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American Civil War

Weapons and Technology

History >> Civil War

There were many different weapons and technologies used during the Civil War. Some of them were used in a major war for the first time. These new technologies and weapons changed the future of war including the tactics used on the battlefield and the way wars were fought.

Rifles and Muskets

Most soldiers on the battlefield fought with guns. At the start of the war, many soldiers used old style guns called muskets. Muskets had smooth bores (the inside of the barrel) and this made them inaccurate for distances longer than 40 yards or so. These muskets also took a long time to reload and were unreliable (they sometimes didn't fire).


Burnside Carbine
from the Smithsonian Institution


However, it wasn't long into the war before many of the soldiers were armed with rifles. Rifles have shallow spiral grooves cut into the barrel to make the bullet spin. This makes them more accurate for a longer range than muskets. Other advancements to the rifle occurred during the war including more reliable firing mechanisms and repeating rifles.

Swords, Knives, and Bayonets

Sometimes the soldiers would end up in close hand-to-hand combat where they no longer had time to load their rifles. Much of the time they would use a knife-like spike that was attached to the end of their rifle called a bayonet. If they dropped their rifle, then they may have a large knife they would use to fight with. Officers often had swords or pistols that they would use in close combat.

Cannon


M1857 12-Pounder "Napoleon"
from Gettysburg National Military Park
Cannons were used by both sides during the war. Cannons were best at destroying enemy fortifications. They could fire either a large solid cannon ball or a bunch of smaller iron balls. Some cannon could knock down a wall or other fortification from up to 1000 yards away. The most popular cannon on both sides was a French-designed 12-pound howitzer cannon called the Napoleon. It usually took a crew of four soldiers to operate a cannon.

Submarines and Ironclads

New technology in naval warfare included ironclads and submarines. The Civil War was the first major war that involved ironclad ships. These were ships that were protected by steel or iron armor plates. They were nearly impossible to sink with conventional weapons and forever changed the way ships were used in battle. At the same time, the Civil War introduced submarines into naval warfare. The first submarine to sink an enemy ship was the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley which sunk the Union ship the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864.

Balloons

One interesting new technology used by the Union was the hot-air balloon. Balloonists would fly above enemy troops to determine their movements, numbers, and locations. The South soon figured out ways to combat the balloonists including camouflage and ways of shooting them down.

Telegraph

The invention of the telegraph changed the way wars were fought. President Lincoln and the Union military leaders were able to communicate in real time using the telegraph. They had updated information on enemy troop strengths and battle results. This gave them an advantage over the South which did not have the same communications infrastructure.

Railroads

Railroads also had a major impact on the war. Railroads enabled armies to move large numbers of troops long distances very quickly. Again, the more advanced industry of the North gave the Union an advantage in transportation as there were more railroad tracks in the North than in the South.

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History >> Civil War








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