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The Spencer Repeater
and other breechloading rifles of the Civil War

(Spencer, Maynard, Ballard, Burnside, Sharps, Starr, Henry, Greene, Colt revolver)

 plus the muzzle loaders Enfield, Springfield, and Whitworth, and the Minié ball



The Spencer repeater
(see spec chart below)


The most advanced infantry weapon in the world of its times, it was patented in 1860 by Christian Spencer, a machinist who worked in Hartford, Conn. for Sharps and developed the Spencer on his own time. It was the world's first practical repeater and fired a .52 caliber metallic rimfire cartridge (patented by Smith & Wesson in 1854 and perfected by Henry in the late 1850's)1 which completely prevented gas leakage from the back because the brass casing expanded on ignition to seal the chamber. It had a "rolling block" (actually a rotating block) activated by lowering the trigger guard. This movement opened the breech and extracted the spent cartridge. Raising the lever caused a new cartridge, pushed into position by a spring in the 7-round magazine, to be locked into the firing chamber. As you can see in the illustration below, the 7-round magazine was located in the stock. The Spencer was easy to manufacture (given the requisite industrial infrastructure), had relatively few parts, many of which were in common with the Sharps rifles, and was cheaper than other repeaters on the market such as the Henry. It also turned out to be extremely reliable under battlefield conditions. Its great advantage over the muzzle loading rifles such as the Enfields and Springfields lay not only in the rapidity of fire, but also in the ability of the shooter to aim each shot. In a normal battle situation, the muzzle loaders were fired in an aimed manner only the first few shots, thereafter it was usually a case of hurried fire after frantic loading. A trained soldier could get off two or three shots a minute with them until the barrel fouled with lead deposit. With the Spencer the soldier could fire 20 to 30 times a minute when necessary, taking advantage of the cartridge box which held 10 preloaded magazines. The only disadvantage of the Spencers was the relatively small powder charge in the cartridge which limited its range. Some marksmen therefore preferred the single shot Sharps breechloader which used paper or linen cartridges with a larger powder charge and had greater range. With the Sharps you could fire about 10 times a minute. But for the cavalry which fought mostly at close range, the Spencer was the weapon of choice. Introduced in Jan. 1862, it found its first major use by Col. John Wilder's Indiana "Lightning Brigade" of mounted infantry at Hoover's Gap during the Tullahoma Campaign (22 June - 3 July 1863). The firepower and speed of this unit overwhelmed Wheeler's cavalry guarding the southern end of this pass and allowed George H. Thomas's 14th infantry corps to place itself on the flank of the Confederate General Hardee. This sudden development misled Hardee into thinking he had been outflanked by the entire Union Army of the Cumberland, and he retreated without orders back to Tullahoma, 15 miles in his rear. Wilder then spearheaded the turning movement to the east of Tullahoma, and this in turn undermined Bragg's entire defensive line, and he had to pull back into Chattanooga. At the price of about 600 casualties the Union Army advanced 100 miles and made military history. Later, at the battle of Chickamauga (19-20 Sept. 1863), his troops used them with decisive effect on the first day, keeping Bragg's troops from cutting the road to Chattanooga, and slowing Longstreet's attack on the second day.

Click here to read a history of the development of the Spencer.


Between the rifle and carbine versions, about 48,000 of these weapons were in use by 1865. The carbine was a shorter version of the Spencer 7-shot repeating rifle and was introduced primarily for cavalry use in 1864. The effective range (about 500 yards) was the same as the longer "rifle", but it was more difficult to aim because of the shorter distance between the sights. Rest assured that very few marksman with the unaided eye could or can reliably hit a man-sized target at more than 200 yards, regardless of the effective range of the weapon. 

Click to enlarge image.
Confederates captured some of these weapons, but the South's armament industry was unable to manufacture the ammunition due to a shortage of copper. It is only a small exaggeration to state that this cartridge decided the outcome of the Civil War.

Col. John T. Wilder said of them:"Hoover's Gap was the first battle where the Spencer repeating rifle had ever been used, and in my estimation they were better weapons that has yet taken their place, being strong and not easily injured by the rough usage of army movements, and carrying a projectile that disabled any man who was unlucky enough to be hit by it." One of his soldiers wrote about the Spencer that it "never got out of repair. It would shoot a mile just as accurately as the finest rifle in the world. It was the easiest gun to handle in the manual of arms drill I have ever seen. It could be taken all to pieces to clean, and hence was little trouble to keep in order -- quite an item to lazy soldiers." According to Smith Aktins, a colonel in Wilder's regiment, it was "the best arm for service in the field ever invented, better than any other arm in the world then or now, so simple in its mechanism that it never got out of order, and was always ready for instant service.".

