Private Fleming at Chancellorsville: The Red Badge of Courage and the Civil War

By Perry Lentz | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
The Rifled Musket
Infantry Combat in the Civil War

The American Civil War was the first major war in which the rifle was the standard infantry weapon on both sides of the battle line. A novel set in the Revolutionary War or the Napoleonic wars that used the term "rifle" as ubiquitously as Crane employs it would be altogether inaccurate. On the walls of the hut shared by privates Wilson, Conklin, and Fleming "three rifles were paralleled on pegs" (RBC 4). Had these three soldiers been at Valley Forge under Washington rather than at Falmouth under Hooker, they almost surely would have had three "muskets" paralleled on pegs. One of Private Fleming's first glimpses of rebel infantry will be of them coming toward him and "swinging their rifles at all angles" (RBC 54). Were Private Henry Fleming facing Napoleon's attack at Waterloo rather than Lee's at Chancellorsville, he certainly would have seen the French bearing down upon him "swinging their muskets at all angles." And when, for instance, Barbara Tuchman repeatedly uses the term "riflemen" in The First Salute to refer to rank-and-file American infantry during the Revolutionary War, or the term "rifle fire" to refer to infantry fire, she is committing a (very common) error.1

In writing that dates from the time of the Civil War itself, the problem is

1. Barbara Tuchman, The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution, 284.

-51-

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