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Remembering the Guns of the Civil War

By: Friedrich Seiltgen

On this date in 1865, the American Civil War at last came to an end.

The Civil War raged on for four years, beginning on April 12, 1861. Since the first shots were fired by secessionist forces at Fort Sumter until Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, 620,000 Americans were killed, and 1.1 million were wounded.

On this solemn day in our nation’s history, let’s look back at some of the weapons used by the soldiers on both sides.

Pistols
Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver: This was a .44 cap and ball, single action revolver that was the official U.S. Army sidearm used by Union forces. More than 200,000 were produced. Colt also made a Navy version in .36 caliber, although the names had nothing to do with the services; it was merely a marketing ploy by Colt.

LeMat Pistol: This was a .42 caliber, 9-shot, cap and ball revolver with an attached 20 gauge smooth-bore shotgun barrel. The inventor, Jean Alexandre LeMat, hoped to sell the pistol to Dragoon (Cavalry) units. Its weight was a disadvantage, though, and cavalry officers normally carried several pistols, since it was easier to draw a fully loaded pistol instead of trying to reload the LeMat or any other pistol.

Rifles
The 1861 Springfield Rifle: This firearm was a favorite of both Yankee and Confederate forces and was likely responsible for more deaths that any other rifle used in the Civil War.

The Spencer Rifle: This was a .52 caliber lever action rifle with a 7-round tube magazine. More than 200,00 were produced.

The Burnside Carbine: This was a breech-loading, .54 caliber carbine using a new, cone-shaped cartridge that eliminated gas leakage (most of the time) from the breech by sealing the gap between breech and barrel. Although this design helped eliminate gas leakage, the main complaint was that the cartridge would stick in the breech after firing. It had a muzzle velocity of 950 fps and was effective to about 200 yards.

The Henry Rifle: The Henry was a .44 caliber, lever action, breech-loading rifle with a 15-round tubular magazine. The Henry would become known as the basis for the Winchester Rifle – “the gun that won the West.” While the Union only purchased about 1,700 rifles, some soldiers used their re-enlistment bonuses or were well-off enough on their own and purchased about 6,000 Henry rifles for their own, personal use. Owning a Henry was a point of pride. With its large magazine capacity, Confederate Col. John “The Gray Ghost” Mosby complained it was “that damn Yankee rifle that can be loaded on Sunday and fired all week.”

Cannons
1857 Napoleon Field Gun or ‘The Light 12-Pounder’: This muzzle-loading, smooth bore cannon was capable of firing ball shell or grapeshot. It had a 4-round-per-minute rate of fire and was a favorite amongst Civil War gunners due to its combination of relatively light weight and firepower.

10-Pound Parrott Rifle: The Parrott “Rifle” was invented by retired Capt. Robert Parrot in 1860. The Parrott was made of cast iron with a wrought iron band surrounding the breech area for safety. The Parrot was used by both sides, but many soldiers did not like the cannon, as it had a poor reputation for safety.

Getting High-Tech
Nothing stirs the creativity of mankind more than war. Civil War engineers created many new inventions to kill their fellow man. Here are just a few:

The Minié Ball: While not actually a ball, the bullet design of Frenchman Claude-Étienne Minié was a great leap in rifle accuracy and range. The conical-shaped lead round was slightly smaller than the rifle bore and when fired, and the lead expanded creating a seal, which engaged the base of the round to the rifling of the barrel. This created a dramatic increase in range while the spinning of the round increased accuracy.

Coal Torpedo: One of the weapons used during the war that didn’t get much press was the Coal Torpedo. This weapon was basically a metal casting that contained explosives and was then coated in coal dust. The “Torpedo” was slipped into the enemy’s coal supplies and would be unwittingly shoveled into the boiler fire to produce steam for locomotives or ships. Once it reached temperature, the torpedo would explode, taking out the locomotive or sinking the ship!

Gatling Gun: The invention of Dr. Richard Gatling, the Gatling gun saw limited service in the Civil War. The Gatling was used quite effectively at the battle of Petersburg by its biggest fan, Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, who procured 12 Gatling Guns at $1,000 a piece for his unit by privately purchasing them! How’s that for your Second Amendment!

Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He currently conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in The Counter Terrorist Magazine, Homeland Security Today and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at polizei22@msn.com.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.