Union artillery small arms

Feb 20, 2005
Im new to reenacting, just recently got involved in a local light artillery unit, and we are beginning to expand to have some of the members carry small arms.(The unit we impersonate was never deployed to the battlefield, and was issued mainly surplus second-hand pieces, with even a few flint-locks recorded in the unit's armory.) I've skimmed through the internet, but have found only a few options on what kind of pieces Union cannoneers were likely to have carried, most notably the 1860 Enfield musketoon, or a carbine of sorts. However, repro carbines are too expensive, so Im gravitating towards the musketoon. Ive read that it was popular among Confederate cavalry and artillery, but how about Union? Is any piece really fair game? What other pieces were issued, or may have been used/popular with Union artillery?

Please e-mail a response to: Jonovak77@hotmail.com

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)


Regimental Armorer
Feb 20, 2005
South of the North 40
NO, don't do it. Unless an arty unit was employed as infantry they didn't carry small arms. Their Cannon was their weapon. I can assure you a cannon firing canister is far more effective than 10 carbines.

A re-enactorism that is false is every arty private w/ a pistol or carbine... Look to the records. Arty NCO's were the only arty boys who were likely to carry pistol, and this was rare. The pistol wasn't for defending the gun but for putting down wounded horses.

The Union had several Heavy arty regiments that found themselves as Infantry, and they were equipped as standard Infantry keeping only the red trim on their uniforms to identify them as arty. Several CSA Coastal arty units switched back and forth between arty & Infantry and they, when acting as Infantry, were equipped as Infantry.

The only time an arty unit carried small arms was when garrising a fort. THen you see men carrying full Infantry equipment again.

If your unit doesn't have a gun and isn't planning to get a full size one, go Infantry.


Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Feb 20, 2005
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).

Excellent advice and I agree 100% on your observations on artillery men carrying side arms. The majority of the reenactors I see doing artillery impressions simply DO NOT carry weapons. Again, good call.



Feb 20, 2005
Yep. Artillery men didn't carry small arms - unless they were heavy artillerymen who were pressed into infantry service by Grant. From the relative safety of guarding some city into the bowels of hell. Opps.
Feb 20, 2005
I found this site on Civil War Machine Guns. Enjoy.

