View Full Version : Ammo Expenditure-Powder Burning-Authenticity

07-16-2006, 09:15 PM
Many reenactors are of the 'If I don't fire the gun I don't have to clean it' crowd. Others are against firing off 50 rounds a battle times 4 battles a weekend, or non load in 9 times rates of fire that quickly empty the tins. And still others are bothered by firing off more than 60 issued rounds in a weekend because that's all they would have carried.

From the readings it's apparent that many rounds had to be fired to cause a single casualty. Lack of marksmanship training/practice, being fired upon whilst firing, confusion of combat, black powder fouling, field works, faster rates of movement, complicated loading sequences, your best friend from back home being maimed next to you all leading to missed shots regardless of the distances involved. Quotes of a man's weight in lead or hundreds of rounds fired causing one casualty abound.

Seems pretty simple to me..... 10,000 men in the actual battle vignette/scenario.....5% casualties.....weight in rounds.....200 men at the reenactment = 10 casualties = say 800 rounds per casualty = 8000 rounds fired = 40 rounds per rifle kinds of thing.....

And don't forget that wagons would have REsupplied the men with rounds at some point in time....and we usually don't have that luxury (store it back in the static camp?).....

Shouldn't we be firing more than 3 rounds a battle? Didn't many battles result in men firing off their basic ammo load and then scrounging rounds from friend or foe? Didn't officer's complain about not being able to hear orders because of the volume of musketry drowned out orders that were shouted by an adjacent officer?

Agree that 3+ rounds a minute for a muzzle loader is too high a rate..... but if we're reenacting a battle we need to fire away.....

and that's authentic.

07-16-2006, 09:25 PM
I do it because its fun.

07-16-2006, 09:44 PM
Pounds not rounds baby!


07-16-2006, 10:08 PM
I agree. The rate of fire for muskets is too high at reenactments. For those units who should for historical accuracy be equipped with Sharps rifles there is no difference in rate of fire AT REENACTMENTS between a Sharps and Musket because the guys with muskets aren't able to experience the ramming process. That's too bad. The guys with muskets really need to slow down their rate of fire, but I don't know how to make that happen.

A couple of years ago a group of us were firing live ammo at a fellow reenactors house. We had life size soldier shaped and painted targets set up and fired volleys in a single rank from 50, 75, and 100 yards. Based on that experience, if I were an officer, I would wait until the opposing force was within 100 yards. Anything beyond that would be a waste of ammo. 50 yards was pretty easy to score a hit. We were really surprised with how well buck and ball worked at 50 yards with the 42 Springfields. Sometimes guys firing buck and ball would hit two different targets. Our rifled guns firing minie balls were not as impressive as one would think. While the rifling and minie balls were important technological improvements, they may be overemphasized by the standard high school history text book.

Some other things I noticed from our live fire experience:
1. Ramming rounds with paper was very challenging. Most of us had to peel the paper off to get the balls down the barrel.
2. Ramming rounds without paper was a challenge especially after the 4th or 5th shot. The barrels got dirty very fast.
3. Based on the challenges of ramming, it would be far easier to load and fire from the standing position than kneeling or prone position. I'm not sure if I could load the rifle from the prone position.
4. It would be wise to wait until the enemy was as close as possible before firing the first shot in order to conserve ammo and make each shot count but sometimes at reenactments we need to try and follow what was done in the original battle. They did not always know the effectiveness of their weapons and sometimes started firing too early or too late. Commanders could have also misjudged the distance between them and the enemy or lost control of their troops who started firing too early. Each situation being reenacted is different and requires significant research to even attempt to get right and even then the ground and space available at the reenactment site can limit what can be done.

I just don't see how a good man could fire three aimed shots a minute, but what can be done to slow everyone down? Perhaps everyone should load as they normally would and count to 20 before firing.

I know we should not be doing much living firing with our reenacting weapons. Many of the guys in my home company had never fire a live round before, and we felt it was important to do so to improve our understanding of Civil War weapons. We conducted ourselves very safely and all weapons were thoroughly cleaned and inspected.

