19th Century warfare changes

Discussions on other historical eras.
User avatar
Posts: 8618
Joined: 21 Sep 2005 21:46
Location: Michigan

Re: 19th Century warfare changes

Post by LWD » 25 Jan 2011 20:37

There was also the revolution in communication. At the start of the 19th century the French semaphore system was probably the most advanced in the world. During the ACW the telegraph was in wide spread use. By the end of the century the telephone and radio were appearing.

User avatar
Posts: 17488
Joined: 30 Apr 2006 23:31
Location: Belfast

Re: 19th Century warfare changes

Post by phylo_roadking » 27 Jan 2011 17:40

At the start of the 19th century the French semaphore system was probably the most advanced in the world.
It's rarely mentioned, but the British system for reporting naval news from major ports to Their Lordships in London wasn't far behind.

Telegraph itself looks like a major change....but it's not; it's still subject to delays at either end, breaks were more than common etc.; it was nothing without a single, unified communication protocol running on the medium I.E. Morse Code :wink:
Twenty years ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Steve Jobs. Now we have no Cash, no Hope and no Jobs....
Lord, please keep Kevin Bacon alive...

Mark V
Posts: 3925
Joined: 22 May 2002 09:41
Location: Suomi Finland

Re: 19th Century warfare changes

Post by Mark V » 27 Jan 2011 20:21

LWD wrote:I'm not sure about the "sloppier" part. I do remember reading somewhere that one of the big benefits of the "Brown Bess" was that they were all close enough to the same diamter that ammo was interchangeable.

I think that Takao ment that COMBINATION of ACW-era rifled musket AND Minie-type bullet have more "play" and still permit both proper gas sealant and easy realoding, compared to ball rounds with rifled barrels.

British atleast, and Sprigfield IIRC also made rifles with interchangeable parts by that time. Ammo tolerances though...

Minie-ball made significant difference. Same reloading time as unrifled musket brought rifles to standard equipment of infantry soldier "on the firing line". Previously rifled weapons were specialty weapons.

Artillery was all of sudden within range of enemys infantrys rifle volleys, and for well trained soldiers good rifled muskets of the era offered all accuracy that could be asked. Accurate range was vastly better than smoothbore muskets if ammo quality was good. For close in battle buck and ball -loading could also be used, like in smoothbore muskets.

Combination of rifled barrels and Minie-ball was as significant revolution than self-contained ammunition in breechloading rifles, or repeaters bit later. Later improvements just brought in 2 steps increased rate of fire, bit more weatherproofing, and freedom from linear formations as they allowed easier reloading in prone position (not that many generals valued it a bit at the time :-) - all other effects of "modern" rifle fire came already in Crimean War / American Civil War -era.


David Thompson
Forum Staff
Posts: 23721
Joined: 20 Jul 2002 19:52
Location: USA

Re: 19th Century warfare changes

Post by David Thompson » 28 Jan 2011 16:39

phylo_roadking wrote:
RATE OF FIRE: Well, accuracy did improve with the advent of the rifled barrel, however the volume of fire was still very slow.
My impression was that rifles in general had higher muzzle velocities than smoothboars and as they often used bullets instead of balls they would have maintained that velocity better.
....but in the case of rilfed muskets it did slow down reloading considerably; I used to know the reloading time of an 1815 period Brown Bess compared to a British rifled musket off the top of my head, but it was approaching twice as long for the rifled musket. Accuracy could make up for slower rates of fire...but only for open-order troops; as long as massed fire was deemed necessary... the rate of fire far outweighed the need for accuracy.
From Major T. F. Fremantle, The Book of the Rifle, Longmans, London (1901), pp. 24, 32-35
The great objection to the rifle arose, as we have already seen, from the difficulty of loading it, and its consequent slowness of fire. Colonel Beaufoy, in his book Scloppetaria, in 1808, says frankly that a musket will fire three shots to one from a rifle, as generally used. Nearly all fighting was still at such close quarters as to make it more important that the firearm should be useful in preparing for bayonet work on the offensive, or in breaking the force of a charge before it reached the bayonets on the defensive, than that its fire at long range should be accurate. Then as now, speed of fire was a governing factor. It is only as speed has become combined with accuracy at a distance, that the old pike-tactics, which have in a large measure been continued by the bayonet, have given way. The firearm is now no mere auxiliary, as it used to be, to the bayonet. Yet there never was a time when the rifle in skilful hands could not produce striking effects in war.
(p. 24)
It may be said on the whole that the improvements made in rifles since they have been recognised as serviceable in war are due to their developement in that capacity, and not as sporting weapons. We have before alluded to the obstacle which for so many years had almost prohibited the use of the rifle in war—the accumulation of fouling, owing to which the bullet could not be driven home, except with immense difficulty, after a very few shots had been fired. The ordinary musket used by the troops was free from this defect, because the ball was so much smaller than the size of the barrel that it would drop into it very easily. A gap was thus left, known as windage, between the bullet and the barrel, which wasted a good deal of the power of the powder, for the powder gases could leak out freely round the bullet as it went up the barrel. The accumulation of fouling on the surface of the bore after a few shots had been fired helped to fill up this space, but if the bullet was small enough in proportion to the bore a great many rounds could be fired, before any difficulty was experienced in loading.

