Civil War Firearms

by Daniel Russ on April 30, 2011

Post image for Civil War Firearms Springfield 1861

Prior to the American Civil War, the north was where one found the affluence, the factories and the best schools in America. That said, one imagines that the unfolding civil conflict created an immediate demand for weaponry, and a race to see which side could produce or purchase the best. This favored the Union Army that circulated within a very short amount of time, two years as it turns out, some 3.5 million rifled firearms.  The fact is, European manufacturers saw an immediate way to make a ton of money by dumping several hundred thousand rifled carbones of varying calibers and unfortunately mostly shoddy workmanship. This was odd, as European manufacturing tended towards very small tolerances and fine engineering. I guess even back then they decided to make a buck first and a great rifle second. But England, Germany, Prussia, France and Belgium did themselves no favors.

So the US Army Model 1841, later called the Mississippi Rifle ( as it was supplied to Jefferson Davis’ First Mississippi Infantry during the Mexican American War ) was probably the finest rifled carbine on the battlefields of North America

In 1863. The .54 caliber rifles were often taken back to Connecticut factories where they were re-bored to .58 caliber so they could fire Mini-Balls. The Springfield Armory made some 700,000 US Army Model 1861 carbines.

The Southerners did get their hands on two really good rifles, one was the Enfield Model 1855 which could fire the .58 Mini Balls and could hit a target a mile away.

The vast majority of weapons the Southerners used were smoothbore muskets, which were accurate up to about 50 yards, and beyond that were likely to hit and kill the man next to the one they aimed at. Lucky for them, it was common in battle to have infantry march shoulder to shoulder, not unlike the European infantry companies of the last four centuries. The second rifle the southerners got their hands on were Union carbines after Lee conquered Union armies at First Manassas, and Chickmauga, literally picking them up off of the battlefield. As supply of good firearms never met the demand from Southern forces, so they were likely to upgrade their weapons if a fallen comrade dropped his.

This was a nasty event that meant they would in fact have to remove from the fallen, or wounded and still alive comrade, his weapons, his ammunition, powder and wadding.

.58 Caliber Union Minnie Ball

From the comment thread

You seem to use the terms rifle and carbine interchangeably. There were five types of long arms used during the War Between the States: muskets, rifled-muskets (commonly referred to as ‘rifles’), carbines, and shotguns. Each of these is a distinct type of firearm and are not interchangeable.

Muskets are smooth bores and most of the soldiers on BOTH sides were thus armed at the beginning of the conflict. Most of the imported European (non-British) arms were of this type. Many were flintlocks, but subsequently converted to percussion.

By late 1862, however, the bulk of all infantry forces were armed with rifled-muskets of various types – mostly in .58 caliber. The Mississippi Rifle and Springfield 1861 you mentioned are definitely rifles and not carbines. Often, muskets were converted to rifles, but generally issued to rear area troops or militia. In the south, this was particularly true of the militia.

Carbines are much shorter arms, still retaining the other characteristics of muskets or rifles but with a shorter effective range, and generally issued to cavalry and artillery units (though Southern infantry would secure and use them if it was a better weapon than they had). There were a wide variety of these in many calibers. Most of the innovations in breech loading occurred with these arms (generally with Union cavalry).

Shotguns abounded with the Southern militia. Southern cavalry also used them extensively, usually cutting them to a shorter length.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David Couvillon May 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm

You seem to use the terms rifle and carbine interchangeably. There were five types of long arms used during the War Between the States: muskets, rifled-muskets (commonly referred to as ‘rifles’), carbines, and shotguns. Each of these is a distinct type of firearm and are not interchangeable.

Muskets are smooth bores and most of the soldiers on BOTH sides were thus armed at the beginning of the conflict. Most of the imported European (non-British) arms were of this type. Many were flintlocks, but subsequently converted to percussion.

By late 1862, however, the bulk of all infantry forces were armed with rifled-muskets of various types – mostly in .58 caliber. The Mississippi Rifle and Springfield 1861 you mentioned are definitely rifles and not carbines. Often, muskets were converted to rifles, but generally issued to rear area troops or militia. In the south, this was particularly true of the militia.

Carbines are much shorter arms, still retaining the other characteristics of muskets or rifles but with a shorter effective range, and generally issued to cavalry and artillery units (though Southern infantry would secure and use them if it was a better weapon than they had). There were a wide variety of these in many calibers. Most of the innovations in breech loading occurred with these arms (generally with Union cavalry).

Shotguns abounded with the Southern militia. Southern cavalry also used them extensively, usually cutting them to a shorter length.

Daniel Russ May 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Thank you!!!!

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