Civil War rifles are a popular item among gun collectors. These rifles are used by historic reenactors, displayed by collectors, and admired by all who see them.
A Variety of Rifles from the Civil War Era
A large variety of rifles were used during the Civil War. Some were used in the North and others used exclusively in the South. The following rifles are listed in alphabetical order and not by popularity.
The Brunswick was a muzzle loader that was manufactured for the British Army in the early 1800s. Small shipments of this high caliber percussion rifle were delivered to the United States Armies during the Civil War.
The Brunswick rifle was a high tech rifle during the 1830s when it was originally manufactured, but by the 1860s it was obsolete. The Confederacy, having a very limited ability to produce weapons, bought over 2,000 Brunswick rifles for delivery to their troops. The enterprising Confederates adapted these rifles to better suit their needs.
The Burnside Rifle was a carbine developed by Ambrose Burnside in 1856. Burnside's design eliminated the expulsion of hot gas from the weapon when it was fired by sealing the area between the barrel and the breech. Five different models were manufactured.Approximately 43 Union cavalry regiments used the Burnside exclusively. The Confederacy had at least seven units that were armed with Burnside rifles that had been captured from the Union armies. The main complaint by the men that used the rifles was that the unusually shaped cartridge often got stuck in the barrel after firing.
Colt Revolving Rifle
This was one of the first repeating rifles. It had design similarities to the Colt revolver, with a rotating cylinder that held several rounds of ammunition. The benefit of this Civil War rifle was that it could be fired in rapid succession without pausing to reload after each shot. This weapon gave the Union an advantage over the Confederate troops. It performed so well under combat conditions that the Confederate armies believed that they had attacked an entire division instead of a single regiment during the Battle of Chikamauga.
Although the Colt was excellent in combat, it had a major design flaw. The gunpowder would sometimes leak from the cartridges in the field and settle into the cylinder. When the gun was fired it would ignite all of the powder at once, sending a volley of metal into the left hand of the person firing. The military tried to work around this in various ways, but the Colt Revolving rifle was discontinued.
The Henry Rifle
This rifle was the Rolls Royce of guns for the troops during the Civil War. Many soldiers saved their salaries to buy their own Henry rifle. This amazing weapon could fire 28 rounds per minute. It was manufactured in New Haven, Connecticut and was never officially adopted for service by the Union army.
The Confederate soldiers who captured one of these were unable to use them for long because they did not have easy access to the special ammunition required. There were Confederates that did use these rifles, including the body guards for President Jefferson Davis.
The Henry rifle later became the Winchester Model 1866.
Enfield 1853 Rifled Musket
This rifle was commonly used by both the Union and the Confederate infantry troops during the Civil War. It was second only to the Springfield 1861. Known for its quality, accuracy and reliability, the Enfield is one of the most sought after Civil War rifles today.
The Confederates depended on the British government to procure these weapons. When it became obvious that the southern states would not win the war, the British government refused to sell any more rifles to the Confederacy and they were forced to turn to gun runners and private sources.
The Sharps rifle was a falling block rifle that also used a unique pellet primer feed. These differences made it easy to operate from horseback with accuracy. The accuracy of the Sharps gave the English language the term, "sharpshooter", meaning someone who is a very accurate shot.Used by both the Confederate and Union troops, the Sharps was often used as a sniper rifle.
Spencer Repeating Rifle
This rifle was manufactured for the Union army. Like the Henry, the Spencer was not used very much by the Confederacy because, although they captured the weapon, they were unable to get ammunition for it.The Spencer had an excellent reputation in combat with a sustainable rate of fire of 20 rounds per minute. Since most of the Confederate soldiers were shooting muzzle loaders that had a rate of two to three rounds per minute, using a Spencer gave the person firing the weapon a distinct, tactical advantage.
The Spencer Company eventually became Winchester.
This company produced the most popular rifle of the Civil War. With an effective range of 600 paces, troops could fire three rounds per minute with accuracy up to 500 yards. It was also equipped with a bayonet.
There were several models of the Springfield rifle but the 1861 model was the most heavily used.
More Rifles of the Civil War
- The Fayetteville rifle was produced for the Confederacy in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
- The Hall rifle was at least 30 years old at the time of the Civil War, but saw some use on both sides. Most of these were in disrepair and not very dependable.
- The M1841 Mississippi rifle was a percussion rifle manufactured for the Confederacy. It had a bayonet and was accurate and easy to use.
- The Minie rifle allowed rapid muzzle loading and shot ammunition that created large, gaping wounds in the enemy.
- The Richmond rifle was produced in Virginia. It was a rifled musket that used a .58 caliber mini bullet
Collectible Pieces of History
Rifles from the Civil War are important pieces of history, and as such, they command top prices from collectors. If you ever have the opportunity to acquire one, be sure to have it appraised by a reputable dealer to determine its true value.