Major-General James H. Wilson, who was instrumental in crushing Hood at Nashville (15-16 Dec. 1864) and defeated Forrest at Selma (2 April 1865), wrote the following about them: "There is no doubt that the Spencer carbine is the best fire-arm yet put into the hands of the soldier, both for economy of ammunition and maximum effect, physical and moral. Our best officers estimate one man armed with it [is] equivalent to three with any other arm. I have never seen anything else like the confidence inspired by it in the regiments or brigades which have it. A common belief amongst them is if their flanks are covered they can go anywhere. I have seen a large number of dismounted charges made with them against cavalry, infantry, and breast-works, and never knew one to fail.

.
1The metallic cartidge was first developed for the revolver. In 1836 Samuel Colt was issued a U.S. patent a firearm equipped with a revolving cylinder containing five or six round bullets  packed in front of loose powder and sealed in place with wax. Ignition was by means of percussion caps. In 1854 Daniel Wesson patented the rimfire metallic cartridge. In 1855 Rollin White patented the bored-through cylinder (essential for the use of a metallic cartidge). Horace Smith and Wesson bought this license from White and, in 1856, began the development of a revolver chambered for a self contained cartridge. The 7-shot Smith & Wesson Model 1 revolver, using a .22 rimfire cartridge, went into production in 1857 and was followed in 1861 by the 6-shot .32 cal. Model 2 which was mass-produced until 1864. It was nicknamed the "Old Army" Model and, although never purchased by the government, was very popular among officers as a personally purchased sidearm in the Civil War. One disadvantage of the rim-fire cartridge was the weakness of its case base which had to be soft enough to allow a crunch. This characteristic limited the amount of powder which could be safely packed into the cartidge. During the war several inventors worked on a center-fire cartridge, among them Hiram Berdan of Bardan's Sharpshooters fame, but its use was first introduced well after the war.

.32 cal. rimfire 6-shot Smith & Wesson Model 2 



Comparative table of the most common CW breechloaders
Feature / model Sharps rifle Sharps carbine Spencer rifle Spencer carbine Henry rifle
Weight 9.5 lb 7.75 lb 10 lb 8.25 lb 9.25 lb
Length 47.inches 39.inches 47.inches 39 inches 43.5 inches
Breech.type falling block falling block rolling block rolling block collapsing toggle
Cocking hammer, hand hammer, hand hammer, hand hammer, hand self-cocking
Caliber barrel .52 .52 .52 .52 .44*
Ignition percussion cap percussion cap rimfire rimfire rimfire
Cartridge type linen linen metal metal metal
Bullet diameter .535 inches .535 inches .535 inches .535 inches. .455 inches
Bullet volume 370 grains 370 grains 285 grains 285 grains 216 grains
Powder charge 80 grains 80 grains 48 grains 48 grains 25 grains
Magazine none none butt,7 rounds butt,7 rounds under barrel, 15
Rate of fire 10 rounds/min. 10 rounds/min. 30 rounds/min. 30 rounds/min. 40 rounds/min.
Range** 200/1000 yd. 200/1000 yd. 200/500 yd. 200/500 yd. 200/400 yd.
Intro. year 1848 1848 1863 1864 1862

* This cartidge is equivalent to today's .44 caliber special which has more powder and a heavier bullet. The force of the bullet upon arrival, measured in foot-pounds, is about the same. That means that you can go out and buy for around $300 a modern Henry made by Rossi (actually a copy of an 1892 Winchester), model 44 magnum, load up to eleven .44 special cartridges in the magazine under the barrel) and relive the shooting experience of a rich or lucky Civil War soldier, or of a normal post-war settler or Indian.

**The effective range is difficult to establish since so much depended upon the skill and training of the marksman. In general the longer barrels of the "rifles" made sighting easier, thus improving accuracy. However, with the unaided eye, very few people can hit anything beyond 200 yards anyway. The other question is lethal range, i.e. how far could the weapon throw a bullet with enough energy left in it to do damage? This depended mostly on the powder charge and the weight of the bullet.


