Artillery, Arms & Ammunition

    Loading A Muzzle Loader  "Nine Steps"

The single-shot muzzle-loading rifle was the weapon used by the vast majority of Civil War soldiers. Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, written in 1854 by future Confederate general William J. Hardee, was the basic training manual for Northern and Southern armies. This pocket-sized book detailed the procedure for loading rifles using 20 separate motions in nine steps.

The minie` ball fired by these weapons was a cone-shaped lead bullet with a hollow base. The base expanded upon firing to fit tightly into the groves of the rifle's bore. Paper cartridges, premade in the Northern and Southern arsenals, contained a ball and the proper amount of powder to fire the weapon. A separate copper percussion cap containing half a grain of fulminate of mercury was the firing mechanism that set off the powder and fired the round. The small cap was placed on a nipple that had a hole through it to the breech. Pulling the trigger caused the hammer to crush the cap, which shot a flame through the nipple to the powder. Soldiers carried a cartridge box and a pouch for caps on their belts.

With the butt of the rifle on the ground between his feet, the soldier took a paper cartridge out of his cartridge box, tore the paper with his teeth, and poured the powder into the barrel. The ball was then inserted the barrel and pushed down with the ramrod that was carried under the barrel. After the rammer was returned to its carrying groove, the soldier took a percussion cap from his pouch and placed it firmly on the nipple. The rifle was then ready to cock, aim, and fire.

The best soldiers could load and fire a muzzle loader no more than three rounds in a minute, and because of the buildup of soot in the barrel, each successive round was harder to load. Sometimes soldiers would beat the rammer down the barrel with a rock because the ball fit so tightly in the dirty barrel.

Fascinating Fact:  Because the paper cartridges had to be torn with the teeth, a soldier could not be in the infantry unless he had enough of the right teeth to do the job.

Back to index page