In the United States, as in the Armies of other Countries, no instruction of any importance was given the soldier in the use of his arms, before the introduction of the rifle-musket. The old smooth-bore in fact, in its method of sighting, actually stood as the exponent of the inaccurate firing of the weapons of its day; with no rear sight the front sight alone did not permit of any accurate aim; yet sufficient perhaps for the very limited precision of the aim itself. When the rifle-musket was generally issued in 1854, it was recognized that the Army required careful instruction in its use before the capabilities of the arm could be properly developed; General Scott therefore published in General Orders in December of that year, for the information and guidance of the troops, a letter from
the Chief of Ordnance, in which that officer stated, that as all the sights were marked for ranges of 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 and 700 yards, he would suggest that the practice be held at those distances, five shots to be fired at 200 yards, seven at 300 yards, nine each at 400 and 500, and 10 each at 600 and 700 yards. Other practice was recommended at intermediate distances for which it was suggested that the slide on the sight might be adjusted, or in case of slight difference, by the soldier taking a finer or coarser sight. That it was presumed that targets would be employed, is evident from the letter, though as to their size, shape and any details of construction the order is silent. No method of instruction was prescribed, every detail being left to the discretion of the company officer, who, in the general lack of knowledge on the subject, was no better informed than the War Department. As might have been presumed under these circumstances, very little instruction of any nature was imparted, and it soon became evident that further measures were necessary. Fifteen months later, or in March, 1856, the General-in-Chief issued a circular stating that from the representations made to him of the lack of skill on the part of most of the men then in the ranks, and with a view to their improvement in firing with ball cartridge, he proposed ordering a more general practice in that important branch of military instruction. Officers were therefore required to communicate to him at an early day, their views on the subject, and to state whether in their opinion the practice should be weekly, monthly, or quarterly; what number of rounds per man should be allowed under ordinary circumstances at each practice; under what regulation should the practice be conducted and what inducements to acquire skill should be held out, together with such further suggestions as their knowledge and experience should enable them to furnish.
The replies to this circular, from their great dissimilarity, slight comprehension of the subject, and paucity of practical suggestions, did not afford sufficient material upon which a system of instruction could be based, and no further progress was immediately made.
In October, 1857, Captain Henry Heth, 10th Infantry, was directed to draw up a system of "Target Practice with Small-arms." Captain Heth was furnished with the replies received under General Scott's Circular of the preceding year, and with the different foreign publications on the subject. The system which he submitted was adopted by the Secretary of War on March 1, 1858. In his preface, Captain Heth states that his system is chiefly a translation from the French "Instruction provisoire sur le Tir," which, in fact, he would have recommended with little or no change if schools similar to the French Schools of Musketry had existed in our service. He also used the reports on the subject that had been rendered by Major T. Williams, 4th Artillery, and Brevet Major Fitz-John Porter, Adjutant-General's Department, and further acknowledged valuable aid and assistance from Lieut. Julian McAllister, Ordnance Department.
The methods prescribed contemplated, first, aiming and then position drills, subsequently firing with caps or candle practice, and finally estimating distance, drill as all preliminary to regular target practice. For ball practice it was prescribed that the targets be placed at 150, 225, 250, 300, 325, 350, 400, 450, 500, 550, 600, 700, 800, 900 and 1,000 yards, at all ranges; the surface fired at was 6 feet high, and either 22 inches wide or some multiple of that dimension at 600 yards, for instance, being 110 inches (9 feet 2 inches) in width; the targets being divided by a horizontal and vertical line, of a width depending upon the distance at which they were used, varying between 4 .and 20 inches. Four rounds were to be fired at each distance. After practice at the first seven ranges, the Company was to be divided into three classes of about equal size, the first comprising those men who had hit the target the greatest number of times, the second class of those who came next in order, and the third class of the poorer shots.
Three exercises in skirmish firing were contemplated, 10 shots being fired at each drill, five when advancing, and five when retreating. The number of targets was only limited by the circumstances of the ground; for the first practice they were 6 feet high and 22 inches broad and placed six yards apart, fire was opened when the Company had arrived within a range of 350 yards, the point where the advance was to cease and the retreat commence was not stated. In the second practice the size of the targets was doubled and fire opened at 600 yards. In the third practice the width of the targets was increased to 88 inches, the Company commenced to fire when at a distance of 800 yards. Both file and volley firing were also required, at the distances, 300, 400 and 500 yards, two cartridges being fired by file and two by volley at each distance.
