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Subject: Were the guns of Gettysburg really that effective. rss

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Cam Platell
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I was reading Mark Adkins book (the Gettysburg companion) regarding this battle and one of the statistics that I found of interest is that only 10 percent of casualties were due to artillery, with the majority due to musket and rifle fire. He implies that the artillery was less effective than during some of the latter napoleonic battles. I see in the published rules that artillery plays a very important role in resolving combat in this game. Is this justified?
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Brian Morris
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
Henry Hunt once said that the difference between the Union and Confederates was the Confederates fought with infantry and the Union fought with artillery.
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Pete Belli
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
Artillery on the attack:

It was difficult for an artilleryman in the ACW to make a shell explode right where he wanted it to go "Boom!" Fuses were unreliable (especially Confederate fuses manufactured in the technologically backward South) and since the guns had no recoil mechanism each cannon had to be sighted again after every discharge. The slow rate of fire (2 or 3 rounds per minute) hindered any attempt at a saturation bombardment. Artillerymen were reluctant to fire over the heads of their own troops (remember those inadequate fuses) so the option of a WWI-style barrage as the soldiers advanced was not available.

Artillery on the defensive:

It was difficult for gunners to completely break up an attack before the assault force reached small arms range, for the reasons mentioned above. Artillery fired canister rounds (essentially giant shotgun shells filled with metal bits) at close range (under 400 yards) and these projectiles could shatter almost any column of attacking troops. Artillery on the defense suffered form the same line-of-sight problems as artillery on the attack, so a battery was usually positioned between two brigades (or two regiments) so the gunners would have a clear field of fire.
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Seth Owen
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
I think Gettysburg may also be somewhat atypical for a Civil War battle as far as artillery effectiveness goes.

I think this is for a few reasons.

Perhaps the most important is that Gettysburg was an unusually open field of battle for North America. It was almost European in character. The main difference being that American settlement patterns involved a lot of free-standing wood frame homesteads instead of the Western European practice of settlement in stoutly built vilages. But there was a lot of open ground at Gettysburg, as well as a number of hills and knolls which gave gunners long fields of fire.

The other aspect was organizationally. Both armies had reorganized their artillery forces to better centralize and mass fire. Confederate divisions all had their own artillery battalion and the corps each had two more battalions of artillery with a corps artillery commander to coordinate their fire. In addition the Confederates had some talented artillery leaders and the senior commanders were willing to give those leaders authority.

The Union army's artillery arm was even better organized. While the small federal divisions usually didn't have their own artillery, every corps had an artillery "brigade" (Basically a battalion). In addition Henry Hunt, the artillery chief of the Army of the Potomac, had FIVE more brigades of artillery under his direct control as the Artillery Reserve. And he knew how to use it as well. He also ensured that the Army had an extra helping of artillery ammunition, which meant that when Day Four rolled around and Lee was obliged to retreat because he was almost out of ammunition, Hunt still had enough on hand for another major battle.

So all in all, while it is generally true that the Civil War was not an auspicious time for artillerymen compared to either the Napoleonic era or World War I, at the Battle of Gettysburg itself, the guns played a very big role and Mr. Simmons is, I think, justified to highlight them.
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Martin Gallo
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
Well, there is a game named after them, so the guns must have been useful for something.

As I understand things ACW artillery was more of a defensive weapon. It was the "fear" of charging into the guns made them useful offensively.
 
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Michael Tyree
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
Also, iirc didn't the Confederate artillery on the day of Picketts charge overshoot the Union position, caused a lot of chaos in the rear area but left the frontline relatively unharmed? I would say in a board game just really poor luck.
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Justus Pendleton
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
Here is Simmons' answer to your question:

Quote:

I have seen estimates of Civil War casualties which attribute as much as 85% of them to musket fire. While this seems like a reasonable number for battles fought in wooded or rugged terrain were artillery could not be easily employed, I doubt that this was the case at Gettysburg. Gettysburg was an unusually open battlefield by Civil War standards (even though it would have been exceptionally heavily wooded by Napoleonic standards) and it seems likely to me that artillery accounted for a much larger percentage of the at that battle than was typical for the war. By way of an informal test of this idea, I looked at those higher-unit commanders — brigade and above — who were killed or seriously wounded at the battle. (I used men of these ranks because accounts usually indicated whether they were felled by musket or cannon fire.) The weapons responsible seemed about evenly split between musket and cannon fire, which I would guess is likely the case for the common soldiery as well.


http://www.simmonsgames.com/products/Gettysburg/diary/Entry2...

What is Adkins' source for the Gettysburg casualties for artillery? If it was Busey and Martin's Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg, that's the same source Simmons used: http://www.simmonsgames.com/news/2010-12/index.html#2010-12-...
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Rick Vinyard
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
martimer wrote:
Well, there is a game named after them, so the guns must have been useful for something.

As I understand things ACW artillery was more of a defensive weapon. It was the "fear" of charging into the guns made them useful offensively.

And, don't forget the psychological effect of a multi-hour hour bombardment. Read any of the first-hand accounts and it was tremendous, on both sides.

