List of weapons in the American Civil War

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Hawken rifle and bowie knife

The American Civil War by Union and Confederate soldiers took place during the years 1861–1865. During the war, a variety of weapons were used on both sides. These weapons include edged weapons such as knives and swords, firearms such as handguns, rifled-muskets, breech loaders and repeating weapons, various field guns such as artillery, and new weapons such as the early grenade and machine gun.[1]

The Civil War is often to referred as the first "modern" war in history as it included the most advanced technology and innovations of warfare available at the time. Some of the innovations and advances of the Civil War included mass production of war material, rifling of gun barrels and the use of the Minié ball, the advent of repeating firearms and metallic cartridges, ironclad warships, advances in medicine, communication (especially the telegraph), and transportation (railroads), and the gradual decline of tactics from previous centuries.[2]

Individual weapons[edit]

Edged weapons[edit]

Model 2Notes for the subject
Model 1832 Foot Artillery SwordIssued to artillerymen. Based on the Roman gladius.
Model 1832 Dragoon SaberIssued to the US Cavalry. An engraved version was privately purchased by senior officers.
Model 1840 Light Artillery SaberIssued to mounted artillery.
Model 1840 Army Noncommissioned Officers' SwordIssued to infantry sergeants. The Marines had their own version.
Model 1840 Cavalry Saber
Model 1860 Light Cavalry Saber
M1860 CutlassIssued to naval boarding parties. Sailors also had access to axes, harpoons and grappling hooks.
Model 1850 Army Staff & Field Officers' SwordThe regulation officer's sword, though in practice most officers used cavalry sabers. Southern officers sometimes carried ancestral blades from the War of 1812 or even the American Revolutionary War.
Mameluke swordCarried by Marine officers.
Bowie knifeOften carried by Confederates instead of bayonets, including the Arkansas toothpick which could be used as a sword in combat, a hatchet to chop wood, a razor and a paddle in emergencies.[3]

Early in the war Robert E Lee proposed issuing pikes to the Confederate army to compensate for the shortage of guns. A few were made and used for training but were never issued for combat.[citation needed]


Colt Army Model 1860The most widely used handgun of the war, used by the Union and the Confederates alike.
Colt M1861 NavySimilar in size and appearance to the Colt Army, the main difference of the Colt Navy was the change in caliber from .44 to .36 and the fact that it was primarily issued to the US Navy.
Colt 1851 Navy RevolverThe preferred weapon of the Confederacy. Copies were made all over the South in former cotton mills.
Colt Dragoon RevolverIssued to the US Cavalry. A heavy large-caliber pistol invented during the Mexican War and designed for killing the mounts of charging enemy troopers.[4]
Remington Model 1858Colt's chief competitor, Remington Repeating Arms Company, also made revolvers during the Civil War. The most common was the Remington Model 1858. This pistol was highly favored by troops. The Remington had a quick cylinder release catch which made reloading much faster. It was used in large quantities during the war.[5]
Smith & Wesson Model 1Used as an alternative to the Colt and Remington. These usually fired brass rimfire cartridges.
Starr revolverA double-action revolver which was briefly used in the western theater of the war, until the U.S. Ordnance Department persuaded Starr Arms Co. to create a single-action variant after the discontinuation of the Colt. The company eventually complied, and the Union acquired 25,000 of the single-action revolvers for $12 each.
Savage 1861 NavyA "proto double-action" revolver with a second trigger underneath the first. Used by the Navy and a few Army regiments.
Kerrs Patent RevolverA five-shot back-action revolver made by the London Armoury Company was used by Confederate cavalry.
LeMat RevolverPerhaps the most well-known foreign-designed revolver during the Civil War. It had two barrels, one on top of the other. The top barrel could fire up to nine .42 caliber balls while the bottom could fire a 16 gauge shotshell, making it a deadly weapon in theory. The creator, a French doctor living in New Orleans, Jean Alexandre LeMat, moved back to France to create more revolvers for the Confederacy. The French-made revolvers, however, proved unreliable and difficult to manufacture.
Lefaucheux M1858A pinfire revolver imported from France by Union and Confederate officers.
Butterfield RevolverA transitional revolver with tape primer invented in 1855 by Jesse Butterfield of Philadelphia. 2000 were ordered by the US army, but production was canceled in 1862.[6]
Walsh RevolverA very rare 12 shot revolver. Less than 200 were made.
Elgin Cutlass pistolIssued to navy personnel but proved unpopular with the men and was quickly replaced with the M1860 Cutlass.
Volcanic PistolA lever action pistol made in 1853 chambered in 44. rimfire. privately owned by those who could afford them.

Derringers, pepper-box pocket pistols, and small revolvers like the Colt Baby Dragoon or teat-fire were often carried by enlisted men as a backup gun for close-quarters fighting.