In the first prosecution of target practice, the Army was greatly aided by the "Manual of Rifle Firing," of General George W. Wingate, the General Inspector of Rifle Practice of the State of New York. General Wingate through his personal efforts, succeeded in introducing rifle practice as a part of the military instruction of the National Guard, and his system, undoubtedly at that time the best extant, was very generally consulted throughout the Army. In some particulars, it was not, however, deemed the best that could be devised for Army use. About this time the author, having returned to Washington from several year's active field service in Oregon and Idaho, conferred with General Wingate, and as a result, Wingate and Farrow's System of Target Practice was prepared and submitted to the War Department. The author, who had been in command of Indian scouts and had just gone through the Nez Perce and several other hard fought Indian campaigns, contributed to the System many valuable features and suggestions, based on his actual experience and observations in the field. This System was appropriated bodily by the War Department, and after some changing and remodeling, appeared as a "Course of Instruction in Rifle Firing," by Col. T. T. S. Laidley, in accordance with directions given by the Chief of Ordnance, and by a General Order, was announced as the System allowed in the Service for the Instruction of the Army in the use of the Rifle. The order further prescribed that the necessary aiming stands, targets, etc.. were to be obtained from the Ordnance Department, and the labor and expense of setting them up and preparing the shelters, etc., borne by the Quartermaster's Department. This System placed the instruction of the men at each Post in the hands of an Instructor of Musketry, aided by such assistants as the size of the command required. Company officers, while required to be themselves instructed, and to fire annually a number of cartridges, yet only participated in the education of their men as Assistants to the regular Musketry Instructor. The course comprised exercises in which the soldier was taught successfully to take the best position for holding the rifle, to aim it accurately, hold it steadily and pull the trigger, without deranging the aim. In firing, standing or kneeling, only the tactical positions were permitted, while for firing lying, the prone or tactical position was not alluded to, but a special side-position required. For range practice the targets used by the National Rifle Association were adopted, and the practice commenced at 100 yards, each man firing five shots, or additional single shots in cases when each succeeding shot showed an improvement over the last. The most expert were then to be advanced to 200 yards, where firing was held in a similar manner. Each man was, however, prohibited from firing more than 15 shots, or from practicing at more than two distances in any one day.
In March, 1882, General Alfred H. Terry, commanding the Department of Dakota, issued an order requiring all Company officers to practice with their commands, and also further requiring the presence for instruction of all the extra and daily duty men of the Company. He prescribed that all firing should commence at 100 yards, each one firing at least one score of five shots; firing in a similar manner was to be conducted at the other ranges, the soldier being advanced from range to range as he exhibited proficiency, but not sooner. The percentages, which, as a general rule were to be considered as a necessary requisite for advancement, were also established. In December of the same year, General Terry, in announcing to his Command the result of the year's labors, remarked as follows: "No one can doubt that the average capacity of the men to learn how to use their arms effectively is the same in all Companies and at all Posts. Nearly all the men enter the Service without previous experience in the use of arms, and the number of those in any organization who have had previous experience, is too small to affect its character. Moreover, the experience of that small number is seldom such as to be of value in the prescribed course of Rifle Instruction. It cannot be supposed that there are any essential differences in the averages of either physical or mental qualification in the different parts into which the Army is divided. This being the case, the different results obtained in different organizations must be due to the officers who command them, and to the officers alone. Where officers are obedient and carry out in good faith the orders which prescribe the course of rifle practice; where they are intelligent and zealous; where they not only demand obedience from their men, but seek to awaken their interest in this, the most important part of their instruction, and especially where they endeavor to excite emulation by practicing with their men and by becoming good shots themselves, excellent results will assuredly follow."
