Civil War: One of the most Deadly Wars

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The American Civil War, fought between the Union and Confederate forces, took place from 1861 to 1865. During the war, a variety of weapons were used on both sides. These weapons include edged weapons such as knives and swords, firearms such as, rifled-muskets, breech loaders and repeating weapons, various field guns such as artillery, and new weapons such as the early grenade and machine gun.

The Civil War is often to referred as the first "modern" war in history as it included the most advanced technology and innovations of warfare available at the time. Some of the innovations and advances of the Civil War included mass production of war materiel, rifling of gun barrels and the use of the Mini?© ball, the advent of repeating firearms and metallic cartridges, ironclad warships, advances in medicine, communication , and transportation , and the gradual decline of tactics from previous centuries.

Some of the cannon used by union and confederate forces include the 12 pound Howitzer, the 10 pound Parrot rifle, and the 3 inch ordnance rifle.The civil war brought many advancements in gun technology, most notably the widespread use of rifled barrels. Popular rifles used in the civil war include the Springfield rifle, the Lorenz rifle, the Colt revolving rifle. Swords were still used widely in the civil war. Popular swords include the Model 1832 Foot Artillery Sword, Model 1832 Dragoon Saber, Model 1840 Light Artillery Saber, and the Model 1840 Army Non-commissioned Officers Sword.

The Mini Ball was a type of bullet that was used throughout the Civil War. Designed to expand while traveling along the rifle barrel, it increased muzzle velocity as well as providing spin to the bullet, expanding its accuracy and range. This advance in weaponry, along with outdated military tactics devised in an era of older firearms, are often cited as a reason for the large numbers of casualties of the Civil War.Although they most often fought on foot particularly as the War progressed cavalry units typically looked for firearms that would be easy to reload from the back of a moving horse. Cavalry in both the Union and the Confederate Armies employed a variety of breech-loading, single-shot, rifle-barreled weapons known as carbines. The carbines, because their barrels were several inches shorter than the rifle-muskets the infantry carried, also had a shorter range. In addition, the cavalry weapons had a brutal recoil when fired, and despite their advantages in loading most still required the cavalry soldier to manipulate a tiny cap in order to fire. Confederate cavalry often brought sawed-off shotguns and cut-down hunting rifles from home. Others used the standard infantry rifle-muskets, though the longer barrels were awkward and muzzle-loading was difficult on horseback.

In addition to the carbines, cavalrymen also frequently were issued percussion revolvers. These handguns used rotating cylinders, bored through with five or six chambers, to allow multiple shots without reloading. The soldier had to pour a powder charge into the chamber, ram a round or conical ball on top, seal the front of the cylinder with grease to prevent one chamber from igniting the adjacent ones, and then place a cap on the rear of each chamber before the guns were ready to be fired. Once this time-consuming process was complete, the soldier could rely on five or six shots in succession. However, the sights on the handguns were crude; a soldier could not expect to hit any target much beyond 50 feet or less from horseback.

One massive Confederate revolver, the LeMat, clustered nine pistol chambers around a central shotgun barrel. Smith & Wesson perfected self-contained metallic cartridge revolvers in .22 and .32 caliber. Earlier cartridges had been made of stiff paper or animal skin wrapped around the charge, primer, and projectile of the gun. While more convenient to load and carry, these smaller guns lacked the power of their .36 and .44 caliber percussion competition. One French revolver, the Lefauchaux, used a small firing pin integral to the cartridge to ignite the charge. Federal forces used several thousand of the Lefauchaux revolvers, and Confederate Generals J.E.B. Stuart and Pierre Beauregard also carried this model.Most Civil War infantry men, both Federal and Confederate, carried .58 or .577 caliber rifle-muskets. The rifle-musket was first manufactured in the United States in 1855 and quickly replaced earlier smoothbore guns. The rifling spiral grooves etched inside the guns barrel greatly increased the accuracy of the weapons by spinning and stabilizing the bullet as it sped towards the target.

A trained marksman could hit targets as far as 800 yards away, and even an average shot could expect to strike the mark at 250 yards. Smoothbore muskets, some of which were still used during the Civil War, were generally unreliable at any range more than 75 yards.These rifle-muskets were chiefly percussion weapons; pulling the trigger of a rifle-musket caused the weapons hammer to strike a small metal cap. A charge of fulminate of mercury inside the cap would explode to ignite the gunpowder charge in the barrel. The force of the gunpowder explosion drove the bullet, either a round ball or minie ball, down the barrel. The metal cap was tiny, about the size of a pencil-eraser, and had to be set into place by hand each time the musket was fired. Soldiers had to follow nine careful steps to load and fire a single bullet from a muzzle-loading gun, and five to fire a breech-loading weapon. Rifle-muskets weighed between six and ten pounds and many were designed to fit a bayonet on the end of the barrel.Civil War soldiers were known to make jury-rigged explosives using assortments of fuses and gunpowder, but the conflict also saw advances in the design and manufacture of hand grenades. The most popular model was the Union-issued Ketchum grenade, a projectile explosive that was thrown like a dart. The grenades came in one-, three- and five-pound models equipped with stabilizer fins and a nose-mounted plunger. Upon impact, the plunger would detonate a percussion cap and ignite a deadly supply of gunpowder.