Other noteworthy Civil War era breechloaders



Maynard carbine
Single-shot rifled .50 caliber breechloader with a folding mechanism (like a shotgun) using a metallic cartridge whose wide flange at the base provided the gas seal. The weapon was invented by a New York dentist name Edward Maynard. It was patented in 1851, and the barrel was unlocked by lowering the trigger guard. The hammer was hand cocked, and ignition was by means of a percussion cap whose spark fired the powder through a hole in the center of the cartridge base. There was gas leakage through this hole. Relatively few were manufactured and used in the Civil War, and those mostly in the Confederacy. According to reports a practiced marksman could be effective at up to 600 yards with the Maynard. The Confederacy was able to manufacture the relatively simple Maynard brass cartridge (but not the rimfire Spencer and Henry cartridges). The advantages of the Maynard were its light weight at only 6 lbs and its simple construction.
 
 
Ballard rifle
Patented in 1861 by Charles H. Ballard of Sterling Massachusetts, it fired a .44 caliber rimfire metallic cartridge. Single shot, accurate, internal parts contained in the breech block with "camming" action. The trigger guard is lowered to open the breech. After insertion of  the cartridge the lever was then pulled up which closed the breech and half-cocked the hammer. Pulling the small knob in the fore-stock (in the photo under the sight) removed the spent casing. It was a well-made and  effective weapon, but the Spencer was more useful. After the war the Ballard became a favorite with buffalo hunters.
 
 
Burnside carbine
General Ambrose Everett Burnside was born in 1824 and graduated from the U. S. Military Academy in 1847. In 1853, then Lt. Burnside, a gifted mechanical engineer, requested permission from the Secretary of War to have the Springfield Armory construct a model of a firearm of his design for the purpose of satisfying the "working model" requirement of the U.S. Patent Office. His design, patented in 1856, had a roating breech block and the advanced "gain-twist" rifling. A barrel with gain twist rifling starts with a slow rate of twist at the breech of the barrel, but the rate of twist is increased as the bullet reaches the muzzle. This feature increases accuracy but is expensive to manufacture. To solve the problem of gas leakage the Burnside breachloader used a special tapered .54 caliber metallic cartridge which was shoved into the chamber by a plunger in the breach mechanism. The operating lever was released by pressing the special small lever inside the operating lever. By lowering the operating lever, which also served as a trigger guard, a rectangular steel block was tlted up. This block contained a cone shaped cavity  into which the metallic cartridge of the same shape was dropped with the bullet end up. By closing the lever the block rotated forward and inserted the cartidge into the chamber. Smooth insertion of the cartridge was facilitated by coating the casing with beeswax or tallow. However, ignition was by percussion cap which fired through a hole in the base of the cartridge which allowed some gas leakage. By the end of the war, about 55,000 of the Burnside carbines had been delivered to the US army. The requirements for the special cartridge limited the usefulness of the Burnside.

Burnside went to become a well-known Union general who pioneered amphibious landing techniques on Roanoke Island, NC in Feb. 1862.  However, his reputation is tarnished by a loss to Lee and Longstreet at Fredericksburg, VA (13 Dec. 1862) and an undistinguished performance under McClellan at Antietam (17 Sept. 1863). To be sure, at Fredericksburg Burnside had been very poorly served by the War Department (which delayed consignment of the necessary pontoon boats) and at Antietam by McClellan who, not even present on the field, withheld an entire corps from the battle. Burnside then did very good work at Knoxville, defeating a larger force under Longstreet on 29 Nov. 1863. After the disaster of the mine explosion at Petersburg in May 1864, a failure probably caused by Meade's and Grant's last minute intervention to change the battle plan, Burnside was removed from active command. After the war he served as governor of Rhode Island and then as US senator from Rhode Island.
 
 

Sharps rifle and carbine (see spec chart above)
Christian Sharps produced his first single shot, .54 caliber breech loading rifle using paper cartridges in the late 1840's. Later the cartridges were made of linen. The falling block, dropped by lowering the trigger guard, cut off the end of the cartridge when the trigger guard was raised to close the breech. Ignition was by percussion cap. During the prelude to the civil war, the Rev. Beecher, an abolitionist, shipped Sharps rifles to fellow abolitionists in Kansas in crates marked "Bibles." This gave the Sharps rifle the nick-name "Beecher's Bibles." He was, by the way, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, authoress of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" which was, in its way, just as effective as the rifles.

During the Civil War, the Sharps rifles, with their fast breech reloading, high firepower, and reputation for accuracy, were in high demand. Col. Hiram Berdan issued them to his notorious "Sharpshooters" who wore green "camouflage" uniforms and were trained to fight behind cover. The maximum effective range was about 1000 yards, less than that of the muzzleloading Springfields and Enfields, but its breechloading mechanism allowed up to 10 shots a minute (as opposed to twice a minute with the muzzleloaders), and the soldier could easily reload the Sharps in a prone, i.e. protected position.
 
 

Starr carbine
A .54-caliber, single-shot, falling-block breechloading weapon on the order of the Sharps, but less successful. Its block mechanism was complex, and some of the parts were delicate and subject to breakage.
 
 
Henry repeating rifle (see spec chart above)
One of the first technicians involved with the development of repeating rifles was Walter Hunt who received his patent in 1849 for a repeater with a tube magazine under the barrel. The paper cartridges were to be inserted into the chamber by lowering a lever which functioned also as a trigger guard. This first attempt was called the "Volcanic." Benjamin Tyler Henry of the company New Haven Arms Co. took this basic model and turned it into the famous Henry  repeater which was introduced onto the market in 1862. Henry held the patent, but the the rights to the patent were held by his employer Oliver F. Winchester. Described later by one Confederate as "that tarnation Yankee rifle they load on Sunday and shoot all week," the Henry carried 15 rounds in its magazine under the barrel.  The rounds had to be inserted into the front of the tube magazine. The breech mechanism is called a "collapsing toggle" and is similar to that of the German Luger. With the Henry a lever simultaneously cocked the rifle and ejected the spent case, and then put a fresh cartridge in the chamber. The cartridge was based on the 1854 patent of Daniel Wesson. The powder charge was located in the copper-cased rimfire cartridges perfected by Henry himself in 1858 and, like the Spencer's, was impervious to moisture. The primer was in the cartridge's rim, placed there during the manufacturing process by spinning, thus eliminating the need for external percussion caps. The caliber of the barrel was .44. This cartidge is equivalent to today's .44 caliber special which has more powder and a heavier bullet. The force of the bullet upon arrival, measured in foot-pounds, is about the same. That means that you can go out and buy for around $300 a modern Henry made by Rossi (actually a copy of an 1892 Winchester), model 44 magnum, load up to eleven .44 special cartridges in the magazine under the barrel) and relive the shooting experience of a rich or lucky Civil War soldier, or of a normal post-war settler or Indian. A hint: use the copper jacketed cartridges which clean the barrel for you.

Another feature of the Henry was the forked firing pin which struck the cartridge in 2 places, thus decreasing the possibility of misfires. A disadvantage of the Henry was the relatively small powder charge (only 25 grains) which limited the Henry's range and penetration force. The magazine at first was not a separate tube, as with the later Winchesters, but rather machined together with the barrel out of one piece. Due to this machining the Henry was also more expensive than the Spencer and more complicated, and its frame and internal parts were made of brass which made them subject to corrosion, and less robust and durable than the parts of the Spencer. All of these factors limited the Henry's usefulness under battle conditions, and about 10,000 of them were produced during the war. In fact, it really came into its own after the war when it became the weapon of choice of both settlers and Indians. The Army itself put it into the hands of the Indians when it cleared out stocks preparatory to introducing a new version with a steel body. The battle of Little Big Horn took place in the meantime, and for once the Indians were better armed than the US cavalry under Custer.
 
 

The Greene breechloader
This was the only bolt action rifle used in the US during the Civil War and, at the moment, I have no information about it other than this picture, and that it's slide required extreme cleanliness in order to function. The Prussian bolt action "needle" rifle had been invented by Dreyse in 1841. It's loading was gradually simplified, but until 1866, when rimfire metallic cartridges were introduced in Europe, it used cartridges made of cloth which a needle pierced in order to ignite the cap located between the bullet and the powder. A future expansion of this article by Rico Fankhänel of Dresden will deal with the needle rifle in detail.

The Colt revolving rifle
The .56 caliber 5-shot Colt revolving rifle came on the market in 1855. Before the Tullahoma campaign (24 June to 3 July 1863), Rosecrans had equipped about 1600 of his men with such rifles. It was not properly a breechloader, but once loaded, its rate of fire was considerably faster than that of a muzzle loader. However, the loading procedure was cumbersome for a soldier under fire. The cylinder had to be removed, powder packed into each of the chambers, a bullet packed on top of the powder, the chambers sealed with wax, and finally the whole covered with grease in order to protect against the possibility of loose powder igniting all of the chambers at once, a phenomenon called chain fire. Given the size of the powder charge, this could be lethal to the bearer. The soldiers therefore loaded spare cylinders in advance, and in battle someone normally did the loading for the ones shooting, and this reduced the risk attendant with hurried loading. In addition, the arm which normally supported the weapon was right beside the cylinder and was thus exposed to the powder flash which escapes from the gap between the rear end of the barrel and the forward face of the cylinders of all revolvers. To avoid being burned the soldier had to either hold his elbow very far away from the cylinder or support the weapon on some object. Nevertheless it did good service for some Federal units on Snodgrass Hill at the battle of Chickamauga. For example, on the afternoon of 20 Sept. 1863, the second day of the battle, the 535 men of the 21st regiment of Ohio commanded by Lieut. Col. Dwella Stoughton of Sirwell’s brigade of Negley's division, posted on the far right of Thomas' line, expended 43,550 rounds along with some Enfield bullets (.57 caliber, but could be made to fit), and they repulsed 5 charges by much greater numbers of Confederates under Hindman. The second photo below shows the shorter carbine version for cavalry.

 
 


Three other important infantry weapons of the Civil War (muzzle loaders)

Enfield rifle musket
During the Civil War about 400,000 .57 caliber rifled Enfield Lock muzzleloaders firing minié balls were imported from England by the Confederacy during the war. About an equal number of them was imported by the Union. They were manufactured by London Armory in England, or rather under contract for London Armory (to avoid accusations of departure from neutrality), and were generally of very high quality. However, since the Confederacy paid with cotton bonds which
became worthless, London Armory went bankrupt after the war.

The illustration shows a "trapdoor" breech, a modification of a muzzle loader designed to turn it into a breech loader or, more accurately put, a rear-barrel loader. Due to the expense, this was not a common feature of Civil War infantry rifles. This is what Custer's soldiers had at Little Big Horn. Some of the Indians had Henry repeaters which the U.S. Army had sold them in a clearance sale.

Springfield rifle musket
During the Civil War about 2 million .58 rifled muzzleloaders firing minié balls were manufactured in the Springfield, Mass. armory (established by George Washington) or elsewhere under contract. The design was based on that of the Enfield. Many of them were captured by Confederate soldiers who then used them (as the ammunition was interchangeable with that of the Enfield). This weapon was first introduced into the U.S. army by Jefferson Davis when he was Secretary of War under Pierce. A practiced marksman could hit a man with aimed fire at about 350 yards. Its large bullet was capable of reaching 1500 yards with lethal force. Except in the minds of many generals on both sides, this revolutionized warfare and should have made mass frontal attacks, cavalry charges, and cannon placement in the front line obsolete, but didn't.
 
 

Whitworth rifle
A muzzle loading single shot percussion rifle manufactured in England, it was highly prized by marksmen and imported in limited numbers by the Confederacy. Outwardly it looked like an Enfield or a Springfield, but a look in the barrel shows that it was much more sophisticated than they were. It was very expensive for the times (about $100 each) and achieved its legendary accuracy by means of a hexagonally shaped bullet and a spiraling and hexagonally shaped bore which was difficult to machine, but was not subject to fouling by lead residue as were rifled bores. The bullet was also difficult to load, and this rifle was used only by specialists. The Union general Sedgewick was reportedly killed at Spotsylvania by a Confederate sharpshooter at 1800 yards (although this distance is probably an exageration), using a Whitworth equipped with a 3x telescopic sight which was generally mounted on the left side of the receiver. The Whitworth's spiraling six-sided bore permitted the shaped bullet to be made of harder alloy than lead and thus have a very high penetrating power. The other round bore rifled muzzleloaders used the minié type bullet (see below) which expanded under the pressure of the exploding gases, thus filling the bore and engaging the rifling grooves. This required that the bullet be made of relatively soft metal which tended to deform under firing and to disintegrate upon striking the target. The breechloaders had slightly oversized bullets which achieved the same effect.

The following table taken from the Official Records (ar72_124) shows the ammuntion of all types expended by Sherman's army group during the Atlanta Campaign from 1 May to 8 September 1864. This gives an idea of the extent of the introduction of repeating rifles into the most technologically advanced military force of the Civil War toward the end of the conflict.

A -  Army of the Cumberland, Major-General Thomas, about 60,000 troops.    .
B -  Army of the Tennessee, Major-General Howard, formerly under McPherson, about 25,000 troops.    
C -  Army of the Ohio, Major-General Schofield, about 15,000 troops
D -  Total.

Ammunition type
A
B
C
D
Elongated ball cartridges, caliber .57 and .58
11,637,560
7,908,222 1,794,444
21,340,222
Spencer rifle cartridges
156,739
180,768 52,815
390,322
Henry rifle cartridges
10,240
93,655
23,300
126,195
Colt rifle cartridges
 10,760
.....
5,000
15,760
Burnside carbine cartridges
.....
.....
84,000
84,000
Sharps carbine cartridges
.....
.....
16,000
16,000
Smith & Weston carbine cartridges
.....
15,000 68,000
83,000
Ballard carbine cartridges  
.....
.....
30,000
30,000
Merrill carbine cartridges
.....
..... 10,000
10,000
Colt army-pistol cartridges
.....
600
28,720
29,320
Colt navy-pistol cartridges
.....
1,200
3,000
4,200
Target-rifle cartridges
.....
7,113
.....
7,113
Total
11,815,299
8,206,558
2,115,279
 22,136,132


The basis for most infantry weapons was the minnie ball.

About 90% of all battle wounds of the Civil War were caused by the small arms projectile known as the minnie ball. Together with the rifled bore, it changed the face of warfare forever. For the first time in history, infantrymen could aim their weapons at a target a fair distance away and actually have a good chance of hitting it. The days of successful frontal assaults by infantry and cavalry should have been over, and defenders armed with the new rifle-musket could fire from a safe place and knock down attacker after attacker before they got close enough to return the damage. Unfortunately most generals, including many famous ones, were slow learners, so the days of unsuccessful frontal assaults by infantry were not over, but that is another story.
 The ball was perfected in 1849 by Captain Claude Minié of the French Army. It was conical in shape and made of soft lead, with two or three grease grooves around its body. The cylinder-conical ball had a cavity at the rear. Upon firing, the hot gases produced by the burning black powder charge expanded into the hollow cavity of the ball, forcing the soft lead outward into the rifling grooves inside the barrel of the musket. These grooves, which spiraled as they traveled the length of the barrel, imparted a spin to the ball, making its range an incredible 1500 yards, with accuracy at up to about 350 yards. This design meant that the bullet, being somewhat undersize before firing, did not have to be rammed to the back of the barrel, which speeded up loading somewhat. The cartridges consisted of the bullet and 60 grains of black powder enclosed in a paper cylinder. The paper cylinder full of powder was placed behind the bullet, both were wrapped in paper, tied off at the bullet end, and folded or twisted closed at the powder end. To load this cartridge, the soldier would bite off the folded end, pour the powder into the barrel, and squeeze the ball from the paper wrapping. He would then ram the ball with the ramrod to seat it on top of the powder. After a percussion cap was placed on the nipple under the hammer, the musket was ready to fire. Expert marksmen could complete the process in about half a minute. The Minié ball was made primarily in .54, .58, and .69 caliber sizes which weighed from 1 to 1 1/2 ounces, and .50, .52, and .54 caliber conical projectiles were used in various breechloading carbines. At 600 yards, a .58 caliber Minié ball fired from a Springfield or Enfield rifled musket could penetrate six 1 inch pine boards. When it hit the human body, destruction of tissues and bone was massive. If a man was hit in the arm or leg, the bullet shattered the bone from 6 to 10 inches and usually made amputation certain. If hit in the torso, a man was usually left to die. The Civil War's deadliest weapons were not rapid-fire guns or giant cannon, but the simple rifle-musket and the humble minié ball.

The rifle-musket and minié bullet drastically altered the tactical balance between an attacking army and a defending one. Frontal assaults by infantry on a waiting enemy suddenly became suicidal. During the Napoleonic era, attacking infantry could safely approach to within 100 yards of an enemy line with little danger of being shot down. During the Civil War, however, because of the rifle-musket's accuracy at long ranges, stationary defenders could load, fire, and hit their advancing attackers more quickly than they could fire back.

The combination of the rifle-musket and minié bullet also made the bayonet obsolete. In earlier years, the bayonet was often the most decisive infantry assault weapon, because the smoothbore flintlock musket's short range allowed attackers to approach close enough for hand-to-hand fighting. In the Civil War, however, firepower almost always decided an assault's outcome before charging troops came within stabbing distance. In fact, Civil War surgeons reported very few bayonet wounds.

