Weapons Feed

Minie, Buck and Ball test


Comparing the accuracy of the Minié ball fired from a rifle musket, and the buck and ball and single ball cartridges of the Civil War time fired from smooth bore muskets. All done at 50 and 100 m distances.

Coffee Grinder Sharps Carbine




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Missouri History Museum 

Look what we unpacked last week! This Civil War carbine was loaned to us by the National Park Service’s Springfield Armory site in Massachusetts for our upcoming exhibition on the history of coffee… but this isn’t just any gun. During or after the war, a clever soldier retrofitted the butt of the gun with a coffee mill for grinding on the go! Beans went in a small hole at the base, the crank was turned, and out fell fresh ground coffee. See this and many other incredible artifacts on display in COFFEE: The World in Your Cup & St. Louis in Your Cup opening the weekend of October 3 and 4. ‪#‎STLcoffee‬

Buck and Ball in the Civil War


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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

The Combustible Paper Revolver Cartridge

The Combustible Paper Revolver Cartridge,

Before the 1870’s most revolvers operated with what was called the “cap and ball” system.  This meant that each chamber was loaded with loose powder, a bullet, and a percussion cap was placed on the nipple of each chamber.  When the hammer struck the percussion cap, it would drive a spark into the chamber which discharged the chamber.

In 1855 the gun designer Rollin White invented the bored through cylinder, which could be loaded with rimfire metallic cartridges.  The use of such cartridges greatly sped up loading time, however only the patent holder (Smith and Wesson) could produce such revolvers without paying hefty royalties.  As an alternative to the metallic cartridge, Colt invented the combustible paper revolver cartridge.  The cartridge featured a bullet and charge of powder placed within a seamless paper casing. The bullet could be both round ball or conical. The cartridge was inserted into a chamber front first.  Typically the cartridge was tapered on the end for easier loading.  The cartridge was then rammed into place with the loading lever.  The paper was impregnated with potassium nitrate making it highly combustible, combustible enough that a spark from a percussion cap to discharge the cartridge, and discharge it thoroughly enough that it wouldn’t leave remnants of paper in the chamber.

Paper revolver cartridges were manufactured by a number of companies, with their hayday occurring during the American Civil War.  By 1870, two things led to the end of the paper cartridge,  the first being the expiration of Rolling Whites patent, the second being the invention of the metallic centerfire cartridge.  Today black powder enthusiasts typically make their own paper revolver cartridges.

From peashooter85 on Tumblr

Civil War cannonballs found at the University of Alabama

Explosive Ordinance Disposal technicians were called to the University of Alabama campus Friday afternoon after workers repairing a sidewalk discovered a cache of 10 Civil War era cannonballs. (Stephen Dethrage | AL.com)
Explosive ordinance disposal technicians were called to the University of Alabama campus Friday afternoon after crews repairing sidewalks discovered a cache of 10 Civil War era cannonballs buried in the ground.

Cathy Andreen, a University spokeswoman, confirmed the discovery and said the bomb squad was called to guarantee the safety of UA employees and others on the campus at the time.

"Ten Civil War era cannonballs were discovered this afternoon by crews who were repairing sidewalks on the UA campus," Andreen said. "Out of an abundance of caution, EOD technicians were called to address any safety issues." 

The ordnance was found under a sidewalk north of Gorgas Library in the center of campus. Because the cannonballs were found in the late afternoon, employees in the immediate vicinity of the dig site were allowed to leave the area and go home for the day. 

Most of the officers from the University of Alabama and Tuscaloosa Police Departments left the scene just before 5 p.m. Friday.

From AL.com

The Sharps Military carbine with coffee grinder stock


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During the American Civil War the Sharps Military Carbine was the most popular breech loading firearm with over 90,000 in use.  Because of its easy loading mechanism and short compact size it was popular among cavalrymen as well as scouts and specialty soldiers.  Unlike most firearms of the day, which were loaded by the muzzle, the Sharps carbine was loaded through the breech.  The user pushed the trigger guard forward, which exposed the breech, inserted a paper cartridge, closed the breech, placed a percussion cap on the nipple, then fired by pulling the trigger.  On horseback this was a much easier process then loading a musket from the muzzle with a ramrod.  It also gave the Sharps a greater advantage in firepower because it was faster to load than common muskets.

Some rare examples of the Sharps carbine have an unusual feature, what is commonly called a Sharps coffee grinder.  Integrated within in the stock is a grinding device, complete with a folding handle, an opening to material material in to be ground up, and an opening from which ground material would be deposited. While commonly referred to as a “coffee grinder”, in reality it was used to grind up grains such as corn or wheat.  Not every Sharps carbine was outfitted with this device, it was intended that every squad or platoon would be issued at least one coffee grinder Sharps carbine.  While it may seem goofy, it is actually a brilliant idea when one considers that the men who would have been issued these carbines were soldiers who would be expected to spend a lot of time behind enemy lines (cavalrymen and scouts) without regular access to supplies.

From http://www.peashooter85.com on Tumblr

Colt 1860 revolver found at Gettysburg

On exhibit at The Gettysburg Museum of History.

A Civil War Colt Army Revolver left on the kitchen table of the Pfeffer Farm during the battle of Gettysburg. The Pfeffer family fled with their animals like many farmers in Gettysburg to keep the horses from being taken by the Confederates. When they returned they found their farm looted and ransacked. On their table was this working pistol left by the fleeing soldiers. This gun has been in the hands of the Pfeffer decedents ever since. The curator of The Gettysburg Museum of History Erik Dorr is a Pfeffer descendant.