Help support TMP

"Cavalry small arms, 1863" Topic

16 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the ACW Discussion Message Board

Areas of Interest

American Civil War

Featured Hobby News Article

Featured Showcase Article

1:72nd IMEX Union Soldiers

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian prepares to do some regimental-level ACW gaming.

Featured Workbench Article

Building the Peter Pig Mortar Schooner

The G Dog Fezian replicates a mortar schooner at Fort Jackson during the New Orleans campaign.

Featured Profile Article

ACW With a Twist at Gen Con 2008

This campaign game, begin in 2007, marches on at Gen Con!

Current Poll

1,226 hits since 21 Feb 2015
©1994-2020 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

vtsaogames21 Feb 2015 7:11 a.m. PST

Calling all ACW cavalry mavens! I assume that most Union cavalry had some kind of breech-loaders by 1863 though not yet the widely reported Spencer repeating carbines.

I don't know what the Confederate cavalry would have been carrying that year. I assume as always that Lee's army got the pick of the weaponry and the troopers out west what was left over. Help me out, guys.

Blutarski21 Feb 2015 7:39 a.m. PST

I failed to record the source reference of the following excerpt, but recall that it was an essay by a well regarded authority on ACW cavalry:

quote -

There was a fair degree of uniformity in the weapons issued to the Union cavalry, at least in the East, even at the beginning of the war. and the uniformity grew greater as the war went on. From the first, all cavalrymen were issued sabres and most troopers were armed with Colt's revolvers, and one of several patterns of carbines. The Colt was the 36-caliber, or the older 44-caliber six-shooter. It was well liked by the men, many of whom carried it in the right boot-leg, ready for immediate use, mounted or on foot. Remington made equally good revolvers, but could get War Department contracts for only 5,000 revolvers at $15 USD each, whereas Colt had contracts for 31,000 at $25 USD each, for the identical model that sold on the open market for $14.50 USD. (54) This was in the palmy days of Secretary Cameron, but at least the men received a good revolver. The chief criticism of the sabre was that the metal scabbard and the metal rings attaching it to the belt made it too noisy. The problem was solved with Yankee ingenuity by fastening the scabbard to the saddle, nearly parallel to the horse's body. The sabre was then ready to be drawn when mounted and was left with the horse when dismounted action was called for. (55) Carbines were of many makes and patterns; the Smith. Joslyn, Union, Gallagher, Burnside and Hall, but the most common, and the best, was the single-shot Sharp's. All of these were superior to the infantry musket, in that they were breech loaders and light in weight, but ail of them except the Smith, which had other defects, shared the drawback of requiring the use of paper cartridges and percussion caps. The several makes were of different calibers and when, as was frequently the case" the same regiment had more than one type of carbine, the variety of ammunition needed caused a great deal of trouble. (56) The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry was armed with lances, but this exotic weapon was quickly discarded.
Generally speaking, the mounted troops of the Western armies were the poor relations of the Northern cavalry. The sabres issued to the western regiments in 1861 were usually the heavy, four-foot dragoon sabres of antique pattern. For firearms, the men were given whatever was available: smooth-bore, single-barrel, muzzle-loading horse pistols left over from the Mexican War, unserviceable revolvers of various makes. and even the heavy infantry rifles discarded by the Austrian army and imported in large quantities at the start, of the war. (57) Normally, new or improved weapons came to the West only after the eastern cavalry was fully supplied with them; thus, the Fourth Iowa was not completely equipped with Sharp's carbines until January, 1864, by which time the eastern cavalry was being re-equipped with Spencers.
Meanwhile, the Southern cavalry made do with a fantastic variety of weapons, good, bad and indifferent. The Southern states and the Confederate government had great difficulty supplying even sabres in sufficient numbers. Several thousand were imported from Europe or purchased in the North; more were acquired by capture. After 1862, sabres of inferior quality were manufactured in the South. (58) For firearms, troopers had all kinds of single- and double-barreled shotguns, squirrel rifles and every other known variety of sporting gun flint-lock muskets, short, medium and long Enfields, Springfields and rifled muskets. Most men had pistols and revolvers, and the latter, particularly the Colt's captured from the Federals, became the preferred cavalry weapon. (59) Carbines were manufactured in the South, but never in adequate quantities; the Northern cavalry was a much more dependable source of supply than the Confederate government. In the East, the usual arrangement in the early months of the war was to have one or two squadrons in each regiment armed with carbines, the rest of the regiment carrying Enfield rifles; (60) alternatively, some regiments had sharpshooter companies armed with carbines or rifles, the other companies in the regiment being supplied with sabres and either pistols or revolvers.

