while he loaded the awkward device. The shortcomings associated with these muzzleloaders were, in a large part, responsible for the style of battlefield tactics of the day.
Smokeless gunpowder was the next major advancement to affect gun development. Smokeless gunpowder led to the development of cartridge bullets. These bullets enabled the lead shot to be pre-packaged with the gunpowder and dramatically shortened the time involved with reloading. Additionally, the cartridge bullets were more streamlined than their predecessors and allowed the opportunity to pack more gunpowder with each shot. This additional gunpowder provided greater accuracy over longer distances than would have been imaginable during the time of Napoleon. Without the development of cartridge bullets, the Winchester repeating rifle would not have been possible. The use of smokeless gunpowder would also enable the artillery to move from cannon balls to shells.
During all the pre-modern wars, the style of battle was fairly simple on the surface. The aggressor army would position itself to attack its opponent. Once the aggressor had both its artillery and archery units in place, it would open fire on the enemy. This bombardment would continue until the leaders felt that they had sufficiently softened up their opponent’s line of defense. At this point the enemy would be attacked on foot by the infantry. During the attack, it was essential for the infantrymen stay in their ranks and maintain the line. The line consisted of three rows of infantrymen. A weak spot in the lines would lower the concentration of fire that the opponent received.
Once the line reached the appropriate range, they would open fire. The front line would fire their weapons and kept the fire going while the other two lines reloaded. After the front line had fired, it would shift to the back. The line behind them would then step forward and fire. This was done in fairly quick progression as aiming was at a minimum for the infantryman. They simply lifted their gun high enough to hit the other line and fired. This would continue as long as necessary to weaken the enemy to the point of bayonet charge. The bayonet charge would finish off the enemy as it usually scattered their forces off the field.
This methodical technique was clearly developed to allow time for the infantrymen to re-load their slow, awkward weapons. These low speed guns made this type of battle appropriate. The introduction of the Winchester repeating rifle signaled the beginning of the end to the effectiveness of this style of warfare. The Winchester repeaters got one of their first combat experiences during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877.
The Turks were greatly outnumbered when the Russians attacked the town of Plevna. The battle started in July of 1877 when the Russians attacked. The Turks, who were encamped with their American made Winchester Repeating rifles, stood their ground against the far superior Russians. The Turks cut down over eight thousand of the Russians in the first major battle. The siege of the town went on for nearly six months, and was not over until the Turkish commander gave up because they were not getting re-supplied . The repeating rifles proved though that traditional warfare would not continue to work. A much larger army, which in Napoleon’s day was believed necessary to win, had essentially failed.
These weapons were advanced even farther to become more accurate, stronger and generally easier to use and load. This is much the reason that the Gatling gun, the predecessor to the machine gun, was invented. This was invented in 1862 during the American Civil War. With the invention of brass cartridge Gatling felt he could make a gun that fired at a high rate. He mounted ten barrels on a rotating piece, which as it was turned, loaded, fired and unloaded the barrels automatically. The Gatling Gun was an advancement into a new generation of warfare and just like the Winchester Repeating rifle had been created too late for widespread use in the Civil War.
The principle difference between a machine gun and the Gatling gun was the way in which the cartridge was loaded. In the Gatling gun, the rotating motion was responsible for loading the gun. In a machine gun, the weapon is loaded by using the energy from the recoil of the fired bullet. This was made possible by the previous invention of smokeless powder.
In 1885 Hiram Maxim invented the first real machine gun. The machine gun worked much better than the Gatling gun because it did not require any effort to keep firing. Additionally, the Gatling Gun was a larger, heavier and less maneuverable weapon than the machine gun. The soldier would simply leave his finger on the trigger of the machine gun, and the gun would keep firing. This would have great effect in the amount of lead that could be fired back and forth in the “no man’s land” that existed between the trenches during World War 1.
One of the first examples of machine guns devastating effects when used in open field was felt during the 1904 Russo-Japanese War. The Russians used Maxim guns during the entire campaign, but commonly for defense of positions. The Japanese however, used their Hotchkiss Guns, which were machine guns that were built on the same principle as the Maxim, only with a few improvements for mobility. The Japanese moved six of these guns into a position in which they could fire on the Russians on a hillside some 1,500 meters away. In a short period, these six guns had overwhelmed the Russians and accounted for over 1,000 casualties.
-One of Maxim’s early designs
Dupuy explains in his book how improvements in military tactics were not made as a result of experiences with these new guns:
Both the South African War (1899-1902) and the Russo-Japanese
War (1904-5) provided evidence regarding the battlefield efficacy
of bolt action and clip fed rifles, entrenchments, and quick firing
artillery. But these examples did not stir military thought to an
adequate reappraisal of the presumed psychological and practical
effectiveness of seizing the initiative and conducting mass attacks
that would carry all before them.
During the Civil War, the principle piece of artillery used was the cannon ball. These seemingly ancient weapons were used quite simply. Cannon balls were fired out of the cannon with the intention of bouncing off the ground and plowing through the troops. This made them very reliant on several factors.
First, was the dryness of the ground. The drier the ground, the firmer the cannon ball would bounce, and thus the greater force it would carry with it as it plowed into the lines of the opposition. As shown at the Battle of Waterloo, the condition of the ground and the ability to use cannon fire could greatly affect an armies chances of victory, as it did Napoleon’s army. Napoleon’s army was one of the greatest ever at using its artillery (probably in some part due to General Bonaparte being an artillery man himself) and had won many battles due to their weakening of the other side during the pre-battle. The wet turf found at Waterloo kept Napoleon from using his cannons as he would have liked, and this inability to weaken the larger enemy was one of the major factors in his loss.