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Civil War Smooth-bore and Rifle Muskets
 Civil War Smooth-bore and Rifle Muskets

Civil War Fighting Tactics

By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, infantry tactics with smoothbore muskets had evolved to massed fire from tightly packed groups of infantrymen. The men stood shoulder to shoulder and fired in volleys at another tightly packed formation.  When the musket fired there is a smaller flash from the primer and often flying pieces of brass when the hammer strikes the cap, and often the entire cap flies off of the nipple. It is natural human reflex for the eyes to close.  The muskets produce smoke from the black powder, which is thick and blocks the frontal view of the soldier immediately after firing the weapon.  If there was no wind blowing, after a few volleys the view on the battlefield would be so obscured by smoke that neither side would be able to aim at the other.  In other words, it is very likely that a soldier was not actually taking aim at his target.  Regardless of the reason, failure to aim would negate most of the benefit of the rifled musket over the smoothbore musket, only the capability of faster reloading would remain, and that benefit would be recognized mainly from volley fire.  Less than a year into the American Civil War, troops were taking cover behind walls, fences, and other existing protection, and soon were building their own personal protection on the battlefield..  To reload the rifleman tore the paper cartridge with his teeth, poured the powder into the muzzle, then rammed the bullet and paper down the top of it. Lastly he fitted the percussion cap on to the little tube at breech and pulled the hammer back ready for firing.  A good rifleman could reload and shoot three times a minute.  


The Smooth-bore Muskets and Rifle Muskets below are listed in order they are on display at the Veterans Memorial Museum. 


Model 1842 U.S. Springfield .69 Caliber - Muzzle Loading Smoothbore Musket


The US Model 1842 .69 caliber, muzzle loading smoothbore musket was manufactured and used in the United States during the 19th Century at Springfield and Harper's Ferry Armories between 1844 and 1855. 278,585 were produced. This Model was the last U.S. smoothbore musket manufactured. This model was produced with a percussion cap system which was more reliable and much more resistant to weather than flintlock muskets. It was the first US rifle that incorporated fully interchangeable parts. The Model 1842 was produced with a thicker barrel so they could be rifled. Many of these muskets had their barrels rifled in the 1850's which allowed them to fire the new Minié ball. The rifling of the barrel and the use of the Minie ball proved advantageous. As a consequence, the Model 1842 was the last .69 caliber musket. The smoothbore version had a cast sight on the barrel band. The rifled muskets had sights added at the same time as the rifling.  Both the smoothbore and the modified rifled version of the Model 1842 were used by United States, in the American Indian Wars, Mexican–American War, and by the Union and Confederate armies in the American Civil War. *The Springfield rifle used muzzle loaded paper cartridges*.


Model 1844 Belgian Saxon .58 caliber - Muzzle Loading Rifle Musket


One Illinois colonel reportedly said: "These Belgian muskets will kick like a mule and burst with the greatest facility. Several soldiers in our Illinois regiments have been killed in this way." He also complained that the bayonets were too soft and would "coil round the enemy, thus taking him prisoner." The Ordnance Department considered them first rate weapons. Included with the gun is an original socket bayonet that is also marked with "67" and an 1847 dated Batty "peace" pattern brass powder flask with leather strap. This rifle is marked "P.J. LHERBE&CIE/A LIEGE" on the lock plate. The company was registered with the Liege proof house 1836-1869. There are also Liege proof marks throughout along with "67" on the left barrel flat and small "67" marks on the various components. It has a triangular blade front sight and notch rear sight with two folding leaves. It has a walnut stock with dual front and mid bands and sling swivels on the center band and bottom of the butt. Between 20,000 and 30,000 thousand Malherbe Model 1851 and 1857 "Saxon" or "Dresden" rifles were imported for the war.  The Belgian Saxon rifle used muzzle loaded paper cartridges.


