Civil War Weapons Vs. Today’s

The weapons that our Civil War soldiers dragged into battle probably seemed cutting edge to them.

Many of the soldiers on both sides of the battle still carried muzzle-loaded muskets like the 0.58-caliber Springfield or 0.69-caliber Harpers Ferry into battle. This meant that every time a soldier fired, he had to reload the weapon at the muzzle of the gun — a process that involved several tense seconds of loading gun powder, wadding and finally the infamous Minie-ball blamed for thousands of Civil War deaths at close range.

These weapons could fire with maximum effective ranges of no more than 200 yards, but this was much better than the weapons of their rank-and-file Revolutionary War forefathers. The bayonets at the end of their muskets were much more likely to get used in battle becasue of the close range they had to keep just to shoot each other. So the new, so-called rifled muskets let soldiers keep more of a deadly distance on the battlefield, perhaps hidden in brush and not all lined up like ducks in a clearing like days of yore.

But many of those who were issued a Springfield or Harpers Ferry were looking to replace them immediately, however, with a new advancement that was slowly making its way through the ranks in the short war between 1961 and 1965: the breech-loaded rifle.

civil war weapons

These weapons and the popular Colt revolvers of the day allowed soldiers to end their stress-filled, muzzle-loading days with the addition of a magazine or storage well of bullets that let the firer think about the shooting and not so much the loading. This stream of developments — the breech-loading, the bullets with the powder inside and the magazines or revolver wells — all coincided with the Civil War. Throughout the war, the breech-loaded weapon slowly replaced muskets on both sides of the battle, in the North more quickly than the South.

Never before could one soldier’s handheld weapon deliver so many rounds at one time at a distance that allowed for stealth on the battlefield. Couple this with the standard-issue, Napoleon-era howitzer cannon that could fire a 12-lb. projectile from a comfortable maximum effective range of 1,700 yards away, and you’ve got a death toll of about three-quarters of a million people, according to a revised tally performed in 2012.

Fast forward to the weapons on the battlefield of today, which are better in every way — not just for easy loading and accuracy but for much longer ranges. As opposed to the 200 yard maximum effective range of the musket, the U.S. Army’s M16 semi-automatic rifle is nearly 900 yards. Artillery range: from the cannon’s 1,700 yards to weapons capable of firing from more than 60 miles away.

This doesn’t factor in the big guns, either. With more diversity on air, land and sea, modern battlefield commanders are offered a range of options which often allow them to quickly overwhelm a lesser-equipped enemy, all the while keeping a fairly good distance away. Civil War commanders didn’t have fighter planes and bombers to direct tailored air strikes, nor did they have cargo planes, parachutes, tanks and amphibious assault vehicles to move their soldiers and weapons quickly across great distances. Their soldiers weren’t eqiupped with rapidly firing machine guns or deadly mines and grenades.

What Civil War commanders had was what science and industry had given them up to that point. And at this point in history, the soldier on the battlefield, in many nations across the globe, can fire more rounds at one time than ever before once again, but he or she can also minimize willy-nilly collateral damage and the scattershot casualties of the Civil War by directing more tailored attacks on whomever is chosen to be the enemy, with all the detachment that great distances can bring.

After four years in the 82nd Airborne Division, including an eight-month stint in Desert Shield/Storm, Dan Harkins received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of South Florida in 1997 and has been a full-time writer and editor ever since, most recently for Cleveland Scene and websites like

Article written by Jet Russell. In his spare time Jet does a lot of outreach for different companies and enjoys guest blogging in the guset blogging community.

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