Irregular forces - how did they carry their ammunition?

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
I was curious if there's any evidence/descriptions/anecdotes of how the various irregular troops, on both sides of the war, carried their ammunition, given that they wouldn't always have been outfitted with regulation cartridge boxes and such. It would be interesting to know what sort of non-standard methods guys came up with for transporting powder, bullets/shot, and caps around with them in cases where they couldn't get their hands on the same kit as the regulars.

By "irregulars" here I'm thinking of guys like guerillas, Indian auxiliaries, territorial militias, etc.
 

Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
Hello @Sea Turtle. The Missouri guerrillas who operated in the western and central parts of the state (and perhaps other bands, too) favored revolvers, although some certainly carried shotguns. I imagine there were carbines and even revolving rifles later, as these guys picked up a lot of equipment and uniforms (for disguise) from the soldiers they killed. But the preference was revolvers, and the typical guerrilla carried as many as possible. Some were holstered, one or two more were tucked into the belt, and some were carried in saddle holsters. The idea, of course, is that these could be pre-loaded in camp, and they would provide overwhelming fire power against soldiers armed with single shot rifles.

But in nearly every photo you see of a Missouri guerrilla, you'll notice they are wearing brightly embroidered over-shirts with large pockets. These could be used to carry extra caps, balls, and pre-made paper cartridges. The shirts served as their uniform, too. I assure you that every soldier and citizen in Missouri recognized a guerrilla shirt at first glance. In the movie "Ride With The Devil" there's a good short scene where Quantrill's raiding force stands mounted on a hill, waiting for the order to charge into Lawrence. Someone yells "Take off your coats, boys. Let 'em see who we are!" That's a direct reference to showing off their guerrilla shirts.

I mentioned that the guerrillas often disguised themselves as federal or state militia. They did this so they could pass through hostile territory, or to get close to a target for an ambush. For example, during the 1864 raid on Fayette, Missouri, most of the force was outfitted in militia uniforms, and this allowed them to get into town without resistance from the garrison there. During times like this, they'd have carried captured belts, cartridge boxes, etc. etc. During the infamous massacre of furloughed soldiers on the railroad platform in Centralia, Anderson's men ordered their victims to strip to their long johns before they were shot. Undoubtedly, this is so they could acquire a quantity of uniforms without bullet holes or blood stains.

In this famous photo of teenaged Jesse James, you can clearly see two revolvers tucked in his belt and one in his hand. You also see his guerrilla shirt, with a heavily loaded breast pocket sagging under the weight it carries. His pinned up hat brim and feather plume in back are all part of his uniform.

james.jpg
 

RedRover

Corporal
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
Many Americans in the period had common hunting appendages, namely the horn and pouch, as previously mentioned.

Here's a drawing by Samuel J. Reader of Kansas of his outfit for Kansas skirmishing in the 1850s.
1626267359406.png

And from 1859, a photo of some other Free-State sorts in Kansas...
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And some home-guards in Western Virginia drawn during the war by Mr. Debarr:
1626267429061.png


Beyond "irregulars," even some regular CSA troops employed common sporting equipments. Here's some postwar drawings of the "Racoon Roughs," John B. Gordon's first command. The fur caps based on one made for the artist by a veteran of the company. Published with an article by Gen. Gordon in Scribner's magazine...
1626267565614.png

1626267604017.png

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Sometimes a metal flask instead of a horn...
1626267884300.png


There was also "shot belts" for use with shotguns... below employed with a powder flask;
1626268373805.png



And from a painting by a veteran of the Battle of Pea Ridge, some Confederates yet equipped with horns and pouches....
1626268157525.png


Horns and Pouches remained common in country districts well into the 20th Century. Here's a Remington drawing of a southern 'possum hunter;
1626268528595.png



For reenacting, carry the horn empty, and use cartridges from the pouch. National Parks living history programs used to allow 1-shot worth of powder in a horn at a time for loading/firing demonstrations for the public.

