Civil War Weapons and Technologies

by Isaac Kaufer

Original weapons in the civil war

The original gun of the civil war was called the Smoothbore musket. this gun was very basic. It had a very small range of no more than 100 yards, and even from 100 yards away, it had poor accuracy. Another original weapon used in the cvil war was the bayonet. The bayonet is basically a sword attached to the barrel of a gun (as seen in picture below). The bayonet was the best way to battle in very close range, because when you are in too close range, you can't stop to re-load a weapon, you have to keep fighting.

Civil War Bayonet
Civil War Bayonet

New and Improved Gun

After some battles, the rifle was invented. The rifle completely changed the war. suddenly, the killing range was extended and now everybody is being killed from a distance. The kill zone with a rifle was about one half of a mile, and the rifles were extremely accurate, which increased the amount of casualties. Although it rarely occurred anymore, in close battles, the bayonet still had the advantage over the rifle, because in very close range, you don't want to be reloading in the middle of a battle field, when other people around you have swords.

The First Machine Gun

The first machine gun ever to be invented was invented during the civil war by a man named Dr. Richard Jordan Gatlin. This gun was the first successful one out of many prototypes called the Gatlin gun. Nobody in the war would buy any until Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler bought 12 for the battle at Petersburg Front for $1,000 each. These guns were hand crank operated. It consisted of six barrels rotating around a central shaft. Each of these six barrels would fire at approximately 100 rounds per minute giving the entire gun a firing speed of 600 rounds per minute (ten per second). At the battle of Petersburg Front, the Gatling gun proved to be successful. The 1865 model was tested and approved by the government o be the first machine gun. This newer version had a hopper feed that you would put steel chargers into, and it would fire them. Also, the original ones had some problems because it would overheat, or get jammed after a long time of sustained fire, so the newer version had more barrels allowing more time between each shot for a small cool down, and allowing for more overall shots to be fired.

Edged Weapons

Bayonets, sabers, swords, cutlasses, Bowie knives, pikes, and lances, classified as edged weapons. They appear in some of the battles but were mostly for the soldiers to feel more protected. In the Civil War, about 250,000 people were wounded and treated. Out of those 250,000 approximately 1,000 were stabbed by bayonets or sabers, and even out of that 1,000 a large amount was done in private quarrels that did not take place on the battlefield. Sabers, were a real and very dangerous weapon that was wielded by cavalry units. In the properly trained hands, the saber could be very deadly, however the novice cavalry units had trouble handling them. In the Civil war times, the sword, although it may have been complete useless in battle, were a sign of authority for officers.


Any firearm that you couldn't carry in your arms were considered artillery or cannons. In the Civil War, dozens of cannons were used, but all of them fell into two categories: smoothbore or rifled cannon. Any further description was based on the weight of the cannonball that was fired from the cannon (12 lbs, 24 lbs...), the diameter of the firing point (3 in, 5 in...), the method of loading (breech or muzzle), which factory it was made from, and the trajectories (flat, arched...). All of the cannons were either made of steel, bronze, or iron, depending on which one was most convenient to use. The favorite cannon of both the North and the South had a maximum range of 1,700 yards (a little less than a mile), but was most effective at less than 250 yards. The most used rifled guns had a maximum range of over 2,300 yards. This long range was not needed very much in battles, but it did have a big part in destroying fortifications.

Minie Ball

The minie ball greatly changed the warfare as well. This bullet was to be propelled out of the barrel of a gun spinning instead of going straight. Instead of leaving a normal bullet wound on the body, it would shatter anything in it's path. Overall it was a great advantage for the defense, and many of the generals didn't know this. Many of the generals were having trouble adjusting their tactics with the advancement of weaponry, which is one of the things that caused many of the deaths in the Civil War. When any general charged into enemy lines, they could expect to be shot at with the minie ball, and have to get amputations where they were shot instead of just removing the bullet because that is what the minie ball did.


"Civil War Weapons." The American Civil War Home Page. Web. 18 May 2011. <>.

Weapon Technology Notes