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Information about Weapons Used in the American Civil War

Information about Weapons Used in the American Civil War
The American Civil War weapons were some of the most advanced weapons of the time. This Historyplex lists out some of them in detail.
Anup Patwardhan
Did You Know?
The American Civil War resulted in maximum deaths in a war that was fought on American soil. This death toll exceeds far more than the number of American deaths in the first and the second World War combined together.

The civil war in America was fought between the soldiers of the Union, under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, and the soldiers of the Confederate States, under the presidency of Jefferson Davis. The war raged between the years 1861 and 1865. It was a result of a huge social as well as political upheaval with the topic of slavery playing a pivotal role.
On an average, almost 600 people were killed daily during the duration of the war. The number of casualties itself is a proof of how deadly those weapons must have been that time. Let's take a look at them.
Edged Weapons
1832 Foot Artillery Sword
As the name implies, this sword was issued to the artillerymen. It is a short (25-inch), double-edged sword having a brass-decorated scabbard made of leather. Designed after the Model 1816 French artillery sword, this sword has a style similar to that of Roman gladius. Owing to its short size, the sword was not suitable for fighting; however, it was put to other uses, such as cutting paths through swamps or clearing dense bushes. Although this sword was not used much during the war, it was a standard item that was issued to the troops.
1850 Army Staff & Field Officers' Sword
This sword was exclusively used among the personnel with officer rank. It is a highly decorated sword based on the French pattern. It has a 32-inch long blade and a scabbard made or either steel or leather. During the war, these swords were imported from France or Germany and were privately purchased by high ranking officers. Additionally, only the cavalry, doctors, paymasters, and general officers were eligible to keep their own pattern of Staff & Field Officers’ swords.
Dragoon Saber
In 1833, the British M-1822 saber was modified by the US ordnance department to manufacture the Dragoon Saber. This saber has a 34-inch blade and has United States Dragoons engraved on it. However, this engraving was simply done using a sharp needle, and therefore, appears thin and distorted. The guard is made of brass, while the hilt is made of carved wood which is covered with leather and seven twisted turns of brass wire to give a firm grip. These sabers were meant for the servicemen who had horse riding skills along with combat skills.
Mameluke Sword
The Mameluke sword is derived from the sabers carried by the Egyptian clan. It was mainly carried by the marine officers since it became the regulation sword to be worn by them in 1825. This regulation was revoked for a new style of sword in 1859. However, in 1875, the Mameluke sword was reinstated as the regulation sword for Marine officers. Thus, it is one of the oldest weapons of the United States Armed Forces that is in use even now, as a representative of the heritage of the marine forces.
Bowie Knife
Bowie knife was one of the most used weapons in the civil war, especially by the Confederate soldiers. The infantry preferred this knife over a bayonet that they were provided; however, as the war advanced, the Bowie knife couldn't hold its value in the presence of other advanced weapons such as rifles and revolvers. This knife, famous mainly for its multifunctional use, was made popular by James Bowie. Today, carrying this knife has been prohibited in most parts of America.
The other swords that were used in the civil war were Model 1840 Light Artillery Saber, Model 1840 Army Noncommissioned Officers' Sword, Model 1840 Cavalry Saber, Model 1860 Light Cavalry Saber, and M1860 Cutlass.
Adams Revolver
This is a double action revolver in which pulling the trigger rotates the cylinder to bring a live cartridge in perfect alignment with the barrel. At the same time, the hammer is cocked, as opposed to single-action weapons where the hammer needs to be cocked manually every time a shot is to be fired. Finally, the hammer is dropped to strike the primer which fires a cartridge. The Adams Revolver was also used in the Crimean War as well as the Indian Mutiny. It was followed by Beaumont Adams that was adopted by the British Army, and was imported to both Confederate as well as the Union armies.
Colt Army Model 1860
This lightweight, .44-caliber revolver was the most widely use weapon during the civil war. It was primarily issued to the soldiers while the other Colt revolvers were purchased in private. It was manufactured by the Colt's Manufacturing Company that was founded by Samuel Colt. This revolver became so popular that the Confederates started producing duplicate models for their use. There were many models of Colt, like the Police, Root, Pocket, Navy, Walker, etc., that were used in this war. Colt Paterson was one of the first revolvers that was produced by the company.
Smith and Wesson Model 1 and Model 2
The model 1 revolver was capable of holding seven cartridges at a time. The cartridges that were used were 'rimfire' cartridges in which the primer gets ignited when the striker hits and crushes the rim of the base. These cartridges were a variant of 0.22 magnum cartridges known as 0.22 short cartridges. This revolver served as an alternative to Colt and Remington. The Smith and Wesson, model 2 was a variant of the model 1, where the cartridges used were 0.32 magnum metal cartridges. This revolver, however, was capable of holding maximum 5 shots at a time.
