Civil War: Weapons and Equipment

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They also were the first crew-served weapons, as later versions could be mounted on armored field carriages. Eventually the Gatling Gun was replaced with lighter full-automatic weapons that didn't need to be strapped to giant wheels and pulled with a draft horse. Sure, I know what you're thinking: Double-barreled shotguns make sense, so why not a cannon? Unfortunately, it's not as easy as that. The idea here isn't to have two shots before reloading.

Significant Civil War Firearms

The inventor wanted to shoot two cannonballs that had a length of chain connecting them so as to "mow down the enemy somewhat as a scythe cuts wheat. Only one was ever produced, and even that one only saw use in battle one time. The three test firings at best cut down swaths of saplings and at worst, snapped the chain and killed a cow. To work properly, both barrels had to ignite and fire at the exact same time, which of course didn't happen. After shaky success on the testing range and that single battlefield firing, at thousands of Union soldiers who weren't actually there, the cannon disappeared for ten years.

More than likely, some intrepid young field artillery officer chucked it in woods so he had an excuse to never use it again. You may think of torpedoes as underwater rockets, but a hundred years ago, a torpedo was anything that exploded. And that includes this beautiful little hand grenade. No, trust us, it's a grenade.

Civil War Arms and Equipment

The coal torpedo was a hollow iron casting, mottled and covered with coal dust and filled with explosives. Originally conceived by Capt. Thomas Courtenay of the Confederate Secret Service, these explosives were meant to be hidden in enemy coal piles for trains and steam ships. When shoveled into the boilers, the torpedoes would explode, destroying, killing and sinking anything they touched. There is no telling how many ships were destroyed by these explosives.

The Union Army discovered the plot by way of a captured rebel courier, but there are reports these bombs made their way onto more than one ship. As you can imagine, submarines during the Civil War weren't the sleek, Tomahawk-firing nuclear war machines we know and love today. Heck, they weren't even fit for zany adventures with Kelsey Grammer. The Confederate submarine CSS Hunley holds the distinction of being the very first submarine to take down a ship. Its tiny crew didn't exactly have a way to shoot projectiles, so they had to get creative, placing a giant spear on the prow that was packed with explosives and ramming it into the side of an enemy ship.

The Hunley had some rocky starts.

Guns Cannon Sabers and Swords of Civil War and Military

While it worked fantastically during demonstrations, as soon as the Confederate military took command of it, they managed to sink it. Twice: Once by accidentally diving while the hatches were open, and once when it failed to surface. It killed 12 people before it was successfully used in war. The Housatonic sank, killing five crewmen. And then the CSS Hunley never returned to base.

English Civil War Weapons

Because it sank for a third time, killing its crew once more. The LeMat revolver was a curious invention from the s, used by the Confederate army. Also known as the Grape Shot Revolver, the LeMat was a nine-round pistol with a buckshot shotgun barrel underneath the mail barrel, because why the hell not? As you can imagine, there's not much in the way of accuracy, but up close, the LeMat was deadly as hell. You could shoot a guy with a bullet and then follow up with buckshot for added insult to injury.

It was originally designed for mounted dragoon soldiers, and while effective, they suffered from design flaws that were never corrected — one of which was it was just too damned heavy. The pistol came in just under five pounds fully loaded. As a testament to the chivalrous beginnings of the war, when Union cavalrymen began sharpening the edges of their sabers, Confederates who had learned of it apparently protested, claiming that using sharpened sabers did not fit within the rules of modern warfare.

While cavalrymen men on horseback carried sabers, other ranks were known to have utilized different edged weapons. Another popular and overlooked edged weapon of the era was the knife. Many knives carried by soldiers were mass produced by armories such as the Confederate States Armory in Kenansville, North Carolina. However, even more knives were made in small scale blacksmith shops up and down the east coast. Interestingly, at the beginning of the war when more sophisticated weapons were not readily available, soldiers were sometimes equipped with medieval style lances and pikes which were quickly replaced as supplies grew.

