Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War

Civil War Weapons

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       Infantry tactics at the time of the Civil War were based on the use of the smoothbore musket, a weapon of limited range and accuracy. Firing lines that were much more than a hundred yards apart could not inflict very much damage on each other, and so troops which were to make an attack would be massed together, elbow to elbow, and would make a run for it; if there were enough of them, and they ran fast enough, the defensive line could not hurt them seriously, and when they got to close quarters the advantage of numbers and the use of the bayonet would settle things. But the Civil War musket was rifled, which made an enormous difference. It was still a muzzle-loader, but it had much more accuracy and a far longer range than the old smoothbore, and it completely changed the conditions under which soldiers fought. An advancing line could be brought under killing fire at a distance of half a mile, now, and the massed charge of Napoleonic tradition was miserably out of date. When a defensive line occupied field entrenchments-which the soldiers learned to dig fairly early in the game-a direct frontal assault became almost impossible. The hideous casualty lists of Civil War battles owed much of their size to the fact that soldiers were fighting with rifles but were using tactics suited to smoothbores. It took the generals a long time to learn that a new approach was needed.
        Much the same development was taking place in the artillery, although the full effect was not yet evident. The Civil War cannon, almost without exception, was a muzzle-loader, but the rifled gun was coming into service. It could reach farther and hit harder than the smoothbore, and for counterbattery fire it was highly effective-a rifled battery could hit a battery of smoothbores without being hit in return, and the new 3-inch iron rifles, firing a 10-pound conical shot, had a flat trajectory and immense Penetrating power. But the old smoothbore-a brass gun of 4.62-inch caliber, firing a 12-pound spherical shot-remained popular to the end of the war; in the wooded, hilly country where so many Civil War battles were fought, its range of slightly less than a mile was about all that was needed, and for close-range work against infantry the smoothbore was better than the rifle. For such work the artillerist fired canisters tin can full of iron balls, with a propellant at one end and a wooden disk at the other-and the can disintegrated when the gun was fired, letting the iron balls be sprayed all over the landscape. In effect, the cannon became a huge sawed-off shotgun, and at ranges of 250 yards or less it was in the highest degree murderous.
        This portion of the "Home of the American Civil War" website attempts to explain a little about the various weapons used in the Civil War and while you will find few images here, you will find a lot of good material on "the weapons of war".

Weapons of the Civil War Provides an overview of Civil War artillery, small arms, edged weapons, etc.
Artillery Terminology "Mounted but not Mounted" can get very confusing sometimes. Here is "Glossary of Terms used by artillerists.
Field Pieces of the Civil War Great descriptions of the most common used field pieces of the war.
The Gatling Gun It wasn't used much but it was the father of the modern day "machine gun"
The Sharps A great write-up on this breech loading carbine.
The Cap and Ball Revolver Just a fine write-up on this hand gun.
Ordnance of the Confederacy Article on how the Confederacy got their weapons.
Federal Ordnance Department Article on how the U.S. manufactured and maintained its weapons.
Torpedoes We call them mines today, but in the Civil War they were just as deadly regardless of what they were called!

Note:  If you can't find what you are looking for on this page, try some of the "Links" on this page of my website :

Weapons and Artillery

        This Page last updated 11/24/06


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