In 1863, the Union cavalrymen began to receive a new gun, the seven-shot, breech-loading 5pencer carbine, firing a brass cartridge. The weapon was invented by C. M. Spencer of Massachusetts. He first developed it as a rifle for the infantry, but was unable to interest the War Department in his invention. The gentlemen in the Ordnance Bureau were of the opinion that there was too much waste of ammunition in the infantry even with the single-shot, muzzle loading musket, and that it would only add to the evil to give the infantry a weapon that could be fired four or five times as fast. (61) Spencer then converted the gun to a cavalry carbine. When he brought it back to the War Department, James H. Wilson was the Chief of the newly-established Cavalry Bureau. He was a "brilliant man intellectually", (62) and he had plans for the strategic use or cavalry which required a drastic increase in cavalry firepower. He tested the new weapon, and after satisfying himself that it was "by all odds the most effective firearm of the day," (63) had the gun adopted as the standard cavalry carbine. By the spring of 1864. the Third Cavalry Division of the Army of the Potomac, which Wilson himself was slated to command after completing his tour of duty in Washington, was completely re-equipped with Spencer carbines, which gave it a fire power of as many as fourteen shots per minute per man, with an effective range of 500 yards. By the spring of 1865, when Wilson, by then promoted to Chief of Cavalry of the Military Division of the Mississippi, started on his Selma campaign, every one of the 13,500 troopers making up his Cavalry Army carried a Spencer, which, according to the Confederates, the men loaded on Sundays and fired the rest of the week.
It cannot be said that any single Civil War weapon had a decisive influence on the outcome of the war, but the Spencer probably came close to it. (64) Furthermore, the tactical principle that the Spencer represented, namely the placing of tremendous fire power into the hands of the individual soldier, and the recognition that fire power, and not numbers, was the true standard of comparison between armies, carried with it implications of great significance for the future, especially because Wilson had the vision to add fire power to mobility.
It is important also to note the effect of this new weapon on the morale of the Northern cavalry. Up to the end of the war, only 100,000 Spencers (65) had been issued. and of course not all of them had gotten into the hands of combat units; yet, we have it on good authority that "to have a carbine of better range and of more certain shot than any other gun they knew…was of striking value in heightening the self-confidence and improving the morale of the cavalry. From that time on to the end of the war (the men) not only clearly won in every contest, but they expected to win, and even acquired a sort of habit of looking upon every approaching fight as a sure thing".

- unquote


Trajanus21 Feb 2015 8:54 a.m. PST

Calling all ACW cavalry mavens! I assume that most Union cavalry had some kind of breech-loaders by 1863 though not yet the widely reported Spencer repeating carbines.

I don't know what the Confederate cavalry would have been carrying that year. I assume as always that Lee's army got the pick of the weaponry and the troopers out west what was left over. Help me out, guys.

When you say breach loaders you are talking carbines I assume?

As the passage above indicates there were Breach loading carbines of all sorts on show. Most used paper or linen cartridges although the Burnside and Maynard used brass. All of them were percussion cap weapons.

Sharps were considered the best but even at Gettysburg some Union cavalry had companies that had them and other companies that still had other models. Something like 4,700 troopers had the Sharps at the battle which I assume were the 1859 version, although there was a later 1863 model produced.

Custer's Michigan Brigade had Spencers at Gettysburg.

The Confederates used whatever they could get their hands on although even captured Spencers were of limited use unless they managed to get a supply wagon as well, due to the fact there were no facilities in the South to make the correct metal cartridges.

Yes you are right about the East/West spilt always a Confederate manufacture and supply issue although some Confederate commanders (Forest being one) actively preferred their men to have Enfield rifles.

