The Weapons of the American Civil War

The Civil War, also called The War Between the States, was one of the bloodiest wars in American history. What made the Civil War such a massacre? The Civil War was such a bloodbath because the technological advances were so far superior to the tactics of the infantry, that the weapons virtually obliterated the soldiers. Soldiers would form lines known as a battalions. In these battalions, soldiers would basically march to their deaths. In addition to weapons doing so much damage, fortification on the battlefield was far more advanced than had ever been before. The Cheveau-de-frise was the main focus of armored fortification in the Civil War.

This fortification consisted of 10 to 12 foot logs with large spiked-shaped, wooden stakes attached to the top of them. The Cheveau-de-frise would hold soldiers at bay while the opposing soldiers dismantled the battalion with cannons and rifles. Between the fortification and the weapons, humans did not have the slightest chance of survival. 1 Part I: Union Weapons and Artillery The Union used many weapons in the Civil War. Among these, the most popular was the Model 1861 Springfield Musket, manufactured in the North for $15 to $20 to the government at The Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The rifle weighed 9. 25 pounds, was 58. 5 inches in total length, it came with a triangular 21 inch socket bayonet and fired a . 58 caliber conical shot at a velocity of 950 feet per second. The company produced an improved rifle in 1863, but the Model 1861 was the most widely used model in the Civil War. 2 Union soldiers mainly used this weapon for the improved accuracy and distance of the shot. According to author Francis Lord, in his book Civil War Collector’s Encyclopedia: Arms, Uniforms and Equipment of the Union and Confederacy, this weapon saw action in every battle of the Civil War.

The soldiers proclaimed the Model 1861 as a “dependable masterpiece. ” 3 In addition to the Model 1861, the Spencer rifle also contributed to the success of the Union forces. The most substantial amenity to this weapon was the rate of fire. Most Southern soldiers could fire their muzzleloaders at three rounds per minute. The Spencer shattered the Confederate weapon and boosted the fire rate to 14 rounds per minute with the weapons built in primer. In addition to being such a powerful asset when in control by the Union forces, the Spencer was also helpful when scavengers from the Confederacy tried to fire the weapon.

The reason for this is ammunition. The ammunition for this weapon was so limited that the Southern forces would basically find it useless. 4 Although the Model 1861 and the Spencer were the primary weapons for Union soldiers, their side arms were equally important. The Colt Army Model 1860 was the most popular sidearm among the Union army. The Colt Model 1860 was a . 44 caliber six shot weapon which weighed 2 pounds 11 ounces. At $13. 75, the Colt Army Revolver was much more expensive than those made by Remington or Starr.

Production for the Colt Model 1860 ceased in November 1863. This pistol was the main weapon carried by upper class lieutenants, colonels, and generals throughout the war. 5 Another side arm that was popular among the Union forces was the Starr Revolver. The . 44 caliber six shot weighed almost three pounds and could be shot multiple ways. The Starr could use a combustible cartridge or could be fired by use of loose gun powder and ball. The government threatened the company (Starr) by saying they were going to move to a cheaper model of sidearm if the weapons price did not reside.

Starr complied and began manufacturing the weapon for twelve dollars; the Union forces purchased 25,000 of these revolvers. Whereas the Model 1861 and the Colt Army Model 1860 were the premier weapons used on the battlefront, bladed weapons were still in use with deadly force. The most widely used of these weapons was the sword, but only cavalry used this weapon for charges early in the war. The sword was also used to show proof of rank, but towards the end of the war was replaced by a more efficient weapon.

Colonel Mosby once remarked “. the only real use for a sword was to hold a piece of meat over a fire for frying. “6 The Union army, unlike the Confederates, had multiple companies that provided simple, yet devastating weapons. One of these weapons was the . 52 caliber breech-loading Billinghurst-Requa battery; it was produced only 50 times. This weapon consisted of 25 rifled barrels side by side that, when primed, were set off by a lanyard to inflict massive damage over a small range of territory. 7 The Union forces also produced many long range artillery weapons.

Unlike the Confederates, who used Howitzers; the Union Army used mortars. The short-squat mortar, as it was called, was originally used by the Ottoman’s in 1453. The mortars operated by the Union were primarily used to hurl shells over walls or into large concentrations of enemy soldiers. In addition to lobbing bombs over walls, the mortars were also extremely effective in dismantling naval forces. The mortars could be shot from miles inland, therefore Confederate naval forces never saw the bombs coming. The mortar weighed 17,120 pounds and could fire a 220 pound bomb 4,325 yards.

