "wounding rate capability") and mobility of the revolvers would have provided some real advantages over the rifle/bayonet and artillary emplacement configuration. And too, nothing stopping a pistolero from carrying a bayonet or Bowie on his belt.
What do Y'All think about the "reliability factor" of revolvers vs. rifles as an influence on these matters? Would the revolvers have been too temperamental?

Low Key
October 18, 2006, 10:40 AM
I was thinking infantry supported snipers. The infantry keeps the enemy at a respectable distance from the snipers while they "reach out and touch someone". Several relatively mobile groups could do some serious damage to a skirmish line. Flanking by calvalry troups could be useful also in funneling enemy forces into an indefensible position.

October 18, 2006, 11:55 AM
I saw a History of guns segment where the Enfield was being fired, re-loaded and fired again in a little under a minute.. now I don't know how fast you can run serpentining up a hill, but I'm pretty sure, that the guy beside me would be saying.."Anybody want this nut running around in front of me?"

When I go to these fields, I try and imagine a wall of humanity charging towards me rifle in one hand pistol in the other. Firing a pistol while running might not be all that accurate, but its 6 shots, then holster and use the rifle/bayonet, and shoot at fleeing combatants. Imagine you need to cross 500 yards, versus 200 yards, versus 700 yards if its greater that 700 you are in deep deep do do if on foot. My question is if these distances are up a slight grade, what would you guess the time to cross each of these distances might be? I've never actually taken a stop watch and tried running over a broken field. I've just walked, and its slow going, of course I'm not scared as "H" "E" double hockey puck nor 18.



October 18, 2006, 12:27 PM
Something i`ve came across in Civil War battlefields is the fact that some of these battles were watched from the side lines by people that would ride out from town and make a picknic out of it ...pretty much a face off of a battle i suppose ... if you want to see how well a man on a horse carrying 5 or 6 pistols mounts up against men with rifles check out some of the reading on Quantrills men during the Civil War ...these men were guerrilla fighters , like the Josy Wales movie ... they rode in fast and had enough revolvers to shoot 30 or more times before reloading . Quantrill was made an instant General from his success .

October 18, 2006, 12:55 PM
Hi Sundance...

I, too, have read about the citizens of D.C. hitching their surreys and going out to have a tailgate party and watch the battle(s). But I've only read of that happening at the Battle of 1st Manassas (or "1st Bull Run", depending on your uniform). As I understand it, after the first couple cannonballs landed in the potato salad the picnicers decided they would rather scurry back home and wait for Blockbusters to get the VHS version in.
Indeed, as you point out - Quantrill and Mosby both seemed to make good use of revolvers... and fast horses, much to the consternation of the Federal lads.
However, the nuances of deployment of Cavalry combined with Infantry are beyond my knowledge so I don't know how things would play out in all, or most, cases.
Example - Federal Cavalry on Gettysburg Day 3 seemed to take some heavy losses even though they were on Meade's left flank (southern end of his line near Taneytown Rd.) and I'm not sure why that happened. I rode the ground there and it seemed (to this non-Cavalryman) pretty favorable to Cavalry but I'm not sure of the timing of the Infantry groups. :confused:

Cap n Ball
October 18, 2006, 01:38 PM
The massacre at Centralia was committed by revolver and the Yanks were untrained in Bushwacker tactics. They dismounted on high ground formed ranks about halfway down the hill and fired volley after volley over the heads of Andersons men. The trap was sprung as others came out of the woods on both sides surrounding the Union men. I believe some 140 died and only two or three got away. When the battlefield was visited later by a persuing force of cavalry it was said that not one of the dead had a head that belonged to the body it was found with and that the corpses had been posed in lewd positions. That was Bloody Bill.

October 18, 2006, 01:53 PM
Hi C n B...

Yep, the terrorists of the Missouri/Kansas theatre were grim news alright.
Anderson, though, got a dose of "what goes around, comes around" if this blurb from Wikopedia is correct:

"Following the Centralia massacre, Union militia Colonel Samuel P. Cox took command of a detachment of Missouri troops, with orders to find and destroy Anderson. On October 26, 1864, he located Anderson's men near Albany, Missouri. Cox used one of Anderson's favorite tactics against him. He sent out a mounted detachment to lure the guerrillas into a trap. The trick worked. Anderson led his men on a headlong charge after the retreating Union cavalrymen, straight into a firing line. He was shot twice in the head, and toppled from his horse behind the Union line. Found on Anderson's body after his death was a silken cord with fifty-three knots. It was believed that this was his way of keeping a record of his killings. Human scalps were also found on the bridle. His body was put on public display and photographed."

