Interested in warfareUpdated 1y
What if the Henry repeating rifle was used at a greater capacity by the
Union Army during the American Civil War? Would it have made any difference?
The Henry repeating rifle was a sixteen shot rimfire rifle. (Seventeen
if you also loaded one in the chamber.)
Your average muzzle loading rifle could fire on average about 3 times a
minute with training, the Henry could get off sixteen shots in that time
making it a little over 5 times more effective in sheer firepower. (And
also consuming a little over 5 times more bullets in the process.)
The Union generals took one look at that and took a hard pass. Why? They
already had trouble with having enough bullets for everyone and the
muzzle loaders had fire discipline built in.
By their way of thinking, if you ran out of bullets it wasn’t going to
matter how great your rifle was. They weren’t wrong about this. Bringing
absolutely huge stockpiles of bullets everywhere you go is a logistical
They couldn’t conceptualize at the time what a huge game changer this
weapon was. There is the claim that it was logistically impossible to
supply enough bullets, but this isn’t actually true. Using this weapon
would have made logistics easier, not harder.
That’s because you can still have superior firepower with half the
troops. And because they can fire prone, you’ll have less than 1/4 the
casualties. The troops you’re not using for battle you use for logistics
and you have the beginnings of modern warfighting where logistics and
support outnumber combat soldiers.
Given two opposing forces, one of 50 men with Henry repeaters and the
other with 100 men with muzzle loaders, the latter will be cut to pieces
and chased off the battlefield in short order. It’s simple math. The
muzzle loaders combined might get off 300 shots in a minute. The men
with Henry repeaters will have fired 800 times in that span. In five
minutes the muzzle loaders can get off 1,500 rounds while the repeaters
will have fired 4,000 rounds. It’s almost like a machine gun. That, my
friends, is the math of war.
Now imagine that the Union line is thinner and more widely spaced. With
that much firepower you can spread your troops out a little bit, which
will greatly reduce casualties from solid shot cannon balls and canister
by not providing bunched up targets. Spreading out makes the opposing
bunched up troops all firing together far less effective as well.
So yes, widespread adoption of this rifle by the Union would have made a
huge difference. The Confederates would have been forced to avoid all
direct confrontation with Union forces or be slaughtered. It’s yet
another thing that would have been a harbinger of modern warfare.
Bear in mind that the Union won the war anyway. They didn’t have to
completely re-think tactics and re-train their troops or completely
re-structure the army either.
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