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
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Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
appalacian Mtns
I can't verify if it's true or not, but I have heard the story told that a Reb sniper once had Abe Lincoln in his scope or sights, but his Sgt didn't agree with him that it was Abe & ordered him not too shoot the civilian. Commander in Chief would I think be a legitimate military target even if he was in civilian clothes wouldn't he?
Mar 2019
I can't verify if it's true or not, but I have heard the story told that a Reb sniper once had Abe Lincoln in his scope or sights, but his Sgt didn't agree with him that it was Abe & ordered him not too shoot the civilian. Commander in Chief would I think be a legitimate military target even if he was in civilian clothes wouldn't he?
That would be a purely American answer. There are not to many other places in the world where an elected civilian leader automatically becomes the commander in chief of all armed forces of that nation.


Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
appalacian Mtns
Officers and Sergeants are targets as they are visable leaders and it is hoped without them the unit will be less effective.
Buglers and drummers were targets as they relay orders and with out them battlefield communication is hampered.
Quite right on both counts. But a snipers first target would be anything that could range out & reach him. In more modern times that is enemy snipers & crew served weapons. Not quite sure how that would work in the revolutionary war or ACW, maybe instead of crew served weapons it would be arty. As far as shooting officers & NCOs goes remember a sniper is a big game hunter, who shoots Does when a shot at a Buck is available?


Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
The targetting of officers was not unusual in naval warfare of the time and considered a risk of service. But because army officers felt it was unfair to gun them down without a chance of a fair fight their sense of honour was impugned, but the reality was that officers were increasingly vulnerable as rifles began to improve on the accuracy of aimed fire, whereas the majority of action was based on short ranged musket fire en masse. In fact, correspondence from the AWI clearly depicts an attitude that standing firm in the face of withering fire was courageous, and a sign of civilised military organisation. Of course an officer might be hit by a musket ball - that too was a considered risk. But to be deliberately aimed at by some unknown sniper... Ahem.

I am reminded of one american officer leading a unit along a river bank coming under fire from British gunboats. His men wavered, but he exhorted them "The bullet that will kill me has not been made!", whereupon he was hit by a cannonball and dismembered.
Mar 2019
Victoria, Australia
Short answer. No. Everyone did it, though most european armies of the 18th century and before simply shot "parrallel to the ground and directly infront of them" and there where not aiming at "anyone" in particular. That mostly because of the poor accuracy of the gun, aiming or not aiming for someone didn't really change much. Just fire more bullets and increase the chance of winning. hitting something.

In the late 18th century and 19th century in particular the napoleonic wars. 'sniping' as we would call it today or specifically targetting specific people become a thing with the invention of rifled muskets and actually being able to hit someone accurately.

I don't think any [regular professional] army would have actually prevented themselves from doing it if they were capable of doing such prior to the napoleonic war.


Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
To my knowledge in early modern European warfare it was generally known and accepted that battle casualties among officers were always higher than among the rank and file. "Noblesse oblige" and all that. It was a job hazzard. If there was an upside to it, if you were one of the surviving officers in an army at war you were pretty much guaranteed swift promotion.

Add to that how the battles themselves rarely inflicted more than a fraction of the human losses on army. The rank and file were more prone to catch something deadly in camp relative the officers, so general survival rate on campaign still relatively favoured them. Even if the job involved leading from the front, setting examples by risking your life while making yourself a HUGE target for the fellers on the other side.
May 2011
Navan, Ireland
If I remember correctly through the 18th century (and perhaps before) it was considered 'ungentle manly' to aim at an individual especially during set battles (outpost duty presumably could be different). Troops fired massed volleys at each other through a haze of smoke , cannons fired at a mass of men so there was no need to make it a 'personal' thing and aim at an individual.

Rifles obviously change this but while they had been around for some timethe 'economics' of war meant that most were armed with smoothbore muskets.

With the French Revolution there starts to be a change in tactic, French armies advance in column but they are preceded by a mass of skirmishers --initially the 'mass' were the poorly trained but enthusiastic volunteers/revolutionaries and the skirmishers the trained ex-royalist troops later this developed into regiments of specialist Light Infantry.

Now this is not 'new' irregulars had always existed as had rifles and the typical infantry battalion (at least in British service) had a 'specialist' Grenadier company and a Light company but the number of French skirmishers increased substantially. Now this skirmishing by its nature means aiming at individuals whether that be other skirmishers or if the enemy doesn't deploy Light infantry their own to counter yours to fire at the main body and 'choice' individuals such as officers (who will often be mounted) makes sense.

Now the British used as much light infantry as the French and there was even a whole 'Light Division' in the Peninsula war but they also introduced into their skirmishers companies of Riflemen from regiments such as the 95th and 60th or from their German and Portuguese allies. Now Rifles by their nature encourage firing at individuals.

It was still not considered the 'done thing' by some but the nature of war was changing.

The 95th had a particular 'bad habit' that Wellington did not approve of (but did not stop) as the armies formed up they would go to picnic in front of the armies with officers from other regiments when they saw a particularly tempting officer they'd set wagers of whether their men could hit him with officers from other regiments.

They'd then call up one of their soldiers for instance Rifleman Plunkett and ask him to fire at the enemy --Plunkett won them more than he lost.

Thomas Plunket - Wikipedia

2nd Bn. 95th Rifles :: Thomas Plunkett: A Pattern for the Battalion
Feb 2016
Britain had light and grenadier companies in the AWI, and several units of light infantry.
Even the line infantry fought in “loose files” a much more open formation than they did in the drill books.

They’d had them in the SYW, light skirmishing infantry was not new to the AWI. The British and Americans fought differently in America than the British and Europeans did in Europe, but that was down to woodland terrain and the small scale of warfare than anything else. And the British had the habit of having to relearn their old lessons.

The 95th and 60th were the first line infantry units to use rifles but not the first riflemen in British military history.

Also, interestingly enough in the SYW highlanders were used as skirmishers as it was thought they were better suited to light infantry fighting than staying in formation.
Mar 2018
Good lord do we have to drag PC into EVERYTHING?
Speaking in an understandable way is PC? I genuinely had no idea what you meant about war of northern aggression. Frankly, deliberately using a non-common name for a war in order to make a point is doing precisely what people hate about political correctness; namely, using unfamiliar language precisely to reframe and give a morale bias to a discussion. You should be ashamed of your fake outrage: you either knew what you were doing and are acting like a spoiler child, or are going out of your way to advertise your personal ignorance.