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Civil War - Cavalry Weapons

Sabers were considered the primary weapons for dragoons, and pistols were next in importance in mounted action. Carbines were primarily for use when dismounted. Initially armed with sabers and pistols (and in one case, lances), Federal cavalry troopers quickly added the breech-loading carbine to their inventory of weapons. However, one Federal regiment, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, carried lances until 1863.

The Dragoons, and later the Cavalry continued to carry the 1840 Dragoon Saber up to the start of the Civil War. In 1857 the Army authorized a Light Cavalry Saber, and began production in 1859 (this is sometimes referred to as the Model 1860). While most Cavalry units received the new saber, once the war started virtually all of the 1840 pattern sabers on hand were issued as well. Mounted members of Light Artillery Batteries dutifully were issued sabers as well, specifically the Model 1840 Light Artillery Saber. Despite images of the dramatic cavalry charge with lifted sabers gleaming in the sun, less that one percent of all the casualties in the Civil War were inflicted by an edged weapon of any type, saber or bayonet.

Troopers preferred the easier-handling carbines to rifles and the breech-loaders to awkward muzzle-loaders. The carbine was used by the Cavalry and numerous types were used during early part of the Civil War. Three carbines came to predominate by the middle of the war, however, the Sharps, which fired a .54 Caliber paper combustible cartridge or could be loaded with a bullet and loose powder; the Spencer, which was a magazine weapon that held seven rounds of .56 caliber metallic cartridge in a tube in the butt stock; and the Burnside, which used a unique tapered .54 Caliber metallic cartridge fired with a standard percussion cap. In all, more than 95,000 Sharps, 80,000 Spencer, and 54,000 Burnside Carbines were purchased.

Of the single-shot breech-loading carbines that saw extensive use during the Civil War, the Hall .52 caliber accounted for approximately 20,000 in 1861. The Hall was quickly replaced by a variety of carbines, including the Merrill -54 caliber (14,495), Maynard 52 caliber (20,002), Gallager .53 caliber (22,728), Smith .52 caliber (30,062), Burnside .56 caliber (55,567), and Sharps .54 caliber (80,512). The next step in the evolutionary process was the repeating carbine, the favorite by 1865 being the Spencer .52-caliber seven-shot repeater (94,194).

Revolvers were used by both cavalry and Light Artillery with the .44 Caliber Colt New Army Model 1860; the .36 Caliber Colt Navy Model 1851; and the .44 Caliber Remington Army Model Revolvers being the top contenders in regards to use. Neither carbines nor revolvers were made in government armories, all were purchased by contract.

Because of the Souths Iimited industrial capacity, Confederate cavalrymen had a more difficult time arming themselves. Nevertheless, they too embraced the firepower revolution, choosing shotguns and muzzle-loading carbines as their primary weapons. In addition, Confederate cavalrymen made extensive use of battlefield salvage by recovering Federal weapons. However, the Souths difficulties in producing the metallic-rimmed cartridges required by many of these recovered weapons limited their usefulness.

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Page last modified: 25-09-2017 18:34:16 ZULU