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  • What if the Confederates had Gatling guns?

    No machine guns.
    from an older post and unrelated to the actual content of this thread...but i've always wondered how the war would have went had the union adopted the gatling gun (i know, not a real machine gun, but still...) in 1862. or, horrors, the confederacy.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

  • #2
    Are you sure that it would have had much of an impact? The Mitrailleuse did not do much good for the French in 1870. Of course the situations are not really the same, but is there not always a considerable delay between the invention of a new weapon system, its introdruction and lastly its effective use on the battlefield?

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Tarek Morgen View Post
      Are you sure that it would have had much of an impact? The Mitrailleuse did not do much good for the French in 1870. Of course the situations are not really the same, but is there not always a considerable delay between the invention of a new weapon system, its introdruction and lastly its effective use on the battlefield?
      If the CSA had the gatling gun in good numbers backing the ANV in 1863 and 64 Grant's tactics of mass would have faired no better than French or British on the Western Front. Gatling Guns at Cold Harbor where poor troop handling combined with massed troops resulted in horrific losses in real history might well have ended Grant's career if those losses had been doubled.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by zraver View Post
        If the CSA had the gatling gun in good numbers backing the ANV in 1863 and 64 Grant's tactics of mass would have faired no better than French or British on the Western Front. Gatling Guns at Cold Harbor where poor troop handling combined with massed troops resulted in horrific losses in real history might well have ended Grant's career if those losses had been doubled.
        While not a drop in a bucket, the AoP suffered far fewer casualties from the 3 June assault than history previously assigned. There were on order of 3500-4000 total casaulties from the assault.

        Had Gatling Guns been part of the ANV's arsenal, then Grant's tactics surely would have changed at Cold Harbor and elsewhere. Rather than looking upon general assaults to settle things prior to the 1864 election, then Grant, the pre-eminent strategist who understood the role of the people in the trinity, would have crafted the execution of the campaign differently.

        As a note on the Gatlin Gun, the follow-up question to CSA possession of the technology would be the long pole in the tent, so to speak, on their ability to sustain it with ammunition. Possession is only part of the question in its impact on the battlefield . . .
        "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Blademaster View Post
          What about artillery pieces and trains? that numbers quoted seems to me that the Army of Potomac didn't really have the edge in numbers as if you need to go on the offensive, you need to have a 3-1 ratio of attackers vs defenders in order to have a successful chance. Perhaps AOP made up the difference in terms of artillery and machine guns?
          In considering the ratio of numbers in the Overland Campaign, one should also consider the role of ancilliary but supporting operations that fixed CSA forces in place elsewhere (south of Petersburg, Shenandoah Valley, etc.), preventing Lee from initially reinforcing the ANV.
          "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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          • #6
            tarek,

            The Mitrailleuse did not do much good for the French in 1870
            that is true. OTOH the germans also had another bit of new fancy technology: Krupp steel breech-loading cannon. this was more familiar to soldiers as this represented a big increase in an existing capability, rather than something new altogether. IIRC the french tried to use the mitrailleuse as a "mini-cannon", which was not very effective.

            in the context of the civil war, though, after juggling around with the gatling for a year or so either side should have been able to use it appropriately.

            one of the reasons why the US was fairly fortunate was that the war was by and large fought with weapons from the 1850s. only a few units had breechloaders, mainly cavalry or a few units which purchased them privately (and put them to shockingly deadly use).

            if the war had been delayed by one presidency or so, both sides would have been armed with breechloaders, perhaps with steel cannon too. civil war casuaties would have gone up significantly.
            There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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            • #7
              If the ANV had Gatling guns in 1864 my response is "So What?"

              The range of the Gatlings was about 600 yards, at the very best....the same range as a Springfield and Enfield rifle. A rifle company under cover could bring a lot of fire on an exposed battery.

              And when it comes down to it, the superb artillery of the AOP would have easily countered it. There were over 150 10 pound and 3 inch ordnance rifles in the batteries of the AOP. Concentrated fire was deadly to Confederate gunners....and there were almots 100 each 20 poiund Parrots just sitting in Artillery Reserve which could have been brought forward as needed to counter them. Those Heavy Artillery regiments would have been used in their intended roles instead of as Infantry if it came to that.

