A Rifleman in No Man's Land
America's First Freedom, January, has my article "A Rifleman in No Man's Land." (It's not in the online edition). I'll post scans of some of the correspondence mentioned in it. The core of the article is that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was a fad of military anti-marksmanship, which NRA fought against. The theory was that most riflemen couldn't hit a target anyway (and there were proposals to remove the sights and replace them with a level, the officer calling out the proper elevation!). Marksmanship taught pride and independence, which were the ruination of good discipline.
In World War I, the standard British and French training was to rush home with the bayonet. If men stopped to shoot, they'd go prone, and the advance would stop. The one problem with this approach was that the attackers were butchered and the attack failed. Still this approach won over Sec. of War Newton Baker. American troops were trained in trench fighting with knife and grenade, not with rifles.
NRA's head, Col. William Libby, was a professor at Princeton when President Woodrow Wilson taught there, and they were good friends. General Pershing, sent to Europe to prepare for his troops' arrival, was a serious competitive shooter. The two lobbied President Wilson and Secretary Baker, and in the end won out.
This December 1916 letter from Col. Libby to the President asks for a personal meeting. It's also interesting to illustrate how NRA was then virtually a quasi-government agency. The NRA and the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice share one letterhead.
This letter from Secretary Baker announces that General Pershing has won him over to rifle skills. "This will confirm the opinion that Colonel Libbey expressed to you and, of course, completely upsets the view which I had expressed to you." He announces that soon "a large amount of practice ammunition will be in the hands of the soldiers, and suitable ranges provided for extensive practice." (Note the practice in governmental letters of putting the address at the bottom rather than top of the page).
President Wilson's response to the Secretary notes "It would tickle Colonel Libbey to death if I could show it to him, and it is very generous of you to send it to me."
So the NRA played a major role in WWI -- that of keeping American troops from being butchered. Not a bad historical niche.
UPDATE: I'd urge any reader to cast a vote. It's a vote for Lowell Baeir for Conservationist of the Year. He's a hunter and shooter and life member of NRA and president of Boone & Crockett. He's trailing a fly fisherman by 40+ votes right now, so your aid may be critical, for a good guy. You can cast your vote here. For more info on Lowell, click here.