Was targeting officers in warfare frowned upon?

Was targeting officers in warfare frowned upon?

  • yes

    Votes: 1 7.7%
  • no

    Votes: 10 76.9%
  • other

    Votes: 2 15.4%

  • Total voters
    13
  • This poll will close: .

Menshevik

Ad Honorem
Dec 2012
8,970
here
#1
I was watching a documentary on the Revolutionary War and it was claimed that American militiamen/soldiers were specifically targeting British/Hessian officers. According to the documentary, the British were appalled and surprised at this because it went against rules and customs of the time. Is there any truth in this?
 

Menshevik

Ad Honorem
Dec 2012
8,970
here
#3
I think the targeting of officers was always frowned upon by the army whose officers were being targeted. However, in warfare, it makes sense to target an enemies command and control. It has probably been done since the invention of war.
I had the same thought when I was watching the show.
 
Feb 2019
225
Pennsylvania, US
#5
I think the Revolutionary War marked a change in technology and a shift in soldiery that allowed for officers to be made into targets. Once you introduce rifling, you have the ability to hit a target with some accuracy. Most trained soldiers seemed to be outfitted with a smooth bore musket of some sort - you would be lucky to hit a specific target at 50 feet. I think generally speaking, it was the militia that carried whatever weapon they had, and many of them had the Pennsylvania rifle... which could accurately hit a target at something closer to 100 feet. At that point, hitting an officer was a possibility (so why not!). It might have felt rather ungentlemanly for a British soldier, who had been trained extensively, to be shot down by a slovenly, ignorant militia man.

In the Civil War, it seems like the officers were very much in the thick of it, leading their men. The main purpose of snipers would be to take down officers or artillery crews... There is a quote from Sam Watkins that shows a bit of fear on the part of officers, for being such a fine target!

"After the fighting was over, where, O where, was all the fine rigging heretofore on our officers? They could not be seen. Corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, all had torn all the fine lace off their clothing. I noticed that at the time and was surprised and hurt. I asked several of them why they had torn off the insignia of their rank, and they always answered, "Humph, you think that I was going to be a target for the Yankees to shoot at?" You see, this was our first battle, and the officers had not found out that minnie as well as cannon balls were blind; that they had no eyes and could not see. They thought that the balls would hunt for them and not hurt the privates. I always shot at privates. It was they that did the shooting and killing, and if I could kill or wound a private, why, my chances were so much the better. I always looked upon officers as harmless personages.... If I shot at an officer, it was at long range, but when we got down to close quarters I always tried to kill those that were trying to kill me." - Sam Watkins
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,518
Dispargum
#6
In the American Revolution the Americans noticed quite early that the British were more dependent upon their officers than were the Americans. The American environment made people more self-reliant, able to think for themselves. The typical British ranker was more accustomed to doing only what he was told. This was not always an advantage for the Americans as the American tendency to think for themselves made American soldiers more difficult to discipline and control. But in regards to targetting officers, yes, advantage Americans. Americans did not need their officers to tell them to advance, retreat, etc, at least not as much as the British did.

There were also elements of class. British officers coming from the upper classes had little in common with the rankers, did not know or understand them, and consequently did not trust them. There was a tendency for British officers to overemphasize their importance, given the low opinion British officers had of rankers. There were fewer class distinctions in America. Officers and rankers had more in common and knew each other in peace time which created more trust and understanding.

The British working class often had great sympathy for the American cause. Very early, the British found it difficult to recruit British men for the war in America. This is why the British hired so many mercenaries from Hesse and other German principalities. So when facing across battle lines, Americans may have had more antipathy for upper class British officers than for the lower classes in the ranks.
 
Likes: Niobe
Mar 2019
315
Kansas
#7
I was watching a documentary on the Revolutionary War and it was claimed that American militiamen/soldiers were specifically targeting British/Hessian officers. According to the documentary, the British were appalled and surprised at this because it went against rules and customs of the time. Is there any truth in this?
Okay important thing to remember - Everything the British did not think of went against the rules and customs of war
 

M9Powell

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
4,337
appalacian Mtns
#8
Taking off their rank wouldn't save the officers & NCOs. They are easily identified by their pointing & directing. They are also at least in senior officers & NCOs usually the older men. A Kaintuck rifle would easily reach 200 yds in a skilled riflemen 's hands, maybe even a bit more. By the war of northern aggression a skilled sniper with a telescopic sight & a Whitworth rifle could make 800 yds.
 
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