While a novel idea, the explosives didnt always work as intended. In fact, when they were bombarded with Ketchum grenades during an 1863 siege at Port Hudson, Louisiana, Confederate soldiers reportedly used blankets to catch the explosives before throwing them back at their hapless attackers.Rocket launchers might seem like a 20th-century phenomenon, but they made a few appearances on Civil War battlefields. Confederate forces reportedly experimented with Congreve rockets, a British-designed explosive that had previously seen action in the War of 1812. These weapons resembled large bottle rockets and were so inaccurate that they never saw widespread use.Meanwhile, Union forces employed the Hale patent rocket launcher, a metal tube that fired seven- and 10-inch-long spin stabilized rockets up to 2,000 yards. While a vast improvement on the Congreve, these projectiles were still quite unwieldy, and were only generally used by the U.S. Navy.

Colt revolvers and Springfield muskets were the Civil Wars most popular firearms, but the era also gave rise to some of the earliest machine guns. Of these, perhaps none is more infamous than the Gatling gun, a six-barreled piece that was capable of firing up to 350 rounds a minute. The U.S. government never ordered the Gatling in bulk, but Union General Benjamin Butler privately purchased several of the intimidating weapons in 1863 and later used them during the Petersburg Campaign.Other rapid-fire guns included the Williams gun a Confederate breechloader first unveiled at the Battle of Seven Pines in 1862 and the Billinghurst-Requa battery gun, which consisted of 25 rifle barrels arranged side by side. Viewed as too inefficient and unwieldy for infantry combat, these weapons were generally used for guarding bridges and other strategic locations.Mines or torpedoes as they were then known were largely a Confederate weapon.

Originally developed by General Gabriel J. Rains, these antipersonnel explosives were typically iron containers rigged with gunpowder, a fuse and a brass detonation cap. Rains first used the subterranean booby traps in 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign, and later buried thousands more around Richmond and in various parts of the Deep South. In fact, some of these still-active landmines were only recovered in Alabama as recently as the 1960s.While they proved an intimidating method of psychological warfare, landmines were often viewed as an unethical form of combat. Union General George B. McClellan denounced them as barbarous and Confederate General James Longstreet briefly banned their use. Perhaps their most vociferous critic was Union General William T. Sherman, who lost several troops to underground landmines during his famous March to the Sea.

Decrying the use of mines as not warfare, but murder Sherman reportedly forced his Confederate prisoners to march at the head of his column so that they might trigger any hidden land torpedoes.Along with landmines, the Civil War was also a major testing ground for underwater mines. Both sides mined harbors and rivers with torpedoes, but the Confederacy enjoyed greater success. Starting in 1862 with the sinking of the ironclad Cairo, Confederate torpedoes destroyed dozens of Union ships and damaged several others. Union torpedoes, meanwhile, only sank six Confederate Navy vessels.The rebels owed their skill at underwater warfare in part to Matthew Fontaine Maury, an oceanographer who first demonstrated the use of mines in 1861. Maurys infernal machines made the James River virtually impassable, and mines later terrorized the Union Navy during battles at Mobile Bay and Charleston Harbor. The Confederacy also succeeded in using submarines to turn mines into offensive weapons.

In 1864 the H.L. Hunley destroyed the Union sloop-of-war Housatonic after ramming it with a pole-mounted torpedo, becoming the first combat submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship.During an 1863 operation to retake Charleston Harbor, General Quincy Adams Gillmore laid siege to the Confederate stronghold at Fort Wagner. Gillmores Union guns bombarded the fort day and night with the help of a strange invention: the calcium light. Better known as limelights these chemical lamps used superheated balls of lime, or calcium oxide, to create an incandescent glow. The lights had been used in lighthouses and theaters since the 1830s, but Gillmores engineers were the first to adapt them for combat. By shining calcium lights on Fort Wagner, Union forces were able to illuminate their artillery target while simultaneously blinding Confederate gunners and riflemen.Also called Drummond lights these calcium floodlights were later used as searchlights to spot Confederate warships and blockade runners.

In early 1865, a Union light even helped detect a Confederate ironclad fleet as it tried to move along the James River under cover of darkness. A Southern officer later noted that a planned sneak attack was made impossible in part because of the Unions powerful calcium light.Because they allowed generals to get an aerial view of the battlefield, Civil War balloons were primarily used in a reconnaissance capacity. The Union even had an official Balloon Corps headed by Chief Aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe. Under his direction, balloons were launched for scouting purposes at several famous engagements, including the First Battle of Bull Run and the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. In a balloon tethered to the ground with a telegraph line, Lowe was able to give real-time updates on troop movements, and once even directed Union artillery fire from the sky.

The Confederacy also tried their hand at military ballooning, although with considerably less success. The South lacked the resources to make good balloons, and their one operational airship reportedly made from a colorful patchwork of silk was captured after the tugboat carrying it ran aground on the James River.The Civil War produced a number of experimental cannons, machine guns and rifles, but perhaps none was more unusual than the Winans steam gun. Built by Ohio inventors William Joslin and Charles Dickinson, this massive automatic weapon sat on an armored train carriage and used steam to fire projectiles supposedly at a rate of 200 a minute. The civil war was one of the most deadly wars in american history and to this day the amount of american lives lost out numbers that of any other war .

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Civil War: One Of The Most Deadly Wars. (2019, May 18). Retrieved September 24, 2023 , from

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