|Weapons used during the Civil War
The weapons, which soldiers used during
the Civil War, were crude but deadly. Some of the more common weapons were cannons, breech
loading rifle, pistols, and swords. Guns were useful for short distance fighting but
proved too inaccurate for long-range shooting. This due to the fact that the guns did not
have grooves in the barrel in order to get the speed to kill.
The cannons were among the most dreaded weapons of all. These
cannons shot out heavy balls of lead which were made to explode on impact. If some
soldiers were crammed in a group, one cannon ball was usually more than enough to kill all
of them in a single shot. Below are information and the weapons used.
The Shoulder Arm
The shoulder arms; the rifle, the smooth-bore,
and the shotgun, were the most important weapons of the Civil War. Great technical
improvements made to these weapons in the first half of the 19th century were tested and
improved upon during the war years.
The rifled barrel improved range and accuracy, the breech-loading
system made reloading faster, and the percussion lock increased reliability. These
developments brought the shoulder arm into the modern age, and ensured that the War of
Secession would be the bloodiest the nation had ever known.
In 1861, both sides were ill-prepared for a war. The Confederacy had
only about 150,000 shoulder arms, most of which were really out-of-date. When the call for
volunteers went out, young men, especially in the South, were urged to show up with their
own weapons. And that they did, with anything they could get their hands on: shotguns,
squirrel guns, and giant .75 caliber "smoke poles" which, it was said, would
"kick farther than they would shoot!"
With the Civil War came the adoption of the rifled musket. It used a
"minie ball," a cone-shaped lead bullet which made it possible to rapidly load
and fire a rifle. The new bullet made the rifle an effective weapon because it extended
the range and increased the accuracy of the gun. The musket was accurate only at a short
range, but the rifle was deadly at 600 yards or more. For example, the Model 1861
Springfield rifle had a range of 300 to 400 yards and could kill at 1,000 yards. By the
last year of the war, some Union soldiers had repeating rifles that allowed them to fire
Like shoulder arms, side arms appeared in many forms during the
Civil War. A few months of duty were usually enough to convince an infantryman that for
him a pistol was useless weight; a rifle was all he needed. Foot soldiers often sold or
traded their side arms before long. For the mounted troops, however, side arms could be
quite useful. They would often fight at close range, where a pistol or a saber was all
that stood between them and death.
Artillery was an essential branch of the armed forces during the
Civil War. A battery of booming cannons was a terrifying sight to an attacking regiment.
Most guns had an effective range of about 1500 yards, although the newer rifled guns were
accurate to well over a mile.
Artillery ranged considerably in size, firing distance, and power.
Civil War artillery was designated by either the diameter of its bore or the weight of its
solid ammunition. Field artillery was organized into batteries, each having four to six
guns, and commanded by a captain. A lieutenant was charged with a section of two guns, and
each gun had a crew of usually nine cannoneers who would load and fire the weapons. Each
artillery piece was attached to a limber, which contained an ammunition chest and was
hauled by a six-horse team. A caisson, which held two more ammunition chests, another
limber, and a spare wheel, supported each gun.. The team had a driver for each pair of
The Civil War artillery piece worked on the same principle as the
musket, using a cartridge, which contained both powder and a missile. The crewmembers,
each of whom had a specific duty, would set the cartridge inside the muzzle and ram it
down the tube with a rammer. A soldier at the rear of the gun jabbed a wire pick through a
vent in the breech to open the cartridge bag and expose the powder. A primer was placed
through the vent, and attached to a lanyard, which was pulled to ignite the powder and
fire the shot. After the shot was fired, the crew would swipe the barrel with a wet
sponge. This was essential in order to put out any embers that might set off the next
round prematurely! A good artillery crew could usually get off about two rounds of
ammunition a minute.
Sword and Bayonets
The bayonet was a standard piece of equipment for both the North and
the South. When used skillfully, the bayonet charge could be a very effective tactic,
although it seldom resulted in prolonged hand-to-hand combat. When compared to firearms,
bayonets accounted for very few wounds.
Toward the end of the war, the bayonet seemed a relic, used more in
cooking and as a makeshift candleholder than in battle.
The sword was a symbol of strength and was embraced by the troops to
an extent that far outweighed its practical value. To officers, the sword was an emblem of
rank. Ornate and decorative sabers, never meant to be used in battle, were often given as
gifts of esteem or distinguished service.
For the cavalry trooper, however, the saber was a weapon first and
foremost, so it was plain and practical. A sword cut or a blunt hit at close quarters
could inflict instant death or a nasty wound.
One of the most important ceremonial functions of an officer's sword
was in surrender. The sword symbolized the officer's honor and word to the pact of