The rifle-musket and minié bullet also forced a change in the employment of field artillery. In the early 1800s, Napoleon often placed the artillery forward in his battle lines, even during advances, to provide direct fire in support of the infantry. This same tactic was used very successfully by US forces during the Mexican War. During the Civil War, however, it was too easy to shoot down an exposed cannon crew and/or its horses operating in the front lines. The artillery thus had to be placed further to the rear and protected. This made it more difficult to hit enemy targets without endangering friendly troops in the front, but imaginative commanders were able to solve the problem by careful placement on heights. In any case, the "flying" artillery batteries had their wings clipped in the Civil War, at least where well-schooled commanders were at work.

The role of the cavalry was similarly changed by the rifle-musket and minié ball. Napoleon often used his cavalry as a surprise offensive weapon, sending his horsemen on charges to trample infantrymen armed with smoothbore flintlock muskets. But the Civil War soldier armed with a rifle-musket and minié bullets could reliably hit a man at 200 or more yards, while a horse and rider made an even easier target. As a result, the colorful cavalry charges of the Napoleonic era became all but obsolete. In fact, as the war continued, more and more cavalrymen fought as mounted infantry, using their horses for mobility and then dismounting to fight on foot. In effect, they became the forerunners of today's mechanized infantry.

Unfortunately, it took most Civil War generals very long to realize that some of the tactics they had learned at West Point or from military manuals were obsolete, particularly the frontal assault. Some never learned, and Generals on both sides continued to send their men on suicidal charges right up to the end of the war. Notable exceptions to this rule were the Union generals Don Carlos Buell, William S. Rosecrans, and George H. Thomas of the Army of the Cumberland. Some generals, such as Grant, perhaps realized that the old tactics were no longer effective, but they apparently didn't care, as long as they could count on a fresh supply of men. All the more reason for you to study history, so as to be able to help choose those leaders who will protect your interests.



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Das Spencer Magazingewehr
Das Magazingewehr von Spencer hat die Kriegführung revolutioniert. Es feuerte eine metallische randgezündete Patrone, die entweder aus einem 7 Geschosse enthaltenden Rohr im Kolben geladen wurde (indem der Hebel ganz nach unten gezogen wurde), oder direkt per Hand von hinten (indem der Hebel nur halb nach unten gezogen wurde). Normalerweise versuchte der so ausgerüstete Soldat, die Patronen im Magazin für den Notfall aufzusparen.  Der große Vorteil der Spencer-Gewehre lag nicht so sehr im schnellen Abfeuern, als in der Möglichkeit, jeden Schuß damit gezielt abzugeben. In einer Gefechtssituation konnte ein Vorlader nur einmal gezielt geschossen werden. Danach artete es meistens in ein frenetisches Laden und Schießen ohne Zielen aus. Mit einem Vorlader konnte ein geübter Soldat etwa ein oder zweimal pro Minute schießen. Mit dem Spencer konnte man 20 bis 30 Mal pro Minute schießen, als es darauf ankam. Ungleich dem Henry (Magazin mit 15 Geschossen unter dem Lauf), mußte man den Hammer des Spencers per Hand zurückziehen. Das Spencer war langsamer als das Henry, aber einfacher, zuverlässiger unter Gefechtsbedingungen, und billiger in der Herstellung, da es viele Teile gemeinsam mit dem berühmten Sharps-Gewehr hatte (kein Wunder, da Herr Spencer nur abends sein Gewehr entwickelte. Tagsüber arbeitete er bei Sharps). Das Spencer hatte auch die größere Reichweite, da dessen Patrone mehr Schießpulver als die des Henry enthielt. Der Süden hatte weder die Technologie noch die industrielle Infrastruktur, um die Randfeuer-Metallpatrone herzustellen. Deshalb waren die wenigen Spencers, die die Konföderierten erbeuten konnten, auch auf erbeutete Munition angewiesen. Es ist keine große Übertreibung zu behaupten, daß die Randfeuer-Metallpatrone den Ausgang des Bürgerkrieges bestimmt hat. Der einzige Nachteil des Spencers war die relativ kleine Pulverladung der Patrone, die die Reichweite des Spencers einschränkte. Aus dem Grund zog die Infanterie den Sharps Hinterlader mit Papierpatronen vor. Damit konnte man etwa 10-Mal in der Minute schießen. Das Spencer blieb jedoch das Lieblingsgewehr der Union-Kavallerie.

