A little more than 150 years ago, the guns of the Union and Confederate forces finally fell silent, after five years of what would be described by both sides, as hell on earth. The Civil War fundamentally changed America, and the arms of the Civil War fundamentally changed warfare. I’ll be taking a look at those weapons, starting with those of the victor.
Overwhelmingly, the most common long arm for Union troops was the venerable Springfield pattern Model 1861 rifle musket. More than eight hundred and thirty thousand of the single shot percussion rifles, from twenty different arms makers, were produced by northern factories from 1861, to the end of the war.
The civil war also marked the emergence of the repeating rifle. Oddly enough, the most famous repeating rifle of the Civil War was never widely adopted by the military. That would be the lever action 44 Henry rimfire. That damn Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week. I’d call the 16 shot Henry the AR-15 of its time. Light, fast handling, and unprecedented firepower. Of course, the most successful repeating rifle of the Civil War was the brilliantly designed Spencer, even though it was not issued until 1863. The Spencer was a seven shot lever-action. But the cartridges fed from a tube in the butt stock, rather than a tube under the barrel, as did the Henry. Of course, the dominant handgun for union forces were Colts, especially the 1851 Navy and later the 1860 Army- a revolver that even 150 years later, I think is nearly perfect.
Even after a century and a half, we still struggle with many of the same issues that divided us, and what one humorist after the war referred to as, “the late unpleasantness.” What’s amazing to me, is thanks to a thriving replica business, we’re all still able to shoot the guns of the Union and Confederacy; And for a moment, touch the past.
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