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Camp Life and Target Practice in 1862

Bill Adams sends along a clipping from the Northampton Gazette & Courier, dated February 11, 1862, which gives a very good look a camp life in the Union army just prior to McClellan’s Peninsular campaign. It should also help dispel one of the most persistent CW myths—that many soldiers went into battle without ever even having fired their rifle. I have bolded the section on target practice, which was fairly extensive with shooting up to 300 yards.

Still, as Joe Bilby points out, the long-range shooting wasn’t the greatest. The best company, Co. C, hit 75 shots at 300 yards out of 160, or a slightly less than 50% hit rate. With the whole regiment firing volleys by company, each man firing five shots, only 60-80 shots hit a 40′ long target at 300 yards. This is at a known distance with no one firing back. OTOH it shows that a 50% hit rate at that range was possible, and one should also keep in mind that they would have time to fire several more volleys at decreasing range as the enemy closed.


Letter from the 10th [Massachusetts] Regiment
Correspondence of the Gazette & Courier
Camp Brightwood Washington, D. C. Feb. 5, 1862

Messrs. Editors: -The weather has become somewhat more settled, and the mud with which the District of Columbia seems to abound is drying up. We are not troubled with much snow, but a great deal of rain. I never witnessed such a perfect sea of liquid mud as is presented from our camp to the city of Washington, the army wagons sinking into it so deep, that without any load, it is almost impossible for the horses to extricate them from its clinging tenacity. If the grumblers at the inactivity of the army could see what obstacles are presented by it, to the transportation of baggage and artillery, it would silence them for a time, at least.

The camp of the 10th Regiment is at present unusually quiet. Company and battalion drills take place daily, when the state of the parade ground will admit, and when the weather is so unpleasant as not to render it prudent to expose the men, they may be seen in their log houses, writing to their absent friends, or resting from their labors.

People at home seem to entertain an idea that the life of a soldier, in camp, is a lazy one, but it is by no means the case – it is the exception, and not the rule. Revellie is beaten at half past 6 A. M., company drill from half past 7 to half past 8 o’clock, guard mounting at 9, company drill, skirmishing and bayonet exercise from 10 to half past 11 – target practice also takes place between these hours, dinner at half past 12 P. M., regimental drill from half past 4, retreat and roll call at 5, tatoo and roll call at half past 8, taps at 9. This takes up nearly all day, and the men generally speaking, in pleasant weather, have but little time to lay around. The arms and equipment are inspected by the company officers every day, before the dress parade, and must be perfectly clean, inside, as well as outside, free from rust, and the bayonet polished brightly.

The target practice referred to in my last letter, took place as ordered. The best shot in the regiment was made by Private Coomos, Co. F, 1 1-2 inches from the center, distance of target 225 yards. The practice of Co. C was as follows: – distance of target 300 yards, number of shots fired 160; number of shots striking target 75; best shot, corporal Sidney S. Williams, Northampton, 2 inches from center; 2d best shot William M. Kingsley, Northampton, 4 inches from center. Taking into consideration the distance fired, the practice of the company was second to none. The sights upon the rifles are very inferior, and the ball being conical in shape, must be very accurate in its make. Unless it be so, the aiming may be exact, and yet the mark be missed.

Dwight Kellogg, Esq., of Northampton, visited the company recently, remaining with Capt. Parsons for a week. We were also visited by Samuel Williston Esq., of Easthampton, a week or two since. Mr. Williston visited the company quarters, and seemed to think us comfortably provided for.

The Burnside expedition and its disaster excite much comment in camp, many thinking that a fatality is attached to it, – but Messrs. Editors, such people here, and at home, (if there be any,) should recollect that the necessarily crowded state of a transport, renders it very difficult to “work ship,” with the facility which positions of danger render necessary, and the weather about Cape Hatteras at this time of year is always stormy. The boys from old Hampshire will give a good account of themselves, led by “Lee” and “Lyman,” and a little salt water experience will give them a zest for land work. A letter recently received from the Northampton company in the 27th regiment, by a member of this company, states that they have not seen anything but rocks and trees, since they left. – Charles Wells, an hospital steward, arrived in camp Sunday last, bringing several letters and packages for the members of Company C. – Dr. Holbrook of Palmer, assistant surgeon of the 10th regiment, having been promoted, a physician from Fitchburg, Mass. has been appointed in his place. The health of the regiment still continues excellent, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather.

Regimental target practice commenced on Tuesday last. A target has been erected at one end of the parade ground, 40 feet in length, representing a company front. The regiment firing by company, by volley, at a distance of 300 yards, each man firing 5 rounds, from 60 to 80 shots striking the target, composed of logs, 3 feet in thickness, boring it completely through. Some idea can thus be formed of the tremendous force with which the Enfield rifle throws the ball.

The New York 36th regiment, and also the Massachusetts 7th, attached to our brigade, are armed with the Austrian rifle musket. The Mass. 10th with the Enfield, and the Rhode Island 2d with the Springfield musket, carrying the Minnie ball. It seems strange that so good an armed brigade should be kept inactive, when so many poorly armed are thrown upon the outposts of General McClellan’s division, at Centerville and Fairfax Court House. Capt. Fred. Barton, Co. E, (from Springfield and Indian Orchard) has recently been appointed upon General Fred. Landers staff, and the 1st Lieutenant Charles Pierce, Co. G, (Greenfield) has taken charge of the company.

Brigadier General Keyes commanding this division, being absent on a furlough, Brigadier General Couch is acting general of the division, Col. Ennis, N.Y. 56th, being in command of the brigade.

L. F. E.


One response to “Camp Life and Target Practice in 1862”

  1. bob Avatar

    I dig alot of fired bullets at camps of falmouth va northern troops,roundballs and 3ringers.always into a steep bank above a creek,never 100’s but mostly scattered some in groups,I heard that centries returning to camp had to unload their guns by shooting them?any truth?

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