civil war guns

Guns of the (Union) Grunt: 1863

by Chris Eger,  |  published on February 18, 2013

Some 150 years ago, the US Army was in the midst of the most brutal war it would ever be a part of, the Civil War. In five years of open combat more than 620,000 Union soldiers died from a population of just over 34-million Americans, nearly 2% of the total population. If these figures were adjusted against today’s population, this would be nearly 6-million killed. These are the weapons they carried into combat against other Americans, those under a Confederate flag.

The Springfield 1861 Rifle
Some 2,213,363 men served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and by 1863, most Yankees carried a Springfield Rifle. While many other longarms were carried by the army and militia including the Pattern 1853 Enfield, the Austrian Lorenz rifle, and the legacy Springfield flintlocks of previous wars, it was the 1861 series Springfield Rifle that armed the majority of bluecoats. It was also the first mass-produced US-made rifle manufactured in large quantities. In fact, more than a million were built not only by Springfield but also by nearly two dozen subcontractors to supply the largest army seen in North America up to that time.

With a 40-inch barrel giving an overall length of 56-inches (without the bayonet fitted), the rifle weighed in at 9-pounds flat, about the weight of a modern large caliber hunting rifle but a whole lot longer. Unlike the old flintlock smoothbores of the Army of 50-years before, the percussion lock rifled barrel 1861 could reach out and touch a target with some degree of accuracy out to 400-yards and could even be fired in the rain.

The Spencer Repeater
For cavalrymen and those few lucky infantry that lucked into one, the Spencer was the bullet-spewing god of the 1863 battlefield. The Springfield rifle, mentioned above, had a rate of fire of about 2-3 rounds per minute. The Spencer, with a short-throw lever action and self-contained cartridges, could fire up to 20 rounds in the same time.

At just 39.25-inches long with a 22-inch barrel, it was handy and about the same size as the M-1 carbine of WWII fame. It fed .56-55 caliber cartridges through a seven shot tubular magazine that inserted through the buttstock. Up to a dozen magazines were issued to those armed with the Spencer in an early example of tactical reloads. In the hands of small units of rapidly moving horsemen, who could rush around the battlefield like fire brigade, the amazing amount of fire these guns could produce was a key factor in several Union victories. Some 200,000 of these were made and if you were a grunt in 1863, you wanted one.

The Berdan Sharps rifle
If Carlos Hathcock or Chris Kyle were in the US military in 1863, they would have carried a Sharps rifle. The Sharps was a specialist’s weapon meant for long-range high precision marksmanship capable of taking man-sized targets well past 500-yards.

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