Discussion Did Civil War arms help tame the Wild West?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Aug 25, 2012
Wars have a tendency to cause a jump in new technology used in weapons. This would include long arms and pistols. So did the Civil War era improvement in rifles and pistol have a real impact on weapons in the Wild West? Metallic cartridges took over for cap and ball weapons in most cases. Leaver action rifles seemed popular in the west. So how much influence did Civil War arms have on weapons like the 1874 Sharps Rifle? What about the Civil War era Henry Rifle?

I am suspecting that many surplus Civil War rifles and pistols found their way out west after the Civil War. I assume that these surplus Civil War arms provided decent inexpensive options for the west in the post Civil War era.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
The hundreds of thousands of surplus civil war arms were sold to all markets, from European countries getting arming to fight a war (France bought many surplus arms before the Franco Prussian War) to wholesalers who peddled them throughout the world, including the American West
 
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Joined
May 1, 2015
Location
Upstate N.Y.
The 1974 Sharps was post Civil War and a buffalo hunters choice. The Henry was replaced by the Winchester 1866 so it had a short run.
As to if they tamed or vice versa the West is questionable. A land without laws being enforced leads to problems. With the birth of Marshall's and Rangers in place the taming came about.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Wars have a tendency to cause a jump in new technology used in weapons. This would include long arms and pistols. So did the Civil War era improvement in rifles and pistol have a real impact on weapons in the Wild West? Metallic cartridges took over for cap and ball weapons in most cases. Leaver action rifles seemed popular in the west. So how much influence did Civil War arms have on weapons like the 1874 Sharps Rifle? What about the Civil War era Henry Rifle?

I am suspecting that many surplus Civil War rifles and pistols found their way out west after the Civil War. I assume that these surplus Civil War arms provided decent inexpensive options for the west in the post Civil War era.
The Henry repeating rifle which was first used during the Civil War evolved into the Winchester '73, "the gun that won the west." The Henry was made by the New Haven (Connecticut) Arms Company. As I recall, New Haven Arms went bankrupt partly because of disputes between owner Oliver Winchester and designer Benjamin Henry. Ultimately Winchester took the key employees and formed the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The Winchester '73 remained in production from 1873 to 1923.

Oliver died in 1880 and his son died the following year. As a result, his wife Sarah moved to San Jose, California where she spent the rest of her life adding rooms to the Winchester Mystery House. Supposedly, the rooms of the House are designed in a manner that links to prime numbers.
 

Desert Kid

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Arizona
Stifled it and then escalated it.

The war caused civil authorities in Texas to lose control of everything west of Fort Worth to the Comanches for a few years.

By 1870, the US Army went full-bore on taming everything between the Balcones Escarpment and the Yuma Territorial Prison. Apaches were cleared out of the valleys of most of Southern New Mexico and Arizona by 1875, forcing them to take to the mountains and become more nomadic than they had been for hundreds of years. Constantly breaking out of the Reservations, it was a problem that didn't settle itself until 1889 in the United States, and 1933 in Mexico.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Stifled it and then escalated it.

The war caused civil authorities in Texas to lose control of everything west of Fort Worth to the Comanches for a few years.

By 1870, the US Army went full-bore on taming everything between the Balcones Escarpment and the Yuma Territorial Prison. Apaches were cleared out of the valleys of most of Southern New Mexico and Arizona by 1875, forcing them to take to the mountains and become more nomadic than they had been for hundreds of years. Constantly breaking out of the Reservations, it was a problem that didn't settle itself until 1889 in the United States, and 1933 in Mexico.

You sound as if you know what is what.
I've got some ancestors named Alkire who ranched in Arizona in the 1800s.
Are you an Arizonia historical buff?
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
Well a bit! :bounce: Where in AZ did they ranch?

He bought the Triangle Bar on the New River 1886, and in older age, moved to Phoenix where he was part of the group that dammed the Salt River to provide water for the town. I've never heard this in family lore, but an internet search of his name, Frank Alkire, turns up a story that he was present at the deathbed of the fellow who owned the Lost Dutchman Mine!
 
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Georgian183

Private
Joined
Apr 17, 2021
I often wonderded where "Hollywood"got the idea, in westerns, that the townfolk were cringing in fear when the bad guys took over. These towns were probably filled with veterans from both sides who knew how to use firearms and kept plenty of surplus guns pretty close.
Something that I've also thought about is how the war experiences and ptsd of those hundreds of thousands of men influenced how violent the west was. They were taught how to systematically kill each other, and many continued the practice in peacetime as civilians I'm sure. The weaponry definitely influenced things out west, with many soldiers either purchasing the weapons they used/fought with or just taking them as they discharged for further use.
 