              It was a weapon, not a game changer.
              “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
              Mark Twain

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Albany Rifles View Post
                If the ANV had Gatling guns in 1864 my response is "So What?"

                The range of the Gatlings was about 600 yards, at the very best....the same range as a Springfield and Enfield rifle. A rifle company under cover could bring a lot of fire on an exposed battery.

                And when it comes down to it, the superb artillery of the AOP would have easily countered it. There were over 150 10 pound and 3 inch ordnance rifles in the batteries of the AOP. Concentrated fire was deadly to Confederate gunners....and there were almots 100 each 20 poiund Parrots just sitting in Artillery Reserve which could have been brought forward as needed to counter them. Those Heavy Artillery regiments would have been used in their intended roles instead of as Infantry if it came to that.

                It was a weapon, not a game changer.
                The very same arguments were made against the Maxim. Alot of mrn died as a result. Grant had no peer in his age, but many of his corps and division commanders were of lesser material as Cold Harbor shows. Lee and especially Longstreet could have made good use of the Gatling assuming they had been able to feed them with bullets. On the defensive and fighting from trenches, gun sheikds and defiladed posistions are compketely possible adaptaions of nessecity.

                Those heavy artillery units would have been needed,but at the cost of sone of the AoPs infatry strength. The of course could Grant survive lincolns wrath if he served up an American first day of the Somme during an election year?

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                • #9

                  The very same arguments were made against the Maxim. A lot of men died as a result.



                  Not a good comparison. Weapons of different calibers and capabilities. The Gatling was an artillery weapon not an Infantry Weapon like the Maxims. Different tactics, techniques and procedures required for both.

                  Grant had no peer in his age, but many of his corps and division commanders were of lesser material as Cold Harbor shows.

                  I am intrigued by that comment. On what is that based? I agree Warren left a lot to be desired, but Hancock and Wright were excellent corps commanders and Burnside must be given his due as well. The division and brigade commanders were also quite good; some were excellent. And has Shek has pointed out the old fables of the debacle at Cold Harbor have been debunked pretty thoroughly by the scholarship over the past 15 years. And the foremost historian on the Overland Campaign, Gordon Rhea, concludes that the leadership of the AOP was pretty good.

                  Lee and especially Longstreet could have made good use of the Gatling assuming they had been able to feed them with bullets. On the defensive and fighting from trenches, gun sheikds and defiladed posistions are compketely possible adaptaions of nessecity.Longstreet was gone 6 hours after he showed up on the Wilderness battlefield. The tactics you speak of for the Gatlings belie their failings. They sat about a foot higher on the carriage than a field piece, exposing the gun crews. The fighting from behind defensive positions precluded the ability to traverse much beyond the aperture which could be cut….and their range was insufficient to offset their vulnerability against directed artillery fire. The Army realized the gun crews were vulnerable to rifle since the crew had to operate it while standing and the height of the gun. Also its short range made it vulnerable to cannon fire…exactly as I posited. The counter tactics are exactly what I proposed in my initial comments.


                  Those heavy artillery units would have been needed,but at the cost of sone of the AoPs infatry strength. The of course couldGrant survive lincolns wrath if he served up an American first day of the Somme during an election year?

                  I am talking about one regiment in this role. Most of the service of these regiments was solid but not impressive. True, they did well in a standup fight at the Battle of Harris’ Farm but they were assisted by Birney’s excellent division. The exception to this was the 2d CT Volunteer Heavies who fought very well with the VIth Corps from Fort Stevens, through the Shenandoah 64 campaigns up to the Breakthrough on to Appomattox.

                  As for Lincoln firing Grant….and replace him with whom? Lincoln wasn’t going to replace Grant. Grant’s forces suffered almost 55,000 casualties in 40 days and Lincoln didn’t fire him. And the Gatling gun….even if the Confederacy could have built and sustained them…would have been an addition to the battlefield. If the rifle musket and artillery and the “elan” of the ANV could not stop Grant the Gatling wasn’t going to help.

                  That said, I moving this to the What If section.
                  “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
                  Mark Twain

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                  • #10
                    sounds like the ANV would have needed to have quite a few gatlings (with the requisite logistics to sustain them) for the gatling to have much of an effect.

