Weapons of the Civil War: Why Did The North Win?

Battles have been fought since the dawn of time. Weapons have gradually become more technological and sophisticated each and every time. People learn from their mistakes, as did the Indians in the late 1700s, as well as the Confederate troops from the Civil War. The Union was victorious in this war for freedom, and to this day, the north is more the heart of the countrys economy.
Weapons have been around from the Neanderthals of the post-ice age, to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Rocks became knives, sticks became spears, and bayonets became AK-47s. The technology from the French and Indian War was revolutionized and manufactured by the newly opened weaponry companies. Colt and Winchester had a new end of the market during the times of conflict in the United States.
The First Modern War was a battle of brothers vs. brothers, north vs. south. Weapons proved effective throughout this war, with over 620,000 deaths related to artillery wounds (Bender 24). The north had the advantage. With a plentiful supply of factories and skilled workers, the north was far ahead of the game in the race of manufacturing. New technologies such as submarines, multiple-shot weapons, and exploding bullets aided the northern manufacturing economy.

Handguns played a major role in the Civil War as far as weaponry was concerned. For instance, the most popular sidearm in the Union army was the Colt Army model 1860, which was a .36 caliber. The Army model 1860 was remodeled after the 1848 Dragoon, which was used in the Mexican War. The Colt model 1860 was a .44 caliber six shot weapon weighing two pounds eleven ounces. During the Civil War, more than 146,800 Colt revolvers were purchased. This made up more than 40 percent of all the handguns bought by the government at that time. In 1851, the .36 caliber revolver was produced by Colt. Colt then sold approximately 215,000 navy models, as they were called. The Star Revolver was a .44 caliber, six shot, double action weapon, which weighed approximately three pounds. 25,000 revolvers were then sold to the government for twelve dollars each. The Figure Eight Revolver was built especially for Civil War use. More than 12,000 of these revolvers were sold to the United States Government in the early war from Great Britain. The most popular pistol was the Le Mat Revolver, or also known as the cap and ball. The Le Mat Revolver was invented by Jean Alexander Francliois Le Mat, his idea proved its efficiency when colt began manufacturing this in the early 1860s. The cap and ball had two barrels, which held nine .40 caliber rounds on the upper barrel, and a .63 caliber on the lower barrel, and came with the option of either an eighteen or twenty gauge shot barrel. One model was even fitted with a full length barrel (Pikes 27-30). This greatly aided the northern victory due to the enormous power it possessed over the confederates figure eights.

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Riffles were another major contribution to the war, as far as weapons were concerned. The union forces had One of the most popular riffles was the Model 1861 Springfield Musket. The Springfield Musket weighed 9.25 pounds, had a twenty-one inch socket bayonet, and fired a .58 caliber mine ball traveling 950 feet per second. Riffled Muskets, which were also known as Enfields, were the second most popular riffles in the war. These Enfields, had a bore diameter of .557 inches, and weighed nine pounds three ounces. They were accurate at 800 yards, and could travel up to 1,100 yards without any difficulty. During the course of the war, 400,000 Enfields were sold to the Union troops, whereas a mere 20,000 were purchased by the confederate army. Although this weapons wasnt as popular as the Springfield, the Enfield still packed a powerful punch at 1,100 yards (Ripley 43).

The Remington production factories, located in New England, began producing the Harpers Ferry Rifle in 1850. This rifle proved its worthiness in the Mexican War in 1847. After gaining its respect from the Harpers Ferry Virginia arsenal, it was mass produced for the Union troops in the north. In 1855, this weapon was retrofitted with a new 33 inch barrel for greater accuracy, and a 22.5 inch bayonet for close range combat. With a muscular 9.75 pound load, this weapon proved its effectiveness by becoming the mainstay of the Unions arsenal. The next mistake by the Confederacy was the manufacturing of the Whitworth rifle. This rifle proved accurate at 1,800 yards, but weighed in a 22 pounds and was too much or a hassle. This weapon had a new 6-sided hexagonal bolt or bullet. In fact, it was a six-sided bolt from a Rebel sharpshooter that killed Union General Uncle John Sedgwick during the fighting at Spotsylvania Court House just after he had remarked to a freighted soldier that Confederate sharpshooters could not hit an elephant (Olmstead 12). The Union army was still victorious at this battle despite this minor setback.