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R. Porter

Private
Joined
Oct 6, 2020
From what I understand, after the war the West was flooded with surplus rifles which were bought for a few dollars and sold for a lot more. A lot of these would have been the outdates European weapons bought at the beginning of the conflict since these would have been cheaper than the still inexpensive Springfield and Enfield muzzle loaders. Native Americans had held a preference for flintlock weapons because it could be difficult to get percussion caps but afterward there was more of an acceptance of percussion system and metallic cartridge systems. Metallic cartridge firearms were more costly for Native Americans and more difficult to get as was the ammunition, so the vast majority of Native American firearms were still flintlock or caplock. Homesteaders in theory could get by with a shotgun, so they could still use caplock muzzle loaders. Plains Indians hunted bison from horseback and would get in close before getting off a shot. They tended to cut down their firearms to carbine length and could load and shoot with a large caliber shortened rifle or musket while riding. Their warfare tended to be hit and run raids where they would closely approach their target, get off a few shots, and then ride off.

The older, thick barreled, large caliber plains rifles could be loaded with powder and were accurate out to great distances. On the plains this was useful because when you were hunting there was a whole lotta nothing between you and your quarry. You could easily spook your prey before you got close to them. The firearms that came out of the War using metallic cartridges had competing requirements to deal with. Consider the Spencer with its tube magazine that passed through the stock. If you want a lot of cartridges they will have to be shorter so that they will all fit in the magazine, but if they are shorter they have less powder and less accurate at greater distances. Also, the magazine weakens the stock so that when you drop it while mounted, there is a good chance it will break, making your weapon useless. This was a problem for Native Americans as can be seen by the number of their firearms with rawhide repairs holding their firearms together. Since Plains Indians would get in close when shooting at bison, the lower powered, shorter range ammunition wasn’t a problem for them. When the army held trials for firearms before selecting the Springfield trapdoor model, they were looking at things like accuracy, reliability, ease of use, etc. They were already using trapdoor designed firearms, in fact the Springfield model 1866 used a trapdoor design for breech-loading. This allowed a soldier to fire about three times as fast as a soldier using a muzzle-loading rifle and he could reload from a prone position without exposing himself to return fire. The Springfield 1866 is credited by many as the gun that won the Wagon Box Fight in 1867. The Springfield 1873 was judged to be the best choice by the Army and was chosen as the standard firearm. It was a good firearm and was used up till the 20th​ century.

After the Battle of the Little Bighorn a number of critics tried the blame the Springfield for the loss. One of the issued was that the firearms tended to jam after it had been firing for a while. The ammunition used copper cartridges which were affected by heat. The copper would expand and get stuck in the rifle and have to be removed using a stick pushed down the barrel or a knife from the breech. Ultimately, this lead to the use of brass for cartridges. The archaeological investigation of the battlefield in recent years has lead to the conclusion that the cavalry under Custer was spread out in a few exposed positions and that the Indians were able to get enough warriors close enough to these positions by crawling through high grass and up ravines that they were able to bring overwhelming firepower on their objective. They didn’t need a lot of Spencers or Henrys or Winchesters, there were enough muzzle-loaders that together they overwhelmed the troopers they were attacking. After they wiped out one position they took the trooper’s guns and ammunition and moved on to the next objective. Apparently this demoralized the troopers who stopped putting up a fight. The same thing happened to Braddock’s troops during the French and Indian War. In Custer’s situation a short range rapid firing weapon might have been more useful, but they did have Colt pistols. The major error seems to have been to allow the Indians to approach so closely with so many warriors. Reno’s group formed a defensive position on high ground where their rifles were more useful and most of them survived.

The tug-of-war between ammunition and firearms, range and volume of fire continued with a lot of advancement in Europe. By the time of the Spanish American War, America was just beginning to use smokeless powder. It is interesting to note that during the fighting in Cuba, the Spanish were armed with rifles that used smokeless powder and could place snipers in trees to fire on Americans without giving away their position while most of the American troops were still using black powder ammunition. If I recall correctly, Teddy Roosevelt insisted that his men use firearms with smokeless powder ammunition. There were four former Confederate generals who became Major Generals of United States Volunteers during the Spanish American War, and one of them, Fitzhugh Lee, retired in 1901 as a brigadier general of the United State Army.

So that’s a long winded ramble on the effect of Civil War firearms on some things after the war and you now know that not only am I not an expert on swords but I’m also not an expert on guns.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
There was a very aspect of the guns that won the west mythology. Before setting out across the plaines, emigrants were sold all manner of firearms to protect themselves from Indian attacks. The records at Fort Leavenworth where deaths & births were recorded reveal a fascinating fact. A very small number of emigrants suffered wounds from Indian attacks. Even during the height of the battles between the army & the "hostiles" conflict with emigrants were extremely rare. That being said, a remarkable number of emigrants were killed & wounded by firearms.

