A Modern War
The American Civil War was the world’s first modern conflict.

List the name of the weapon
What advantages did the weapon have?


The musket rifle

The most used weapon of all was the musket rifle. The musket rifle and minié bullet together changed the face of warfare forever. With the musket rifle, soldiers could aim their weapons at a target a fair distance away (up to half a mile) and actually have a chance of hitting it. Before the musket rifle was invented, only the musket was used. A musket shot a musket ball. The ball was round, and so was the barrel, so the ball did not come out of the barrel of the musket very straight. A musket rifle differed from a musket in that its barrel was rifled, which meant that it had grooves cut into the interior wall of the barrel which would cause the bullet to spin as it left the barrel. The spinning of the bullet made the bullet come out of the barrel faster and much straighter.

Minié bullets

The minié bullet, rifling of the inside of a barrel and musket ball

Prior to the development of the minié ball, rifles were not used in combat due to the difficulty in loading. The ammunition used by rifles was the same diameter as the barrel in order for the bullet to engage the groves of the rifled barrel. As a result the ball had to be forced into the barrel. The minie ball, originally designed by Captain Claude-Etienne Minié of France and improved on by manufacturers in the United States, changed warfare. Since the minie ball was smaller than the diameter of the barrel, it could be loaded quickly by dropping the bullet down the barrel. This conical lead bullet had two or three grooves and a conical cavity in its base. The gases, formed by the burning of powder once the firearm was fired, expanded the base of the bullet so that it engaged the rifling in the barrel. Thus, rifles could be loaded quickly and yet fired accurately.


Mortar Gun: The Dictator

One of the most fearsome of all the artillery pieces developed during the war is the 17,120 pound mortar gun called the Dictator. Built to fire a shell weighing 200 pounds, the gun was so heavy that it had to be transported along a railway track. Towards the war, it would be used effectively by Union forces during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, where it would shoot its enormous shells over 2.7 miles into the city.


Artillery Cannons

Much lighter artillery pieces, like the cannons pictured, also caused incredible destruction. Efficient and easily movable, they become a major weapon in almost every land battle of the war. These cannons shot 20, 30, and 40 pound artillery shells.


The Telegraph

In 1844, fourteen years before the Civil War began, Samuel Morse perfected the telegraph. The conflict between the states marks the first time that this extraordinary invention is put to use during wartime. Wherever the troops move, their telegraph corps erected the poles and strings the lines that make communications within an army faster and easier than ever before.


Hot Air Balloons

Although the invention of the airplane is still some forty years away, the Civil War is fought from the air as well as the land and sea. Men, flew in huge observation balloons to spy on enemy troop movements and create battle strategies.



New methods of fighting on the sea were also introduced. Armor-covered ships called ironclads replaced wooden ships. Both sides produced ironclad ships, but the North’s greater ship building factories allowed the Union to construct far more iron-plated vessels than the Confederacy. Throughout the war, the North’s blockade strategy will be helped by these new ships that were very hard to sink. Also, guns on the ironclads were placed so they could spin around. The ironclads were now able to fire in any direction, becoming very effective fighting machines.


Of all the new developments of the first half of the 1800s, it is the railroad that most changed Americans’ way of life. Development of the railroad in the North was far greater than in the South. Throughout the war, the Northern railroad system plays a very important role in moving around troops and weapons with speed and efficiency.

As the war dragged on to third year, the abundance of resources produced in the North begins to take its toll. While three years of fighting have seriously diminished Confederate supplies, ranging from shoes and uniforms to guns and ammunition, Northern factories continue to produce enormous quantities of arms and munitions.

"Grant has a railroad of his own, a sure- enough iron rail, all the way from City Point, around by the east and south of Petersburg, along the line that his army occupies. So vast are the resources and appliances of war at his command. They do not spare in means or men, but are lavish of both." Confederate soldier, 1864