Earl J. Hess on His New Book The Rifle Musket in the Civil War

Author Earl Hess was kind enough to write to TOCWOC and provide some information on his important new book The Rifle Musket in the Civil War.  He had the following to say:

Was Paddy Griffith right when he suggested in 1986 that the rifle musket had relatively little impact on changing the face of battle during the Civil War?

Most historians rejected his idea then, but slowly a few of them have begun to take the suggestion more seriously.

I have looked at the issue from many different perspectives, and have written a book, The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth, to share my conclusions with interested readers. – Dr. Earl J. Hess. The book is now available through the University Press of Kansas, at http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/hesrif.html

Here is some preliminary information on the book: Historians have told us for years that the Civil War’s single-shot, muzzle-loading musket revolutionized warfare. Earl J. Hess forcefully challenges that claim, and presents a new assessment of the rifle musket, contending that its impact was much more limited than previously supposed, and 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 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.

Dr. Earl J. Hess holds the Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History at Lincoln Memorial University and has published ten previous books on the Civil War, including The Union Soldier in Battle: Enduring the Ordeal of Combat, also from the University Press of Kansas, and most recently Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign, from the University of North Carolina Press.

I’ll be reviewing Dr. Hess’ new study some time in the upcoming weeks, and it is one I am GREATLY looking forward to reading.  I’m sure you will hear quite a bit more about it here and elsewhere in the Civil War blogosphere.


One response to “Earl J. Hess on His New Book The Rifle Musket in the Civil War

  1. Fred Ray Avatar
    Fred Ray

    Me, too. Got the notification from Amazon that it had shipped on my preorder, so they must be in the pipeline.

    My capsule take is that Griffith was right that there was no revolution, but wrong to say that there was little change and that “Napoleonic warfare” was still possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *