While many new types of rifles were used during the American Civil War (1861-1865), the traditional muzzle-loading musket remained the mainstay of battle, especially for soldiers fighting for the South where new weapons were in short supply. The “Springfield Musket” was the most common of these musket types, with several different variations produced both before and during the war.
Muskets operated like cannons. They fired heavy bullets made of lead called “Minié balls” (named after C.E. Minié, 1814-1879, the French officer who invented them). This musket was called a “muzzle loader” because the Minié ball was loaded into the gun’s barrel or muzzle. When the soldier pulled the trigger, the force of a great explosion would drive the Minié ball out of the barrel with tremendous speed and force. To load the gun, the soldier had to stuff a cartridge filled with black gunpowder down into the long barrel of the rifle. This was called “priming the rifle.” The soldier used a long thin rod called a “ram-rod” to stuff the black powder and then the Minié ball tight inside the barrel. When the trigger was pulled, a spark caught the gunpowder on fire and created an explosion that sent the Minié ball flying.
The musket had many drawbacks. It was hard to predict exactly where the explosion would send the Minié ball, so a soldier could not be very accurate in striking his target. Also, the process of loading the gun took a long time. This loading time was very dangerous for the soldier because without a loaded weapon he was defenseless against the enemy.