There were several desperate fights in the Overland Campaign between Enfield armed Confederate cavalry and infantry and Union troopers with Spencer's where the longer range and accuracy of the former was a match for the volume of fire from the latter!

donlowry21 Feb 2015 11:44 a.m. PST

Only part of Custer's brigade had Spencers at Gettysburg. One entire regiment (I think it was the 6th Mich.) and part of another (probably the 5th). And they weren't carbines, they were rifles. The other 2 regiments (1st Mich. and 7th) had breechloaders, but I don't know what kind.

In '65, Wilson's 3 divisions that he took on the Selma campaign were ALMOST all armed with Spencers, presumably carbines, but a few, maybe one brigade, maybe less, had breechloaders.

I don't think the 6th Pa. gave up their lances until the spring of '63, which is ironic because they would have found them of more use in Penn. than they had in heavily wooded Virginia.

Grierson's brigade carried light curved sabers on their raid through Miss., not the old heavy model. One regiment, at least (the 2nd Iowa), even hired a fencing instructor to teach them how to use them.

I believe the Sharps, both rifle and carbine, used a cloth cartridge, not paper.

Trajanus21 Feb 2015 12:25 p.m. PST


It was the other way round the 5th had Spencer's and the 6th had a mix of them and Burnsides and of course you are right they were Rifles not Carbines!

However, the Sharps carbine had a paper cartridge. I'm looking at a quote here saying what a pain they were as they deteriorated on the march through being shaken around in supply wagons.

What appears the case is that Sharps own brand were linen but Government contractors made them of paper or paper based linen which were not as good.

I think all of Wilson's men were armed with repeaters mostly Spencer's but I believe a few had Henry's instead.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2015 5:35 p.m. PST

Interesting question. I am reading 'Bloody Crucible of Courage' by Noseworthy. As I recall carbines were available from the war's beginning but we're not reliable and not strongly desired. By war's end tactics for the north revolved around it as supply and reliability improved.

The south never really had a lot of them and couldn't' manufacture the ammo. Revolvers were popular.

Interestingly, the saber was not highly regarded in the beginning but proved its worth as the war progressed.

I heard one ACW fan criticize Noseworthy, but I recommend the book and seems a sold Tome on ACW fighting methods.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Feb 2015 7:13 p.m. PST

The Spencer carbine was a fine weapon, but the quote above that it had an effective range of 500 yards is ridiculous. 100-150 yards, maybe.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2015 7:17 p.m. PST

Here is the link to Blutarski's article, part of which is posted above:


All I had to do was "Bing" the first phrase of the first sentence and it was the first hit.


Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2015 7:28 p.m. PST

Here is a summary of copies of two reports from the Confederate Records collection of the Miss. Dept. of Archives & History:

Inspection Report, 2nd Cavalry Brigade (Brig Gen Davidson), 1st Cavalry Division
(Dec 20, 1863) [present for duty men and serviceable weapons and horses]

1st Tenn Cav Rgt: 28 officers, 234 enlisted present [Col Wheeler, sick]
88 Enfield rifles, 13 Springfield rifles, 72 carbines
230 horses

2nd Tenn Cav Rgt: 15 officers, 164 enlisted present [Col Ashley absent]
35 Enfield rifles, 10 Springfield rifles, 14 carbines
97 horses

4th Tenn Cav Rgt: 26 officers, 315 enlisted present [Col Smith]
75 Enfield rifles, 23 Springfield rifles, 101 carbines
243 horses

5th Tenn Cav Rgt: 18 officers, 181 enlisted present [Col McKencie]
110 Enfield rifles, 29 Springfield rifles, 27 carbines
172 horses

Total: 87 officers, 894 enlisted men (981)
308 Enfield rifles, 75 Springfield rifles, 214 carbines (597)
742 horses

NOTE: another 12 Enfield rifles and 61 carbines unserviceable and 223 unserviceable horses.
On rolls are 155 officers and 2797 enlisted men (3352)

Inspection Report, 2nd Cavalry Brigade (Brig Gen Davidson), 1st Cavalry Division
(Mar 4, 1864) [present for duty men and serviceable weapons and horses]

Brigade staff: 10

1st Tenn Cav Rgt [Col Wheeler]: 282 men effective; 279 horses
116 Enfield, 3 Austrian, 4 Springfield, and 1 Belgian rifles, 127 carbines, 82 pistols

