Reference Items
Cartridges
.69 cal buckshot cartridge

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One type of prepared ammunition used by .69 caliber smoothbore muskets during the Civil War was the buckshot cartridge.  Although fowling pieces were common in America, they were primarily loaded in the field, with smaller loose shot and a powder horn.  For close range military purposes, a round that saw occasional service was the pre-packaged buckshot cartridge.  Colonel William Potter who commanded the 12th New Jersey Infantry at Gettysburg was present as his men fired buckshot rounds during the repulse of Picket's Charge.  He noted, "I doubt whether anywhere upon that field a more destructive fire was encountered than at the proper time blazed forth from [our] front."

The .69 caliber buckshot cartridge consisted of a load of from twelve to fifteen .31 caliber buckshot and 110 grains of powder.  Federal specifications called for the shot to be tied off in tiers of three shot at each layer.  The only Federal arsenals to document fabrication of this cartridge were St. Louis, the state arsenals in Indiana, and Frankford.  Surviving buckshot cartridges are not often encountered today. 

 This example is 2⅞” in length and contains twelve shot bound in four tiers.  It is wrapped in brown paper with the shot tied off with white string.  The wrapping at the nose is twisted and tied closed, the tail is folded closed.


Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-283

.54 Cal Burnside Carbine Cartridge

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The Burnside carbine saw service beginning just prior to the Civil War and evolved through five different versions as improvements, mostly internal, were made.  Each of the variations utilized the same cone shaped cartridge.  The arm was named after its designer, Ambrose Burnside who was treasurer of the pre-war Bristol Firearms Company, of Bristol Rhode Island.  The organizational issues that plagued Burnside after he became a General in the Federal Army did not begin with wartime, as difficulties in filling orders and meeting deadlines plagued the Bristol arms company.  After orders for these cartridges were placed by the federal government, missed production deadlines and snafus in logistics drove the War Department to commence production of the cartridge at its own arsenals.

The Burnside cartridge was a unique tapered round with a revolutionary metallic casing which clasped a 500 grain bullet and held 65 grains of powder, and it was the longest of any metallic cartridge used during the Civil War.  At the tail of the brass case was a small conical indentation with a hole at its center which helped to communicate fire from the percussion cap.  The ammunition was distributed in packets of ten with the bullets being wrapped in brown paper and fastened with twine.  On the face of the package was written "10 Cartridges / WITH 12 CAPS / FOR THE BURNSIDE / BREECH LOADING RIFLE. / Patented March 25, 1856 / CALIBER 54/100 / MADE BY THE / BURNSIDE RIFLE CO. / PROVIDENCE, R.I."

The cartridge was inserted base first into a tilting breech block which when closed, pressed the enlarged cone at the front of the cartridge against the breech of the barrel to act as a gas seal.  An external hammer fired a percussion cap whose flame then passed through a small hole at the base of the metallic casing to ignite the powder charge.  Although the cone shape design was intended to facilitate extraction of the spent brass casing after firing, this still proved to be a difficulty with the Burnside.  Later models of the carbine included a small plunger to help with the process.  But the single shot Burnside could not be adapted for use with the newer style rimfire cartridges which were arriving on the battlefield and being fired by the repeating Spencer carbines and Henry rifles.  The Burnside carbine, now obsolete, was rapidly withdrawn from service after the Civil War.


Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-282

.58 Caliber Williams Cleaner

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The cartridge pictured above is a Williams cleaner.  It is wrapped in green paper and tied with tan twine at the nose.  The tail is crimped and then folded.  The overall length is 2¼".  The story of the Williams Cleaner bullet is one of intriguing negotiation between its inventor, Elijah D. Williams, and the Ordinance Department of the Federal Government.  

In 1861, Williams applied for a patent for a newfangled bullet which he hoped would ultimately replace the elongated .58 caliber minie ball.  It was lighter than the government issue minie ball and cast without any cavity at its base.  Instead, it had a flat plunger slightly spaced from the base of the bullet which was attached by a small throat at its center.  The void was filled with zinc.  Upon discharge of the firearm, the disc compressed against the base of the ball, forcing the zinc outward where it scraped against the lands inside the rifle's barrel while passing down the bore.  This process removed black powder fouling from inside the barrel and alleviated the need to periodically cease firing and clean the bore.

There were additional advantages asserted by Williams.  With its reduced weight, more bullets could be cast from the same amount of raw material, and it was claimed that the Williams cleaner’s trajectory was flatter and more accurate than the traditional minie ball. According to Williams, the cleaner bullet was also less expensive to produce and he offered to prove it by a sale of bullets to the Ordnance Department for 20% less than the standard minie.