Personally, I'm real glad I'm here talking about what revolvers could/couldn't do during the Civcil War rather than being there first-hand and finding out - perhaps the hard way! :uhoh:

Cap n Ball
October 18, 2006, 02:30 PM
Howdy Back. Not to get too off subject, I've been to the place where Anderson and four or five of his men were killed. Out of the way little glen on the side of a hill. I also agree with your last statement. I like to do reenactment but I don't wish to relive those days. Dysentry just isn't fashionable. Facing a cavalry charge by a gang of whooping and hollering sabre fairies even if not real is terrifying.

October 18, 2006, 03:25 PM
Hi C&B...

"Facing a cavalry charge by a gang of whooping and hollering sabre fairies even if not real, is terrifying."

HaHaHaHaHa!!! You can say THAT again! That's exactly why I can't do
re-enactment - I don't know where I could buy my circa-1860 "Depends" :o

Cap n Ball
October 18, 2006, 03:48 PM
Well...I'm a bit too old to enjoy marching around in the sun, wearing wool and carrying nine lbs of iron on my shoulder. I do artillery so if we are to get overrun I generally will fall close to the piece to avoid the occassional errant hoof. Nobody on the crew but the gunnery Sargt has a revolver we have to depend upon our skill at re-loading to keep our skins. Of couse at many reenactments lots are drawn and if you die then you die. We like to place our piece usually somewhere near some shade. Playing dead in the hot sun is no fun and being hot and stinky is no way to be afterwards when we do a little hoop skirt lifting amongst the camp followers.

October 31, 2006, 09:12 PM
Hi All...

Happened to catch a show on the Documentary Channel this evening about the Confederate guerrilla fighters in Kentucky during the Civil War.
For starters it made the point that though KY began as generally "pro-Union", it was an area where families were often split and Lincoln, in his uneasiness about it, essentially turned KY into an "occupied state" under a couple hard-handed Union Kommandants and much of the guerrilla activity stemmed from the growing disenchantment and resentment toward the brutal (documented) Federal Occupation.
Be all that as it may (or may not:) , a part of the show dealt with the guerrilla cavalry and pointed out they dispensed with the traditional cavalry sabre and carried a Mississippi rifle only for the event they wanted to dismount against Union Infantry on favorable ground. To the point - they said the guerrillas carried as many C&B revolvers as they could - almost always two on their person and two more in pommel holsters - and they went on to say some of the fellows garried as many as 8 or 10 - all this due to their reliance on mobility and firepower to arrive suddenly, shoot things up bigtime, and disappear quickly.
Just an interesting bit of CW and C&B lore for Y'All. :D

November 1, 2006, 09:09 AM
Guerrilla fighting sounds like a modern day air strike ..( from the back of a fast horse ) :D

4v50 Gary
November 1, 2006, 09:15 AM
Can't put a bayonet on a revolver

Actually, you can. There were plenty of old guns with blades affixed to them. The last time I know of was WW I when the British attached a bayonet to their Webley revolver.

While the bayonet was carried by both sides, it was the fear of being bayonetted that caused many units to flee. Not all soldiers can be trained to be like Alvin York who shot down attacking Germans from rear to front. That takes a cool operator and most mortals would shoot the closest one first (hey, that's video game training). I would still maintain that in battle, the long armed equipped soldier would prevail over one armed exclusively with revolvers.

Thank you Shawnee for calling the spectators from Washington, D. C. the first tailgate party.:D

November 1, 2006, 12:15 PM

Sundance - I agree with Col. Francis Marion ("Swampfox" of Revolution era)
- "fight and run away to live and fight another day"! He and about 35 men gave several hundred British redcoats fits for over a year with that tactic. LOL! Of course, maybe I'm just too yellow to enjoy being shot at for more than a few minutes. :cuss:

4v50 Gary - LOL! I would have loved to have seen the faces of the D.C. Elite when their parasols started getting ventilated by mini-balls !! :eek:
And sometimes I think that Beltway Crowd hasn't gotten any smarter in 160 years. :rolleyes: LOL!

Gaucho Gringo
November 6, 2006, 11:37 PM
I was watching the Discovery Channels series on Rome. And in watching it I realised that battle tactics had not changed that much from Roman times during their civil wars in which the two armies basically are trained the same way as in our own civil war. You have two opposing line of infantry facing each other with calvary units that are supposed to harrass and disrupt the enemy, have artillary battaries which in the Roman era were catapults and the archers which could be compared to sharpshooters. Not every component of the Roman armies have a US civil war conterpart but basically I was struck by the fact that the battles were fought in basically the same manner. I am sure that there are members of this group who disagree with this observation and would appreciate your opinions.

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