Bladed weapons are useful, but they were no match for the state of the art small arms revolvers and rifles being developed at the time. Old flintlock style rifles and pistols ensured that a soldier could only fire once every minute or so. The creation of percussion cap systems ushered in a new wave of rifles and revolvers with increased rates of fire.

At the onset of the Civil War, both sides were forced to purchase large numbers of ineffective weapons from Europe so they could at least put a gun in a majority of their soldiers' hands. As the war progressed, so did weapons manufacturing and technology within the States.

English Civil War Weapons: The Mortar

Rifles were the most common and most accurate of the small arms at the time. Each type was built for a specific purpose and was meant to be used by a specific person. Cavalry carbines were simply short rifles designed to be used on horseback. Even with advancements in firing mechanisms, the average soldier was still confined to shooting two to three rounds per minute in often strict formation. With the invention of the repeating rifle, the traditional firing routine was no longer effective.


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Rifles like the Spencer rifle could contain a large number of self-contained rounds, increasing the firing rate of the rifle and protecting the rounds from the elements. By the end of the war, rifle and optics technology had progressed so far that it was possible to possess a rifle capable of accurate fire up to yards. Handguns, due to their portability and relative accuracy, were fast becoming the additional weapon of choice for many Civil War soldiers, replacing the swords of past battles.

Revolvers had their drawbacks, the process of loading was tedious and time consuming and the soldier could only rely on a few of the rounds to actually fire in succession. When they did fire, the handguns were only accurate to 50 yards. Large companies such as Colt Patent Firearms and Remington began mass producing both single and double action revolvers for the Union. The Confederacy, however, was forced to use inexperienced, unskilled labor, and close to zero raw materials for their revolver production efforts.

Because of this, the build quality suffered in all areas. As heavy fortifications and trench warfare began to take hold in the Civil war, hand grenades were developed to aid in the assault on those positions. Civil war era grenades were shaped like a dart, complete with long stabilization fins in the rear. A plunger style striker was positioned at the nose of the grenade.

When thrown, the grenade would impact the ground on the striker; the weight of the grenade would push the striker into a percussion cap detonating the explosive charge. Interestingly, Confederate soldiers became adept at using cushioning devices such as blankets to catch the grenades without detonation to throw them back.

Civil War Technology

Field artillery was designed to be easily moved about in a shifting, dynamic, battlefield. To do so they were made to be lightweight, mobile, and of relatively small caliber. Siege and fortification style guns were large caliber, heavy guns that did not readily move due to their size and weight. The fortification guns in fact were meant to be so large that they were used as permanent fixtures in forts. Seacoast artillery were mainly fortification guns that were stationed in coastal forts, designed to protect large harbors and cities like Charleston or Wilmington.

Mountain and prairie guns, the smallest of the basic artillery had to be able to be broken down and transported by carriage throughout the countryside. Originally, powder was unreliable and unpredictable. Lemont DuPont of the DuPont company developed powder which could be tailor made for its intended purpose, providing for extra firepower and accuracy. Sadly, that dream of an end to violence did not come to pass.

More famous Confederate attempts at volley guns were seen mainly in North Carolina. The Vandenburgh Volley gun was originally invented by a Yankee, made in England, and then bought by Confederates.


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The gun itself was, at pounds. Made of brass, it housed a cluster eighty five. The Union needed to intercept ships bringing goods to the Confederacy from overseas. Navy blockades. In a battle against another Ironclad however, they were often evenly matched and sometimes only sunk due to accidents or weather related incidents. Impenetrable above the water line, they were still built on wooden hulls making them highly vulnerable below. To take advantage of this vulnerability, and break the blockade, Confederate engineers designed craft to go below the waves in the form of submarines , like the C.

Hunley, torpedo boats, and mine-like torpedoes. Each craft was often powered by either man or steam and was outfitted with a spar attached to the bow which held an explosive charge which could be rammed into the wooden undersides of blockading ships and ironclads. Unfortunately, one of the easiest ways to see the impact of changing military technologies is through the wake of death and destruction it leaves behind. In total, roughly , were killed in the war with over 30, in North Carolina alone.