1861-65 Bullets
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1861-65 Bullets

During the Civil War, many bullets were made primarily in factories. A factory worker, using a machine, could make as many as 3,000 bullets an hour. Prior to 1860, a soldier sometimes needed to make bullets by hand “in the field.” To do this, he would melt lead into a liquid over a fire and then pour it into moulds. After allowing the lead to cool and harden, the soldier would take it out of the mould and then scrape the Imagenew bullet with a knife to smooth away any rough edges. This way of making bullets not only took a long time, but also meant a soldier could only make a few bullets in an hour.

Bullets made during the Civil War were made of lead and weighed between 1 and 1.5 ounces. Since there were no written rules or standards for making a bullet, it is difficult to say just how many different varieties of bullets were made and used. We do know that we can classify all of the varieties of bullets using two general characteristics: its length and its caliber, which is the diameter of the bullet. But that’s not all, it is important to note that bullets could be either completely smooth or have grooves etched in them. Grooved bullets have been found with as few as one groove or as many as seven. It can be said that most of the bullets used during the Civil War were pointed on one end and were shot from a rifled barrel, features which made the bullet more accurate.



When a lead bullet is buried in dirt for a long time, it will often rust to a whitish colour. Rust on a bullet is created by a chemical process called “oxidation.” Since all the bullets used in the Civil War are now 130 years old, most of them will be “rusted white” when found.

Today when we look at these 140 year old bullets there is much to be considered. First, there is the pure history of these bullets and how they shaped the outcome of the Civil War. Second, in looking at these bullets we can see many of the bullets of today in their earliest form. Much of what we have learned about bullets can be traced back to the developments which came as a result of the Civil War. Although today’s bullets are smoother, shinier and made with brass, copper, lead and other materials, we can however, still describe them using the same categories, as well as zero to many grooves.

All bullets shown are from my personal collection.


                         The 3 Ring Union Minie Ball

The .58 caliber Union Minie Ball was the most widelyImage used bullet in the Civil War. Named after its creator, Captain Claude Minie of the French A, The Minie Ball is not round as its name suggests.

This Bullet was perfected in 1848 and officially adopted by the US Army in 1855. Rings were added to the design by the Americans . The rings held grease to help ease the bullet down the barrel as well as to collect powder residue when fired. Minie balls were extremely accurate within 350 yards, although they could travel as far as 1500 yards.


Pictured above 3 examples from my collection, from left a .54 cal 3 Ring Minie from Antietam. Middle .58 cal recovered in Virginia and right a massive .69 cal 3 ringer recovered below round top Gettysburg


                               .577 Caliber Enfield

Found in more different shapes and sizes than any other Civil War Imagebullet, the .577 caliber Enfield was carried by many Confederate Infantry troops as well as some Federal Infantry regiments . Designed originally in England, the Enfield cartridge was packed with the bullet positioned opposite from the usual American position.

Often in the base of the bullet letters or numbers would be stamped. These markings would indicate where the bullet was made or its caliber,ie L = A.Ludlum, an English manufacturer; 57 = Caliber.


Above 3 Confederate Enfields from my collection from left A Beautiful example of a .57 Enfield recovered from ImageGettysburg with 57 stamped in its base see other photo. Right 2 Confederate Enfields recovered from Hamilton’s Thicket where the famous Lee to the rear incident took place at the Battle of the Wilderness. You will notice that both their points are damaged this is because both bullets have been fired at long distance and have impacted most likely into the ground.


The Confederate Gardner

The .58 caliber Gardner was patented on ImageAugust 17, 1861 by the Confederate States of America.

The Gardner was unique because of how the paper cartridge was attached to the bullet. Normally the paper was either wrapped or tied around the body, but in the Gardner the paper was actually inserted into a groove in the bullet’s base.

If the South had an “official” bullet it would have been the Gardner.


 Two Confederate Gardners  left .54 and right a superb .58 caliber


Sharps .52 caliber

Redesigned in 1859. The .52 caliber Sharps bullet was loaded in the rear, or breech of the weapon’s barrel, hence the term “breech loaded.” These bullets had either a linen or nitrate treated paper cartridge. The totally combustible cartridge would burn fast and hot when ignited providing the soldiers Imagewith a more reliable ammunition even under damp conditions.The .52 caliber example pictured right is from the siege of Petersburg.