John A. Wyman

07-16-2006, 10:21 PM
One other thing. I'm not saying we shouldn't shoot A LOT of rounds in a battle reenactment. We should try to use as much ammo as they did in the particular action being recreated. If they fired a lot of ammo, so should we, but at a slower rate. We are often expected to draw out battles for the public. Fine, have the men slow down their rate of fire and shoot a lot of ammo, and the battles will last longer.

Also, who said anything about shooting off "pounds?" Is this a new weight loss thing? I wish I could shoot off pounds at events. Now that I've finished reading that new sharpshooter book, I hope to learn how to "make self corn." Now if I can go to an event to "make self corn" and "shoot of pounds" at the same time, that could be worth attending.

John A. Wyman
Chesapeake Volunteer Guard

07-16-2006, 10:42 PM
had a Captain who believed in using every round you had per battle. The other units around us would call us "powder burners". The Capt. took this as a compliment. He even told people with great pride, "At the last reenactment we were called powder burners, that is the highest compliment you can be called!" I thought it was a put down, but I was just a lowly private, what could I possibly know.
Anyway he has since moved on to artillery. I guess the pounds of powder from muskets wasn't enough.
ew taylor

07-17-2006, 12:57 AM
I wrote the following for the unit newsletter - In no way am I suggesting the numbers are 100 percent (other that casualties), but it does give and indication as to the amount of lead flying around. When I first started in this hobby, I was told that it took a man's weight in lead to kill him - say 135 pounds?? Never was given back up info on this tho -

According to a recent TV show on the History Channel (about the Battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam to you Yanks) over 4,000,000 rounds were fired during the battle, along with 50,000 cannon rounds. The battle had an estimated 26,373 casualties (Union: 2,108 killed and 12,401 wounded. Confederate: 1,546 killed and 10,318 wounded [McPherson, Crossroads of Freedom and Sears, Landscape Turned Red, Confederate casualties are estimates.]). It has been estimated that approximately ten percent (10%) of casualties at any Civil War Battle was from cannon fire. This then works out to 23,736 casualties from rounds and 2,637 casualties from cannon shot. Based on these numbers, the following ‘statistics’ are provided.
Rounds - Approximately 169 rounds were fired from the infantry (Cavalry did not play a big roll in this battle) to cause ONE casualty (either killed or wounded). In general, a soldier was issued 40 rounds prior to a battle, many were able to obtain additional rounds. If only 40 rounds issued, it would take approximately four soldiers on the other side, shooting all their issue of rounds to kill or wound one soldier on the opposite side. Assuming a weight of 500 grains per bullet, standard size of a Springfield Minie Bullet, approximately 12 pounds of lead were fired to kill or wound one soldier.
Cannon Shot - Approximately 19 cannon shot were fired from one artillery piece to cause ONE casualty (either killed or wounded). Can’t find a breakdown of the types of rounds fired (canister, sharpnel, solid shot) so can not do a weight comparison as it relates to weight of pounds fired to person killed or wounded "

Just my 3.989 cents, they raised fees on thoughts again


07-17-2006, 01:01 AM
many battles were won or lost due to powder. a battle may consist of spectators seeing opposing forces blazing away, but a reenactment means just that, reenacting a actual battle. Some guys had little to no powder/rounds, wet ammo, etc. some units were pulled from the line due to lack of capability.Its not realistic to portray Honey springs with dry ample rounds, nor 2nd manassas without rocks. and what if the other side just continue to stand here after you have fired 40 rounds point blank at them from 50 yards away? powder is over 10$ a can, plus hours rolling. at your rate you are talking a 50$ powder weekend x 4-10 events, let alone gas etc. its not only expensive but kind of silly to just walk up to each other and waste powder, lets do the scenarios right.