                    OTOH, fast firing weapons -did- make a big splash when they showed up, oh-so-rarely, on the battlefield. mostly it was the AoP which enjoyed it; brigades or regiments which privately equipped themselves with henry/spencer rifles had an impact all out of proportion to their numbers.
                    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by astralis View Post
                      sounds like the ANV would have needed to have quite a few gatlings (with the requisite logistics to sustain them) for the gatling to have much of an effect.

                      OTOH, fast firing weapons -did- make a big splash when they showed up, oh-so-rarely, on the battlefield. mostly it was the AoP which enjoyed it; brigades or regiments which privately equipped themselves with henry/spencer rifles had an impact all out of proportion to their numbers.
                      The repeater and/or breech loading weapons were most notable in their use by the Union Cavalry forces. This enabled Union Cavalry to often times hold off superior numbers of Confederate Infantry, Gettysburg being the most notable but not the only example.

                      While some Infantry was equipped with repeaters/breech loaders it was not too prevalent. More examples were seen in the Western Theater than in the East.
                      “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
                      Mark Twain

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Albany Rifles View Post
                        [B][I]

                        Not a good comparison. Weapons of different calibers and capabilities. The Gatling was an artillery weapon not an Infantry Weapon like the Maxims. Different tactics, techniques and procedures required for both.
                        Uhm, the Gatling was employed by the USAR as an artillery weapon, that does not mean it was an artillery weapon any more than the Maxim was. A different carriage or mount and its a machine gun.

                        I am intrigued by that comment. On what is that based? I agree Warren left a lot to be desired, but Hancock and Wright were excellent corps commanders and Burnside must be given his due as well. The division and brigade commanders were also quite good; some were excellent. And has Shek has pointed out the old fables of the debacle at Cold Harbor have been debunked pretty thoroughly by the scholarship over the past 15 years. And the foremost historian on the Overland Campaign, Gordon Rhea, concludes that the leadership of the AOP was pretty good.
                        The leadership at CH was not pretty good. Wright's delay on June 1. Wright, Smith and Hancock all failed to do a recon on June 2 and on the same day Burnside failed to attack an exposed Confederate flank. This set up the slaughter of June 3rd when 3 Union corps advanced through a confederate defense in depth. Burnside halted his corps in the north before carrying the actual confederate lines and paused until afternoon.

                        Even the historian you picked by name admits the loss of 3-4000 union troops on a single day. Overall union losses on the low end 12700 with at least 1800 dead against a possible low end CSA dead of just 83 per Bonekemper.

                        Longstreet was gone 6 hours after he showed up on the Wilderness battlefield.
                        I was talking his ability to perceive the use of the weapon.

                        The tactics you speak of for the Gatlings belie their failings. They sat about a foot higher on the carriage than a field piece, exposing the gun crews.
                        They did, but they didn't have to.

                        The fighting from behind defensive positions precluded the ability to traverse much beyond the aperture which could be cutand their range was insufficient to offset their vulnerability against directed artillery fire.
                        Ditto for the Maxim yet we see how well that weapon worked in 1914.

                        The Army realized the gun crews were vulnerable to rifle since the crew had to operate it while standing and the height of the gun. Also its short range made it vulnerable to cannon fire exactly as I posited. The counter tactics are exactly what I proposed in my initial comments.
                        Again, see the Maxim on the Western front.

                        As for Lincoln firing Grant and replace him with whom? Lincoln wasn't going to replace Grant. Grant's forces suffered almost 55,000 casualties in 40 days and Lincoln did't fire him.
                        If he suffered that many in 4 days? Lincoln fired generals, and Grant was replaceable, all generals are for good or for ill.

                        And the Gatling gun even if the Confederacy could have built and sustained them;would have been an addition to the battlefield. If the rifle musket and artillery and the elan; of the ANV could not stop Grant the Gatling wasn't going to help.
                        That simply does not follow... The Gatling properly employed in the defensive from behind defensive works and properly supplied (an admitted problem) could indeed stop the AoP with a wall of dead blue soldiers.

                        That said, I moving this to the What If section.
                        Agreed, as its a good debate to have on the power of technology that existed and might have changed history.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by astralis View Post
                          sounds like the ANV would have needed to have quite a few gatlings (with the requisite logistics to sustain them) for the gatling to have much of an effect.
                          In certain battles like Cold harbor the poor handling on the Union side would be ideal for a few Gatlins gathered into flying batteries to be rushed about which both reduces the number needed and the ammuntion drain as well. The US and the CSA were both well versed in the concept of flying batteries.

