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Weapons of the American Civil War

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The American Civil War had a huge impact on the development of military equipment. In fact, it was the first war of the industrial era, in which technology began to have a decisive influence on the course of campaigns, and both sides tried to outdo each other by deploying technical innovations. During this war, breech weapons, machine guns, rifled artillery, observation balloons, armored ships, mines and armored trains for the first time were widely used.

However, it should be noted that the development of technology was ahead, by and large, in the development of tactics; Despite the significantly increased effective range of use of rifled small arms, tactical constructions of both sides were still based on the obsolete doctrines of a dense system, which was one of the reasons for such significant losses.

The north was much better armed and equipped thanks to its advanced industry. The situation at the Confederation was much more difficult. Since the South was traditionally an agricultural region, there were few industrial, including arms, enterprises. Arms helped stocks of local arsenals, imports from some European countries and especially the UK. Numerous militiamen and volunteers of southerners often had their own small arms, including hunting ones. Southerners also widely used captured weapons on the battlefield.

Small arms

The overwhelming majority of the samples that participated in the war (with the exception of the bucks) were manual, and all, without exception, used black powder. However, the question of whether the guns were automatic weapons is not correct, since it is necessary to use muscular force for automatic fire (rotate a special handle), that is, in fact, they remained enlarged and set on the machine by self-cocking revolvers with box magazines instead of a drum. Of all the weapons listed below, only Spencer’s rifle used the shops — all the others, had to equip one cartridge each, which reduced their real rate of fire. Revolvers were no exception – firstly, they did not have an extractor, and the cartridges needed to be removed one by one, and, secondly, there were no clips to simultaneously load the cartridges, as a result of which they also had to be inserted one by one. Also, they did not have a self-platoon,although it existed on Marietta’s pereboxes, patented as far back as 1839.


During the conflict, rifled artillery was used for the first time on a mass scale by both sides. Northerners actively used the 76-mm rifled cannon designed by John Griffen and heavy rifled guns of Parroth and James on the battlefields. Southerners, in turn, used in battle imported British rifles designed by Whitworth and Blackley and Brooke’s heavy rifles produced in the south. In large quantities, both sides used mortars to provide mounted fire on enemy positions.

Nevertheless, the main gun of both sides remained a smooth-bore 12-pound cannon, developed in France and known as the “twelve -pound Napoleon”. These guns were the basis of the artillery park because of their simplicity in production, reliability and mobility compared to expensive and not always reliable rifled guns.

During the war, the northerners reached the highest point of development in the muzzle-loading smooth-bore artillery. They created huge cannons of hardened cast iron – the guns of Rodman and Dahlgren – intended mainly for the arming of forts and warships. The apotheosis was the monstrous 20-inch (508 millimeters) smooth-bore cast-iron cannons designed by Dalgren and Rodman to destroy armored ships. At this, the development of smooth-bore artillery apparently reached an impasse: such tools no longer had advantages over rifled ones.

There have been significant changes in terms of artillery ammunition. Spherical cannonballs and large-caliber canister ( grape – shot ) by the end of the war largely gave way to cylindrical shells and shrapnel. To control the artillery fire began the use of telegraph, rendered observation posts and balloons.

Naval technology

The US Civil War was the first in which both sides actively used steam and armored fleets. By the beginning of the conflict, the vulnerability of wooden ships to heavy high-explosive shells was already evident, but the transition to armored shipbuilding was slow. War dramatically accelerated the process; Southerners began to build armored ships in the hope of compensating for the numerical advantage of the wooden fleet of northerners, and northerners began to build battleships as a response to southerners.

During the war, the famous “Monitor” (1862) was built and successfully tested in battle by the famous inventor John Eriksson. Northerners found this type of ship optimal for operations off the shallow coast of the South, and during the conflict several dozens of monitors were built, from small river to huge oceanic ones. A visual demonstration of the advantages of the tower location of the guns pushed other countries to experiment with monitors and tower gun installations.

Southerners also built a significant number of battleships, mostly of the casemate type, however, due to the weakness of their industry and lack of materials, their ships were much more primitive than the monitors of the northerners, and, as practice showed, they could not be on equal terms with them. However, they demonstrated absolute superiority over wooden ships.

In 1863, in the shipyards of Charleston ( South Carolina ), the Southerners built with private funds the world’s first semi-submersible submarine HL Hunley . Named in honor of her inventor, who died during her ordeals, she managed in 1864 to sink the Husatonic northerners’ steam-frigate.

The armament of the ships also underwent significant changes. The first battles demonstrated that the old weapons scheme – many relatively small guns in the onboard battery – is completely ineffective against the battleships. Both sides began to arm their ships with more and more heavy cannons; at the same time, southerners preferred rifled guns, and northerners preferred heavy smooth-bore. However, even the most powerful of the weapons used by both sides did not provide penetration of enemy armor except from a very short distance. In an attempt to overcome the crisis of artillery, both sides began experimenting with ramming tactics, pole mines and similar weapon systems.

The mine-torpedo weapon received significant development. Southerners actively used anchor and ground mines to protect their ports.

Boatner MM The Civil War Dictionary.
Nevins A. The War for the Union
Long EB Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861–1865
Davies WC The Imperial Union: 1861-1865
McPherson GM Battle Cry of Freedom. The Civil War Era

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