Civil War Weapons Facts: 7 Most Interesting Weapons From The War 

Last updated on July 21st, 2023 at 07:15 am.

Missouri has a unique place in history when it comes to the Civil War. When researching Civil War weapons facts and the weapons used during the war it becomes quickly apparent that soldiers from Missouri used most of them because the state was divided and some men who fought became Confederate soldiers while others Union soldiers.

Missouri was one of the most fought-over states during the civil war, and because of that, many soldiers went to the south or north to fight for other states that had a clear idea of what side they were on.

Therefore, a man born in Missouri could often be found using a Confederate Arkansas Toothpick or a Union Gatling Gun.

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Civil War reenactment

The idea that Missouri was a divided state created a harsh dynamic where families would split apart, and friends would become enemies. Whether they truly felt hatred for their past friend or not choosing a side was a part of the times.

War created and still creates great division, and when looking back on history, the Civil War was by far the most politically divisive time America has ever gone through. We still see its effect to this day in good things like The Civil Rights Act, and bad things like racism that is still prevalent in America.

We have come very far, but not all the wounds have healed, and we need to stay mindful that The Civil War war still affects us today.  

Top 7 Most Interesting Weapons Used In The Civil War 

Most Interesting Weapons From The American Civil War

The American Civil War is possibly the most influential and significant event in American history. Due to its fight to free the slaves, the division of the country, and the promise the north fought for to act on their forefather’s writings to ensure the rights and freedoms of every man, regardless of skin, religion, or ethnicity. 

However, since the war happened over 100 years ago, we are taught the basics, but we are not often taught the more interesting facts about the war. One of the most interesting things about The Civil War was the weaponry used, and how it compares to today’s military weapons.

That is what this article is for; to share some of the most influential and important weapons used during The Civil war on both sides; by Union troops and Confederate troops. This article also shares why the weapons were so important, and how they shaped the future of the American military and its weaponry. 

1. The Ketchum Grenade 

Ketchum Grenade
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Many people think of grenades being used in wars is likely during World War 1. However, 50 years earlier the Ketchum grenade was used during the Civil War. Although it doesn’t look anything like how it does today, The Ketchum grenade functioned similarly.

When thrown in the air, the idea was it would explode when hitting the ground. However, the grenade would only detonate if the point of the front hit the ground, making them quite ineffective. They were used by the Union army, and to defend against them, it is recorded that Confederate soldiers would use blankets to catch them so they would not hit the ground and explode. 

2. The Arkansas Toothpick 

Arkansas Toothpick
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Similar in size and style to a modern-day Bowie knife, the Arkansas Toothpick was a very heavy dagger used for a variety of things on the battlefield. Used for a variety of things such as throwing, slashing, and even cutting food and shaving one face, the weapon would usually be held in a sheath on the back of the carrier.

As its name suggests, it was used by the confederates, for the most part, however, the Union soldiers would carry similar Bowie knives as well. 

3. The Gatling Gun 

Gatling Gun 

While only used a few times during the Civil War, the Gatling gun, invented by Richard Jordan Gatling, was a hand-cranked machine gun that could fire up to 200 rounds per minute. The Gatling gun was used by Union forces and was the first machine-style gun that would become widely successful, although that was after the Civil War.

Even so, this gun is one of the most important in history as it led the way for almost all combat guns used in today’s military, from semi-automatic rifles to heavy-duty machine guns. 

Interesting info about the Gatling Gun: The army purchased none of his guns during the Civil War, but Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, after a field test, purchased 12 for $1,000 each and two were used on the Petersburg front in 1864 and considered successful.

4. The Coal Torpedo 

Confederate Coal Torpedo
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Invented by Captain Thomas Courtney of the Confederate Secret Service, this regular-looking lump of coal was actually a hollow iron casing, filled with explosives, and then mottled and covered in coal dust.

The idea was that the torpedoes would be hidden in the Union trains and steamboat piles of coal, and when shoveled into the builders. They would explode, destroying a vehicle. The Union army discovered the plan by the admission of a Confederate courier, and to this day there is no way of knowing if or how many Union vehicles were destroyed by these torpedoes. 

5. The Shotgun Pistol Revolver (LeMat Revolver)

LeMat grapeshot revolver that belonged to Confederate general G. T. Beauregard
LeMat grapeshot revolver that belonged to Confederate general G. T. Beauregard

Used by the Confederate army the gun known as the LeMat revolver had a normal revolver style on top, with a buck-shot shotgun on the bottom. Weighing almost 5 pounds fully loaded, while interesting, the gun would be set aside eventually for the light Colts, as soldiers usually like to carry multiple pistols so as not to have to reload. 

6. The CSS Hunley 

CSS Hunley  Civil War
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The first-ever submarine to ever successfully sink a ship, the USS Hunley was manned by a small Confederate crew. Not having missiles or anything close to the sort, they decided to take a spear, pack it with explosives, and point it to the prow of the submarine, where they would ram into the side of an enemy ship. 

Before ever used successfully, the submarine killed 12 people through failed attempts to use it by the Confederate army. In one attempt the submarine accidentally dived with the hatches opened, the other the submarine failed to surface. The 3rd time is used, the USS Hunley rammed into the USS Housatonic,  a part of the Union Naval blockade in Charleston, South Carolina, killing 5 crew members. The USS Hunley would also sink in the attack, killing its crew, again. 

