American Rifleman - July 2011 - 46

"1st Minnesota" by Don Troiani

THE GUNS OF MANASSAS, 1861

Some units, such as the 1st
Minnesota, were armed with the modern U.S. Model 1855 Rifle-Musket.

hollow-based conical projectile,
named after its inventor, French
army Maj. Claude Minié. The
American "Minie ball," however, was actually Harper's Ferry
Armory superintendent James
Burton's improvement on Minié's
design. Burton discarded the base
plug and deepened the bullet's
base cavity to achieve the same
result. On firing, the under-boresize conical projectile expanded
into progressive-depth (deeper
at breech than muzzle) shallow
rifling, imparting spin and hence
improving accuracy. Lubricated
with a beeswax-tallow mixture to
reduce fouling from subsequent
shots, the bullet was encased,
along with a 60-gr. charge of musket powder, in a paper cartridge.
To load his Model 1855, a
soldier bit off the end of the cartridge, poured the powder down
the muzzle of the gun, discarded
the paper, inserted the bullet and

rammed it home. He then brought
the hammer to the half-cock
position, affixed a copper percussion cap lined with an explosive
compound to the nipple or "cone"
at the breech, thumbed the hammer to full cock, aimed and fired.
The 1855s were also equipped
with the Maynard tape primer
device-a ratchet that advanced a
roll of paper-encased priming pellets, similar to a 1950s-era child's
cap pistol, each time the hammer
was cocked. Working properly,
the Maynard system increased a
shooter's rate of fire by eliminating
the need to manually place a cap
on the nipple. The system did not
live up to expectations in field use,
however, and standard caps were
used more often than not. It was not
employed in subsequent models.
In the spring of 1861, the most
common small arms in militia
hands or stored in federal and
state arsenals, North and South,

Effectiveness Of Buck And Ball

T

he most common small arm on the field at Bull Run was
the smoothbore musket, and the most common cartridge
used in the smoothbore was the "buck and ball" round. In
order to get an idea of the effectiveness of period ammunition, I
had reproduction buck and ball ammunition with a 0.648" round
ball (approximating the original specification of .65 caliber) and
three .31-cal. buckshot, crafted by New Jersey Civil War reenactor Art Green, who makes replica cartridges virtually identical to original ammunition. There were numerous complaints
during the war regarding the poor quality of the powder and in
consistency of charge weights in issued cartridges; so, since
we were using modern powder of known quality, Green loaded
80 grs. of GOEX FFG for consistency.
Two experienced Civil War firearm shooters, Steve Garratano and Kevin Marshall, fired the guns used in the experiment. One was a Pedersoli reproduction Model 1842 musket,
and the other was an original Model 1842. The original gun
sported a "shooting" barrel made up a few years ago by Bob
Hoyt, who lengthened and lined an original cut-down tube.
Thus the interiors of both barrels were as clean and smooth
as they would have been in 1861.
We shot at standard silhouette targets set up at 50 and
100 yds., with the new, smaller Birchwood Casey "Dirty Bird"
splattering silhouette targets stapled inside the larger ones
to make it easier to identify hits in what would have been vital
areas. The targets were set at intervals about 2 ft. apart. All
shooting was offhand.

44 J

ULY

2011

WWW.AMERICANRIFLEMAN.ORG

Kevin Marshall fires a
buck and ball round
from his reproduction
Model 1842.

At 50 yds., 10 rounds loaded from the cartridge box and
fired at three silhouettes resulted in 12 hits, three of them
from balls, the remainder from buckshot. All rounds appeared
to impact in the backstop berm, and a chronograph reading
revealed velocity to be 1121 f.p.s. At 100 yds., there were five
additional hits in the targets, all from buckshot, many of which
appear to have hit the ground at around 80 yds. and then
ricocheted up to strike at about waist level. This was in sandy
soil, so the ricochet factor would be compounded in rocky
terrain. The 0.648" balls noticeably impacted the backstop. It
appears that men, even in close formation, would be relatively
safe from buckshot beyond 100 yds., but that the larger ball
projectile, while not "accurate" in the modern sense, would
continue to be effective on large groups of soldiers beyond
that range.
-JOSEPH G. BILBY
Photo by author


http://WWW.AMERICANRIFLEMAN.ORG

American Rifleman - July 2011

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