There were smaller versions of these mortars (the 300 lb Coehorn mortar with a 5. 8 inch bore that hurled an 18 pound shell), but they saw very little activity on the battlefield. 8 The Union forces also used another form of artillery called the Parrot rifle. The difference between the mortar and the rifle was basically that the mortar had a higher trajectory and lower muzzle velocity while the rifle was more of a straight line shot with an extremely high muzzle velocity. The Parrot rifle was constructed of bronze, which was very strong, but, when fired, would wear down easily.

Parrot rifles were made in the North for $187 to the government. But, since the bronze was so weak, the manufacturers had to use something stronger and more durable. Manufacturers turned to cast iron. This worked well for some time until the iron would crack, leaving the rifle useless. 9 Part II: Confederate Weapons and Artillery Although the Union had many powerful weapons, soldiers from the Southern states had a much wider array of weapons. The British manufactured the main rifle for the Confederates. The Whitworth, as it was called, was a 49 inch muzzle loader.

The weapon had a . 451 inch bore and was remarkably accurate. The weapon fired an unusual type of ammunition. The ammunition was a six sided hexagonal “bolt”, and could be fired roughly 1,800 yards with the telescopic sight correctly attached. The improved accuracy and and the shortened length of this weapon is undoubtedly the reasons the Confederate soldiers continually used it. 10 Another powerful, reliable weapon the Confederates used was the Enfield. The Enfileds were imported from Britain and got their name from the factory which they were manufactured in Enfield, England.

The Enfield weighed in at a very hefty nine pounds three ounces with the bayonet connected. The ammunition was very comparable to the mini ball that was fired by the Model 1861 Springfield Musket. Rumor has it that the Enfield was extremely accurate from 800 yards and moderately accurate from 1,100. The Confederacy’s orders for this weapon far out weighed the Union by a 400,000 to 50,000 differential. The Enfield was the South’s second choice for weapons under the Whitworth. 11 The most widely used side arm among Confederates was the Le Mat Revolver. This foreign pistol was invented by a French surgeon in 1856.

The Le Mat was a very odd pistol to use. The weapon had the dual-barrel design, which was its first odd quality. The second being that the weapon fired nine . 40 caliber rounds out of the top barrel, and the bottom barrel served as a small shotgun packed with buckshot. The weapon, although in small quantity at the beginning of the war, became extremely well liked. After Le Mat, the inventor, learned of his weapons success, he moved to France to begin mass production. The pistols that were fabricated in France, however, were of terrible quality and were unserviceable by Southern standards. The Confederates used the pistols for the same reasons as the Union forces.

The weapon was used to show ranking. It was not meant for a lot of use on the battlefield, except for when calvary members or higher ranking leaders ran out of ammunition. The South, however, had a hard time getting the pistols to their leaders and calvary members. After the issues with the Le Mat and other pistols that were generally unreliable, Southern pistol carriers were always short of them. So, many of the pistols were scavenged from soldiers who had been wounded or killed on the battlefield.

Confederate soldiers would pick up these weapons regardless of what kind they were or how they looked. Even with the pistol shortage and unreliable companies, the Confederates had, by historical standards, decent weaponry throughout the duration of the Civil War. Even though it appeared as if the rifles and pistols were lacking at times, the artillery was always something to boast about. The Confederates used a unique design of artillery called a howitzer. The Howitzer was different from a gun in that more arc was applied, but still maintained much less arc than a mortar.

In addition to the arc, the Howitzer varied between the two on muzzle velocity. The Howitzer was also extremely useful against large concentrations of soldiers. Confederates would used balls that were filled with shrapnel. When the ball got just over the heads of its enemies, it would explode and send the shrapnel flying through the air, destroying everything in its path. 13 The most notable Howitzer used by the rebel forces was called the Napoleon. The Napoleon was a lethal force on the battlefield during the Civil War.

The Napoleon was noted for its deadly accuracy as an artillery piece as well as the diversity of ammunition it could fire. The Napoleon could fire a single shot, which was just a large 12 pound ball. It could also fire shell and case rounds, which were shrapnel filled pieces. When enemy forces were within 600 yards, though, all hell broke loose. Within this range, the Napoleon was filled with a canister. When filled with a canister, the Napoleon acted as an extremely large shotgun. The Confederates liked the Napoleon more than other Howitzer models because it was safer.

The barrel was made of a bonze metal, which was much safer than the other models iron barrel. The bronze barrel proved to be much stronger against exploding and killing the operating crew of the Howitzer. 14 In addition to Whitworth rifles, the English also produced Whitworth cannons. The Whitworth was used quite a bit at the beginning of the war until defenses became to strong for the cannon to do any damage. The cannon, unlike the Napoleon, had a rather odd configuration. The bore was a hexagonal, spiral shaped hole in which only perfectly fitting artillery ammunition could fit.