The records at Fort Leavenworth are a catalogue of accidental woundings. Reflecting the incidences of accidental woundings in modern times, the children, wives & neighbors were killed & wounded by gun toting emigrants in large numbers. Let's face it, riding a horse while carrying a loaded gun is an accident waiting to happen. Even Custer shot his own horse out from under him on his way to the Black Hills. The guns that won the west shot a lot more innocent victims than hostiles & bandits.
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
The tug-of-war between ammunition and firearms, range and volume of fire continued with a lot of advancement in Europe. By the time of the Spanish American War, America was just beginning to use smokeless powder. It is interesting to note that during the fighting in Cuba, the Spanish were armed with rifles that used smokeless powder and could place snipers in trees to fire on Americans without giving away their position while most of the American troops were still using black powder ammunition. If I recall correctly, Teddy Roosevelt insisted that his men use firearms with smokeless powder ammunition. There were four former Confederate generals who became Major Generals of United States Volunteers during the Spanish American War, and one of them, Fitzhugh Lee, retired in 1901 as a brigadier general of the United State Army.

A great story about the black powder to smokeless powder transition is told in the book by Kentucky Lawyer Henry Caudill "Night Comes to the Cumberlands" where an old Kentucky lawyer talks of his service in the Kentucky troops in the Spanish American War. The men still carried the large-bore black powder trapdoor Springfield rifles. He claimed the men wore large brimmed soft hats so they could use them to fan away the black smoke after a volley to see if they had hit anything!
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Regarding the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the archeological evidence does not support the mythological version of events. It is really interesting to examine the firing positions one individual attacker took during the fighting. The ejected casings have an eccentric mark from the firing pin. He moved from one advantageous position to another, firing a few shots after each move. That man knew what he was doing.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
In September 1863 Iowa Cavalry under General Alfred Sully fought the Battle of Whitestone Hill in what is now Dicky County, North Dakota. Yanktonai, Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota, & Sihasapa Lakota (Blackfeet) had gathered together on a traditional winter campground. The expedition was intended to punish individuals who had participated in the Dakota Conflict of 1862.

Trooper Corwin Lee, a twenty eight year old member of Company M, 7th Iowa wrote a letter describing the Battle of Whitestone His in a letter published in the Iowa City Republican.

"... we came across a drove of some forty or fifty [buffalo]. The hunters that are detailed from each regiment every day, & the only ones besides scouts that are permitted outside of the lines, were soon among them scattering them in every direction, & during the whole day were chasing them, killing some fifteen or twenty altogether. These hunters are all green hands at the business, being just detailed for the day, & of course, were nearly crazy with excitement. One man of Co. C, 6th Iowa, shot his own horse in the shoulder, while Lieut. Brown, of Co. M, being out to see the fun, got his horse shot in the neck, which threw him sprawling upon the ground. The ball, however, was cut out on the opposite side of the neck & did his horse very little injury. In the midst of the excitement, the command was halted to give the hunters a fair show, & they were just in advance of us; whereupon, the men broke ranks in every direction to get a good view of the chase, & some even joined it without & regardless of orders. The General say the men are d---d sight wilder than the buffalo. The Indian guide says to-morrow we will see heap of buffalo."

"On the morning of the 26th of August, we had been marching but a short time when we came in sight of a very large drove of buffalo. The hunters, as usual were soon in their midst, scattering death & destruction among them. A single rider would select his victim & give him a shot, when Mr. Buffalo, frightened & smarting with pain, would start off across the prairie at full speed, which is but a slow, rolling, lumbering ox like gait, with mouth wide open, eyes glaring, tail distended & hair erect. As each succeeding shot took effect in his body, he would wheel & sheer, in vain endeavor to escape from his pursuing & determined foe, until a shot take effect in some vital spot, would cause him to stop, reel & fall, while the round conqueror of the monarch of the plaines would stand a moment contemplating the work of his hands with no little degree of satisfaction, conscious of having accomplished something of which to boast in the future to wondering friends, when he shall have returned to the land of civilization."

"When the firing began, their horses, for a time, became unmanageable. Some of the men, however, fired their guns & revolvers among the indians who lined the ravine as thick as they could stand & among whom our minnie balls told with fearful effect & the Nebraska boys were pitching into them from the opposite side with nearly their whole line, until got to be so dark that they could not tell whether they were firing upon friends or foes."

"Colonel Wilson had his horse shot under him; also the Adjtant, who was wounded & lay on the field, covering himself with his robe. During the night he was discovered but an Indiana & stabbed with a butcher knife three or four times, the knife being left in the wound. He still lived the next day. In this ravine the Indian's plunder lay thickest, literally covering the ground showing unmistakable evidence of the confusion & blood scattered on all sides.'