In 1884, an improved System was prepared by Captain S. E. Blunt, of the Ordnance Department, who had sent interrogatories throughout the Army asking suggestions pertinent to the subject on which the opinions and recommendations of the officers addressed, were solicited. As compared with the former Systems, the most marked features were the recognition it gave the Company Commander, as the appropriate Instructor of his men; the definite rules prescribed for conducting the various steps of instruction from the recruit stage through all the phases of range firing up to that for the grade of sharpshooter; the incorporation of the most approved orders; the simplification of reports and records; the adoption of targets, both for range and skirmish firing, which would most promote the education of the soldier in the direction for which the knowledge acquired would prove most efficacious in war, and especially the measures taken to insure careful attention to the skirmish firing; and to further and increase the control of the officer over his men on the line of battle, perfecting thereby the most essential of all the features of musketry instruction, the fire discipline of the Company.
The National Rifle Association of America was founded in Nov. 1871. The following year a bill was passed in the New York Legislature contributing $25,000 to the support of the Association, and the sum of $13,000 for trophies; the City of New York donated $5,000 and the Association itself raised $5,000. Land was purchased at Creedmoor, L. 1., and a range built. The first meeting was held in the Spring of 1873, 18 local teams contested four matches at 200 and 400 yards, on iron targets with square bull's eyes. All four matches were won by the 22d Regiment, N. G. N. Y. team. In the Fall of that year the first international match was shot at this range between teams representing Ireland and America, and was won for the American team by a member of that team making a bull's eye on his last shot. In June of the following year the Association sent a team to Ireland to shoot a return match, which also resulted in a victory for the Americans. In 1876 the Association held a great international tournament at Creedmoor at which the teams from Ireland, Scotland, Australia and Canada competed with an American team for the Centennial "Palma" trophy, emblematic of the world's championship.
The result of these international contests was that a great craze for rifle shooting swept over the country. Rifle associations and clubs were formed throughout the land, ranges were built and many States adopted courses of instruction in rifle shooting, a branch of a soldier's duties which had always been sadly neglected. The different States began also to take an interest in the annual meetings of the Association and to send teams to compete for the valuable bronze trophy, the "Soldier of Marathon," a gift of the State of New York to the Association in 1875. New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and California were among the first to enter the lists. Three years later the "Hilton" trophy, valued at $3,000, the gift of Henry Hilton of "New York, was put up for competition. This trophy is the most coveted of America's prizes and stands for the team championship of the United States.
In 1880 the Army began to send teams from the different military divisions, now departments, to compete for this trophy, and were three times successful. The presence of these army teams was a great incentive for the volunteers to try and excel, and there was universal regret expressed among the citizen soldiery when, after 1885, the army teams were withdrawn from these contests.
The pinnacle of success was reached by the Association in the year 1878, when the number of prizes amounted to 317, with an aggregate value of $13,000. This success and popularity lasted for about five years longer, when the meetings began to wane. From the inception of the Association, the arms and ammunition manufacturers, the leading newspapers, business houses and many individuals had been donating rich prizes yearly. To this fact more than anything else was due the success of the meetings.
New sports now began to amuse the fickle public and gradually the supporters of rifle shooting withdrew their patronage. With the decrease of the number of prizes, the attendance of riflemen from other States grew less and less, until it became rare to see more than a couple of nearby States represented. Finally the finances of the Association reached such a low ebb that the repairs necessary' to keep the range in shape for the National Guard practice could not be made and the State authorities stepped in and took possession of the range.
The last meeting held on the Creedmoor range was in 1891. The following year the officers of the Association arranged with the New Jersey State Rifle Association to incorporate in the program of its annual meeting, the three matches, the trophies for which were to be shot for annually. These three matches, the "Hilton Trophy," "Soldier of Marathon," and "Wimbledon Cup," have since been shot for at Sea Girt. The liberal and wide-awake policy of the New Jersey State Rifle Association for the last few years brought about a great revival of the sport of rifle shooting, so much so that it was recently decided to organize a new Rifle Association to control it, and arrange for international contests.
Later it was found that it was practicable to get together a quorum of the life remembers of the National Rifle Association to perfect a re-organization. When this had been done the new board of directors adopted the by-laws and elected the officers of the new Association and then resigned, leaving the management of the re-organized Association in the hands of the new people. The new National Rifle Association of America started out in life with four trophies, no debts and plenty of new life and enthusiasm.
