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Book Review Additional Information
Roll Call To Destiny:
The Soldiers Eye View of Civil War Battles
Brent Nosworthy

Reviewed by Jim Seguin
As an  interesting  but  brief  exercise,  and  in  the  hope  providing
thoughtful  reflection  among  the  membership, a review of the tactical
observations in Roll Call To Destiny are described below.               

Tactical Observation #1 (The Rifled Musket)                             
Mr.  Nosworthy makes the point that given the  large  number  of  rounds
expended  from the rifled muskets and the relatively few casualties that
resulted was due in large part to the lack of courage  of  the  soldiers
engaged.   It  is not realistic to suggest that a large part of the rank
and file of all armies north and south in  all  theaters  of  operations
throughout  the  war  "were  barely  able  to control their muscles." He
suggests that the characteristics of the rifled  musket  and  mini  ball
compounded  the inability of nervous soldiers to put rounds on target at
close range.  On this point there is data that reflects  the  difficulty
of accurately putting rounds down range.                                

Prewar   theoretical  analysis  of  the  rifled  musket  and  mini  ball
predicated long range infantry engagements given the far greater  lethal
range  of the rifled musket over the smoothbore musket.  The Confederate
Field Manual explained range data and indicated  that  "serious  wounds"
would be inflicted at distances beyond 3000 feet with the rifled musket.
Empirical data after the war suggests that engagements where the  rifled
musket  dominated  the  typical range between the antagonists was only 3
times greater then that of the American revolution or  about  900  feet,
far  less  then predicted theoretically and on this point Mr.  Nosworthy
is correct but he puts the blame on the soldier rather than  the  weapon
to accurately place rounds on target.                                   

Mr.   Nosworthy  states  that the lower muzzle velocity of the mini ball
used in the rifled musket created a greater parabolic trajectory of  the
projectile  and made it more difficult to put rounds on target at longer
ranges over the round ball used in the smoothbore musket.  My own  range
work,  using a rifled replica Euroarms Enfield showed that using a round
ball was more accurate than the mini at 300 feet and that  fouling  from
powder had a greater impact on the mini with as few as five rounds.  Add
to this the amount of trigger pull required to squeeze off a  round  and
the  difficulty  of  acquiring a target through iron sights at 300, much
less 900 feet, greatly diminished the ability of the  standard  infantry
issue rifles to tightly group shots.                                    

The  difficulty of operation, fouling and the erratic ballistic patterns
of these weapons and the propensity of line officers to repeatedly order
their  commands  to  volley  fire  made accurate rifle fire problematic.
Couple with loose order formations used later in  the  war  are,  in  my
view,  the  primary  reasons  so  few casualties were experienced to the
amount of ammunition expended.                                          

Tactical Observation #2 (The Bayonet Charge)                            
Mr.  Nosworthy points out that bayonet wounds as  a  percentage  of  all
wounds  are  statistically  insignificant  and  makes  the argument that
bayonet fighting was not the same as a bayonet charge.   True!   But  he
goes  on  to  argue that the bayonet charge was intended to "destroy the
enemies will to stay and fight" by quickly closing and overwhelming  the
defenders  by  closed  formations  at  the shiny point of a bayonet.  He
cites that the Third Alabama  and  the  Forty-First  Virginia  ran  when
flanked at Fair Oaks by the Fifty-Seventh New York when they "launched a
bayonet charge" and that this happened over and  over  again  throughout
the  war  and  he  poses  the  question, "What are these but examples of
successful bayonet charges?"                                            

The term bayonet charge in this context is a metaphor  to  describe  the
use  of  close  order  combat  to  capture key positions rather than the
literal use of cold steel as a preferred tactic.   The  charges  on  May
10th and 12th 1864 at Spotsylvania by Emery Upton and Hancock's II Corps
to gain control of the salient are examples that could here be described
as  bayonet  charges.  This tactical observation does not add insight to
the specific impact or use of bayonets.  How many instances are there of
generals   rhetorically  if  not  wistfully  thinking  what  they  could
accomplish if they had troops with the ‚lan to fight in close!          

Tactical Observation #3 (The Cavalry Saber)                             
Mr.  Nosworthy makes the argument that as  the  war  progressed  federal
cavalrymen preferred the saber to firearms and points to several smaller
fluid battles in which the federals were successful using the  saber  to
support  his  point.   He  goes  on  to  write that this caused southern
cavalrymen to adapt and request sabers to counter these successes.      

However, he overlooks  overwhelming  evidence  that  cavalry  were  used
primarily  as  screening  forces, file closers to curb straggling and in
the case of the federal cavalry, were most  effective  in  a  dismounted
role using repeating rifles.  Buford's cavalry division on the first day
at Gettysburg is perhaps the most salient example of dismounted  cavalry
using  repeating  rifles.   At best a mixed picture emerges from the war
over the preferred weapon of choice but as the war progressed the better
equipped  federals  were  outfitted  with  rifled  weapons  particularly
repeating weapons like  the  Sharps,  Spencer  and  Henry  rifles  among
ISBN 10: 0-7867-1747-5                                                  

Jim Seguin 

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