5 Major Weapons Used in the Civil War

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5 Major Weapons Used in the Civil War
Many soldiers used rifles in the Civil War. (Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Fought between 1861 and 1865, the Civil War was one of the bloodiest conflicts in the nation's history. The Civil War represented a time of great variety in weaponry, ranging from knives and swords to revolvers and muskets. The Civil War era also was a time of new weapons development, such as the machine gun and grenade. Some weapons, however, were used more often than others on the battlefield, thanks to their reliability and effectiveness.

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Colt Model 1860 Revolver

Designed by Samuel Colt and manufactured from 1860 through 1873, the Colt Model 1860 revolver was one of the most common infantry weapons of the Civil War. With a total production of more than 200,000, the Colt was the primary issue revolver for both Confederate and Union armies. The gun was famed for both its reliability and its increased firepower because of its revolving cylinder containing five or six bullets.

Springfield Model 1861 Rifle-Musket

The standard rifle-musket of both infantries, the Springfield Model 1861 was a simply constructed, yet effective weapon in combat. Although the rate of fire was slow, with three rounds per minute considered to be fast shooting, it had an effective range of 500 to 600 yards and proved to be deadly at anything less than 300 yards. During the Civil War, the federal government produced more than 800,000 Springfield rifle-muskets and purchased a further 670,000 from other armories. The Springfield Model 1861 was so admired that the Confederates produced their own version, the Richmond Rifle.

The Napoleon

Nicknamed the "Napoleon" by artillery soldiers, the Field Gun Model 1857 was a 12-pounder, smoothbore cannon. It constituted nearly 40 per cent of the Union and Confederate artillery armament, making it a workhorse of the Civil War artilleries and one of the most significant weapons of the conflict. Favoured for its versatility, the Napoleon was effective in both short-range, anti-personnel fire and long-range duelling. The cannon caused more casualties than any other artillery weapon.

Spencer Repeating Carbine

According to the Smithsonian, the Spencer Repeating Carbine was one of the most popular firearms of the Civil War, despite not being issued until the latter part of 1863. One of the most technically advanced weapons of the conflict, the carbine's manufacture was beyond the capability of Southern industry and the Spencer became a staple of the North. In its first field test, Union troops using the Spencer earned the nickname "lightning brigade," when they defeated a numerically stronger Confederate force at the Battle of Hoover's Gap in 1863.

Bowie Knife

Designed by James Bowie and popularised during the 1830s, the Bowie Knife consisted of a thick, butcher-style blade of between eight and 12 inches, a straight top and wooden handle. The Bowie Knife was a staple of the Confederate Army and considered an essential weapon for any soldier. It was common for soldiers to etch slogans on to their blades, bearing patriotic motifs such as "Sunny South" or "Death to Yankees." Although the Bowie Knife was used far less in favour of the bayonet as the conflict wore on, the Bowie Knife remained a symbol of the South until well after the end of the Civil War.

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