Civil War Machine Guns
by Robert Niepert
The Civil War brought many innovations to warfare, not the least of which were rapid fire weapons that developed into what today are known as machine guns. Several different types of rapid firing "ultimate weapons" were designed and produced during the war, although few saw much actual service.
The Billinghurst-Requa Volley Gun (photo of scale model at left) was invented and submitted to the U. S. Patent Office by a northerner. The Billinghurst-Requa gun used a wheel type operation with eight banks of cartridge chambers that were rotated into alignment behind the row of 25 barrels. It was secured in place with an arm with pins that fitted into sockets on the chamber being fired.
Another type of volley gun (actual photo above at beginning of article) was developed and used basically the same idea but without a rotating wheel for the cartridges. This volley gun, with a sliding breech, worked by means of a lever. Cartridges were held in clips for quick loading. Each round casing was made of light steel and had an ignition hole in the oval/conical base. When the gun was loaded, the channel (drawing at right) behind the cartridges was filled with powder. This train of cartridges were ignited by a percussion cap struck by a hammer, firing all barrels. The gun was set off by a lanyard, and the barrels fired in sequence with a rippling sound due to the powder being ignited in a flowing fashion. The barrels could be moved laterally for "spread." With a crew of three, the gun could fire seven volleys per minute. A fault was that the powder train was exposed to rain, and could misfire. It was used mainly in defense of bridges, hence the nickname "covered bridge gun." Both types of guns were very mobile and could be mounted (drawing at left) on the same size and type of carriage that the mountain howitzer used. One horse could easily pull or carry the entire gun and assembly on the battlefield was quick and easy. As many as 50 of the .52 caliber breech-loading Billinghurst-Requa batteries, as they were called, were produced for the Union and some were used in battles, though with limited effect.
A less successful multi-barrel type gun was the Vandenberg gun, (drawing at right) with from 85 to 451 barrels, depending on caliber. A screw-type breech slid in a key-way and forced copper sleeves into a counterbored chamber for a gas-tight seal. A center charge fired by a cap set off a whole volley; or sections of barrels could be blocked off and fired later. In tests, the 91 barrel model put 90 percent of its bullets into a six-foot square at 100 yards. The gun was presented to and tested by the Northern States but when the Union showed no interest in this weapon, Vandenberg sold it to the Confederacy. Although it may have seen service, I could find no account of this or any of Vandenberg's weapons actually being used in any battle of the Civil War.
The best machine gun produced (drawing at left) during the 1860's was the Gatlin gun. The gun's inventor Richard Jordan Gatlin earned a medical degree but never worked as a doctor. Patented in November of 1862, the Gatlin gun had six barrels that revolved around a center rod. Turning the crank at the rear of the weapon revolved the cluster of barrels. Simultaneously, a steel chamber containing a .58 caliber paper cartridge (early model) in each breech was loaded from a hopper at the top, and each one was fired when it was at the bottommost position. The weapon was carriage mounted allowing for greater mobility and required two men to operate it. The first man would aim and fire while the second would load. The gun could achieve a rate of fire at 150 times a minute. At this time, the U.S. government bought no Gatlin guns, but Union Gen. Benjamin Butler bought several, and they were used successfully on the Petersburg front. In 1865, a new model was developed by Gatlin that used rimfire copper cased cartridges and could fire 350 rounds per minute. The new type gun impressed the government during a demonstration at Fort Monroe which prompted the Army to order 100 guns, but they were not delivered in time to see service in the Civil War. Later improvements in 1879 led to a rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute.
The first machine gun type of weapon ever used in combat (photo at right) was built for the Confederate War Department in September 1861 at the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Va. Ordnance chief Gen. Josiah Gorgas had requested plans for war-winning weapons from Southern inventors, and Kentuckian R.S. Williams's promising design for a rapid-firing gun was selected to be built and tested. The Williams breech-loading rapid-fire gun was first used the next spring at the Battle of Seven Pines and worked so well that the War Department ordered 42 more of them.
Most modern automatic and semiautomatic weapons use part of the blast from the fired round to help operate the mechanism, but during the Civil War, the Williams gun was the only arm of its type to utilize that modern concept. The propelling gases forced the gun's breechblock to slide back and open the action so that another round could be inserted.
The Williams gun was actually a crank operated, very light artillery piece that fired a one-pound (1.57-caliber) projectile with a range of 2,000 yards. A crew of three men was required to operate the weapon, which was said to be able to fire 65 rounds a minute. One operator aimed the weapon and fired it by turning the crank, which closed the breech and automatically released the sliding hammer. A second operator inserted a paper cartridge into the breech, and the third placed the percussion cap. The major problem with this gun was overheating, which made the breech jam because of metal expansion.
Well suited for cavalry operations, the Williams gun had a four-foot long barrel and was mounted on a two wheel carriage pulled by one horse. R.S. Williams himself was made a captain and given a battery of his invention that was attached to and saw service with Gen. E. George Pickett's division. The weapon gave good service with 4th Kentucky cavalry in the action at Blue Springs, Tenn., in October 1863. A complete Williams gun with all its accessories was captured at Danville, Va., in 1865 and is now on display in the West Point Museum.
The War Between the States provided an opportunity for inventors to test all types of new killing machines. Wilson Agar was among these inventors. He is best known for his Agar machine gun which looked a lot like a WW I type gun complete with a steel guard on its front. The guard protected the operator and the gun from small arms fire while in battle. This gun was nicknamed the "coffee mill" gun because of the loading hopper on top. The hopper mounted above the gun fed .58 Minie' ball type ammunition into a single barrel. At the right is a photo of the bullet used with this gun. Notice the unusual "T" shape at the base of the bullet and the gap between the second and third ring. The steel containers, which could be reloaded, held either loose powder and ball or cartridges (75 grains) with a nipple for the percussion cap on their ends. The cartridges were placed in the hopper and fell into place to be fired as the crank handle on the side was rotated. The handle turned in a clockwise manner feeding the cartridges into a recess at the back of the barrel. Containers which also acted as firing chambers were pushed forward and locked in by a rising wedge. The cam on the crank dropped the hammer on the percussion cap and fired the bullet. A lever then pushed the empty container out of the recess and a new round dropped in. The Agar had an effective range of 1,000 yards. This gun could fire much faster than the normal rate of 120 rounds per minute. The faster rate was avoided due to excessive overheating of the barrel. Two spare barrels were always carried with the gun. Wilson Agar did invent an ingenious device to cool the gun but it still had its drawbacks. The drawing on the left shows the gun mounted on a carriage. The front guard plate has been omitted for clarity. Notice the ammunition boxes mounted on either side of the machine gun. President Lincoln was so impressed with a demonstration of the early machine gun in 1861 that he ordered 10 on the spot, at a price of $1300 each. Eventually the Union army purchased a total of 54 of the "coffee mill" guns even though the Ordinance Dept. condemned them saying that they would use too much ammunition to be practical. The Agar gun was used in several battles.
Mar 10, 2019
St. Louis, Missouri
I understand that one of the boxes on the axel tree was empty and the other carried ammo. Might you have any information on how many rounds that box held? Would the caisson that pulled the gun have 2 or 3 additional ammo boxes with the same number of rounds in them? Any information you could provide would be helpful in my quest to understand better how this piece was deployed and utilized.

Similar threads

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)