Rifles in the American Civil War

See also: List of weapons in the American Civil War

Contents

During the American Civil War, an assortment of small arms found their way onto the battlefield. Though the muzzle-loading percussion cap rifle was the most numerous weapon, being standard issue for the Union and Confederate armies, many other firearms, ranging from the single-shot breech-loading Sharps and Burnside rifles to the Spencer and the Henry rifles, two of the world's first repeating rifles, were issued by the hundreds of thousands, mostly by the Union. The Civil War brought many advances in firearms technology, most notably the widespread use of rifled barrels.

Background

This collection contain smoothbore flintlocks converted into percussion muskets, some with their barrels rifled

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, numerous advances had been made in small arms technology. The flintlock, which had been in use for over two hundred years, had been replaced by the caplock in the 1840s. Muzzle-loading rifles had been in use for many years, but prior to the Civil War were issued only to specialist troops. The black powder of the time quickly fouled the barrel, making reloading slower and more difficult since the balls had to be patched and matched closely to the bore size for rifles. Loads used for smoothbore muskets did not need to fit as tightly or be pushed past rifling grooves in the barrel and accordingly did not suffer from the slow loading problem common to rifles.

Black powder also quickly obscured the battlefield, which led military leaders of the time to conclude that the greater range of rifles was of little value on the battlefield. Military leaders therefore preferred the faster loading smoothbore weapons over the more accurate rifles.

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