Model 1851 Springfield .57 caliber, Cadet Musket - Smoothbore Muzzle Loading Musket


The 4000 Model 1851 Cadet rifles were made by the Springfield Armory between 1851-1853. These muskets were made in .57 caliber percussion muzzle loader with a 40 inch round smoothbore barrel. The commonwealth of Virginia ordered some 300 of these muskets in 1851 for the cadets at Virginia Military Academy “VMI” under direct orders of then President Zachary Taylor. Some of these were used by of the Confederacy. Most were used by more than 30 private military high schools and colleges that existed in the 1850s with such names as Episcopal High School, Alexandria, VA, Jefferson College, Washington, MS, Kentucky Military Institute, Hillsborough Military Academy, NC, Georgia. Some 341 muskets were rifled and had rear sights added. These muskets were manufactured at Springfield Armory from 1851 to 1853. This diminutive gun was patterned after the .69 caliber US Model 1842 Musket.  The 1851 Springfieldrifle used muzzle loaded paper cartridges.


Pattern 1853 British Enfield .577 Caliber - Muzzle Loading Rifle Musket


The Enfield Pattern 1853 muzzle loading rifle-musket was a .577 caliber Minié-type muzzle-loading rifled musket, used by the British Empire from 1853 to 1867. This rifle-musket was the second most widely used infantry weapon by both the North and the South in the American Civil War. The Confederates imported more Enfields during the course of the war than any other small arm. It has been estimated that over 900,000 P53 Enfields were imported to America and saw service in every major engagement from the Battle of Shiloh (April, 1862) and the Siege of Vicksburg (May 1863). The rifle-musket was highly popular with the Confederates. The term "rifle-musket" referred to muskets with the smooth-bored barrels replaced with rifled barrels. The length of the barrels allowed the weapons to be fired by rank, since a long rifle was necessary to enable the muzzles of the second rank of soldiers to project beyond the faces of the men first rank. These musket rifles were also sufficiently long when fitted with a bayonet to be effective against cavalry. The Pattern 1853 Enfield was developed by William Pritchett in the 1850s.  The 39 in (99 cm) barrel had three grooves, with a 1:78 rifling twist, and was fastened to the stock with three metal bands. The rifle was often called a "three band" model. The rifle's cartridges contained 70 grains (4.5 g) of black powder, and the ball was typically a 530-grain (34 g) Boxer modification of the Pritchett or a Burton-Minié, had a muzzle velocity of about 850 to 900 feet (259–274m) per second. The Enfield's adjustable ladder rear sight had steps for 100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards, and 400 yards. An adjustable flip-up blade sight was graduated from 900 yards to 1,250 yards. British soldiers were trained to hit a target 6 feet by 2 feet with a 2 feet diameter bull's eye, out to 600 yards. The target used from 650 yards to 900 yards had a 3 feet bull's eye, with any man scoring 7 points with 20 rounds at that range being designated a marksman.  The 1853 British Enfield rifle used muzzle loaded paper. 


Musket, England, M1853 British Tower, .577 Caliber - Muzzle Loading Rifle Musket


The Enfield Pattern 1853 (or .577 Enfield) muzzle loading rifled musket rifle was the standard-issue musket of the British Empire beginning in 1853. The type served in several conflicts including the Crimean War (1853-1856), the United States Civil War (1861-1865) and the New Zealand Land Wars (1845-1872).  It was highly regarded for its accuracy at range. Some 1,500,000 were in circulation.  It was produced from 1853 to 1867 from the Royal Small Arms Factory in London, England. The Pattern 1853 was in service from 1853 to 1871 before technology superseded the outgoing muzzle-loading long gun. The Enfield Pattern 1853 was developed for use by the British infantry with a new modern long gun capable of accepting a British-modified version of the French Minie long lead ball. The result was a rather lightweight and reliable long gun in the Pattern 1853 rifle-musket that was used for several decades by the British Empire. The Pattern 1853 used a standard 500 grain .577 Burton-Minie or Pritchett ball and paper cartridge, the former an ammunition type also shared by the American-made .58 Springfield rifle musket (both guns were used by the Confederates and Union forces respectively during the US Civil War). The ball could penetrate 4 inches of thick wood at range which gave it good man-stopping qualities. The weapon was of a typical "long gun" design with a three-banded wooden body in which the bands fix the barrel to the stock, integrated shoulder stock and pistol grip, percussion lock action and bayonet mount. The weapon was a "muzzle-loading" long gun. The propellant and bullet were loaded and rammed down from the barrel-end of the weapon. A trained user could fire between 1 and 3 rounds at a given target area out to 2,000 yards though accuracy was more effective at ranges around 600 yards according to sources. The Pattern 1853 was equipped with an adjustable ramp rear sight with a fixed post front. The rear sight was adjustable through a rear friction cross bar/standing leaf mechanism. Unloaded weight was a hefty 9.5 pounds. The gun was 55 inches in length.  The 1853 British Pattern rifle used muzzle loaded paper cartridges.