07-17-2006, 06:32 AM
Anyway he has since moved on to artillery. I guess the pounds of powder from muskets wasn't enough.
ew taylor

.............................rates of fire from artillery are, also, generally too high. For our purposes, number 1 only has to put anywhere from 1/4 to 2.5 pounds of powder down the barrel at a time, as opposed to a round consisting of a powder charge of 1 1/2 pounds to better than 2 1/2 pounds PLUS a projectile that weighs from 6 to 30 pounds. For those who have never done it, it takes more than just a little effort. If firing a rifled round, the charge and the projectile were loaded seperately. I've seen precious few units with rifled pieces who actually simulate this.

Gunners, chiefs of section, and BC's should take the time to spot their rounds, waiting for smoke to clear or moving around a little to note the effects of their fire and adjust accordingly. In actual combat operations the piece would be recoiling. Time would have to be allowed to move the piece by hand back into its firing point.

If infantry pitches a fit about the cost of black powder and how they try to squeeze a hundred rounds out of a 1 lb can, imagine each round costing over $10 with both powder and primers. Some guns can get by on 1/4 pound. Our Napoleons HAVE to fire a minimum of 1 1/4 pounds, otherwise the cartridge won't pass the vent and the priming wire won't pierce the bag.

07-17-2006, 07:49 AM
After much research and experimentation including timed firing with live rounds, members of my unit have reached the conclusion that the "3 rounds per minute rule" was based on starting with a loaded weapon ... aim-fire #1, ... Load ... aim-fire #2 ... Load ... aim-fire #3. Not even the most accomplished and experienced shooters among us was ever able to complete this process in less than a minute and some change.

07-17-2006, 10:54 AM
A couple of years ago a group of us were firing live ammo at a fellow reenactors house.

John A. Wyman

I'll bet he really enjoyed that!

Sorry about that, John. Actually, Charlie Kibler gave me photos of that day, and it looked like a lot of fun.

I have read numerous accounts of troops resupplying their cartridge boxes and going back into the fray, so although powder burners may seem silly at times (especially when every single shot seems to miss, even at 50 yards' range), maybe it is not so inaccurate after all.

B.C. Milligan
Company K, First Penna. Reserves

Rob Weaver
07-19-2006, 10:49 AM
I've read of units who were inordinately proud of the high rate of fire that they could crank out, regardless of the casualties produced. I have seen that there is no difference between a Sharps and a musket in my own reenacting experience, since I shoot both. At a unit drill we demonstrated the differences more vividly by having one of our troops simulate loading and firing with a musket, to including ramming, while I stood on the opposite side of the room simulating loading and firing with the Sharps. I fired 10 shots, each aimed, to his 3.
I like to burn powder, but not purposelessly. Volley after volley when no casualties are forthcoming, etc. I like "fire by file" since control of fire can pass to the individual firing. We tend to fire 3 aimed shots after the initial files fire. I think this is a reenactorism, but it does seem to work.
Rob Weaver
Pine River Boys
Co I 7th Wisconsin Volunteers

07-19-2006, 12:32 PM
If we did not have to Ham it up for the public, our local battles of 100 - 200 soldiers would only last about 15 minutes and there should be casulties everywhere. Not just 8 guys lying dead. And who ever is left alive would be searching the dead for ammo to keep going.

07-19-2006, 02:55 PM
If we did not have to Ham it up for the public, our local battles of 100 - 200 soldiers would only last about 15 minutes and there should be casulties everywhere. Not just 8 guys lying dead. And who ever is left alive would be searching the dead for ammo to keep going.

8 guys lying dead out of 200 from a 15 minute fight with a lot of powder burned might be a realistic outcome depending on the distance between the two sides. There should be significantly more wounded (perhaps 30 to 40), many of which would die later in the hospitals. I'd like to see more the wounded moving to rear in stead of lying around with their head up watching the battle.

The problem with a lot of little local things is the area available puts reenactors in pretty close with little room for creativity, cover, and maneuvering. Common sense might indicate that a flanking maneuver would be the best way to deal with an opponent, but at small events you can't do it because you can't cross into the neighbor's property so a foolish frontal assault must be made. The public doesn't think of or understand our limitations, so they get the wrong idea about Civil War tactics.

John A. Wyman
Chesapeake Volunteer Guard