Scott W. Owens
Fri Jul 6 15:05:08 2001
One reason that Napolionic and WBTS infantry tactics were necessarily similar was that in both conflicts the basic infantry weapon, the muzzleloading long arm, had pretty much the same manuel of arms to load and fire. Given that the later weapons had more reliable ignition systems (percussion vs. flintlock) and were more accurate within 300 yards (due to rifling), and these factors contributed to such high casualities, STILL in order to achieve a volume of firepower to inflict sufficient damage on the enemy infantry, massed, close-order formations were necessary for this. Also, in order to load and fire three shots a minute required that the infantry be standing (try to load and fire a musket in the prone position-you have to roll around on the ground, which would be tough if everybody were packed together).
Infantry armed with MLR (muzzleloading rifles) deployed as skirmishers (spread out using cover and concealment) simply could not produce the volume of fire (wall of lead) needed for success on the battlefield. As it turned out, battle ranges in the WBTS did not differ much from a half-century earlier.
The technological improvement needed to overcome this was the breech-loading, magazine-fed repeating rifle. This weapon would allow fewer men, lying prone or covered, to discharge a wall of lead much faster, and more accurately, than five times their number armed with MLR. Of course, the Federal ordance department was slow to recognize this (they thought the soldiers would waste ammunition) until late in the War. And the Confederacy, unable to produce the metallic cartridges necessarry to field such weapons, could not incorporate this improvement into their arsenal. An example of how the breech-loading magazine rifle (or in this case, carbine) could be used to advantage was on April 6, 1865, at Pleasant Ridge and at Romulus in west Alabama. The 2nd Michigan, of CRoxton's brigade, in both places, stopped massed regimental-size cavalry charges with four companies (two dismounted and two mounted) in one instance on flat ground, and with only two dismounted companies deployed on the brow of a hill stopped Woods' Regiment of Wirt Adams' CSA cavalry brigade. On previous occasions as well the 2nd Michigan alone had stopped brigade-size attacks with their Spencer repeating carbines. The added mobility of cavalry using dismounted tactics with such weapondry were a vast advancement in warfare technology.
In summary, as long as armies used MLR as the principle infantry weapon, the Napoleonic tactics (which actually preceded Bonapart) were the only option, and the addition of field fortifications behind which infantry might be covered from enemy fire while they stood to load their weapons was probably about the only way to reduce casualities. Of course, machine guns and automatic weapons further made such massed assaults suicidal for the attackers. Naturally cavalry charges against such weapons were a waste of good horseflesh, not to mention human casuality rate.