The Confederate Flag - Patty Politics
The Civil War returns to PBS

Buck and Ball in the Civil War


  • Tumblr_mpc72mUs411rwjpnyo1_1280
  • Tumblr_mpc72mUs411rwjpnyo3_400
  • Tumblr_mpc72mUs411rwjpnyo4_1280


Buck and Ball — Smoothbore Muskets during the Civil War

The invention of the minie ball and the rifled musket in the mid 19th century was one of the great advances in firearms technology which caused much bloodshed during the Civil War.  The rifling (grooves) in a gun barrel cause the projectile to spin, giving it more accuracy and a flatter trajectory.  It much like how a quarterback “rifles” a football.

However before the introduction of the minie ball and rifled musket, soldiers used smoothbore muskets, which lacked such rifling.  This means that that smoothbore musket has significantly less range and accuracy than a rifled firearms.

During the Civil War most soldiers were issued either the Springfield 1861 rifled musket (Union) or the Enfield 1853 musket (Confederacy).  Unfortunately there were not always enough modern weapons to go around, especially in the Confederacy which suffered chronic weapons shortages during the war.  As a result many old and obsolete smoothbore muskets were taken out of retirement from old armories and warehouse, refurbished, and pressed into action.  An example would be the Springfield Model 1842 (2nd photo from above) which was the last smoothbore Springfield model.  Even some Springfield 1795 muskets (top photo)were issued to troops in the early months of the war, weapons that were antiques made when George Washington was president!

Of course, it would have sucked big time for soldiers who were given old and inferior weapons.  Because of their smoothbore muskets, which typically only had an effective range of around 100 yards, they were greatly outclassed by rifled muskets which had an effective range of hundreds of yards.  To help even out the playing field, many soldiers loaded their smoothbores with a special load called buck and ball, a technique which dates back to the 1700’s and was common during the Revolutionary War and Napoleonic Wars.  Rather than load the musket with one .69 caliber bullet (.69 caliber because they were using older muskets, standard Civil muskets were typically .58 caliber), they loaded them with a .69 caliber bullet as well as 3 or 4 pieces of .30 caliber buckshot.  In way they had turned their smoothbore muskets into shotguns, .69 caliber is similar to a 20 gauge shotgun.  In theory they were trying to make up for their lack of accuracy with firepower by throwing more pieces of lead at the enemy.  

The effectiveness of buck and ball, however, was often marginal.  To be effective soldiers had to get within at most 100 yards.  At even closer ranges, such as around 50 yards, it could be devastating.  Unfortunately a buck and ball shot at less than 100 yards was only effective for the brave and lucky few  who could survive volleys of rifle musket fire at longer ranges.

From: Peashooter85 on Tumblr

comments powered by Disqus