Civil War Mainstay

The .577- And .58-Caliber Rifled Musket—Or Was It?

Suppose you went marching off to battle in the early years of the Civil War. Would you be carrying a .58 Springfield or a .577 Enfield rifle? No, you would probably have been issued a .69 US smoothbore musket dating from 1816 to 1842 or maybe a recently imported surplus rifle or smoothbore musket from Austria, Prussia, Belgium, Italy or France. Neither the North nor the South was prepared or sufficiently stocked with small arms for the conflict that was to follow, and the scramble to find or manufacture a main infantry battle rifle is one of the greatest stories of the War Between the States.

Writing in January, 1861 to the Secretary of War, Joseph Holt, Colonel of Ordnance, H.K. Craig, reported the long guns located in US arsenals and armories were as follows: “Percussion muskets and muskets altered to percussion (caliber .69), 499,554, and percussion rifles (caliber .54) 42,011.” He went on to report that 60,878 of that total had been seized by the Confederate states and that a further 58,362 rifles and muskets were in danger of being seized by the states of Georgia and North Carolina.

In the South, the arms located in Federal arsenals and depots totaled approximately 15,000 rifles and 120,000 muskets, plus another mixed bag of 30,000 or so available from state and private stores. Adding to the South’s supply problems was the fact that there were no manufacturing arsenals in the Confederacy. The former Federal arsenals had been used simply as depots. The Southern Historical Society summed it up best observing, “Not a gun, not a gun carriage, and except during the Mexican War, scarcely a round of ammunition had, for 50 years, been prepared in the Confederate States. There were consequently no workmen, or very few of them, skilled in these arts.”

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2 thoughts on “Civil War Mainstay

  1. mec

    The Armi Sport replica of this is a really fun shooter. the projectile were patched round ball as I never did locate a source for 69 caliber Minie bullets or moulds. I do think it would be wonderfully distructive loaded with those. These arms were upgraded 1842 smoothbore muskets modified for use with the Minie bullet. The smooth bores seemed to be sound arms but one officer remarked that there was not much chance of anybody actually hitting anything with one and he recommended double charges (powder?/ ball?/ or Both??)


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