J. Marshall,
Hernando, FL.
 

Package4

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Awesome question but I have no clue. But just wait for a little while and someone will be along to help you! Paging @Package4 @ucvrelics
Thank you for thinking of me, but this is not my area of concentration, I can only give an answer based on what early war flanking companies had and or used. There was a thought that flanking companies would be better suited with rifles (CSA) and as such may be out of the main supply chain. Some were issued ball, powder and bullet molds, the 2nd MD CS, were issued 10,000 rounds of .54 cal ammunition prior to Gettysburg. They had two flanking companies (Mississippi rifles) while the balance had .577 Enfields, for the most part. @mofederal or @Patrick H might be able to answer this question, as MO had a fair share of irregulars.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
From pictures I've seen of some early frontiersman and even "civilian turned soldiers", it looks like powder would've been carried in a powder horn strapped across their shoulder. Bullets and caps appear to be kept in cotton bag pouches and worn over the shoulder with a strap. Being slung over the shoulder would've allowed for quicker access I would think.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
Thanks for the replies so far guys. Interesting to hear about powder horns/flasks being used. I had assumed those were out of fashion by the 1860s. Not exactly as safe, imo, as carrying pre-made charges. A full powder flask would essentially be like carrying a hand grenade around... Do we know how common it was for irregulars to use pre-made cartridges the way their army counterparts did? @Patrick H mentioned it was something Missouri guerillas might have done.

Regarding caps, would these commonly have been carried all together in a single bag/pouch, or spread out in different containers? I've never shot percussion guns before, but the idea of carrying a single bag full of caps doesn't sound like something I'd want to try... By their nature couldn't those things go off if accidentally bumped hard enough? My assumption would be that one cap exploding next to dozens of others wouldn't be the best thing in the world...
 
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Package4

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Thanks for the replies so far guys. Interesting to hear about powder horns/flasks being used. I had assumed those were out of fashion by the 1860s. Not exactly as safe, imo, as carrying pre-made charges. A full powder flask would essentially be like carrying a hand grenade around... Do we know how common it was for irregulars to use pre-made cartridges the way their army counterparts did? @Patrick H mentioned it was something Missouri guerillas might have done.

Regarding caps, would these commonly have been carried all together in a single bag/pouch, or spread out in different containers? I've never shot percussion guns before, but the idea of carrying a single bag full of caps doesn't sound like something I'd want to try... By their nature couldn't those things go off if accidentally bumped hard enough? My assumption would be that one cap exploding next to dozens of others wouldn't be the best thing in the world...
Caps are extremely safe and will not go off on their own, thus the cap pouch.
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
Fair enough. Never used them so no clue. They're made to go off by being hit hard, so that's why I wondered about transporting them.

Hard is the key point. They're designed to be in a metal nipple and be hit with a spring-loaded hammer. If you set one on a table and hit it with a bat it would probably go off. If you have them in a pocket or bag and fall off a horse or walk into a door, probably not.
 

Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
Fair enough. Never used them so no clue. They're made to go off by being hit hard, so that's why I wondered about transporting them.
It's interesting that you would bring up the topic of transporting caps. Percussion firearms require caps and they were not always easy for guerrilla forces to obtain. Friends and family smuggled them. I believe entire wagon loads were occasionally smuggled past union forces--presumably obtained on the sly from a friendly source. The wives, sweethearts, and sisters of guerrillas also smuggled pistol caps and medicines to them. As often as possible, guerrillas could resupply themselves with equipment and supplies captured in ambushes. I suppose each person had a favored way of transporting the components for their ammunition.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
I suppose each person had a favored way of transporting the components for their ammunition.

Ah yeah, given their nature I wasn't expecting all "irregular forces" (if such a broad term can be used) to have a standard way of carrying ammo. I was just curious to hear about any methods guys used to carry their ammo when they didn't have the standard kit that the army guys were usually issued. So far there've been some pretty interesting replies.
 

DixieRifles

Captain
Member of the Year
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
Mar 22, 2009
Location
Collierville, TN
The typical leather or cotton possibles bag. Older shot bags and powder horns were still around but not really all that common anymore.
I agree. “Irregulars” and Home Guards were not paid or supplied but most picked up equipment they could get. My guess their is they used the standard cartridge boxes and belts etc but maybe they had to be repaired. The weapons may not have been the best as the army.

I would compare it to the Italian partisans who outfitted their units with battlefield pickups and British equipment air-dropped to them.
 
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