                          OTOH, fast firing weapons -did- make a big splash when they showed up, oh-so-rarely, on the battlefield. mostly it was the AoP which enjoyed it; brigades or regiments which privately equipped themselves with henry/spencer rifles had an impact all out of proportion to their numbers.
                          The Gatling's single biggest advantage to the CSA would be its initial employment as a political weapon such as Cold Harbor where the shock of massive losses assaulting prepared positions might influence the election. its next biggest advantage to the CSA would to be to force the Union to change its tactics which against in the election year is not just an operation/strategic/tactical issue but political as well.

                          Conversely the Gatling would be far less effective against Sherman where there was room to move and shift to avoid going heads up against defensive works, at least until the coast where the Sea both hemmed the CAS in but finally anchored their flank.

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                          • #14
                            A search reveasl that post ACW the Gatling was used to break up infantry and cavalry attacks across the globe- Canada, Egypt, Sudan, Chile, South Africa... This included use against both firearm and traditionally equipped forces. Had the Gatling been present at Cold Harbor on the side of the CSA in sufficient numbers and with sufficient stores of ammunition the result could have changed the course of American and world history. Harry Turtledove uses time travellign racist to give the South automatic weapons. But a few well handled batteries of Gatlings could have done the job as well. The weapon itself was well within the means of the South to construct, its not complex requring no technology the South did not already have.

                            The ammunition problem is more difficult to over come but not impossible. Each 6lb and 12lb napoleon the guns replaced freed up 1.25 and 2.5lbs of powder per shell respectively, as well as providing the crews, limbers, brass and iron for the guns. Given the South's shortage of men one must assume the Gatling batteries would in fact come from the artillery crews. All I have suggested is a more sensible employment defensively, tactics adopted by the major combatants in WWI. First by Germany when it went on to the defensive much like the South.

                            Of note, the Union response would have been somewhat handicapped by the technology of the day which prevented most artillery fire from behind cover and made mortars heavy and slow of fire.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by zraver View Post
                              A search reveasl that post ACW the Gatling was used to break up infantry and cavalry attacks across the globe- Canada, Egypt, Sudan, Chile, South Africa... This included use against both firearm and traditionally equipped forces. Had the Gatling been present at Cold Harbor on the side of the CSA in sufficient numbers and with sufficient stores of ammunition the result could have changed the course of American and world history. Harry Turtledove uses time travellign racist to give the South automatic weapons. But a few well handled batteries of Gatlings could have done the job as well. The weapon itself was well within the means of the South to construct, its not complex requring no technology the South did not already have.

                              The ammunition problem is more difficult to over come but not impossible. Each 6lb and 12lb napoleon the guns replaced freed up 1.25 and 2.5lbs of powder per shell respectively, as well as providing the crews, limbers, brass and iron for the guns. Given the South's shortage of men one must assume the Gatling batteries would in fact come from the artillery crews. All I have suggested is a more sensible employment defensively, tactics adopted by the major combatants in WWI. First by Germany when it went on to the defensive much like the South.

                              Of note, the Union response would have been somewhat handicapped by the technology of the day which prevented most artillery fire from behind cover and made mortars heavy and slow of fire.
                              1. Keep in mind the terrain, which provided numerous IV lines to provide cover from the effects for the Gatlings. The general assault proceeded generally until the last covered position and served in the end to close the gap between the two lines.

                              2. The general assault was ordered because it was going to be the last opportunity for an assault prior to the seige of Richmond. More importantly, it was made upon the assumption by Grant that the ANV was spent.

                              The latter half #2 is the most important factor for ordering the general assault. Add in Gatlings, and Grant proceeds more cautiously in his tactics. Add in #1, and any effective fire will spontaneously halt assaulting lines just as effective rifle fire halted them on 3 June 1864.

                              The end result is not a substantial # of casualties. Instead, Grant initiates the sidle around the ANV's right flank earlier. In fact, maybe this earlier movement results in Grant smashing through the Petersburg defenses during the second week of June and owning Richmond that same week. Virginia is lost and with it goes the supplies from the Shenandoah and from Tregedar. While the ANV exists to fight another day, it takes substantial losses in the counterattack against the Union held Richmond. Southern morale collapses and the war is won by Election Day in 1864.

                              "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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