Typical Paper Cartridges
Ammunition issued to the common soldier in the Civil War was
the form of paper cartridges. The paper was treated with potassium nitrate
so it would complete burn if loaded into the gun with the powder. Both the
and the paper were easily damaged by water. If soaked with water,
the paper would disintegrate and the powder wouldn't ignite when wet.
Loading with paper cartridges could be slow and careful or much faster.
The slow and careful method was to open the back end of the cartridge,
carefully pour the powder into the gun, and followed by ramming the bullet
in place. Single shot muskets loaded from the front end of the barrel.
Loading a cap and ball revolver was from into
the front end of the cylinder.
A faster method was to tear the back end of the paper cartridge off,
with the teeth, spill powder in haste, and cram the whole thing in paper
and all. Even faster was to ram the entire cartridge intact, but that
could cause hangfires (slow to go off) and misfires (doesn't fire).
The chart below shows standard powder charges, bullet weights, bullet
muzzle velocities, and muzzle energies for typical paper cartridges in the
US Civil War. The muzzle energy may be useful to avoid
common mistakes authors make. The Civil War guns
were less powerful then their 20th century replacements.