Monday, January 12, 2009

Earl Hess' Take on the Rifle Musket

I just finished reading one of the most talked-about books in the Civil War genre over the last few months, The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat by Earl J. Hess. The author's purpose is to break the traditional interpretation of the effects of the rifle musket on Civil War battles. Through anecdotal evidence and statistical analysis, he makes a solid case that the rifle musket did not have the tremendous effect attributed to it in the standard traditional interpretation. He also examines the practices of skirmishing and sniping in the Civil War and how the development of better weapons contributed to these two practices. I think the book is a must read for anyone interested in the strict military history of the conflict. There were chapters that I found difficult to plow through, as Hess has overloaded the book with examples, comparisons, and statistics. The tremendous amount of detail certainly solidifies his point, but at times I found it tedious. In fact, one could skip over Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 9 without missing the point of the book. Obviously, those were the chapters that bogged me down, personally. However, even without those four chapters the author's argument is made perfectly clear and well-supported. The bibliography is also extremely useful for tracking down contemporary sources, particularly drill manuals, treatises on the use of rifles, etc. I will recommend this book to all staff members at our Civil War sites in NC. It very well could change the way they interpret the weapon.

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