Nineteenth century America was a memorable time for military weaponry. Whether you conjure visions of the Wild West or the Civil War, many events during the century incorporated various forms of weaponry. While some arms, such as the six-shooter, played an iconic role in our country's past, others are less well-known but heavily influenced history nonetheless.
Around the middle of the 18th century, the rapier was quickly falling out of favor in exchange for pistols. Revolving firearms were used primarily for dueling until the 1800s, when Samuel Colt invented the first mass-producible version of the muli-shot gun. The first Colt revolver appeared in 1835 and, before long, it became the weapon of choice for soldiers because it was accurate and relatively affordable.
It may be surprising that rockets made their first American military appearance in the War of 1812 and then again in the Civil War. Congreve rockets were designed by the British and employed in both conflicts. They looked like bottle rockets and were proven to be wildly inaccurate and seldom used. The Hale rocket launcher, on the other hand, fared just a little better. This device launched 10-inch rockets from a metal tube and could reach a distance of about 2,000 yards -- though it was still far from accurate.
Several rifles that could fire multiple shots over very short periods emerged during the century. Spencer repeating guns, which could unload seven shots in just 15 seconds, became a common firearm in the Civil War. In 1887, the famous Winchester also produced a repeating rifle, a unit with six barrels that could fire 350 shots per minute. While not in wide use during the Civil War, a Union general purchased several personally for use in battle.
Many weapons considered to be more modern were first deployed in the 1800s. Hand grenades -- though flawed -- were used during the Civil War; combatants caught them with blankets and threw them back at their attackers. Confederate forces also employed underwater mines in the 1860s to antagonize the Union Navy. There are even reports of a steam gun that could fire 200 projectiles a minute. Before being put to use, however, it was confiscated by the Union Army and never used in battle, indicating that it may not have been the success it was anticipated to be.
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