Model 1855 Springfield .58 Caliber - Muzzle Loading Rifle Musket


 The Springfield Model 1855 was a muzzle loading rifle musket widely used in the American Civil War. It utilized the conical Minié ball, which could be deadly at over 1,000 yards. About 60,000 of these rifles were made, and it was a standard infantry weapon for Union and Confederates alike, until superseded by the Model 1861. The Model 1855 Springfield was a rifled musket used in the mid 19th century. It was manufactured by the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts and at the Harper's Ferry in Virginia. Earlier muskets had mostly been smoothbore flintlocks. In the 1840s, the unreliable flintlocks had been replaced by much more reliable and weather resistant percussion cap systems and by rifled barrels and the newly invented Minié ball. This increased the typical effective range of a musket from about fifty yards to several hundred yards. The Model 1855 had an effective range of 500 yards and was deadly to over 1,000 yards. The Model 1855 also used the Maynard tape primer, an improved percussion cap system. Instead of using individual caps placed for every shot, the Maynard system used a tape which was automatically fed every time the hammer was cocked. While the powder and Minié ball still had to be loaded conventionally, the tape system was designed to automate the placing of the percussion cap and speed up the rate of fire of the weapon. It could also be fired with single caps if the tape was unavailable. Approximately 75,000 Model 1855 muskets were made. The machinery to make the Model 1855s, at Harpers Ferry was captured by the Confederate Army in early 1861. The captured machinery was taken to Richmond, where it formed a key element of the Confederate weapon manufacturing capability. The Rifle machinery was taken to Fayetteville, North Carolina where it too was put to use for significant arms production throughout the War. As a result of using the original arsenal machinery, the Richmond rifle muskets and the Fayetteville rifles were two of the finest weapons produced by the Confederacy. Springfield 1855 rifle used muzzle loaded paper cartridges. 


Model 1859 Sharps .52 Caliber - Breech Loading Rifle Musket


The military Sharps rifle was a falling block rifle used during and after the American Civil War.  In Addition to being able to use a standard percussion cap, the Sharps had a pellet primer feed which held a stack of pelleted primers and flipped one over the nipple each time the trigger was pulled and the hammer fell. This made it easier to fire a Sharps rifle from horseback than a gun employing individually loaded percussion caps. The 12,592 Sharps Rifle was made by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut. 2,000 rifles were earmarked for Colonel Hiram Berdan’s 1st and 2st U.S Sharpshooter Regiments. The Sharps made a superior sniper weapon of greater accuracy than the more commonly issued muzzle-loading rifled muskets. This was due mainly to the higher rate of fire of the breech loading mechanism and superior quality of manufacture, as well as the ease of which it could be reloaded from a kneeling or prone position. It used a breech loaded paper cartridge.    The Sharps rifle was expensive to manufacture and cost three times the cost of the muzzle loading Springfield. It is interesting to note that officers were distrustful of breech loading weapons on the grounds that they would encourage men to waste ammunition.

Sharps rifle used breech loaded paper cartridges. 


Model 1861 Springfield .58 caliber - Muzzle Loading Rifle Musket


The Springfield Model 1861 was a Minié-type muzzle loading rifled musket shoulder-arm used by the United States Army and Marine Corps during the American Civil War. Commonly referred to as the "Springfield", it was the most widely used U.S. Army weapon during the Civil War, favored for its range, accuracy, and reliability. The barrel was forty inches (102 cm) long, firing a .58 caliber Minié ball. The total weight was approximately nine pounds. The rifle-musket had a general effective range of 200 to 300 yards but could reliably hit man sized targets out to 500 yards by marksmen. The rifle-musket used percussion caps to fire. Well-trained troops were able to fire at a rate of three aimed shots per minute while maintaining accuracy up to 500 yards, The Springfield was equipped with flip-up leaf sights. The sight had two leaves; one for 300 yards and the other for 500 yards, and with both leaves down, the sight was set for a range of one hundred yards. While the British Pattern 1853 Enfield, favored by the Confederates, utilized sights that allowed finer range settings, the Springfield's simple leaves were more rugged and were less expensive to produce. The Enfield's sights extended to 900 yards compared to the 500 yard maximum range of the Springfield's sights. Realistically, the range of both weapons was less than 600 yards. While the sight designs were very different, the two weapons were otherwise very similar, and had very similar effective ranges. The Springfield rifle cost twenty dollars each at the Springfield Armory where they were officially made. The Springfield Model 1861 was equipped with a square socket bayonet and used muzzle loaded paper cartridges. The primary producer was Colt. 


