Author of the Civil War Collector’s Encyclopedia F. A. Lord tells us that after the Battle of Gettysburg, 27,574 muskets were recovered from the battlefield. Of these, nearly 90 percent (twenty four thousand) were loaded. Twelve thousand of these loaded muskets were found to be loaded more than once, and six thousand of the multiply loaded weapons had from three to ten rounds loaded in the barrel. One weapon had been loaded twenty-three times. Why, then, were there so many loaded weapons available on the battlefield, and why did at least twelve thousand soldiers misload their weapons in combat?

A loaded weapon was a precious commodity on the black-powder battlefield. During the stand-up, face-to-face, short-range battles of the era a weapon should have been loaded for only a fraction of the time in battle. More than 95 percent of the time was spent in loading the weapon, and less than 5 percent in firing it. If most soldiers were desperately attempting to kill as quickly and efficiently as they could, then 95 percent should have been shot with an empty weapon in their hand and any loaded, cocked, and primed weapon available dropped on the battlefield would have been snatched up from wounded and dead comrades and fired.

There were many who were shot while charging the enemy or were casualties of artillery outside of musket range, and these individuals would never have had an opportunity to fire their weapons, but they hardly represent 95 of all casualties. if there is a desperate need in all soldiers to fire their weapon in combat, then many of these men should have died with an empty weapon. And as the ebb and flow of battle passed over these weapons, many of them should have been picked up and fired at the enemy.

The obvious conclusion is that most soldiers were not trying to kill the enemy. Most of them appear to have not even wanted to fire in the enemy’s general direction. As Marshall observed, most soldiers seem to have an inner resistance to firing their weapons in combat. The point here is that the resistance appears to have existed long before Marshall discovered it, and this resistance is the reason for many (if not most) of these multiply loaded weapons.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman On Killing':' The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society October 1, 2008
Posted on October 1, 2008