The Napoleon, as mentioned before, could house many different artillery pieces for different ranges and modes of attack. In many cases with the Whitworth, as well as most of the weaponry the rebels used throughout the Civil War, the pieces did not quite match. Pieces of the weapon may have been part of the Union breech loaders that were captured earlier in the war. With the Confederacy’s combination of parts and pieces, they were able to formulate some pretty destructive weapons over the course of the war. 15 The backbone of the Confederate army arose when Capt. John Brooke developed a breech loader of his own.

The Brooke rifle was made of cast iron with wrapped wrought iron bands tightly reinforcing the barrel, incase of an explosion. The weapon was most likely manufactured with a 3 inch bore. The reason for this is because it was extremely light (900 pounds) and could easily be moved by men on the battlefield or by very few horses. The Brooke rifle had amazing range for its size. The weapon could hurl a 9 pound shell well over 3,500 yards, which was quite a feat back in those technological dark ages. 16 The final artillery piece that was widely used by the Confederate forces was the Blakely cannon.

The Blakely was imported to the South from England, just had the Whitworth rifle and breech loader had been. The Blakely, like the Napoleon, had a large bore (10 inches) and was able to fire multiple types of ammunition. Unlike the Napoleon or the Whitworth, the Blakely was constructed of steel, as opposed to iron or bronze. The large Blakely was capable of firing shells weighing almost 475 pounds over 2,000 yards. There was, however, one main problem with the Blakely, the recoil. The Blakely had such a powerful recoil that in many instances it would take out soldiers standing closely behind it.

The South used this weapon to its fullest extent early in the war, but when weapons such as the Napoleon and the Whitworth were brought to the market, the Blakely became obsolete. 17 Part III: Civil War Defense Systems The Civil War was considered the first modern war for the United States of America. The war was home to many innovative weapons, cannons, and defense techniques. As mentioned earlier, the Chevaux-de-Frise was a pretty well formulated defense effort. With its large stakes and great length, the Chevaux-de-Frise was the ultimate fortification device as well.

In addition to the Chevaux-de-Frise, trenches proved to be quite a fashionable defense effort. Soldiers would dig these trenches prior to the battle, then lay in them. Although less technological than those used in World War I or II, they were still pretty effective. The trenches were anywhere from three to eight feet deep, depending on how long the battle was predicted to last. The three foot “dugouts” were mainly used after quick spurts for landing in to avoid enemy fire. The larger trenches, on the other hand, were basically camp outs.

Although they were rat infested, dingy, and dirty; the soldiers still used them to their maximum capabilities. Between the trenches and the Chevaux-de-Frise, defense systems were at an all time high for their times. Part IV: Prisoners and Weapons That Need No Ammunition Prisoners in the Civil War, when caught, were stripped of everything except the bare essentials. There weapons were taken, their food was eaten, their water was used for drinking, their boots were put on the opposing forces feet, and their dignity, most of all, was stripped. In the early stages of the war, prisoners were exchanged on the front in the midst of fighting.

If the Union soldiers captured a captain, they would expect a captain in return for him. Only then did the Confederacy and the Union create holding camps (prisons) for their captured soldiers. Among the most famous were the Andersonville prison and the Elmira prison. The first of these, Andersonville of Georgia, was the primary prison camp of the Confederacy. The prison, at its peak, consisted of 20 foot high log walls and covered an enormous 26 acres. Andersonville was large, and highly fortificated, but for obvious reason was always extremely crowded and disease infested.

With no apparent medical attention, infectious diseases such as Gangrene ran rapid. Other diseases including malaria, scurvy, and dysentery claimed more lives than ever thought imaginable. In addition to the diseases that were infecting everything, rations were so poor soldiers had not a chance of survival even if the diseases were nonexistent. Andersonville was home to more that 45,000 Union soldiers, 30 percent of them died due to starvation or disease. 18 The Union version of Andersonville, called Elmira prison, was equally as unsanitary. Elmira, on the other hand, did provide a slightly more shelter than that of Andersonville.

Elmira was an abandoned military barracks that was turned into a prison. Although shelter was better, it was only better for the half of the imprisoned soldiers it housed. Twelve thousand enlisted soldiers eventually found their way to Elmira’s 40 acre camp. An average of over 1,000 men claimed to be sick each day and 36 percent (2,960 roughly) of the men died before the end of the war. With disease running rampid, weapons that obliterated soldiers, and defense systems to hold the men at bay, chances of survival during the Civil War were extremely limited. 19

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