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August 26, 2002

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

See this post and others like it at Blog Critics.

The 1632/1633 review was pretty well received over at Blogcritics, with most of the comments on the book running warm to hot in favor of it. Among the dissenters was James of Hell in a Handbasket, who had read the book but felt it failed the suspension of disbelief test in two areas;

The book showed great promise, started with an interesting situation, and then kind of fell flat. The "psychological attack" was one weak spot, another was when the local sheriff stops a calvary troop charging straight for him with his .40 handgun.

Gee, I wish MY handguns could do that.


The psychological attack he refers to is one similar to what the US Army did to Noriega in Panama, in that the translocated miners play 20th century music at soldiers in a castle under siege. While I'll admit that the scene does feel like Flint created it after a 6-pack and too much CNN Panamanian war coverage, I think that James is underestimating the terrifying effect that "Positively Fourth Street" would have on 17th century foot soldiers.

His other criticism deals with this excerpt from 1632.

Dan hefted the pistol in his hand, watching the oncoming cavalrymen. For a moment, he was tempted to draw the weapon in his holster and shoot two-handed. The notion appealed to his sense of history. Sid Hatfield, by all accounts, had fought so at Matewan. A weapon in each hand, as he gunned down the company goons from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency.

Firmly, he suppressed the notion. True, family legend claimed that Sid Hatfield, the sheriff who led the coal miners in their shoot-out with the company goons at Matewan, had been a distant relative. But Dan was skeptical of the tale. Practically everyone he knew claimed to be related to the Hatfield clan, the West Virginia half of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud.

Still, Dan was tempted. Whether or not Sid Hatfield was a blood relative, he was most certainly an ancestral spirit. Company goons or Croats, his town was under attack.

But that was in the old days, when police officers were not really professionals. So Dan resisted the amateurish whimsy, and brought up the .40-caliber automatic in a proper two-handed grip. The first line of horsemen was forty yards away.

The first wheel locks were discharged at him. Dan ignored the shots. As inaccurate as the weapons were, especially on a galloping horse, he would only be hit by blind chance.

As he started squeezing the trigger, Dan forced another thought out of his mind. That was a much more difficult struggle. Dan disapproved strongly of cruelty to animals, and he was especially fond of horses. Still—


He emptied the twelve-round clip, methodically mowing down the horses in the front of the charge. Most of his shots struck the cavalry mounts in the chest or throat, killing several of them outright. Even those horses that were only wounded stumbled and fell, spilling themselves and their riders. Then other horses, uninjured by bullets, began stumbling over the corpses. Within half a minute, the charge had piled up like water hitting a dam.

Long before those thirty seconds expired, however, the street had become a charnel house. As soon as Dan's first shot went off, the deputies and armed citizens in the upstairs windows began firing their weapons. The range was point-blank, and the street below was packed with horsemen. Due to their excitement and fear, many of the citizens—and not a few of the deputies—missed practically every shot they fired. It hardly mattered. It was almost impossible for a bullet not to hit something.

As I do not have the handgun horsekilling experience necessary to respond adequately to the argument, I turned to a man who might, the FusilierPundit. Fuze went to great pains to profess his love of all things equine before he proceeded with the discussion on how to kill them.

Jeff Cooper (PBUH) calls felling a horse a task for a rifle. Stopping a charging (toward-the-shooter) horse (full-size, what? 1 ton? armored?) with rider (armored?) within 40 yards requires shot placement to an internal organ that results in immediate stop. Heart or brain. Horse's small brain is in sorta small thick head at end of long neck that moves the head around enough to rule that shot right out. The bullet would have to be FMJ to penetrate the tack (if any), muscles and lungs and reach heart. Any hits on heavy bone are wasted in this caliber. FMJ is an unlikely choice for someone carrying a .40 for non-military purposes, an expanding bullet is more likely, which opens up and penetrates to less depth.

(Not knowing horse anatomy) the frontal area presented by a horse looks very muscular, too much material to penetrate to the vitals with the .40. Your shooter would have to empty the magazine in two seconds, leaving the third and fourth seconds for the horse and rider to collapse in front of him, instead of upon him. More likely outcome, the horse slows down from hemothorax, pneumothorax, or pulmonary edema, and collapses of asphyxiation ~5 minutes after the dismounted shooter has been stomped into the turf.

If the .40 is all the shooter has, well, Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum . . . aim for the _rider_. Even if the rider is armored in steel,
even if the bullets are hollerpoints. A riderless horse is, well, riderless.

So it's possible, maybe, but not likely. Fuze may have more thoughts after he reads the passage above. Flint does leave himself wiggle room by not specifying how many horses were in the front rank, and the sheriff is not a lone shooter, after all. I'll have to agree with James that it is one of the weaker spots in the book. To give credit where credit is due, Flint does bring David Weber to co-write 1633. Weber is fairly well known for his knowledge of military history, which presumably would give similar scenes in 1632 a more realistic ring.

Posted by Bigwig at August 26, 2002 10:01 PM | TrackBack
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