2nd Tenn Cav Rgt [Col Ashby]: 189 men effective; 156 horses
5 Enfield and 176 Austrian rifles, 4 carbines, 42 pistols, 2 sabers

4th Tenn Cav Rgt [Lt Col Anderson]: 329 men effective; 276 horses
173 Enfield, 19 Springfield, and 18 Austrian rifles, 69 carbines, 1 shotgun, 198 pistols

5th Tenn Cav Rgt [Col McKenzie]: 233 men effective; 183 horses
151 Enfield, 2 Austrian, and 13 Springfield rifles, 69 pistols

You can easily see that this Western Confederate Brigade's regiments had a wide mix of weapons. The December 1863 report is from 9 days after the Battle of Missionary Ridge while the March 1864 report is about two months before the beginning of the Atlanta Campaign. Davidson's Brigade was in Wheeler's Cavalry Corps of the Army of Tennessee.


vtsaogames22 Feb 2015 11:45 a.m. PST

Great stuff, thank you. My one quibble with Blutarski is he seems to confuse long range with effective range. Everything else is great.

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP22 Feb 2015 9:59 p.m. PST

A couple of things here. The idea that federal (or any) cavalryman would carry his revolver in his right boot is ridiculous upon it's face. First off, there isn't sufficient room to place a revolver there. 2nd, the men were issued with holsters, and the officers would have seen that the weapons were carried there. 3rd, the sheer weight of that pistol in a boot would cause the trooper to rethink the idea within seconds. Riding like that would have caused bruising and likely scratches to the leg, even with trousers and drawers being worn.

Lastly, as to paper cartridges, remember that virtually all of those paper cartridges issued to federal cavalry for use in both carbines and revolvers were designed to be "self-consuming". They were made with nitrated casings of paper, intestines, or cloth and burned up when the round was fired, making it easier and faster to reload.

As to CS cavalry weapons, where to begin.

The biggest thing is that almost all CS commanders of units with mixed weapons, divided them into caliber and then type, so as to minimize the effects of multiple type arms. Thus all the carbines would go into one or more troops, all the rifles into others, etc. Many cavalry units had companies with only sabers and revolvers, while the rest of the unit had long arms. This wasn't a bad thing, as the unit could dismount to fight on foot with their long arms, while having a reserve of mounted men available to counter charge or exploit and weak spot in the enemy's lines.

The CS Ordnance Department copied the federal one almost verbatim. They also copied ideas. To counter multiple types of arms, such as the ,58 caliber Springfield variants, the .577 Enfield variants, etc, the size of the round was reduced to .57 so as to service all of those types.

.69 caliber rounds were produced in about a 60/40 ratio of buck & ball to elongated ball (Minie ball) with very few round ball rounds issued.

A good resource for ACW cavalry may be found here:


For those with time for reading and research, the US Ordnance Manual is online. The CS version is identical, except where US is replaced by CS, and some minor editing, etc. However it's an excellent source for ammo types, etc.


Trajanus23 Feb 2015 2:35 a.m. PST

Great link on the Manual, thanks!

67thtigers23 Feb 2015 4:05 a.m. PST

The revolver in the boot is right up their with "extra cylinders" which is patently ridiculous as the Colt (both models) requires complete disassembly to remove the cylinder, taking far more time than simply reloading the empty cylinder. Add the safety issue of riding a horse with 5-6 primed cartridges in ones pocket awaiting a sharp jolt to go off, and the fact that pistol ammunition was only issued to Federal cavalrymen at 10 rounds per man (5 in the pistol, 5 stored somewhere) you can see just how unsustainable this myth is.

The USG purchased 10,640 Remington's upto mid-'62: link

In fact government contracts essentially monopolised the entire output of Remington, with 142,565 Remingtons delivered exclusive of the Model 1858 .44 Army which I don't have numbers to hand.

Blutarski23 Feb 2015 4:06 a.m. PST

" My one quibble with Blutarski is he seems to confuse long range with effective range."

….. Not my words. I just quoted from the article verbatim.

Publications of the author by LSU Press – link


vtsaogames23 Feb 2015 7:24 a.m. PST

Sorry, Blutarsky. I confused you with the author of the article. But then I'm easily confused.

Blutarski23 Feb 2015 6:40 p.m. PST

No worries, vtsaogames.


Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.