The .52 cal Sharps was used primarily by Federal Cavalry troops   because the breach loader was easy to load on horseback. However, both U.S. and Confederate Sharpshooters also favoured the bullet because of its reliability and fast firing rate, important features when attempting to make every bullet count.


Round Shot .69 caliber

The .69 caliber Round Shot pictured bellow was used in the older Imagesmoothbore weapons, such as the Model 1842 Musket, the Remington conversion of the Model 1816 Musket and some foreign models. It had a range of approximately 100 yards.

In the first two years of the Civil War, 1861-1862, the .69 caliber Round Shot saw much action. Many soldiers could not be issued a rifle weapon since both governments’ inventories were low at the start of the war. As the war progressed the production of rifled muskets improved, and the less accurate smoothbore muskets slowly became obsolete.


Pictured above is left a .54caliber center .69 caliber Smoothbore Ball, and to its right is one with added .36 buckshot. This was a particularly nasty projectile at close range and it was not unknown for someone to have their arm blown off by buckshot and ball.


Colt Army .44 caliber

The .44 caliber Colt Model 1860 Army was the most widely used handgun of the Civil War. This revolver was a six-shot model which meant that Imageit could hold six bullets at one time. This allowed the user to fire six times before needing to stop and reload the weapon.

The bullets were designed for the round rifled barrel, and the cartridge was paper and glued to the ball. Many companies manufactured these bullets such as D.C. Sage located in Middletown, Connecticut.

There were approximately 129,000 Colt Model 1860 revolvers issued to U.S. troops alone during the Civil War. Think of all the bullets that were fired from so many guns!


Above both Colt Variants the later right is from Gettysburg.



Williams cleaner Patent .58 caliber

This bullet consisted of three individual pieces; a body, a zinc disc, and a pin was pushed into the body of the bullet which flattened the cone-shaped zinc disc. Pressure expanded the diameter of the bullet’s body and wedged it inside the grooves of the rifling. This caused the bullet to spin as it left the barrel of the musket. As the bullet spun through the rifle barrel, the zinc disc would scrape away some of the black powder residue left behind from prior shooting-thus it’s nickname the “cleaner bullet.”

As a result of this cleaning action, the Federal government began to issue Union soldiers a Williams patent Type I or II bullet with every ten rounds of ammunition.

Above Union Williams mk1 and right mk3 Cleaner Bullets
Pulled (Wormed) Bullets
The worst nightmare for a soldier who was engaged in battle was for his weapon to jam. When a bullet would jam in the barrel of a rifle the soldier would have to take out a worming tool, put it down the barrel, screw it into the top of the bullet and pull the bullet out. This is where the term "pulled bullet" comes from. Pictured are two very good examples of pulled bullets from Gettysburg. Image
On the left is a .58 caliber Union 3-ring Minie' and on the right is a Confederate Enfield. The Union soldier had already made two attempts to pull the bullet until, on the third attempt, he was sucessful. One possible reason for this could be panic and his hands may have been shaking because this would have been a very dangerous situation for him to have been in. We can only imagine what these men would have been going through. The worm tool marks are clearly visible on these fascinating bullets.
 Pain Bullets
Have you ever heard of the term "bite the bullet?" This term originates from the Civil War in relation to pain bullets. During battles injuries from the soft lead bullet coImageuld be horrific and, due to the lack of anaesthetics, the soldier would be given a bullet to bite on. This is where the term pain bullet comes from. This rather grizzly, but fascinating, pain bullet was recovered from the scene of a field hospital at the Battle of New Bern, 1862. The soldiers teeth marks are clearly visible on the bullet.
Fired Bullets
During the Civil War millions of bullets were fired and it is estimated that during the three days fighting at Gettysburg 569 tons of ammunition was used. Most bullets would have missed their intended targets, hitting trees, fence posts, or perhaps just flying through the air at long distance and landing on the ground.
Pictured are two bullets that were fired in anger at the Battle of Gettysburg. The bullet pictured in the left has hit something at medium range and the bullet on the right has impacted at closer range (this is a great example of what is known as a “mushroom bullet” as the lead has been squashed into the shape of a mushroom). We can only guess at what these bullets hit, but what we can be sure of is that if they could speak they would have a fascinating tale to tell.

Spencer Carbine

The Spencer was the first successful repeating rifle, or carbine with a metallic cartridge. The Spencer carbine held seven cartridges The bullets were tube fed through the buttstock into the carbine. The Spencer bullet is found on just about every battle site of the Civil War. This one was recovered in Virginia.