7. Ironclads 

Civil War Union Ironclad gunboat

A steam-powered warship used from 1859 to the 1890s, Ironclads were ships with metal plating all through, giving it a sort of armor against attacks. The CSS Manassas was the first Ironclad used in the civil war, during a battle on the Mississippi delta.

The CSS Virginia and the CSS Monitor famously has a 2-day fight in march of 1862 in Hampton Roads Virginia. The fight ended in a stalemate. Later on in the war, the Union would start to use Ironclads to capture Confederate bases, being a pivotal part of the Union Navy’s successes during the Civil War.       

6 Interesting Civil War Weapons Facts

Civil War camp
  1. During the Civil War the North and South used a great variety of small arms ammunition, but the type most used was the minie ball (also spelled minié ball). Prior to the development of the minie ball, rifles were not used in combat due to the difficulty in loading.    
  2. Civil War percussion cap box was worn on the front of the waist belt by Civil War soldiers. The purpose of the box was to hold the percussion caps that were required to fire the vast majority of firearms in use during the Civil War.
  3. There were two general types of artillery weapons used during the Civil War: smoothbores and rifles. Smoothbores included howitzers and guns.
  4. Trapped by the Federals near Appomattox Court House, Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union general Ulysses S. Grant, leading to the end of what is considered the bloodiest conflict in American history.
  5. In 1865, as commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant led the Union Armies to victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War and was later elected the 18th President of the United States (1869–1877).
  6. The end of the war historically is Apr 9, 1865.

Best Books About The American Civil War

There are hundreds and hundreds of Civil War books. The below are some of most highly rated and considered to be a few of the best according to many Civil War scholars.

  1. The greatest piece of Civil War literature is considered Battle Cry of Freedom (1988), by James McPherson. It is widely regarded as the most authoritative one-volume history of the war. McPherson, a professor emeritus of U.S. history at Princeton, writes an informative and meticulously researched masterpiece where he clarifies the differing ways of life and philosophy that led to this shattering conflict.
  2. Ken Burns’ The Civil War transformed Shelby Foote into the best-known popular historian of the Civil War. The Civil War: A Narrative is told entirely from the point of view of the people involved in it. All the great battles are here, of course, from Bull Run through Shiloh, the Seven Days Battles, and Antietam, but so are the smaller ones: Ball’s Bluff, Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, Island Ten, New Orleans, and Monitor versus Merrimac.
  3. The Annotated Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant is one of the most accomplished literary achievements of American letters. It is written by the former Union general and president Grant. It gives tremendous insight into how someone at the heart of the war effort thought about day-to-day decisions. He was known as an effective general in part because he could write a straightforward order that those around him could easily understand and execute. Grant writes in such a manner that you feel like you’re standing beside him.

American Civil War movies that Include Missouri

It also might be of interest to check out some of the best American Civil War movies that include Missouri:

Ride with the Devil (1999)

Directed by Ang Lee and based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel, Woe to Live On, Ride with the Devil focused on the border state wars of Missouri and Kansas. It is centered around the Antebellum period before the war, including with the Bleeding of Kansas and the famed Missouri Compromise. It shows how neighbors slaughtered neighbors based on political persuasions and the guerrilla warfare between Americans.

By joining the Bushwhackers (Confederate sympathizers) they fought as insurgents against their Jayhawk neighbors (Union troops). The film’s central hero of Jake Rodel (Tobey Maguire) isn’t even an American; he’s a German immigrant who traveled with his father as a boy to Missouri. However, his best friend is Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich), a man from a family with gentry pretensions, albeit only George Clyde’s (Simon Baker) family is rich enough to own slaves—including Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright). Ergo, Jake must be a Bushwhacker.

Watch Ride with the Devil on Amazon Prime

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

The Oscar-nominated Outlaw Josey Wales features Western icon Clint Eastwood as Josey Wales. The film is set during and after the American Civil War. Eastwood plays a Missouri farmer who seeks revenge for the murder of his family by Union militants during the Civil War. Driven to revenge, Wales joins a Confederate guerrilla band and makes a name for himself as a feared gunfighter.

According to legend, this movie is based on the life of Thomas Atticus Hawkins, a Missouri farmer from Maries County.

Watch The Outlaw Josey Wales on Amazon Prime

The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

Based on the 1895 novel by Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage takes place during the U.S. Civil War over four days in May of 1863. The story takes place during an unnamed battle during the Civil War. Crane deliberately never mentions the place, the date, or even the fact that the war is the one between the states.

Watch The Red Badge of Courage on Amazon Prime

The Civil War Mini-Series (1990)

The Civil War is a 1990 American television documentary miniseries created by Ken Burns about the American Civil War. The nine-part series explores the 10,000 places the war was fought in, more than 3 million Americans fought in it, and over 600,000 men – 2 percent of the population – died in. It saw the end of slavery and the downfall of a southern planter aristocracy.

Watch The Civil War on Amazon Prime

Lincoln (2012)

Directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones. Lincoln zeroes in on a defining moment from near the end of the Civil War –January 1865 and the debate over the proposed amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery.

Scene 3 takes place in the White House, with Mr. and Mrs. Jolly from Jefferson City, Missouri entering the office and Seward uses the couple to illustrate a point about the Thirteenth Amendment.

Watch Lincoln on Amazon Prime

Gone with the Wind (1939)

Gone with the Wind takes place in the state of Georgia during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and the Reconstruction Era (1865–1877). While it’s not filmed in Missouri, it is the most famous film about the Civil War and was hard to not include!

Watch Gone with the Wind on Amazon Prime

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