Single-shot caplock pistols copied from the prewar French model were issued to the United States Navy. These had brass barrels to prevent corrosion. Some Confederate cavalry units were equipped with single-shot percussion cap or even flintlock pistols early in the war which were sometimes fitted with stocks to improve accuracy. These had been issued to the US Army until the 1840s, but were obsolete by the time of the Civil War due to the introduction of the Colt revolver.[7]


Springfield Model 1861The Springfield Model 1861 was the most widely used shoulder arm during the Civil War. It was favored for its range, accuracy, and reliability.
Pattern 1853 EnfieldThe Enfield 1853 rifled musket was used by both the North and the South in the American Civil War, and was the second most widely used infantry weapon in the war.
Lorenz RifleThis Austrian gun was the third-most common musket and was imported by both sides. It fired the same .58 caliber Minie ball as the Enfield and Springfield.
M1841 Mississippi RifleA 2-band rifle with sword bayonet which was issued to Confederate NCOs.
Fayetteville rifleA Confederate copy of the Springfield rifle.
Richmond RifleConfederate copy of the Springfield Model 1861
Whitworth rifleSometimes fitted with brass scopes were used by Confederate sharpshooters.
Sharps rifleThe Sharps rifle was a falling block rifle used during and after the American Civil War. The carbine version was very popular with the cavalry of both the Union and Confederate armies and was issued in much larger numbers than the full-length rifle.
Colt revolving rifleA few of these experimental guns were issued to Berdan's Sharpshooters but due to their unreliability were replaced with Sharps Rifles.
Burnside carbineA breech-loader invented by Ambrose Burnside and issued to the US Cavalry.
Tarpley carbine
Hank carbinePatented by Gilbert Smith in 1857.
Henry rifleThe Civil War precursor to the Winchester Rifle based on early lever-action rifles made by Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. These highly prized weapons were privately purchased by those who could afford them.
Spencer repeating rifleThe Spencer repeating rifle was a manually operated lever-action, repeating rifle fed from a tube magazine with cartridges. It was adopted by the Union army, especially by the cavalry, during the American Civil War, but did not really replace the standard issue muzzle-loading rifled muskets in use at the time. The Spencer carbine was a shorter and lighter version of the Spencer repeating rifle.
M1819 Hall rifleA single-shot breechloader invented in 1811. A few were used by the Confederacy.

Early in the war Confederates would use civilian arms including shotguns and hunting rifles like the Kentucky or Hawken due to the shortage of military weapons. These remained in service as late as 1863.[citation needed]

Old smoothbore muskets converted from flintlock to Caplock mechanism were also used, especially by the South, and had calibers as large as .74 which fired buck and ball ammunition: the Model 1816 Musket, Model 1822 Musket, Springfield Model 1835, Springfield Model 1840 Flintlock Musket, Springfield Model 1842, remnants from the War of 1812 like the Brown Bess and Model 1795 Musket, and surplus British Brunswick rifles and Minié rifles.[8]


The American Civil War belligerents did have crude hand grenades equipped with a plunger that would detonate upon impact. The North relied on experimental Ketchum Grenades, with a metal tail to ensure the nose would strike the target and start the fuse. The Confederacy used spherical hand grenades that weighed about six pounds, sometimes with a paper fuse. They also used Rains and Adams grenades, which were similar to the Ketchum in appearance and firing mechanism.[9]

Heavy Weapons[edit]

Rapid-fire weapons[edit]

Gatling gun at Fort Laramie in Wyoming

The Gatling gun was a multi-barreled, .58 caliber rapid-fire repeating gun that was capable of firing 600 rounds per minute that was created by Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling. As the crank was turned, a barrel revolved into place before the breech, a cartridge was inserted and fitted, and the empty shell was extracted in a continuous cycle. As there were multiple barrels, a Gatling gun could be fired for long periods of time without overheating. It was not as popular as common rifles, and saw very little action in the Civil War.[10]

Similar weapons included J.D. Mill's Coffee Mill Gun. Like the Gatling Gun, the cartridges of Mill's invention were fed by a hand crank, and this is why some people believe that President Lincoln called it "the coffee grinder gun".[citation needed] Other infantry support weapons included the .58 caliber Agar gun with a hopper on top and steel guard, and the Billinghurst Requa Battery which had eight banks of cartridge chambers that were rotated into alignment behind the row of 25 barrels.[11]

Chief of Ordnance, General James Wolfe Ripley was against issuing repeating rifles and machine guns to the Union army as he believed it would waste ammunition. Nevertheless, several generals, including General Benjamin Butler and General Winfield Scott Hancock, purchased Gatling Guns.[12]

The Confederate used the hand-cranked single barrel Williams Gun and the Vandenburgh volley gun, a volley gun similar to the French Mitrailleuse.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.c
  2. ^ "Technology in the Civil War". Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  3. ^ "Introduction to Arkansas". Retrieved 2007-06-19 
  4. ^ Ricketts, H, Firearms (London, 1964)
  5. ^ Myatt, F, 19th Century Firearms (London, 1989)
  6. ^ NRA Museum
  7. ^ Ricketts, Firearms
  8. ^ # ^ Brown, Dee Alexander. The Bold Cavaliers. (1959) p.50
  9. ^ Battle of 1st Bull Run. Retrieved 3 May 2007.
  10. ^ Myatt, F, 19th century firearms (London, 1989)
  11. ^ Rapid-fire guns of the Civil War
  12. ^ William B. Edwards, "Civil War Guns", Thomas Pubns (October 1997)


External links[edit]