SMALL ARMS

 

In 1855 the U.S. Army adopted a .58-caliber rifled musket to replace the .69-caliber smoothbore. The new infantry weapon was muzzle loaded, its rifled barrel taking a hollow-based cylindroconical bullet slightly smaller than the diameter of the bore. The loading procedure required the soldier to withdraw a paper cartridge containing powder and bullet from his cartridge box, tear open one end of the cartridge with his teeth, pour the powder into the muzzle, place the bullet in the muzzle, and ram it to the breech using a metal ramrod. The soldier then placed a copper percussion cap on a hollow cone at the breech. To fire the weapon, he cocked the hammer; when he pulled the trigger, the hammer struck the cap and ignited the powder charge in the breech. Each soldier was expected to be capable of loading and firing three aimed shots per minute. Although the maximum range of a rifled musket was sometimes over 1,000 yards, actual fields of fire were often very short, with musketry relying on volume at close range rather than accuracy at long range.

The basic ammunition load for each infantry soldier was forty rounds in the cartridge box. When more action was expected, twenty additional rounds were issued to each soldier, who placed them in his uniform pockets or knapsack. In addition, 100 rounds per man were held in the brigade or division trains and another 100 rounds in the corps trains.

At the beginning of the war, a shortage of rifled muskets on both sides forced the Northern and Southern governments to issue the older smoothbore weapons and purchase weapons from European nations. As the war progressed, more soldiers were armed with rifled weapons; though late in the war some troops on both sides still carried smoothbores.

Officers generally carried both single-and multiple-shot handguns. The types of handguns used by both sides were innumerable; however, two of the most common were six-shot revolvers produced by Colt and Remington, in both .36- and .44-caliber.

The Union cavalry was initially armed with sabers and handguns but soon added breech-loading carbines. In addition to Sharps and Spencer carbines, dozens of other types of breech-loaders, from .52- to .56-caliber, were issued. Confederate cavalrymen might be armed with a wide variety of handguns, shotguns, muzzle-loading carbines, or captured Federal weapons.

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TABLE 3: TYPICAL CIVIL WAR SMALL ARMS

Weapon
Effective Range
(in yards)
Theoretical
Rate of Fire
(in rounds/minute)
U.S. rifled musket,
Muzzle loaded, .58-caliber
400-600
3
English Enfield rifled musket,
Muzzle loaded, .577-caliber
400-600
3
Smoothbore musket,
Muzzle loaded, .69-caliber
100-200
3

Source: Ernest F. Fisher, Jr., "Weapons and Equipment Evolution and Its Influence Upon the Organization and Tactics in the American Army, 1775-1963," Unpubl Ms, Office of the Chief of Military History, 1963, File 2-3.7, AB.Z, U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH), Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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