Weapons and Artillery


Soldiers during the Civil War used two types of firearms: small arms and artillery, also called cannon. Below is a list of the different weapons within those types.


Smoothbore: Having a barrel of perfectly smooth surface. Smoothbore cannons were typically used during battle because they shot at a shorter range. Smoothbore guns were also short range and were not accurate unless soldiers ran directly into the enemy firing line.

Rifled: Having a barrel that has spiral grooves cut into it. Rifled cannons had a longer range and were typically used to destroy forts or ships. Rifled guns were more accurate and had a longer range (over a half-mile).

Muzzle-loading: Receiving its charge through the muzzle, front-loading. Nearly all cannons were muzzle-loading. Muzzle-loading guns could fire the minie ball, but were slow to load.

Breech-loading: Receiving the charge at the breech (in back of the barrel), rear-loading. Breech-loading cannons typically were not used during the Civil War because of their awkwardness. Breech-loading guns, although they were able to hold more ammunition and fire repeatedly, neither army typically had enough ammunition to use with a breech-loading gun.


Category: Smoothbore or rifled
Weight of Projectile: 12-pounder, 24-pounder, 32-pounder
Caliber: 3-inch, 8-inch, 10-inch
Loading Method: Breech or muzzle
Path of Trajectory: flat (gun), high and arching (mortar), or somewhere in between (howitzer)
Made of: steel, bronze or iron

Examples of Cannons:



Category: Smoothbore
Weight of Projectile: 12-pounder
Caliber: varies
Loading Method: Muzzle
Path of Trajectory: howitzer
Made of: bronze at first, then iron
Effective Range: 250 yards or less, with maximum of 1700 yards
Ammunition used: Canister
Useful for: Battle



Category: Rifled
Caliber: 3-inch
Loading Method: Muzzle
Effective Range: 2,300 yards
Useful for: Destroying fortifications



Category: Smoothbore
Weight of Projectile: 45-90 pound
Caliber: 8-inch, 10-inch
Effective Range: Over 2,000 yards
Useful for: Naval battles

Cannon Ammunition

Solid shot, shell:>
For long-range, fixed targets
Canister: Scattershot projectile made of small iron balls packed in a tin can
Grape Shot: Scattershot projectile made of small iron balls wrapped in cloth or canvas and tied with a string

Small Arms



Description: Smoothbore, long-barreled gun carried on the shoulder
Loading Method: Muzzle
Examples: .58 caliber Springfield musket, Rifled musket
Advantage: High accuracy and long range (over a half-mile)



Description: Shoulder gun with spiral grooves on the inside of the barrel
Loading Method: Muzzle or breech
Examples: .69 caliber Harpers Ferry rifle (muzzle), Henry repeating rifle (breech)
Advantage: High accuracy, long range, and more rapid fire with breech models



Description: Short-barreled rifle
Loading Method: Breech
Examples: Spencer carbine, Sharps carbine
Advantage: Spencer holds seven .52 caliber cartridges, less reloading>



Description: Pistols and revolvers
Loading Method: Breech
Examples: Colt revolver, Remington New Model, Starr Army Percussion
Advantage: Lightweight (less than 3 pounds), fires many round

Small Gun Ammunition

The Minie Ball, a half-inch lead rifle bullet became more popular as it was more effective at killing its victim. Invented in 1848 by French army Captain Claude F. Minie, the minie ball was a small, hollow bullet that was easy to put in the barrel. When the gun was fired, the ball would expand, catching in the grooves and spinning as it exited the barrel. The spin made it not only more precise than other projectiles, but also more deadly.

Other Weapons

Bayonets, sabers, swords, short swords, cutlasses, Bowie knives, pikes and lances were also popular during the Civil War, although they caused far fewer fatalities than the firearms.

Source: www.civilwarhome.com