The Confederates imported over 100,000 Austrian rifles in an attempt to conserve money and resources. This rifle offered interchangeable ammunition with the Mississippi Rifle and the south was short on funds. This wasnt the greatest weapons; it was made of bronze, and while under pressure, it shattered easily. When the .54 or .58 caliber shell was projected from this gun, there was a risk of explosion. The northern army bought out most of the weapons, some 250,000 from Austria to ensure that they would not have to large of an arsenal. The rifle that contributed most to the success of the Union was the Spencer rifle. The first of its kind, it used a metallic cartridge and could fire 14 rounds per minute as opposed to the 3 rounds per minute limited by confederate weaponry. With this feat, the south was unable to capture Spencers due to the lack of ammunition (Davis 64).

Implemented by the south, the Colt rifle never proved effective. Factories produced this .40 ro.64 caliber weapons mainly in the north. After the souths raid at Harpers Ferry, they captured this weapon. A great move on their part, little did they know that this weapon was stored in the armory for a reason! The north at abandoned this weapon due to its inefficiency and lack of interchangeable ammunition. The Colt rifle was a repeating rife and was a large version of the colt revolver. Using the paper cartage for bolts, this was overall a slow gun and just another setback for the confederates. The north had replaced this rifle with the use of the Starr carbine rifle. The 4th most popular, this weapon had an unsurpassed zero misfire rate. This was a resounding move on the Unions behalf.

At this point in time, manufactures began to incorporated different technologies together and create new and improved weaponry. After repeating fire weapons was the telescopic sight. This was the single greatest add-on to a long range, high velocity rifle; it made it far more accurate. As described in the literature of the time, this new advent allowed sharpshooters to fire accurately at ranges as far as 2,200 yards depending upon the weapon and person firing it. This was greatly used on the Whitworth rifle and weighing in at around 4 pounds and a cost of $20, this was a greatly implemented tool of the trade in the north. The weapon indicated that the man carrying it was among the most trusted soldiers and the best shots (Ripley 46-49).

Another leap innovation which originated from the Indians was the bayonet. Used by both sides, the bayonet was a 21 blade on the end of a rifle which aided in close combat. This was the most beneficial to the union troops due to the rifles they used. The bayonet was only compatible with certain rifles such as the Austrian Model 1854. With long range fire power, this was not implemented too much, but in those few cases, it was considered a life saver. Along side these bayonets was its cousin, the sword. The swords of these times were made of steel and used mainly by the generals and higher ranking officers. Also known as a saber, these proved ineffective during the later years of the war. Carnegie Steel manufactured these in the northern factories yet they made their way to the confederate troops.

With every battle there is a hero, something that is superior above all others. In the Civil War, the north possessed this hero, the Gatling Gun. This weapon had six individual barrels, and the firepower of half of an army. Southern invented, the north at first didnt trust it, but when put to the test it proved true. It served as a blue-print for the modern machinegun and is in use even today in a modified form (the mini-gun) (Stewart 67).

Throughout the American Civil War, the north proved victorious and superior to the south. The Union had the power and wealth, and, he who has the money has the power proved so as the north defeated the south and embraced the trophy of power. There were many key factors in this accomplishment, the factories, the money, the resources, the commanders, the manpower, the skill and determination, but most importantly, the weapons.


Works Cited
Bender, David L. The Civil War: The North.

California: Gayle Books, 2001
Davis, William D. The Blue and the Grey.

Illinois: Publishers International LTD, 1996.


Olmstead, Edwin. The Big Guns: Civil War Siege.

Connecticut: Seacoast and Naval Cannon, 1997.


Pikes, Joe Brown. The Civil War Societys Civil War Dictionary.

Seattle: Civil War Society, 1999
Ripley, Warren. Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War.

New York: McCormick Press Inc, 1984.


Stewart, Gail B. Weapons of War.

New York: Lucent Books, 2000.


“Weapons of the Civil War” December 7, 2001,. Online. Internet. February 14, 2002.

http://www.instaweb.com/p/pmoade/weapons.htm
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