Deadly Weapons Used in the Civil War
21 JUL 2017
The U.S. Civil War, which was fought from 1861 to 1865, is referred to by many names. Whether you refer to it as the War between the States, the War against Northern Aggression, the Brothers’ War or any of the other designations, some of the deadliest weapons in the country’s history were used to kill more than 200,000 Americans, a figure that doesn't include deaths from disease and other causes.
1 Small Arms
Any firearm that was smaller than a cannon and could be carried by a soldier was considered a small arm. This included smooth-bore muskets, pistols, revolvers and rifles, which could be long-barreled, short-barreled or carbines. The most commonly used small arms of either North or South were the .69 caliber Harpers Ferry Rifle and the .58 caliber Springfield musket, both of which were muzzleloading weapons that fired minnie balls. Breechloaders were also used with Sharps being a main supplier, especially of sharpshooters.
Any firearm larger than a small arm was referred to as artillery. This included dozens of types of cannons that were either rifled or smoothbore and fired projectiles of different weights. Siege artillery included mortars, large howitzers, Paixhan guns, Columbiads, and all large-caliber cannons. A small number of Gatlin guns were also used.
3 Edged Weapons
Bayonets, Bowie knives, cutlasses, lances, pike, sabers, swords and short swords were all in use during the Civil War. Though occasionally used in battle, they rarely resulted in actually casualties. According to Lt. Col. William F. Fox, in his treatise titled “Regimental Losses in the American Civil War,” sabers or bayonets caused only 922 of approximately 250,000 wounds treated in Union hospitals, and many of these were inflicted during private quarrels, or by camp guards.
4 Torpedoes & Grenades
During the Civil War torpedoes more closely resembled mines then the weapons we associate them with today. They were used to protect river channels, bays and harbors from attacking wooden warships, and later vessels known as ironclads. At least 28 ships belonging to both the Union and the Confederacy were lost to torpedoes either placed in the water or attached to long poles on the bow of a steam launch that were detonated by puling a lanyard. Both sides used experimental grenades. The North had the Ketchum grenade, which had a tail that was supposed to enable the grenade to land on its nose causing detonation when a plunger lick devise was depressed. The South used spherical hand grenades that usually had paper fuses along with others that were similar to Ketchum’s but made by Rains and Adams.
Besides the use of weaponry, more than 400,000 men fighting in the Civil War died of disease, starvation and exposure, murder off the battlefield, and suicide. Perhaps the deadliest weapons of the Civil War were the unsanitary living conditions and lack of proper supplies, as well as inadequate medical facilities.
- 1 Regimental Losses In the American Civil War 1861-1865 By William F. Fox, Lt. Col., U.S.V. Albany, N.Y. Albany Publishing Company 1889
- 2 Civil War Potpourri : Information
- 3 Navy Data: Newport and Navy Torpedoes -- An Enduring Legacy
- 4 Son of the South: Civil War Weapons