The other handguns that were used in battles were:
  • Colt M1861 Navy
  • Colt 1851 Navy Revolver
  • Moore's belt revolver
  • Colt Dragoon Revolver
  • Remington Model 1858
  • Starr revolver
  • Savage 1861 Navy
  • Tranter revolver
  • Kerrs Patent Revolver
  • LeMat Revolver
  • Lefaucheux M1858
  • Butterfield Revolver
  • Walsh Revolver
  • Elgin Cutlass pistol
  • Volcanic Pistol
  • Wesson and Leavitt Dragoon Revolver
  • Whitney Revolver
Springfield Rifles
There were many variants of the Springfield rifles that were used in the Civil War. They were manufactured at Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. The types of Springfield rifles that were used that time are Springfield Model 1861, Springfield Model 1863, Springfield Model 1812, Springfield Model 1816, Springfield Model 1847 Musketoon, and Springfield Model 1855. Many repeating rifles were also used during the war. Rifles of this type were able to hold multiple rounds at a time which were held in a magazine.
Carbine Rifles
Soldiers also preferred Carbine as they were easy to handle and required no different ammunition than a pistol. The barrel of these firearms was longer than a pistol or a revolver, but shorter than a rifle. They were used by personnel who had mobility as one of their priorities. Soldiers had the option of various models to choose from the carbine rifles. The ones that were used by the armies were Volcanic carbine, Maynard carbine, Merrill carbine, Jenks Mule ear carbine, Burnside carbine, Tarpley carbine, and Smith carbine.
Musket Rifles
These rifles were accurate over a short distance and had an option to attach bayonet to them. They also used bullets of smaller size than usual. Despite having a slow rate of fire and a limited range, these were the most used rifles in the war. These rifles along with the Minié balls (spin-stabilized bullets), have been responsible for maximum number of deaths in the war. The rifles of these kinds that the soldiers used were Pattern 1853 Enfield, Pattern 1861 Enfield musketoon, Lorenz rifle, M1817 Common rifle, and Spencer repeating rifle.
Along with these a few other rifles that were used in the war were:
  • M1841 Mississippi Rifle
  • Fayetteville rifle
  • Richmond Rifle
  • Whitworth rifle
  • Sharps rifle
  • Frank Wesson rifle
  • Colt revolving rifle
  • Joslyn rifle
  • Henry rifle
  • M1819 Hall rifle
Heavy Weapons
Coffee Mill Gun of J.D. Mill
This was one of the first machine guns used in a war. The inventor, J.D. Mills, quoted the gun as 'an army in a box'. It had made quite an impression on the then president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. This gun, used mainly by the union army, would fire 120 rounds of .58 caliber ammunition in a minute. It is believed that President Lincoln called it "the coffee grinder gun" since the cartridges were fed by a hand crank. These guns were used for the security of the targets that were more likely to be attacked by the enemy. 
The Gatling Gun
This is another type of machine gun that was used in the civil war, and it was invented by Dr. Richard J. Gatling. It had 6 barrels revolving around a central shaft, and each barrel fired 100 rounds of .58 caliber bullets per minute. Altogether it was capable of firing 600 rounds a minute. The reloading of this gun was also convenient because a hopper was mounted on top of the gun to feed the cartridges. These guns were also used in the Spanish-American war and by the colonists in Africa.
Williams Gun
This cannon was invented by D.R. Williams, and was a favorite amongst the Confederate army. It was a long-range weapon with an ability to fire rapidly. The gun had a barrel of 1.57-inch caliber that would shoot about 65 rounds a minute. The gun was a breech-loading variety in which the cartridge had to be loaded in a chamber at the rear end of the barrel.
Volley Gun
This was another weapon that was used by the Confederates; however, unlike the Williams Gun, this was not a favorite with the army. One of the reasons that dampened its popularity was the lack of automatic firing and reloading ability that the other machine guns offered because of the barrels that were bundled together. The gun had honeycomb-like structure of parallel chambers inside a case similar to a cannon tube. When fired, all the chambers discharged and unleashed the bullets on the enemy troops, all at once.
Napoleon Cannon
The Napoleon cannon, developed by France, was one of the many type of cannons used during this war. It was a smoothbore cannon that had derived its name on account of its killing power, particularly from a short range. However, these cannons could be effectively used from a long range too. These were used by both the armies, Confederates as well as the Union. The design of this cannon was so simple that the Confederates replicated it. As a result, many variants of this cannon were produced during the war.
There were also strange weapons like a harmonica pistol or an 'armored railroad car' used during the war.
The harmonica gun derived its name from its horizontal magazine which looked like a 'harmonica'. It was also known as the 'slide gun' because the magazine had to be adjusted manually before firing each shot.
In an 'armored railroad car', all the exposed sides of a locomotive were covered with iron sheets to defend the soldiers from enemy attack. On the other hand, there were holes in those sheets to allow the soldiers to counterattack the enemy. Such locomotive cars were used by the Union men which the Confederate cannons were successful in bringing down.
By the time the civil war had finally come to an end in 1865, it had turned into one of the goriest conflicts that had claimed millions of lives. The conflict, that threatened to tear America apart into pieces, had concluded with the victory of the Union army over their Confederate counterparts.