Williams applied for and was granted trials from the War Department.  His applications were accompanied by a letter from Colonel Hiram Berdan of the famed U.S. Sharpshooters who, after testing the bullet, noted that it was "the most perfect projectile for Army use I have ever seen.”

By the Spring of 1862, Williams cleaners were being purchased by the War Department and orders were then given to the troops that their use was to be intermingled with the standard cartridges.  Although no official document exists for the early instructions, tradition states that the ratio was one cleaner in ten rounds fired.  In order that they be differentiated from the standard cartridge, they were wrapped in colored papers, mostly blue or green.

As the cleaners began reaching the armies, minor improvements were made in the design of the bullet.  But controversy also arose.  Some well meaning officers in the War Department conducted tests of their own with less than satisfactory findings.  As a result, more official tests were conducted with mixed results.  As was common with military affairs, controversy reigned supreme.  During the process, in November 1862 the ratio of cleaners to be fired was increased to two for every ten standard rounds, and in August 1864 orders increased it further to six of every ten, although it is doubtful that this directive was widely practiced in the field. 

On January 29, 1864 E. D. Williams & Co. delivered their largest shipment of ammunition to the Ordnance Department, made up of 21,000,000 cartridges.  But the Ordnance Department was now flooded with unused ammunition and put a temporary halt to additional orders.  Then suddenly, on May 1, 1864, Elijah Williams died and the marketing energy behind his revolutionary bullet faded away.  Supplies on hand proved sufficient to conclude the war and the advent of rimfire cartridges brought the interesting saga of the Williams cleaner bullet to a close.


Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-280

Mini Balls Showing Field Markings

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Above left: Pulled .58 caliber mini ball.  This bullet became lodged in the breech of a muzzle loader rifle barrel, either from fouling of the barrel by black powder residue, or loading with inadequate or absence of black powder.  An attachment known as a worm, equipped with a pointed screw shaped tip was fastened to the threaded end of a ramrod.  It was sent down the barrel and screwed into the tip of the mini ball, after which the bullet was pulled from the breech of the barrel and discarded.  A hole is visible at the tip of the bullet where the threads of the worm were inserted.

Above 2nd from left: A pulled .69 caliber mini ball also showing the threaded markings where the worm was inserted into the tip of the bullet for removal.  Note how the threaded tip flared out the soft lead as it was tightly screwed into the nose of the bullet.

Above 3rd from left: Another type of worm, this one with claws wraps itself around the tip of the lodged bullet and extracts it.  Pictured are the worm and a mini ball showing markings at its nose from the claws of the worm.

Above right: Rammed mini ball.  When muzzle loader barrels were fouled by black powder residue after continued firing, ramming the bullet home at the breech of the barrel became increasingly difficult.  This mini ball shows the imprint of the tulip shaped ramrod which impressed itself into the soft lead of the bullet as it was forcibly driven down to the breech.  Also evident are the markings from the rifling lands on the sides of the bullet.  The bullet shows no sign of being pulled, or impact after firing, so how it emerged from the rifle barrel is a mystery.   Could the barrel have exploded at the breech as a result of the discharge pressure? 

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-279

.52 Cal Hall Carbine cartridge

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This is a near perfect condition .52 caliber cartridge for either the Hall rifle or carbine.  It is made of heavy buff colored paper wrapped around a round ball, which was then tied with tan string at the nose of the cartridge and again at the base of the ball.  The paper was closed at the tail with a long flat fold.  The cartridge is 2” long.

The Hall firearms were produced in Harper’s Ferry Arsenal in Virginia and were one of the first breach loading firearms used by the US military. They had been manufactured in large numbers prior to the Civil War, but by the time the conflict was fully involved, the Halls had become obsolete. Many carbines were issued to the Western troops, who disliked and disposed of them as quickly as possible.

This cartridge is in excellent condition. It was probably produced either just before or early in the war. Hall cartridges have a fairly low survival rate, especially in this condition.


Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-278

.54 Cal Merrill Carbine Cartridges

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Two different models of Merrill carbines were manufactured during the war years by H. Merrill of Baltimore, Maryland.  They fired a .54 caliber bullet which was packaged with either red or white paper, the red wrapper being more common.  The paper is usually quite thin and is glued against the bullet, then folded and sealed at the base.  Each round is 1½” in length.

The Merrills were a well accepted military issue carbine and large quantities saw service during the war. There were also  a limited number of Merrill rifles issued.


Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-277

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