The smoke burning your eyes and nostrils on an already hot day. The roar thundering on and on. Fragments falling. Enough to unsteady many soldiers... and it did.
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Cam Platell
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
In Mark Adkins book, the reference for casualties due to artillery is listed on page 171 and comes from a publication by a Union officer, surgeon Henry Janes, who was responsible for around 21,000 wounded after the battle. His observations were published in the Baltimore Sun in 1899 and are very relevant to this discussion.
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Cracky McCracken
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
Platell wrote:
I see in the published rules that artillery plays a very important role in resolving combat in this game. Is this justified?


I think from a wargame design standpoint it is. You need to allow for the possibility of artillery being effective, or in the case of Gettysburg, surprisingly ineffective.

If Lee's massive, but ineffective Day 3 bombardment is the reality of the situation, but a statistically unlikely reality, than artillery might feel a little powerful in a simulation.
 
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Justus Pendleton
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
Additionally, I think that looking at just casualty rates probably isn't the right way to think about it. (Disclaimer, I have no idea if the following is actually reflective of GoG's design.)

In a boardgame, if one step represents 2,000 fighting men, then a 1-step loss doesn't mean 2,000 men were killed or even injured. It's just means that unit had its fighting effectiveness reduced. It could even possibly mean that there were no casualties. (Imagine an attack broken up because the men cower in their foxholes for the rest of the day or scatter at the sight of massed bayonets and take a few hours to have order restored.) All it really means is something like, "the fighting strength of this unit was reduced for the length of this battle but I'm making no claims about what happens in the hours/days after the fighting".

Some games manage to capture this disorganisation aspect pretty well, though I think most do not. It is hard to manage in the constraints of a boardgame without just adding even more status counters. It probably doesn't help that most rules use the word "eliminate" to refer to the board pieces so we make the mental slide to thinking the men represented by the pieces are also eliminated.
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Rachel Simmons
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
I can't really give a systematic reply to the estimate of casualty rates from artillery vs. rifle, but I will note the following:

1. The estimate was from the wounded sent to Janes' care. Of the men hit by shell fragments, which in the period were large, jagged, and extremely lethal to those hit by them, I don't know how many would have made it to Janes. A common observation made by soldiers on the battlefield was that they tore human bodies to shreds. A common destination for victims of shell would be the grave, not the hospital.

2. Artillery at shorter ranges fired canister, which were typically filled with projectiles very like minie balls - if not actual minie balls. Telling the difference between a shell and minie ball wound would not (I think) usually be difficult, but the difference between a canister and musket wound would not be obvious. I don't know how Janes told them apart, or even if he tried. Perhaps he could; perhaps not. Also, I assume that Janes did not personally inspect all those wounded, as his was chiefly an administrative job, as I understand it. It was certainly not customary to collect this sort of data officially, so I don't know too much about its origin.

3. The signature event of the battle was Pickett's charge. Of the 15,000 or so Confederates who made the attack, it is universally agreed that only a small percentage made it close enough to Union lines to trade musket fire. So what happened to the rest? Why was the 1500 yards of open ground so feared by Longstreet and other Confederates? Surely not because of Union musketry, which wouldn't become a factor until the last 200 yards, and surely not because of infantry numbers: the Union infantry at the point of attack were only a fraction of the number of the attacking Confederates. I don't see much alternative to the explanation that Union artillery loomed very large in breaking up the attack: that the amount of time the Confederate infantry was under artillery fire, the number of directions from which artillery fire was brought to bear, and the sheer number of guns firing at them was what doomed the attack.

4. The observations about the difficulty with fuses is very real, and did much to reduce the effectiveness of shell in the period, particularly with regard to the Confederate bombardment before Pickett's charge. Yet artillery in the period could also sometimes achieve startling feats of accuracy, undreamed of by Napoleonic gunners. It is a tough subject for generalization. Worth noting is that fuse problems did nothing to reduce the effectiveness of canister, since unlike shell, it was not fuse detonated.

5. The artillery tokens in the game are not strictly speaking just about artillery, but have a larger function for modelling general readiness, command limitations, and uncertainty. In early versions of the game, there was a separate system for those aspects, but it was realized that in practice, it was doing pretty much the same thing the artillery tokens were doing, only not as well and in a more complicated way, and so the artillery tokens took over that role in the design, and did it rather well. The artillery system actually gives a lot of simulation bang (so to speak) for its complexity buck, and is very much as an instance of design for effect rather than design for cause.
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Cam Platell
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
Thank you for the considered responses. I agree that there is more to artillery than just the casualties it caused, and that it may have been difficult to clearly determine the cause of an injury when assessed at a field hospital.

Of course none of this can detract from my interest Getting and playing this game.
 
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Derry Salewski
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
(Can the title of the post be edited to not drive me insane . . . )
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Freddy Dekker
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Re: We're the guns of Gettysburg really that effective.
scifiantihero wrote:
(Can the title of the post be edited to not drive me insane . . . )


Yeah, BGG really could do with a spellchecker..soblue
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scifiantihero wrote:
(Can the title of the post be edited to not drive me insane . . . )


We're is the problem?
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Steve
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For the most part I've only read of ACW artillery being particularly effective at close range.
 
