Weapons of the Second Iowa?

by Fred Ray on November 26, 2011 · 5 comments

Frequent blog readers probably know that I and a couple of others like Joe Bilby are always trying to confirm CW battle ranges. I recently came across an account of the battle of Corinth (Oct. 3-4, 1862) that talks about it. A soldier in the 2nd Iowa wrote:

The Rebel batteries silenced ours, and about 4 o’oclock they advanced … When they got within 200 yards we received the command to fire, and our fire told with fearful effect on the enemy.

It would help immensely to know that the 2nd Iowa (and the rest of the brigade—Hackelman’s brigade, consisting of the 2nd Iowa, 7th Iowa, and 52nd Illinois) were armed with. Rifles or muskets? If rifles this was a reasonable engagement range and at odds with the arguments of Griffith, Hess, et. al. that battle ranges remained very short. If they had smoothbore muskets then this was extreme range.

Anyone know?

UPDATE: Came across a section from a book on light infantry written by a British officer in 1806 (and quoted by an officer at the School of Musketry at Hythe in 1861).

Instruction in firing without elevating the sight forms part of the military teaching. In Cooper’s “Practical Guide for the Light Infantry Officer,” a target is described with three broad horizontal bars across it at equal intervals. The soldier is told to aim at the lowest of these when firing at from 100 to 200 yards, and at the highest of them when firing at 300 yards. The purpose of this is to accustom the soldier to aim always along the barrel, but at different points on the object, according to the distance.

The captain here is talking about the Baker rifle, but the P53 Enfield, though a refined version, is not materially different when it comes to muzzle velocity. So in CW soldier’s terms: at really close ranges—less than 100 yards—aim at knee level; at 100 yards (where the battle sight is set) at the enemy’s belt buckle; at 200 yards at mid-chest; and at 300 yards at the top of his head. All this can be done in mid-battle without resetting the sight.

If you want a look at the trajectories and the Enfield battle sight (the Springfield was similar) I did a previous post about it.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert Welch November 26, 2011 at 9:49 pm

This is a question I’ve been trying to answer for a while now. The only information I’ve been able to find from Iowa’s Adjutant General’s reports was that in the late fall/winter of 1861, there were at least seven types of weapons present in the ranks.

If I may, what’s the source of the quote? I have a research interest, as well as a personal interest, in the regiment, as I had a relative serve with the 2nd, and who was wounded in the battle near the white house at Corinth. Is it Bell’s “Tramps and Triumphs”?

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Larry Freiheit November 27, 2011 at 11:16 am

I’ve always wondered when one reads a comment about ACW ranges from participants how did they estimate the distance? Even today, in the military and for hunters, setting a rifle’s sights for elevation depends on the range so estimating the range is critical perhaps even more so given the low muzzle velocity of CW rifles.

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Fred Ray November 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Good question, Larry. Drew Wagnhofer pointed out a contradiction some time ago — that pundits like Paddy Griffith accept soldier’s estimates of battle ranges more or less uncritically for their averages, then dismiss them as poor shots because they were poor judges of distance! See the related post #1 Rifles and Ranges.

“Distance drill” was part & parcel of the marksmanship training of the day, so some men were quite good at it. Would have no problem with using an estimate from a sharpshooter like W.S. Dunlop, but the average soldier is another matter.

Joe Bilby concluded that using the battle sight set at 100 yards would produce a hit at 200 yards if held on center of mass, and this seems to be what a lot of units did.

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Jim Miller January 6, 2012 at 2:35 am

I have a ton of information on the 2nd Iowa on my blog, Civil War Notebook, most of it though from February to April 1862. I can’t remember if there was ever anything stated as to their arms but here’s the link to everything on the 2nd Iowa: http://civilwarnotebook.blogspot.com/search/label/2nd%20IA%20INF

I did just transcribe an article from April 11, 1822 in which it was stated that the arms of the 15th & 15th Iowa were “rifled muskets, of the latest Springfield pattern.” for what it’s worth. Both those regiments received their arms days before the Battle of Shiloh.

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