Discussion Did the confederates use explosive bullets during the Civil War?

major bill

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In the Sep 85 issue of Civil War Times magazine Wayne Austerman has the article Abhorrent to Civilization where he claims the U.S. Government during the Civil War purchased 110,000 explosive bullets in .54, .58, and .69 caliber but that only 35,000 were ever issued. the article also claimed that at the Battle of Glendale the 2nd New Hampshire Infantry was shot at by Confederates using explosive bullets of their own design. On June 8, 1863 the 2nd New Hampshire Infantry themselves were issue forty rounds each of "musket shells" also known as explosive bullets. It is said the used these at Gettysburg. The article claims that relic hunter at Vicksburg and the Battle of Campion Hill have found explosive bullets of Confederate manufacture. It is claimed that Lieutenant Beverly McKinnon of the Confederate Navy had 100,000 explosive rounds made for use by Confederate sailors.

I am not sure I have heard of this but it appears that both side made over 100,000 explosive bullets.
 

rpkennedy

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The 2nd New Hampshire definitely had explosive bullets at Gettysburg. In general, they hated the ammunition for ethical reasons (they felt that it was bad enough to shoot someone without having the bullet cause particularly terrible wounds) but also because of the danger to its owners. On at least two occasions on July 2, 1863, shell fragments caused the rounds to cook off while they were in their pouch.

Ryan
 

Rhea Cole

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Medical History of the War of the Rebellion, Part Third of Volume Two; pages 701-2-3-4 & pages 710-11

"One hundred & thirty cases of wounds attributed to explosive missiles were recorded in returns. The records of the Ordinance Office, U.S. Army, show that thirty-three thousand three hundred& fifty (33,350) Gardner's "explosive bullets" or " musket balls" were issued to troops in the early part of the war; that of theses over ten thousand (10,000) were abandoned on the field for want of transportation. It is probable that the latter foo into he hands of Confederates, accounting in a measure for the wounded before alluded to, but many reports of wounds attributed to explosive balls were mad in which is it is doubtful if the missile was of this nature, as under certain circumstances the ordinary ball is capable of great distortion & of inflicting severe injury."

Perhaps the most remarkable wound caused by explosive bullets was suffered by a member of the 2nd New Hampshire at Gettysburg. His ammunition pouch was struck by a piece of an exploding shell that set off the exploding bullets within. The resulting sympathetic explosion & fire was both spectacular & fatal.

Gardiner explodingg bullet drawing.jpg

Gardiner exploding bullet patent drawing. Page 294 The Rifled Musket

The Rifled Musket by Claud E. Fuller should be in every Civil War student's library. Pages 288-293 Exploding & Poisoned Bullets is a comprehensively documented section on this subject. The medical reports on the effect of exploding bullets are graphic in the extreme. At Gettysburg, the distinctive sound of exploding bullets that were fired at Union Troops was identified by ordinance officers. The CSA infantry in Pickett's charge were on the receiving end of exploding bullets fired by the 2nd New Hampshire. For understandable reasons, no first person accounts from those on the receiving end of that fire exist.

As the records of the Ordinance Office indicate, an ordinary mini ball commonly caused grotesque wounds that were interpreted as being from exploding bullets. Very few of the reported incidents of exploding bullets can be credited as accurate. At least some of the 10,000 Gardener exploding bullets abandoned on the field were issued to CSA troops. Other than that, there is no documentation that I am aware of that the CSA infantry was issued with exploding bullets. Jefferson Davis categorically denied that the CSA gov't ever purchased or issued any of the infernal devices. Once again, Davis' denial is supported by the lack of any evidence to the contrary.

Note: If you don't have a copy of The Rifled Musket on your bookshelf, get one. You will never have to try to remember where you read or heard something technical on Civil War muskets & ammunition again.
 
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Rhea Cole

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Yes they did as here is a 69 cal CS exploding bullet from my collection that was found at Vicksburg. It was from the part of the CS line held by the 3rd Miss.
View attachment 394396
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The distinction I was making is that the CSA Ordinance Bureau did not order or issue any exploding bullets. As the citation above indicates, this design was not a practical one.
 

rpkennedy

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Perhaps the most remarkable wound caused by explosive bullets was suffered by a member of the 2nd New Hampshire at Gettysburg. His ammunition pouch was struck by a piece of an exploding shell that set off the exploding bullets within. The resulting sympathetic explosion & fire was both spectacular & fatal.

Corporal Thomas Bignall was killed by the shell fragment that eventually cooked off his ammunition but his fellow soldiers in the 2nd New Hampshire had to watch as his body was torn apart by the exploding rounds.

Ryan
 

johan_steele

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As has been mentioned both sides issued out explosive bullets during the war. The explosive bullets of the time weren’t worth the price and were used in only limited issue by either side.

the irony is that US soldiers were the first to use hollow point bullets. It was discovered that if you took a pocket knife and carved an X into the tip of a Spencer cartridge the stopping power was significantly increased. Soldiers using the Spencer rifle would get their hands on a ball puller and drill a hole in the nose of the bullet to the same effect.
 

Cycom

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As has been mentioned both sides issued out explosive bullets during the war. The explosive bullets of the time weren’t worth the price and were used in only limited issue by either side.

the irony is that US soldiers were the first to use hollow point bullets. It was discovered that if you took a pocket knife and carved an X into the tip of a Spencer cartridge the stopping power was significantly increased. Soldiers using the Spencer rifle would get their hands on a ball puller and drill a hole in the nose of the bullet to the same effect.
Oh wow, soldiers in the CW must have suffered some absolutely horrendous wounds from small arms. Because musket ammo wasn’t devastating enough...hollow points!
 

