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Civil war rifles

This photo shows the progression of rifles used during the Civil War.

During the Civil War the North had the ability and money to place the most modern weaponry in the hands of its soldiers. The photo accompanying this story shows the progression of rifles used during the Civil War.

Bruce Gardow

Bruce Gardow

The rifle in the middle of the photo is an 1862 Springfield Rifle Musket. It was a’58 caliber, muzzle loading rifle that fired the deadly Minie’ ball bullet. It was the standard issue Union shoulder weapon.

The rifle at the bottom has an interesting hometown story attached to it. The rifle itself is an 1863 Springfield Rifle musket also firing a .58 caliber Minie’ ball cartridge. This gun belonged to Pvt. John G. Ingalls, Company E, (Dunn County) 12th Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers. Ingalls returned to Dunn County after the war, eventually becoming Superintendent of Menomonie schools.

However, the game changer for the Union Army was the top gun in our photo, the Spencer Repeating Rifle. It fired a seven shot clip of .52 caliber ammunition Just think about the fact that an infantry man could squeeze off seven rounds of bullets in the time it took an infantry man to load one Minie” ball and fire. Imagine having a seven to one advantage over your opponent. This gun was a favorite of Union Snipers because of it’s fire power. Seeing the advantage the Confederate States of America convinced Spencer to sell the rifles to them. But it was to late. The early use of the Spencer by the Union had given them a decisive advantage.

Christopher Spencer invented this lever action firearm. The Spencer was the world’s first military metallic cartridge, and over 200,000 examples were made between 1860 and 1869 by the Spencer Repeating Rifle The Spencer Carbine was another weapon from Spencer’s creative mind. It was shorter and lighter and designed for the cavalry.

Interestingly enough, the opinion of the Department of War, Ordinance Department. Was that soldiers would waste ammunition by firing to rapidly with the repeating rifle, and thus denied a contract for such weapons. More accurately, the Ordinance Department feared that the Army’s logistics train would be unable to provide enough ammunition for the soldiers in the field, as they already had grave difficulty bringing up enough ammunition’s for armies of tens of thousands of men over distances of hundreds of miles. A weapon able to fire as rapidly as the Spencer’s could would require a vastly expanded logistics train and place great strain on the already overburdened railroads along with tens of thousands of more mules, wagons and wagon train guard detachments. There was also the fact that several Springfield rifle muskets could be purchased for the cost of one Spencer repeater also influenced thinking.

However the Spencer was released in limited quantity to the Pennsylvania Volunteers just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg where it proved to be a popular weapon. After the Battle of Gettysburg Spencer was able to gain an audience with President Lincoln who invited him to a shooting match and demonstration of his rifle, on the lawn of the White House. Lincoln was impressed, and ordered General James Wolfe Ripley to adopt it for production, after which Ripley disobeyed the President and stuck with the Springfield single shot rifles. However the Spencer was used at the Battle of Chickamauga just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Armies of the West under the command of General Grant.

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Bruce Gardow is a volunteer at the Dunn County Historical Museum who shares his extensive knowledge as he explores some of the many treasures that exist in the archives of the Dunn County Historical Society’s Rassbach Heritage Museum, located at 1820 Wakanda St. in Menomonie’s Wakanda Park.

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