The Association will own no ranges; it will not be a commercial enterprise; its aim will be the advancement of the art of rifle shooting throughout the nation. It will formulate rules and regulations governing competitions; determine the proper targets to be used; decide how matches shall be conducted, etc. Its grandest object will be to promote and encourage the use of the national arm, and to make the public as well as the National Guardsmen, familiar with the rifle that they would be called on to use in case of war, besides demonstrating its merits or demerits, and how it can be improved.
Target practice constitutes a branch of military instruction peculiarly fitted for the National Guard, and in which they will always excel. The "position" and "aiming drill" which constitute the foundation of the system, can be acquired in their armories, and even at their homes, while the high state of intelligence existing among them enables them to soon apply upon the range the instruction they have received. While every inducement should be made to attract and develop good individual shots, so as to constitute a good regimental "team," and for this purpose individual emulation should be encouraged in every way, yet Regimental Commanders must bear in mind that the true object to be attained is to secure the general efficiency of the rank and file as riflemen. More credit should attach to an organization making high average shooting than to one having a champion team, and all influences possible should be exercised in that direction. Nor will this course interfere with the selection of a good team. Nothing has been more clearly demonstrated at Creedmoor than that shooting is a matter of education, and it will be found that a thorough course of instruction will not only make the regiment efficient as a whole, but invariably develop a number of "crack" shots from among those who supposed themselves to be without the qualifications requisite for a "Marksman," and the more "Marksmen" the better the chances for a strong "team."
Candle practice is specially to be recommended for the National Guard. It gives almost the same results as armory target practice, and, as it may be performed simultaneously by an entire company, the saving of time is a great desideratum. Calculating on a basis of one shot a minute, five shots by 30 men at a single target require two hours and a half, while at candles they could all be fired in 10 minutes. In this practice, a gas pipe with small jets is preferable to candles. Some regiments place a miniature tin target in front of the lights aimed at, having the bull's-eye cut out, the flame appearing just behind its center, so that a "bull's-eye" extinguishes it. When candles are used, it is an advantage to insert them in a tube with a spiral spring, so as to always keep the flame in one position, as in a carriage lamp. Some regiments have a bench like a carpenter's horse to place the candles on, so as to admit of their being moved to different parts of the room to suit the light. In this practice the primer used on the regular cartridge does not contain sufficient fulminate to extinguish the flame at a distance of three feet with certainty. In order to meet this defect, special primers can and should be always obtained containing an extra quantity of fulminate. Better effects are also found to result from enlarging the aperture into the cartridge. The shells made by the Union Metallic Cartridge Company are unsuited to this practice. The cone-shaped anvil used in them blows out, when used without powder, at the second discharge, spoiling the shell, and thus making the practice expensive. Neither the Remington shell nor that made by the United States Cartridge Company is liable to this objection, and in both, the opening for the fulminate can be enlarged. As a piece of the cap is frequently forced through the barrel by the explosion of the primer, care must be taken in this practice never to aim in any direction where injury could be caused by it The main drill of the National Guard (in the cities at least) must take place at their armories, and practice at the range be but occasional, "not to learn, but to test what has been learned." Officers should, therefore, devote all the available time to the sighting, position, and aiming drill, which form the foundation for the whole system. As these are apt to prove monotonous, candle practice should be frequently indulged in, this portion of the drill being always interesting to the men. It is, therefore, recommended that the men should be practiced in firing at candles at the conclusion of each aiming drill. With men of the intelligence of those composing the National Guard, the improvement that will be found to result from a little careful practice of this description will be found surprising; and a Company that at the beginning could not extinguish more than two or three candles at a volley, in two 'or three months will put out nine out of 10; and it is frequently observed that those who have had the least previous practice as sportsmen will prove the best shots. This (candle) practice will also prove valuable as a substitute for ball practice in judging the efficiency of the men in those cases where the latter cannot be had; and none should be practiced in target firing who have not averaged extinguishing five out of 10 candles at a previous drill.
Farrow, Edward S. American Small Arms; a Veritable Encyclopedia of Knowledge for Sportsmen and Military Men. New York: Bradford, 1904. Print.
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