Foreign Imported Bullets

During the Civil war many bullets were imported into the North and South the following examples are from Germany and France. The French bullets are very distinctive as they all have a triangular base cavity. 


  Above From left to right German .55 Caliber Shul Carbine (Confederate cavalry) Shiloh/Corinth Tennessee. Centre French .58 Caliber Triangular base (Confederate) South Carolina and Right a large .69 Caliber French Dragoon Triangular base (Confederate) Virginia.


Above the French Triangular Base Cavity



Rare Enfield Variants

Some rare Enfield variants from left a .51 caliber Forrest Enfield so called because they were used by the Confederate cavalry under the command of the legendary Nathan Bedford Forrest. This bullet was Recovered from a Cavalry camp in Tennessee in the 1970s. Centre a .577Caliber Confederate Selma Arsenal Lube Groove Enfield recovered in the Shiloh/ Corinth area Tennessee.


Right One of the rarest bullets and the pride of my Collection is a Confederate .69 caliber “Tower” Enfield from Shiloh/Corinth Given the name "tower" which was not a bullet maker but an Armoury where weapons of the British army and navy were marked, stored, worked on and serviced. The tower of London also served as a prison, an execution chamber and a repository of the crown jewels of the British monarchy today. This bullet found its way from the Tower of London onto a Ship by sea to the Confederacy and then probably by Train  and an Ammo Wagon right over to the Western Theatre where the Battle of Shiloh was taking place. Finally, over 140 years later it travelled by Air back over the Atlantic to Northern Ireland. This one is in Beautiful condition.



Little and large

Civil war bullets were manufactured in all shapes and sizes pictured bellow are the smallest and largest bullets in my collection. From left a tiny .36 Colt Revolver Bullet from the Shenandoah valley, Virginia. Centre - A giant .69 caliber Union (Prussian) from Shiloh/Corinth area . Right .36 caliber Remington Revolver tear drop design.




Maynard Bullet and Cartridge

Doctor Edward Maynard a dentist invented the Maynard Carbine. The Maynard cartridge was the first to be used as an effective gas shield against the firing of the cartridge and the gases created.


The .50 caliber Maynard cartridge pictured above consisted of a brass case and a bullet with a hole in the base of the cartridge for ignition and a large round brim for extraction after firing. 



 Base Marked Star and Swaged 

These Union bullets look like the standard 3 ring minie but they are not they are base marked or Swage Bullets. The star means the bullet was made at the Washington Arsenal, the star was formed by an engraved punch during the manufacturing process. The swage marked bullets were pressed and turned with spokes in the base often referred to as swaged. There are 5 and six spoke varieties.


Pictured above from left to right .58 caliber “Star Base” Centre .58 caliber 6 point swage marked and right .58 caliber 5 point swage marked. Pictured below the base marks in the bullets.




Picket Bullets

Picket Bullets pre date the Civil War they are of a conical nature with flat or rounded bases, and found with a variety of cavity sizes. Pickets were used in the famed Kentucky or Pennsylvania rifles as well as some sharpshooter or sniper rifles.


Richmond Labs and Ringtail Sharps

The Confederate forces used a large variety’s of bullets many were manufactured in the South and were only used by the Confederacy here are 3 examples. Bellow from Left a .52 Richmond labs sharps, Centre and right two .52 Ringtail sharps variants.


These are just some of my Civil War bullets for a full list and their M&M and T&T listings please take a look at the page entitled "My Collection”.


Some Older Smoothbore Musket Balls.

My main interest is in Civil War Bullets however I own a few other interesting items. The following shows just how little change there was in the smoothbore ball from The English Civil war Until the American Civil War over 200 years later.


Above a collection of musket balls and pistol shot from the English Civil War the top 3 are from the Battle of Gainsbourgh July 1643 and were used by the victorious parliamentary forces under the command of Oliver Cromwell.


Above from left to right, A musket ball from the American War of Independence, this one was used by the Americans during the battle of Fort George in Castle Maine in 1779.

Centre and right Two musket balls from the Battle of Waterloo 1815 centre A French M1777 Charleville and right A British Brown Bess both recovered from the fighting around Hougoument Farm.



I hope you have enjoyed viewing my bullet collection. Today these bullets are just harmless pieces of lead but there was a time when men carried these bullets unto some of the greatest killing fields of the Civil War. What fate those men met only God knows, let us spare a thought for those men whether they wore the blue or grey and give thanks that we have not had to endure what they had to endure.


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