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Confederate Cavalry Pistols, Carbines, and Shotguns

The Confederate Cavalry were mostly armed with guns picked up on the battlefield.  So many years later it is difficult to accurately distinguish whether a gun made in the North was carried by a Confederate, although any claim it was can raise its value and price on the collector's market.

The Confederate cavalrymen, especially the partisans behind the Federal lines in Virginia, liked to carry multiple revolvers because these pistols were slow to reload.  They acquired their pistols from the Federals because they had to.  The Confederate production of revolvers was only one tenth of one percent of what the Federals produced, and most of the Confederate revolvers look like a Colt to a casual observer.

The qualification to become a cavalryman for the Confederacy--especially in the earlier part of the Civil War--was often to bring a horse from home.  As military guns on the Confederacy were much scarcer then horses, the myth has grown that the farm boy aspiring to be a dashing cavalryman also brought the family shotgun.

The truth is, the Confederate cavalrymen used just about anything for their long-gun that they could find in working order.  That is, if the stock wasn't broken, the barrel unburst, and the firing hammer was still propelled by a stiff spring.

The Federal cavalryman's "long gun" was a carbine, not a musket.  The need for carbines was acute enough for the Federals to buy just about anything.  And they did, including many that were one of a kind breechloaders that required special ammunition.  When the Confederates captured such breechloaders needing special ammunition, they couldn't use them after the captured ammunition ran out.

The most popular long arm for the Confederate cavalry was the simple muzzle loading military carbine:

Typical Muzzle loading Carbine, such as this modern made one.

Such carbines were loaded from the muzzle, usually with a paper cartridge or loose powder and a minie ball, just like the muskets.

The Confederates in Richmond also made duplicates of the breechloading Sharps carbine, although they developed a bad reputation because nobody thought to tell the Confederate soldiers to clear the oil before trying to fire them.  Ah, the perils of new technology has been with us before.

Modern Made Reproduction of a Confederate Breechloader

The Federal Sharps and the Confederate Robinson breechloading carbines were loaded from the back "breech" end with the same types of components as the muzzle loaders.  The Federals made about 150,000 of these breechloaders; the Confederates made about 5,000.

When a shotgun was brought from home, it could be either a single or a double barrel.  It could, and did, fire either shot,  or single large a round ball, and sometimes both at once if the cavalryman who loaded it could stand the recoil.  If the roundball with a cloth patch was a reasonably snug fit, it could be as accurate out to a hundred yards or so as the sights or the shooter's skill allowed.  "Ram and fire fast" is a descriptive term of the Confederate cavalry racing with their shotguns to beat the Federals to the next crossing across the Rappahannock River.

Modern Made Double Barrel Shotgun

Such shotguns were loaded from the muzzle like the muskets and carbines.

Confederates used everything they could pick up from the battlefield, including damaged muskets sent to the rear, particularly to Richmond, to be made into something serviceable.

Maybe a genuine Confederate

This carbine was bought by the current owner in the 1950s, so it dates back at least that far.  But it could have been made up right before then with a genuine Confederate Richmond lockplate and the rest as salvaged parts.  The front sling swivel came with the band from an infantry musket, but the rear sling swivel inletted into the stock is work when cavalry didn't use slings very much.  The trigger guard was also salvaged from an infantry musket after removing the sling swivel from the front of the trigger guard bow.  Exercise care when buying anything claimed to be a genuine Confederate as there has been quite a lot of sharp practice to raise the price over the past half century or so.

Before loading any of these with powder, fire a percussion cap, and another if needed, until the flash hole is clear of oil. Point the gun in a safe direction at the ground. There is enough power in a cap at close range to damage an eye or bend blades of grass. Try it on the grass.

When the flash hole is clear, then blow out the barrel with your mouth to extinguish sparks before measuring and pouring in the powder, followed by a bullet (patched if a roundball), and ram it all the way down the barrel with the rod.  Put the percussion cap on the back end after pointing the gun in a safe direction.

Now its ready to shoot.

For both original antique guns or newly made replicas, always shoot in a safe way in a safe place with a good backstop. Read instructions and seek advice about safety and otherwise.

Only some of the ammunition components can be sold by mail order with blackpowder being the most difficult item. There are legal restrictions as to buyers and quantities. Consult a local sporting goods store or gun shop for a resource near you.

The percussion cap is the "cap" essential to firing these guns.  The Confederacy sent special buyers into the north to buy cap making machines because of the enormous quantities of caps to be manufactured.

Shooting these Sharps or muzzle loading carbines and shotguns can be fun. The loading is a more personal experience and more educational than merely stuffing cartridges in the back end. And the time taken to load reduces the cost of ammunition to a fifth or less of the cost of ammunition to spend the same amount of time shooting the faster loading modern guns.

For more information, consult Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and the references listed therein.

More About Civil War Guns


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