"During the next day there was considerable running around over the battle field. One wounded Indian was discovered in the grass & with his bow & arrows he succeeded in wounding two of our men before they could kill him. He would shoot two arrows at a time, & dodged down in the tall grass before they could get a sight of him."

"The second bugler & the sergeant of the battery brought him down with their revolvers & bugler scalped him before he ceased kicking."

"Early in the morning, while a party of our men were crossing the ground, an Indian jumped in front of them without any arms, but savage to the last, he shook his clinched fist at them while they shot him down. We saw a little Indian boy on the field naked & crying; no one paid away attention to him. There were eight or ten little children scattered around. They were collected together & put with the prisoners. At one place there lay two papooses; one of them for or five years old, the other only a few months. A dead squaw, probably their mother, lay by them; the elder would insist on keeping covered, saying, "shoot shoot" whenever uncovered. Another one was crying, "Mamma, mamma!" as pitifully as any white child could. Two or three dead squaws & one with her thigh broken by a shot lay on the field"


This is an example of how Civil War arms were used to Tame the West while the war was going on.
 
Joined
Aug 1, 2020
Location
Mid Hudson Valley, New York
Wars have a tendency to cause a jump in new technology used in weapons. This would include long arms and pistols. So did the Civil War era improvement in rifles and pistol have a real impact on weapons in the Wild West? Metallic cartridges took over for cap and ball weapons in most cases. Leaver action rifles seemed popular in the west. So how much influence did Civil War arms have on weapons like the 1874 Sharps Rifle? What about the Civil War era Henry Rifle?

I am suspecting that many surplus Civil War rifles and pistols found their way out west after the Civil War. I assume that these surplus Civil War arms provided decent inexpensive options for the west in the post Civil War era.
Major Bill,

You're correct that CW surplus arms were widely available and very affordable in the movement west. Hollywood movies would have us believe that every man was a gunfighter who wore a low slung 1873 Colt Single Action Army and had a lever action 1866 or 1873 Winchester ready at hand. The reality was much different. Just the Colt Single Action Army alone was a very expensive proposition then and out of reach for most who travelled west. Plenty of cap and ball revolvers and single shot rifle muskets and shotguns were used by the western settlers for hunting and self protection. I enjoy watching western movies but there is a bunch of mythology there.

Bill
 

Story

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Location
SE PA
Plenty of cap and ball revolvers and single shot rifle muskets and shotguns were used by the western settlers for hunting and self protection.

This exact point has come up in the course of wargaming Old West engagements.

Ever read about the James Gang?

A number of townspeople are remembered for their actions that day: J.S. Allen, the merchant who first sounded the alarm; A.R. Manning, who used a single-shot rifle to shoot a horse, wound Cole Younger, and kill Bill Stiles; and Henry Wheeler, who killed Clell Miller and wounded Bob Younger with an old single-shot army carbine he found in the lobby of the Dampier Hotel.
http://www.northfieldhistory.org/the-bank-raid/

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — The rifle used by Henry Wheeler, a pioneer physician, to kill a member of the James-Younger Gang and injure another during the Northfield Bank Robbery in 1876 now is on permanent display in Northfield.

Wheeler and other local residents responded with gunfire, with Wheeler borrowing a .50-caliber rifle from the owner of the Dampier Hotel. From an upstairs window, Wheeler killed outlaw Clell Miller and wounded Bob Younger.

https://www.twincities.com/2015/09/...dit-in-famed-1876-raid-returns-to-northfield/
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
This exact point has come up in the course of wargaming Old West engagements.

Ever read about the James Gang?

A number of townspeople are remembered for their actions that day: J.S. Allen, the merchant who first sounded the alarm; A.R. Manning, who used a single-shot rifle to shoot a horse, wound Cole Younger, and kill Bill Stiles; and Henry Wheeler, who killed Clell Miller and wounded Bob Younger with an old single-shot army carbine he found in the lobby of the Dampier Hotel.
http://www.northfieldhistory.org/the-bank-raid/

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — The rifle used by Henry Wheeler, a pioneer physician, to kill a member of the James-Younger Gang and injure another during the Northfield Bank Robbery in 1876 now is on permanent display in Northfield.

Wheeler and other local residents responded with gunfire, with Wheeler borrowing a .50-caliber rifle from the owner of the Dampier Hotel. From an upstairs window, Wheeler killed outlaw Clell Miller and wounded Bob Younger.

https://www.twincities.com/2015/09/...dit-in-famed-1876-raid-returns-to-northfield/
Quite sensibly Jesse James never killed anyone who was not either helpless or unarmed. Riding into a town filled with Civil War veterans & engaging in a firefight was never on the menu. The tactic was flight, not fight.
 
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