Q&A: Sherman Tanks at Gettysburg?

Interpreters at public museums get asked a lot of questions.

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Energetic college-dude asks a question!

I mean A LOT of questions.

The predictable FAQs, like “Where’s the bathroom?” or “I’m traveling from hundreds of thousands of miles away, please plan my itinerary” occupy most of the day.

But every once in a while, there are those which catch you off guard, breaks the monotony, and requires a little more attention. I try to answer all questions carefully (well, alright, I do blow-off the stupid ones). But recently a friend from high school asked me:

Q: “Would having a Sherman tank given either side a guaranteed victory at the battle of Gettysburg?”

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M4 Sherman Tank, ca 1941
(Armed Forces Military Museum)

I very rarely entertain hypotheticals since all vestige of context can be lost, but I wanted to answer Thomas thoughtfully¬† since he’s an up-and-coming “buff”.

A: Doubt it.

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The 9th Massachusetts Battery firing near the Trostle house at Gettysburg.
(Don Troiani/Historical Art Prints)

The army’s field artillery (some 150-250 guns) was already enough to demoralize an entire division during “Pickett’s Charge.” By hurling solid shot, case shot and canister, approx. 10-15 men could be KIA or WIA per round. Ordinance was traveling at some 100 mi/hr and could pass through two or three ranks. The destruction by artillery was already horrific, in my opinion.

Q2: I don’t know if any Civil War-era fire could damage a Sherman tank, though. Look at how successful those armored gunboats were on the Mississippi [River] and their armor was thinner than that of a tank.

Also, I think the firepower of a Sherman tank would have been more devastating to infantry on an open battlefield. A 75mm cannon, one 50 cal. machine gun, and two M1919’s would’ve done some SERIOUS damage. Even if the tracks were damaged it has enough firepower to be effective when it’s stationary.

A: Oh geeze, if you are really going to push me…

First of all, rapid-fire v. muzzle-loading is far too unmeasurable for me, but let’s look at the effect of mid-1800s projectiles v. today:

Not sure what or how many the armies had at Gettysburg, but the most common guns were:

Napoleons
– 6-lb. 1520 yds., 3.58″ shot/shell
– 12-lb. 1620 yds., 4.52″ shot/shell

Parrotts
– 10 lb. 2000 yds., 2.88″ shot/shell
– 20 lb. 2100 yds., 3.63″ shot/shell

3-in Ordinance Rifle
– 1850 yds., 2.88-.94″ shot/shells

Howitzers
– 12 lb. 1100 yds., 4.5″ shot/shell (approx.)
– 24 lb. 1325 yds., 5.68″ shot/shell
– Mountain 900 yds., 4.5″ canister

By contrast, a M4 Sherman’s 75mm is: 14 lbs., 677 yds., 2.95″ shell. Armor penetrating for a 76mm = 3″ (approx.)

So, generally, a M4 Sherman Tank can shoot roughly the same size projectile as common field artillery pieces during the American Civil War, but from a far shorter distance.

Another question(s) might be:

  1. “How thick was the plating on the ironclad ships during the Civil War?”
  2. “Could siege artillery have changed the outcome of the battle, rather than the field-class of artillery, since they shot farther and had completely heavier projectiles?”

But that is for another day.

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Another hypothetical: What if a tyrannosaurus was lowered by a crane into the Sarlacc pit?

Send me a message and keep those questions coming!

Sources:

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