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The Weapons of the American Civil War

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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

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