Rain impact on Civil War weapons

Wallyfish

Sergeant Major
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Nov 26, 2015
Location
Greensburg, Pa
I need some help from the munitions experts on the impact of rain on Civil War munitions. How much rain does it take before munitions could not be accurately fired or fired at all?

Maybe a better question surrounds munition protection between branches of the army, IE, did the cavalry or artillery have better protection for their powder buying them more time in a rain storm?

Forgot to ask about humidity. Does high humidity impact weapons?


Thank you to all who respond.
 
Last edited:

privateflemming

Corporal
Joined
Jul 2, 2019
Location
California, USA
Yes as had been said caplocks were very water resistant. I've noticed from reading about the American Revolution and other wars before the 1840s that flintlocks were often said to become very unreliable or useless when it was wet or cold which I imagine was pretty scary if you were a soldier. I feel like this innovation was almost as important as rifled vs. smoothbore muskets.
 

chitoryu12

Cadet
Joined
May 6, 2019
Thanks @johan_steele , even if the powder could be kept dry, could it be effectively loaded into the weapons during a rainstorm?

In the kind of rain that would preclude loading a caplock gun, you'd have more issues from being able to see what you're doing in such a heavy storm than the powder getting soaked during loading. Especially with carbines that used paper cartridges loaded fully into the gun like a Sharps, which goes straight from your pouch to the breech with little chance of getting soaked through.
 

Jobe Holiday

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 1, 2010
Location
The Perpetually Frozen North
I made the mistake of visiting the N-SSA's national matches in Winchester, VA, a few years ago when the weather forecast was "iffy". I was there to shop in their sales area when the skies decided to open up with a deluge that would have done Noah justice! They had just started their carbine team match, so I thought "I wonder how well these ACW carbines will perform in a downpour"? I walked down to the range to watch, and was amazed at what I saw! Not only didn't those guys seemingly care if it was a downpour, or not, they never missed a beat and had no mis-fires, that I saw, anyway. That included muzzle-loaders, Sharps, Smiths, and Maynards, and who knows what else they were shooting! I think that was a real testament to the arms of the ACW, and how well they functioned in the rain. BTW, I now pay more attention to the weather forecasts for that area if visiting the N-SSA is in my plans!
J.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Yes as had been said caplocks were very water resistant. I've noticed from reading about the American Revolution and other wars before the 1840s that flintlocks were often said to become very unreliable or useless when it was wet or cold which I imagine was pretty scary if you were a soldier. I feel like this innovation was almost as important as rifled vs. smoothbore muskets.
The Battle of the Clouds in September 1777 (outside Philadelphia) was fought in a downpour and both sides were disabled by wet powder (in addition the Americans' stockpile was rendered useless).
 

poorjack

Corporal
Joined
Jul 17, 2015
Location
NC
I made the mistake of visiting the N-SSA's national matches in Winchester, VA, a few years ago when the weather forecast was "iffy". I was there to shop in their sales area when the skies decided to open up with a deluge that would have done Noah justice! They had just started their carbine team match, so I thought "I wonder how well these ACW carbines will perform in a downpour"? I walked down to the range to watch, and was amazed at what I saw! Not only didn't those guys seemingly care if it was a downpour, or not, they never missed a beat and had no mis-fires, that I saw, anyway. That included muzzle-loaders, Sharps, Smiths, and Maynards, and who knows what else they were shooting! I think that was a real testament to the arms of the ACW, and how well they functioned in the rain. BTW, I now pay more attention to the weather forecasts for that area if visiting the N-SSA is in my plans!
J.

Come'on Jobe, that's hardly a mistake. :D We shoot rain or shine although I will admit some Skirmishers with originals might be hesitant to get them wet. The only thing that stops us is electricity falling from the sky.

I would posit though, that advances made from 1777 till the ACW most likely made the guns more operable in wet conditions.
 

Championhilz

First Sergeant
Joined
Mar 18, 2011
Location
Clinton, Mississippi
Back in my relic hunting days, I once searched a field near my house where some of Sherman's troops camped for one night in July 1863. The accounts of the men that stayed there all spoke of the torrential rain that hit them during the night, and how they had to seek higher ground to avoid being washed away. As I was hunting, I thought to myself, "After a rain that strong, I bet the soldiers put fresh rounds in their muskets to make sure they would fire." If they did this, they would need to get rid of the rounds they already had loaded. The camp site bordered a creek, and I figured the easiest thing to do would be for them to go to the creek and fire their muskets into the water, then reload. I was hunting in July, and the creek was completely dried up, so I hopped down into the bottom and started searching. Within minutes I had dug a number of fired U.S. .58 minie balls. Then I hit a really big signal and dug 12 .36 pistol bullets from the same hole - someone had discharged two pistols into the same spot in the creek.
 

BillO

Captain
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Location
Quinton, VA.
I have actually handled a lot of original Sharps Linen Cartridges, and they are anything but "flimsy"! The Linen was treated with a thin coating of what looks like lacquer. This not only made then able to be handled, but also semi-water proof.
J.
Probably so, but I have read complaints from soldiers about them. I'd guess the ones you handled were made to spec while the soldiers were handling contract items.
 

Wallyfish

Sergeant Major
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Nov 26, 2015
Location
Greensburg, Pa
Thank you for all the replies and to @ucvrelics for pointing me to an existing thread. So to boil down all the discussion, is it fair to say that while not diserable, a Civil War battle could be held in a rainstorm?

Getting to my other question, was there any significant difference between the Infantry and Cavalry ability to fire weapons in a rainstorm? Did one branch have better powder protection or rifles than the other?

While we are having a discussion on rainstorms, how was the artillery's ability to fire impacted by a rainstorm? I assume that visibility was a larger issue for the artillery versus their infantry and cavalry counterparts.

Lastly, did either army have a competitive advantage such as powder storage or equipment during a rainstorm?

I am assuming that a light rain had very little impact on the armies ability to engage in a battle. The harder the rain, visibility became as much of a concern as the rain itself. Is this correct?
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Thank you for all the replies and to @ucvrelics for pointing me to an existing thread. So to boil down all the discussion, is it fair to say that while not diserable, a Civil War battle could be held in a rainstorm?

Getting to my other question, was there any significant difference between the Infantry and Cavalry ability to fire weapons in a rainstorm? Did one branch have better powder protection or rifles than the other?

While we are having a discussion on rainstorms, how was the artillery's ability to fire impacted by a rainstorm? I assume that visibility was a larger issue for the artillery versus their infantry and cavalry counterparts.

Lastly, did either army have a competitive advantage such as powder storage or equipment during a rainstorm?

I am assuming that a light rain had very little impact on the armies ability to engage in a battle. The harder the rain, visibility became as much of a concern as the rain itself. Is this correct?
Regarding artillery, it would definitely affect the field of observation. I wouldn't discount the effect on the handling of ordinance, either. While a carrying pouch was used to bring ammunition from the limber or caisson to the loader, fuses had to be cut and the round removed from the chest and from the pouch. Powder and the fuse accelerant would inevitably get affected in a downpour. Regarding moisture and black powder generally, DuPont obtained a patent on graphiting powder c. 1855 or so but it only worked on blasting powder at the time. Graphiting for gun powder was a development much later in the 19th century. There is an "urban legend" that at Gettysburg the federals had an advantage due to graphiting but it's just that - a myth.
 
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