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American Civil War Weapons

List of weapons in the American Civil War

American Civil War Weapons were used during 1861-1865 by Union and Confederate troops. It was considered the first "modern" war in history. The American Civil War saw development in existing weapons, such as rifles, and the use of new weapons.

Handheld firearms

  • Colt revolvers- The most popular version in the Union was the Colt Army Model 1860, which was a .44 caliber six-shot revolver. The double-action revolver was briefly used in the Western theatre of the war, until the U.S. Ordinance Department persuaded Starr Arms Co. to create a single-action variant after the discontinuation of the Colt. The company eventually complied, and the Union acquired 25,000 of the single-action revolvers for $12 each.
  • Remington Model 1858- Colt's chief competitor, Remington Repeating Arms Company,also made revolvers during the Civil War. The most common one was the Remington Model 1858. This pistol was highly liked by troops. The Remington had a quick cylinder release catch which made reloading much faster. It was also cheaper than the Colt. It was used by large quantities during the war.
  • LeMat revolver- This revolver was perhaps the most well-known foreign designed revolver in the Civil War. It had two barrels, one on top of the other. The top barrel could fire up to nine .40 calibre revolver bullets, the bottom could fire a 16 gauge shotgun shot, making it a deadly weapon. The creator, a French doctor living in New Orleans, Jean Alexander François Le Mat, moved back to France to create more revolvers for the Confederacy. The French-made revolvers, however, were unreliable, and he eventually contracted Belgian and English companies.
  • In addition, stocks were made that could be screwed onto the butt of the pistol. The stock allowed the handgun to be held at the shoulder, increasing range and accuracy.

Rifles, carbines, and muskets

  • Springfield Model 1861- The Springfield Model 1861 was the most widely used shoulder arm during the Civil War. It was favored for its range, accuracy, and reliability. The barrel was 40 inches long, firing a .58 calibre Minie ball, and the total weight was approximately 9 pounds. The Springfield had an effective range of almost 600 paces, and used percussion caps to fire (rather than the flintlocks of the 1700s, the last U.S. flintlock musket was the Model 1840). The most notable difference between the Model 1861 and the earlier Model 1855 was the elimination of the Maynard tape primer for the Model 1861. (The Maynard primer, a self-feeding primer system, was unreliable in damp weather,and the priming mechanism was expensive and time-consuming to produce.) Further, unlike the Model 1855, the Model 1861 was never produced in a two-banded "rifle" configuration.The Springfield Rifle cost $20 each at the Springfield Armory where they were officially made. Overwhelmed by the demand, the armory opened its weapons patterns up to twenty private contractors. The most notable producer of contract Model 1861 Springfields was Colt, who made several minor design changes in their version, the "Colt Special" rifled musket. These changes included redesigned barrel bands, a new hammer, and a redesigned bolster. Several of these changes were eventually adopted by the Ordnance Department and incorporated into the model 1863 rifled musket.
  • Pattern 1853 Enfield- The Enfield 1853 Rifled Musket was used by both the North and the South in the American Civil War, and was the second most widely used infantry weapon in the war, surpassed only by the Springfield Model 1861 Rifled Musket. The Confederates imported more Enfields during the course of the war than any other small arm, buying from private contractors and gun runners when the British government refused to sell them arms after it became obvious that the Confederacy could not win the war. It has been estimated that over 900,000 P53 Enfields were imported to America and saw service in every major engagement from the Battle of Shiloh (April, 1862) and the Siege of Vicksburg (May 1863), to the final battles of 1865. At the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2nd, 1863, the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry, led by Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, were armed with Enfield 1853 Rifled Muskets during their famous bayonet charge against a relentless attack by Confederate Forces attempting to destroy the left flank of the Union Army on Little Round Top.
  • Sharps rifle- The Sharps rifle (also known as the Berdan Sharps rifle) was a falling block rifle used during and after the American Civil War. It was able to use a standard percussion cap, the Sharps had a fairly unusual pellet primer feed. This was a device which held a stack of pelleted primers that flipped one over the nipple every time the trigger was pulled and the hammer fell. This was much easier to operate from horseback than individual percussion caps.

The Sharps Rifle was used in the Civil War by the U.S. Army sharpshooters known popularly as "Berdan's Sharpshooters" in honor of their leader Hiram Berdan. The Sharps made a superior sniper weapon of higher accuracy than the more commonly issued muzzle-loading rifled-muskets. This was due mainly to the higher rate of fire of the breech loading mechanism and the fact that the quality of manufacture was superior. It was produced by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in Hartford, CT. The Carbine version was very popular with the cavalry of both the Union and Confederate armies and was issued in much larger numbers than the full length rifle. The falling block action lent itself to conversion to the new metallic cartridges developed in the late 1860s, and many of these converted carbines in .50-70 Gov't were used during the Indian Wars in the decades immediately following the Civil War

The Spencer repeating rifle was a manually operated lever-action, repeating rifle fed from a tube magazine with cartridges. It was adopted by the Union Army, especially by the cavalry, during the American Civil War, but did not replace the standard issue muzzle-loading rifled muskets in use at the time. The Spencer carbine was a shorter and lighter version. The design was completed by Christopher Spencer in 1860, and was for a magazine-fed, lever-operated rifle chambered for the .56–56 rim fire cartridge. Unlike later cartridge designations, the first number referred to the diameter of the case at the head, while the second number referred to the diameter at the mouth; the actual bullet diameter was .52 inches. Cartridges were loaded with 45 grains (2.9 g) of black powder.

To use the Spencer, a lever had to be worked to extract the used shell and feed a new cartridge from the tube. Like the Dreyse breech-loader, the hammer then had to be manually cocked in a separate action. The weapon used rim fire cartridges stored in a seven-round tube magazine, enabling the rounds to be fired one after another. When empty, the tube could be rapidly loaded either by dropping in fresh cartridges or from a device called the Blakeslee Cartridge Box, which contained up to ten tubes with seven cartridges each, which could be emptied in the magazine tube in the butt stock.[1]

There were also .56–52, .56–50, and even a few .56–46 versions of the cartridge created, which were necked down versions of the original .56–56. Cartridge length was limited by the action size to about 1.75 inches, and the later calibres used a smaller diameter, lighter bullet and larger powder charge to increase the power and range over the original .56–56 cartridge, which, while about as powerful as the .58 calibre rifled musket of the time, was underpowered by the standards of other early cartridges such as the .50–70 and .45-70.

Grenades

It is a little known fact that the Civil War did have crude hand grenades equipped with a plunger that would detonate the device upon impact of the target. The North relied on experimental Ketchum Grenades, with a tail to ensure the nose would strike the target and start the fuse. The Confederacy used spherical hand grenades that weighed about six pounds, sometimes with a paper fuse. They also used Rains and Adams grenades, which were similar to the Ketchum in appearance and mechanism.

Gatling Gun

The Gatling Gun was a multi-barrelled, .58 calibre repeating machine gun that was capable of firing off 1000 rounds per minute that was created by Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling. The cartridges were fed by a hand crank. As the crank was turned, a barrel revolved into place before the breech, a cartridge was inserted and fitted, and the empty shell was extracted in a continuous cycle.

As there were multiple barrels, a Gatling gun could be fired for long periods of time without overheating. It was not as popular as common rifles, and saw very little action in the Civil War.

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