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Chris Montgomery
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My limited understanding that artillery had a psychological effect, especially when massed, even at longer ranges. The decibel level alone must have been mind-rending at close range. On slow-wind days, the smoke would obscure lines of sight. When fighting in forested areas (a relatively common occurrence), the smoke would be held underneath the canopy of trees and frequently cause units to become lost. When artillery did hit its target, it had a profound effect on the morale of the units subjected to it. And of course, at close range, it was deadly, deadly.

Judging by the excellent and precise nature of Bowen's research and game design, I will certainly give him the benefit of the doubt - and any historical abnormalities aside, I can assure you that the gameplay will be worth it.

Cheers!
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Ethan McKinney
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bowen wrote:
1. The estimate was from the wounded sent to Janes' care. Of the men hit by shell fragments, which in the period were large, jagged, and extremely lethal to those hit by them, I don't know how many would have made it to Janes. A common observation made by soldiers on the battlefield was that they tore human bodies to shreds. A common destination for victims of shell would be the grave, not the hospital.


I was going to bring up several of Bowen's points, but he's beaten me to it.

I did recently see the MythBusters where they fired various "improvised" projectiles from a cannon at a hanging pig carcass. (They wanted to see if things like rocks worked.) The last item they tried was a chain. It almost cut the pig in half. If the cannon shell were a fraction that effective, there's no way those poor b-------- made it back to a hospital.
 
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Barry Kendall
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Gettysburg is a more open field than Chancellorsville or Shiloh in the sense of woods, but it is far from a plain; there is a lot of rolling ground and "dead ground" on most of the battlefield and line-of-sight is far from uninterrupted.

One thing that differentiated Confederate from Federal artillery is battery composition--not just that most Confederate batteries in the armies of '63 were comprised of four guns while Federal batters had six, but also that tube types were mixed in most Confederate batteries while being much more standardized on the Federal side.

Reading battery markers at G-burg will often reveal a Confederate battery composed of two 12 pdr Napoleons and two six pdr howitzers, or two rifles and two Napoleons, and in some cases even three different gun types in a four-gun battery.

When rifled guns were used in Confederate batteries, they were almost always combined in a section while the other section had smoothbores.

Hence the long-range-fire capability of Confederate batteries was less than that of many Federal batteries, and when tube types are counted in the aggregate, this difference is even more pronounced.

One thing that always struck me as odd is that Longstreet made no plan to advance even light guns (6 pdrs) during the third-day assault to provide forward fire support behind the leading brigades. It seems that beyond Lee's instruction to form a "grand battery" a la Napoleon Bonaparte, little thought was given to the employment of Confederate guns in the attack.

A couple of six-pounders facing Webb's hesitant Philadelphia Brigade at The Angle could have proven embarrassing, at least in terms of holding the immediate breakthrough to a portion of the brigade's line (the 69th PA never left the wall in its entirety, but refused its right as Armistead's troops came across at Cushing's battery).

Bottom line, I'm hoping that Bowen's system takes into account (a) the different composition of Federal vs. Confederate batteries (hence greater effectiveness overall in the Federal artillery arm) and (b) the more pronounced effectiveness of artillery operating defensively rather than offensively.

Looking forward to finding out in a month or so.
 
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Chris Montgomery
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Even more importantly, though, a significant portion of the federal artillery was under a unified command structure so that artillery could be quickly deployed and moved as a response to fluid battlefield situations. This was a new doctrinal evolution employed for the first time at Gettysburg, IIRC.

The Confederate system was the standard model of doling out artillery to each corps or brigade to use as it saw fit. The AOP also used this system with artillery at the corps level at Gettysburg, but I think there was a separate Corps of artillery - and all artillery emplacements were under the direction of a General of Artillery - but I could be misremembering.

Regarding artillery advancing with the assault - I seem to recall a book I read this past year in which the Confederate artillery were supposed to support the attack by advancing with the infantry, but the order was not issued - or there was some other problem. In hindsight, the assault order should have never been issued, of course - artillery support or not - and if artillery had supported the assault, it seems plausible that the federals would have captured or destroyed a significant portion of the ANV's artillery.

Regarding Bowen's design, as I said above - I have complete faith that the game will play like Gettysburg ought; it will be well-worth learning this game, historical peccadilloes aside.
 
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Seth Owen
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I'm not sure that the Napoleonic tactic of advancing supporting 6 lb guns was viable any more in 1863. While I think authors who have studied the question have made a pretty convincing case that firefights between infantry formations armed with the rifle-musket didn't open at the long ranges that were possible, it did seem to have some effect on the ability of opposing field gunners to man their guns while within range. While a Napoleonic 6lb battery could trundle up to a point 300 yards from a battle line in relative safely, that option wasn't available to 1863 artillery men facing rifle-musket troops.

Indeed, by 1863 the 6lb gun (which was the most common in Napoleon's artillery park) was being phased out in favor of 12lb smooth bores and 3-inch rifles. In Napoleon's army the 12-lbs guns were heavy field guns. In Meade's army they were the standard divisional piece.

The fact that there were still a few 6lb guns in the Rebel army is merely evidence of their poverty and not preference.
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