Confederate Cavalry Pistols, Carbines,
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
in Virginia, liked to carry multiple
revolvers because these pistols were slow to
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
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
The need for
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
cartridge or loose
and a minie ball, just like the
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
to beat the Federals to the next crossing across the Rappahannock River.
Modern Made Double Barrel
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.
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
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
For more information, consult
Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and
the references listed therein.
More About Civil War Guns