The musket is not generally looked upon as a weapon with which very rapid practice could be made ; something like two shots a minute seems to have been the speed which could be reached. How much slower the rifle was in loading is shown by Colonel Beaufoy, who puts the time necessary to load a rifle at from 1 to 2 minutes. Yet he considered the difference in accuracy to be so enormous, that, even allowing the musket a superiority of 5 to 1 in the rate of fire, it might be said that at from 250 to 400 yards the rifle


would still be more effective than the musket in the proportion of 7 to 1. The great difficulty which had first to be overcome was the labour and trouble of loading with a bullet which required to be forced into the grooving, and it was not until the invention of the expanding bullet, which came after that of ignition by percussion, that this was satisfactorily accomplished.
(pp. 32-35)

Posts: 27
Joined: 04 May 2020 23:35
Location: chicago IL

Re: 19th Century warfare changes

Post by nastle » 19 Nov 2020 19:25

Polar bear wrote:
25 Jan 2011 19:15

very quick
(a) logistics (decisively: Railway in the US civil war and in the Prussian-Austrian 1866 and Franco-German war 1871)
(b) breech-loading guns and rifles
(c) steel guns (Krupp et al.)
(d) trenches (e.g. Petersburg)

greetings, the pb
communications telegraph
Barbed wire by the end of century ?
Use of Cavalry in suporting roles [where mobility was best exploited] and not in the all mighty charge
steam engine [part of logistics]

User avatar
Posts: 8618
Joined: 21 Sep 2005 21:46
Location: Michigan

Re: 19th Century warfare changes

Post by LWD » 01 Oct 2023 22:02

Arial spotting/scouting - Balloons used in ACW and I suspect elsewhere but I'm not well versed on it.

User avatar
Posts: 1221
Joined: 14 Jun 2003 03:38
Location: Riom Auvergne & Bourbonnais France

Re: 19th Century warfare changes

Post by Loïc » 02 Oct 2023 09:16

Balloons were already used before in the French Army at the end of the 18th century with the first air units in the History with both 1st and 2nd Balloonist companies raised in 1794

User avatar
Posts: 3675
Joined: 28 Apr 2013 17:14
Location: London

Re: 19th Century warfare changes

Post by Sheldrake » 02 Oct 2023 10:39

The_Enigma wrote:
21 Jan 2011 10:32
I have a query about how battles were conducted during the 19th Century and the evolution of warfare.

It would seem that while weapons changed, and their was an increase in the use of fortifications (trenches etc), armies for the most part still lined up on a field and shot the shit out of each other over the course of a day or so ala Waterloo (for later examples i.e. Gettysburg and various battles during the Crimean War (although I have read that the latter, using the ‘thin red line’ as an example highlighted how rifle/musket fire had increased so much that cavalry no longer posed a threat to well disciplined troops: the Russian cavalry breaking after several long range volleys before coming anywhere close to the British troops)) during the first half of the century.

When, and why, did armies stop lining up opposite one another in ranks of file to have it out? In addition is there any examples of an army adopting a more modern way of fighting and the other still lining up for battle in neat little formations?
Interesting question.

It depends on the granularity with which you choose to look at the battlefield.

At a micro level soldiers stopped lining up shoulder to shoulder during the second half of the C19th with the adoption of better small arms. Open and extended order relpaced close order as standard infantry spacing. In 1866 &1870 the Prussians fought in skirmish lines. The British were using skirmish lines against the Xhosa in the Kaffir wars but had to revert to close order against the Zulus and err "Fuzzy Wuzzis" in the Sudan. Against the Boers and whiley Pathan skrimish lines and cover were the only way to avoid excessive casualties. At the start of WW1 the BEF manoeuvred in skirmish lines which "built up the firing line." This created quite a dense front line that was vulnerable to direct and indirect fire. The troop density of the attacking troops on the first day of the Somme is little different to that of the Napoleonic wars. An 800 man battalion attacking on a 200 yard frontage has four men per yard, regardless of whether they are shoulder to shoulder in four ranks or two companies up in a column of platoons in extended order 200 yards deep. To a German machine gunner, and the zone of the MG 08 they looked like a solid mass. Tactical development during WW1 sees the front lines thinned out and greater use of infiltration and co-ordination with indirect fire.

At a tactical level, arguably armies did not stop lining up opposite each other and have it out until half way through WW1. In the 1990s JBA Bailey put forwards a paper to the effect that the development of long range indirect fire with sound ranging, flash spotting and air OPs meant that battles were fought over a two dimensional area rather than along a one dimensional line. He would write that as sometime DRA and MGRA.

At a macro level, the tendency in the bC19th was for armies to get bigger and end up in very long linear battlefields - e.;g. the lines of entrenchements between Roichmond and Petersburg and the battles of the Russo Japanese war. In the C20th World Wars it was normal for there to be a continuous front across the whole continent of Europe. Outside Western Europe time space and troop numbers did not allow for the linear pattern to develop. in 1948 General Francis Tuker in "The Patterns of War argued that the idea of linear battle lines is the abnormality and C20th phenomena. The hiastoric norm is for operations to be based around fortresses. But he was part of the Indian army gang that institutionalised "boxes" in the desert.

User avatar
Posts: 8618
Joined: 21 Sep 2005 21:46
Location: Michigan

Re: 19th Century warfare changes

Post by LWD » 02 Oct 2023 17:49

Loïc wrote:
02 Oct 2023 09:16
Balloons were already used before in the French Army at the end of the 18th century with the first air units in the History with both 1st and 2nd Balloonist companies raised in 1794
Thanks for the correction. If you are talking aerial scouting I guess one should include the Chinese manned kites. Do you know how the French relayed info to the ground? I've heard that the ACW Union ones used a variety of incompatible signal systems that were essentially unit specific.

The French also used volleyed rifle fire for indirect fire I believe. Mg's were used in a similar role but this may have already been covered.

Return to “Other eras”