Package4

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Medical History of the War of the Rebellion, Part Third of Volume Two; pages 701-2-3-4 & pages 710-11

"One hundred & thirty cases of wounds attributed to explosive missiles were recorded in returns. The records of the Ordinance Office, U.S. Army, show that thirty-three thousand three hundred& fifty (33,350) Gardner's "explosive bullets" or " musket balls" were issued to troops in the early part of the war; that of theses over ten thousand (10,000) were abandoned on the field for want of transportation. It is probable that the latter foo into he hands of Confederates, accounting in a measure for the wounded before alluded to, but many reports of wounds attributed to explosive balls were mad in which is it is doubtful if the missile was of this nature, as under certain circumstances the ordinary ball is capable of great distortion & of inflicting severe injury."

Perhaps the most remarkable wound caused by explosive bullets was suffered by a member of the 2nd New Hampshire at Gettysburg. His ammunition pouch was struck by a piece of an exploding shell that set off the exploding bullets within. The resulting sympathetic explosion & fire was both spectacular & fatal.

View attachment 394387
Gardiner exploding bullet patent drawing. Page 294 The Rifled Musket

The Rifled Musket by Claud E. Fuller should be in every Civil War student's library. Pages 288-293 Exploding & Poisoned Bullets is a comprehensively documented section on this subject. The medical reports on the effect of exploding bullets are graphic in the extreme. At Gettysburg, the distinctive sound of exploding bullets that were fired at Union Troops was identified by ordinance officers. The CSA infantry in Pickett's charge were on the receiving end of exploding bullets fired by the 2nd New Hampshire. For understandable reasons, no first person accounts from those on the receiving end of that fire exist.

As the records of the Ordinance Office indicate, an ordinary mini ball commonly caused grotesque wounds that were interpreted as being from exploding bullets. Very few of the reported incidents of exploding bullets can be credited as accurate. At least some of the 10,000 Gardener exploding bullets abandoned on the field were issued to CSA troops. Other than that, there is no documentation that I am aware of that the CSA infantry was issued with exploding bullets. Jefferson Davis categorically denied that the CSA gov't ever purchased or issued any of the infernal devices. Once again, Davis' denial is supported by the lack of any evidence to the contrary.

Note: If you don't have a copy of The Rifled Musket on your bookshelf, get one. You will never have to try to remember where you read or heard something technical on Civil War muskets & ammunition again.
Fuller's books are certainly a must for the reference library, but the data is dated (1958) and subsequent research and findings have been documented by many different historians and authors. Regarding this topic, Southern records for the most part are rare as many were destroyed either by themselves or by inadvertent fires.

The idea that the Confederate States (Davis' Claim) were above developing such infernal devices is ludicrous on its face, landmines, sea mines, hand grenades were all developed by the Southern States. There is now ample evidence that there were multiple home grown exploding bullets developed by the South. Mckee and Mason's wonderful "Civil War Projectiles" as well as "Round Ball to Rimfire", by Dean Thomas show that not only were these developed, but issued to specific Southern units.

There were also indications of imported exploding bullets for the Enfield rifle. New wealth of knowledge comes from some "recent" discoveries of the McRae Papers in 2004, these are the records of Southern imports from Great Britain. I am not saying that these papers indicate exploding bullets were imported, though we know that they were, we just don't know which side imported them. They have been recovered by relic hunters and listed in both McKee and Mason as well as Dean Thomas' books.

Fuller relies too much on an article written by Rev. Horace Hayden, for the Southern Historical Society Papers, where Hayden states that Confederate records show that none of these devices were manufactured or used. Well when a majority of your records are destroyed, it is an easy claim to make.......


Recent Petersburg and Richmond finds:
s-l500 (1).jpg
s-l500.jpg
s-l500 (3).jpg
 

Cycom

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Location
Los Angeles, California
Fuller's books are certainly a must for the reference library, but the data is dated (1958) and subsequent research and findings have been documented by many different historians and authors. Regarding this topic, Southern records for the most part are rare as many were destroyed either by themselves or by inadvertent fires.

The idea that the Confederate States (Davis' Claim) were above developing such infernal devices is ludicrous on its face, landmines, sea mines, hand grenades were all developed by the Southern States. There is now ample evidence that there were multiple home grown exploding bullets developed by the South. Mckee and Mason's wonderful "Civil War Projectiles" as well as "Round Ball to Rimfire", by Dean Thomas show that not only were these developed, but issued to specific Southern units.

There were also indications of imported exploding bullets for the Enfield rifle. New wealth of knowledge comes from some "recent" discoveries of the McRae Papers in 2004, these are the records of Southern imports from Great Britain. I am not saying that these papers indicate exploding bullets were imported, though we know that they were, we just don't know which side imported them. They have been recovered by relic hunters and listed in both McKee and Mason as well as Dean Thomas' books.

Fuller relies too much on an article written by Rev. Horace Hayden, for the Southern Historical Society Papers, where Hayden states that Confederate records show that none of these devices were manufactured or used. Well when a majority of your records are destroyed, it is an easy claim to make.......


Recent Petersburg and Richmond finds:
View attachment 395005View attachment 395006View attachment 395007
I assume this is an exploding round?
 
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