(Yes, we’re nearly a day behind. Can’t be helped. Right now, just call us … an aspiring wrapper. We’ll be catching up throughout the day, and expect to make only one brief post tomorrow. Saturday we return to the normal schedule. -Ed).
The Civil War is often thought of being boring from a standpoint of small arms development. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the war;s outbreak, many second-line and state militia outfits were armed with smoothbore percussion muzzleloaders, despite the Army’s adoption of a Minie-ball rifle-musket five years earlier. Some of those smoothbore muskets were .69 caliber converted flintlocks. Even at Gettysburg, whole regiments in both armies were firing round balls from smoothbores. By war’s end, the metallic fixed cartridge breechloader had proven its superiority and adaptability, and thanks to this new technology, new repeaters and machine guns were entering service, and something like a recoiling carriage was developed for artillery (it would take decades more for hydraulics to enable a truly practical version, however).
These developments were closely watched by European and Asian officers detailed as observers to the American armies and so they spread worldwide with great rapidity.
In addition, some of the Europeans’ small arms got a combat test, because neither the industry-poor Confederacy nor the industry-rich Union could produce enough modern firearms fast enough to arm new regiments and to reconstitute after losses. (The Austrian Lorenz, an equivalent to the M1855 or M1861 from the ill-fated Harper’s Ferry and surviving Springfield arsenals, was probably the most widely issued of these).
And the same logistics problem that made the Americans of both nations willing to scour the arsenals, factories and arms bazaars of Europe, meany that every small shop that could perhaps produce muskets, parts or bayonets was rapidly reorganized for that purpose. This was especially true in the South, where both manufacturing capacity and raw materials feedstocks were critically low.
Enter the website Civil War Arsenal, one man’s blog about the CW weapons that he, descended from Revolutionary and Confederate soldiers, collects. There is a heavy emphasis on Confederate weapons, a field of collecting beset by confusion and fakes.
This page is Gene West’s personal contribution to the memory of his ancestors, but it’s also a fine resource for anyone interested in Civil War arms, especially Rebel ones.
If you’re needing a little more Civil War wisdom, here are some more links:
- An expert on the guns of the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal. With the 1859 John Brown raid this was one of the locations involved in the runup to the war; during the war the arsenal was so badly burned and looted by both armies that it was never rebuilt. Today, a National Historic Site.
- Harper’s Ferry’s competitor inside the government, which would survive for over 100 more years, ws the Springfield Armory. Here is the program from its dedication in 1980 as a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. (Yes kids, that’s what professionally printed stuff looked like before the invention of the Mac and the Laserwriter).
- VMI hosts an interesting correspondence collection on Virginia’s crash program to update militia arms in the period between Brown’s raid and outbreak of open rebellion.
- Milpas.cc has what seems to be accurate and nearly comprehensive information on Civil War muzzleloading rifles (by Armory of production) and breechloading rifles.
Those links are all good stuff. But today, the tile of Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week belongs to Gene West’s Civil War Armory.