During the years leading up to and during the American Civil War there were a number of advancements in firearms technology. This paper will focus on a few of those advancements, namely the inventions of the Minié ball, the Spencer and Henry repeating rifles, and of the Gatling gun.
Prior to the invention of the Minié ball it was necessary for the bullet to be the same diameter as the barrel in order for it to engage the rifling. This made it difficult and time consuming to load because the bullet would have to be rammed down the barrel with some force. Due to this fact, muzzle loading rifles had not seen any previous use in combat. The Minié ball, however, changed this. The Minié bullet was slightly smaller in diameter than the rifle barrel, was conical in shape, and contained an iron plug in its hollow base. When fired the force of the expanding charge would force the iron plug into the base of the bullet, thus causing the base to expand slightly and engage the rifling. The Minié bullet, fired from a rifled musket, had an effective range of up to 250 yards, which was a vast improvement over earlier muskets and ammunition. The rifled musket firing the Minié ball became the most common firearm used by both sides during the Civil War, and the Springfield armory in Massachusetts produce nearly two million for the Union Army. (History.com, 2010)
Christopher Spencer first patented his Spencer rifle in 1860. (Greener, 1910) Although his rifle was technically not the first repeating rifle because Samuel Colt had adapted his revolver system for use as a rifle, it was much more efficient, and safer than Colt’s rifle. The Spencer rifle had a seven round magazine in the butt stock, and ammunition was loaded from the magazine into the chamber, and spent casings ejected from the chamber by manipulation of the lever/trigger guard. The hammer then had to be manually cocked each time before firing. (Davis, 1991) Although it was a far better weapon than most others it was eventually rejected by the War Department. In December of 1861, Chief of Ordnance, Brigadier General Ripley wrote to the Secretary of War complaining about its weight and the fact that it could not be used with ordinary cartridges or with powder and ball and wrote “In view of the foregoing, of the very high prices asked for these arms, and of the fact that the Government is already pledged on orders and contracts for nearly 73,000 breech-loading rifles and carbines, to the amount of two and a quarter million dollars, I do not consider it advisable to entertain either of the propositions for purchasing these arms.” Although an official contract was not forthcoming at that time, a number of the Spencer rifles were privately purchased, and by 1863 the government had begun officially purchasing the Spencers. Including those purchased for trial, nearly 100,000 were purchased between 1861 and 1866. (Hogg, 1987)
Like the Spencer, the .44 Henry patented in 1860 by Tyler Henry, made use of a...