Massachusetts model 1863 .58 caliber - Muzzle Loading Rifle Musket


The Massachusetts Model 1863 was Manufactured by Samuel Norris & W.T. Clement, Springfield, Ma, Standard Model 1861 contract percussion muzzle loading rifle-musket made for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was a Single-shot muzzle loader. The arm conforms to 1863 specifications with three bands and screw fastened. This rifle was configured with a to-leaf rear sight and Tulip-head shaped cleaning rod. Massachusetts paid Norris $206,125 for delivery of 13,000 rifle-muskets. Notes: "Norris, Samuel - Springfield, 1862-1869. Morris and W.T. Clement contracted with the State of Massachusetts in 1863 for 2,000 U.S. Model 1863 rifled Springfield muskets at $18.50. An additional 1,000 were added in 1864. These arms are marked 'S.N. & W.T.C. for Mass.' Norris was active alone as a maker of muskets and carbines, 1868/1869." The Model 1863 Rifle Musket has a nipple bolster without clean-out screw, which is flush with the lock's surface, and oval-surfaced, clamping type barrel bands. The tulip-headed ramrod has a straight shaft. The Massachusetts Model 1861 used muzzle loaded paper cartridges.


Model 1863 U.S. Springfield .58 caliber - Muzzle Loading Rifle Musket


The Springfield Model 1863 is a .58 caliber rifled musket manufactured by the Springfield Armory between 1863 and 1865. The Model 1863 was only a minor improvement over the Springfield Model 1861.  The Model 1861, with all of its variants, was the most commonly used long arm in the American Civil War, with over 700,000 manufactured. The Model 1863 also has the distinction of being the last muzzle-loading long arm produced by the Springfield Armory. The Model 1863 was produced in two variants. The Type I eliminated the band springs and replaced the flat barrel bands with oval clamping bands. It also featured a new ramrod, a case-hardened lock, a new hammer, and a redesigned bolster (percussion chamber). Several of these modifications were based upon Colt's contract model 1861, known as the "Colt special". 273,265 Type I variants were manufactured in 1863. The Type II is sometimes referred to as the Model 1864, but is more commonly referred to as just a variant of the Model 1863. This version re-introduced band springs, replaced the clamping bands with solid oval bands, and replaced the three leaf rear sight with single leaf sight. A total of 255,040 of these were manufactured from 1864 to 1865. By the end of the Civil War, muzzle-loading rifles and muskets were considered obsolete. In the years following the Civil War, many Model 1863 muskets were converted into breech-loading Trapdoor Springfield rifle muskets. The breech-loading weapons increased the rate of fire from three to four rounds per minute to eight to ten rounds per minute. The Model 1863 could be converted to breech-loading for about five dollars, at a time when a new rifle would cost about twenty dollars. The conversion of Model 1863 rifles therefore represented a significant cost savings to the U.S. military. The Springfield Model 1863 used muzzle loaded paper cartridges. 


Model 1862 Peabody .433 caliber - Breech Loading Rifle


The Peabody action was an early form of breech loading firearm action, where the heavy breechblock tilted downwards across a bolt mounted in the rear of the breechblock, operated by a lever under the rifle. The Peabody action most often used an external hammer to fire the cartridge. The Peabody action was developed by Henry O. Peabody from Boston, Massachusetts, and was first patented on July 22, 1862. While the Peabody was not perfected in time for the American Civil War, a few were entered in the trials of 1864 with favorable reports. Peabody carbines and rifles were made by the Providence Tool Company, Providence, Rhode Island during 1866–1871. The total production was, 112,000 for all models. The Peabody rifle used breach loaded brass cartridges.


U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum
2060A Airport Road • Huntsville AL 35801
(256) 883-3737