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Reference Items
.58 Cal Fayetteville Williams Cleaner

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During the Civil War, extended periods of weaponry caused the barrels of firearms to foul with the residue of black powder.  After a number of rounds had been fired in succession, it became difficult for the soldier to ram ammunition home to the breech of the barrel while reloading.  

In 1861, Elijah D. Williams applied for a patent with the U.S. government for a unique minie ball intended to resolve this problem in the field.  A specialized .58 caliber ball which was to bear his name, was cast with a small plunger at its base, slightly spaced from the base of the bullet and attached by a small throat at its center.  The space 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 of the barrel while passing down the bore.  This process, at least to a degree, removed the fouling inside the barrel.  A common practice in the Federal armies was to fire a "Williams Cleaner” at regular intervals between discharges of normal elongated bullets in an effort to keep the bore of the rifle clean.

This cartridge is a Confederate copy of the .58 caliber Williams cleaner, produced at Fayetteville Armory.  It is wrapped in buff paper, tied with tan twine at its nose.  The tail is folded closed. This specimen is 2¼” in length.  Fayetteville Arsenal in North Carolina produced a variety of weapons and ammunition until its capture and razing by William Tecumseh Sherman in March of 1865

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-276

Smith Carbine Cartridges

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The .50 caliber Smith carbine was a breech loading arm used by Cavalry during the Civil War.  Pictured here are two cartridges used by the Smith carbine.  The first is a paper and foil wrapped cartridge.  It was made under the Poultney Patent and was a disposable cartridge, the paper wrap being consumed during discharge.  It is 1⅞” in length.  The paper is pleated and wrapped at the back, with a small hole for the flame from the percussion cap to enter.

The second cartridge (forward in the image) is the rare rubber version of the same cartridge.  Rubber wrapped ammunition was thought to be more durable against the jostling of cartridges while on mounted duty, but the rubber casing required extraction after discharge.  This proved to be a touchy undertaking while under fire.  Furthermore, as the barrel heated during use the rubber fouled in the hot breach of the barrel and made extraction even more difficult.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-275

.69 caliber buck & ball cartridge

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Designed solely for military use, the buck and ball cartridge has been around from as early as the Revolutionary War.  During the War of 1812, it was the standard issue military round.  The cartridge usually contained a .69 caliber round shot with three additional round buckshot, these being approximately .31 caliber.  The cartridges were fabricated alternatively with the round ball against the powder, or held forward of the buckshot.  In addition, approximately 110 grains of black powder was neatly packaged within the brown paper wrap.  The larger shot was intended to strike the primary target, with the buckshot scattering and causing additional injury in the opposing lines.  This ammunition was used with significant impact when fired at close range from a smoothbore musket.  But at distances beyond 150 yards, accuracy declined and the smaller buckshot quickly lost energy.

 During the Civil War, these cartridges were manufactured by the millions at seventeen Federal arsenals and numerous additional state facilities.  At Watervliet Arsenal in West Troy, New York, nearly 2½ million buck and ball cartridges were fabricated in 1862 alone.  Specimens of .69 caliber round shot and .31 caliber buckshot are found on virtually every Civil War battlefield.

 This cartridge is wrapped in brown paper and tied with red string.  The ball end is fastened closed with a tie, the tail is folded closed.  Its overall length is 2½”.   Within this example, the buckshot surmounts the ball.  Although assembled both ways, a study conducted at Watervliet Arsenal in 1848 indicated that accuracy for both the round ball and the buckshot was increased when the ball was placed against the powder and used as a gas seal to push the buckshot down the barrel upon discharge.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-274

Shaler Sectional Bullets

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The Shaler three piece conical bullet is one of the most interesting bullets to see service in the Civil War.  It is a multi-piece .58 caliber bullet that was invented by Reuben Shaler of New York.  After discharge, the three sections were intended to spread apart allowing for more impact points on a designated target, but with far greater accuracy than its buck ‘n ball counterpart.  The nose section was to follow the line of fire of a standard mini-ball, while the two base portions with less than perfect shape after emerging from the barrel would diverge slightly and broaden the target impact area. As the war progressed, Shaler’s bullet design evolved as he endeavored to improve its accuracy and range. 

Shaler began to market his sectional bullet to the War Department only a few months after the firing on Fort Sumter.  His sales effort was to last through the duration of the war and resulted in only lackluster interest from the Federal army. 

Seen here are three of the five known variations in dug condition but with all three sections present on each bullet.  Two of the five variations saw very limited production and have never been excavated on a battlefield.  The recovery of Shaler sectional bullets is generally associated with the movements of the Army of the Potomac.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-273

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