Il fucile a ripetizione Spencer
Il ripetitore Spencer rivoluzionò le operazioni belliche. Sparava una cartuccia metallica con la carica fulminante nel bordo, che poteva essere caricata da un
caricatore a 7 colpi situato nel calcio (tirando la leva completamente in basso) o essere inserita direttamente nell'otturatore (dopo aver tirato la leva parzialmente in
basso). Normalmente le truppe così equipaggiate cercavano di conservare i colpi nel caricatore per le emergenze. Il grande vantaggio rispetto ai fucili ad avancarica come gli Enfields e gli Springfields non stava tanto nella rapidità di fuoco, ma piuttosto nella possibilità di prendere la mira ad ogni colpo. In una situazione di battaglia i fucili ad avancarica potevano essere usati prendendo la mira solo al primo colpo, dopodiché si era costretti a sparare in tutta fretta dopo un caricamento frenetico. Con essi un soldato addestrato poteva arrivare ad uno o due colpi al minuto. Con lo Spencer il soldato poteva sparare fino a 20 o 30 volte al minuto, quando necessario. Diversamente dall'Henry (caricatore a 15 colpi sotto la canna), il cane dello Spencer doveva essere riarmato manualmente. Era più lento dell'Henry, ma più semplice e di costruzione meno costosa, dato che condivideva molti pezzi con il famoso fucile a retrocarica Sharps (questo non sorprende, dato che Spencer sviluppo il suo ripetitore fuori orario. Durante il giorno lavorava per Sharps). Lo Spencer aveva anche un tiro utile maggiore rispetto all'Henry, a seguito della maggior carica di polvere delle sue cartucce. Il Sud non aveva né la tecnologia, né la capacità industriale per fabbricare le cartucce, così che i pochi Spencer che i Confederati furono in grado di catturare (Forrest) dipesero interamente dalle munizioni prese al nemico. Non è una grande esagerazione affermare che queste cartucce decisero il risultato della Guerra Civile. Il solo svantaggi degli Spencer era la carica di polvere relativamente piccola nella cartuccia, che limitava il suo tiro utile e lo faceva meno desiderato dalla fanteria rispetto al fucile a retrocarica a colpo singolo Sharps, che usava cartucce di cartone. Con lo Sharps si poteva sparare circa 10 volte al minuto. Ma per la cavalleria, che combatteva prevalentemente a distanza ravvicinata, lo Spencer era l'arma ideale.

Le fusil à répétition de Spencer
Le fusil à répétition Spencer révolutionna les opérations militaires. Il tirait une cartouche métallique avec le détonateur placé tout autour de la base à l'intérieur de la cartouche. Le magasin logé dans la crosse contenait 7 cartouches qui étaient introduites dans la chambre par un mouvement vers le bas du levier. En faisant seulement partiellement ce mouvement il était possible d'insérer une cartouche à la main directement dans la chambre, ce que les tireurs faisaient normalement afin de conserver les coups dans le magasin pour les situations critiques.  Le grand avantage par rapport aux fusils à baguette comme les Enfield et Springfield n'était pas tellement la rapidité du feu, mais plutôt la possibilité de viser chaque coup. Pendant la bataille le tireur pouvait normalement viser seulement le premier coup. Ensuite il était contraint de tirer à la hâte après avoir chargé frénétiquement. Ainsi un tireur exercé pouvait arriver à deux coups à la minute, tandis que le Spencer était capable de tirer 20 à 30 fois par minute au besoin. Le Henry (avec 15 cartouches dans le magasin sous la canne) était plus rapide encore parce qu'il s'armait automatiquement tandis que le chien du Spencer s'armait manuellement. Par contre le Spencer était plus simple et plus robuste que le Henry. De plus la fabrication du Spencer coûtait moins cher, parce qu'il avait beaucoup de petites pièces en commun avec le fameux fusil à rétro-charge Sharps, ce qui n'est pas surprenant du fait que Monsieur Spencer développait son arme à répétition le soir et travaillait le jour chez Sharps. Le Spencer avait une portée supérieure par rapport à celle du Henry à cause de la charge supérieure de poudre de ses cartouches. Le Sud n' avait  ni la technologie, ni la capacité industrielle pour fabriquer les cartouches métalliques à fusée intérieure, donc l'utilisation des fusils Spencer qui tombaient dans les mains des Confédérés dépendait aussi des munitions capturées. Il n'est pas exagéré d'affirmer que ces cartouches ont décidé toutes seules de l'issue de la Guerre de Sécession. Il suffit de considérer le rôle qu'elles et les Spencer ont joué à Tullahoma et Chickamauga.