Maintenance of the military forces of the Confederation and the Union

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Through Gary W. Gallagher, Ph.D., University of Virginia

The two sides did not use the same quality materials in their ammunition, weapons, clothing and food. The Union army was in better shape compared to its enemy to the South. Much of the literature covering the Civil War gives an exaggerated account of these differences, describing the South and the North as David and Goliath. Was the Confederate army at a complete disadvantage against its northern enemy?

The Confederate army was at a slight disadvantage in terms of weapons and weapons. (Image: Photo by US Naval Historical Center / Public domain)

Weapons and arms of the Confederation and the Union

In the midst of the war, almost all Confederate soldiers were armed with rifles, which were the last pieces of weaponry at the time. Of course, there were still a lot of soldiers who had old, smooth cannons. For example, the unit that injured Stonewall Jackson or some of the larger Confederate units in Gettysburg had smooth bores.

The South had produced 250,000 of these muskets and had captured 100,000 from the soldiers of the North. Six hundred thousand of these weapons were imported from Europe. The most accurate imported rifle muskets, popular in both North and South, were the Enfield muskets made in England.

Antique Civil War era rifle and pistols made from 1847-1863.
Confederate soldiers used muskets during the Civil War. Muskets were the last pieces of weaponry at the time. (Image: W. Scott McGill / Shutterstock)

The Southern Army was equipped with musket rifles a little later than the Union Army, which also produced its own weapons. Repeating and breech-loading weapons, which the North produced, could not be produced in the South. Repeating weapons were a significant technological advancement over the shotgun as it could fire seven rounds without stopping to reload.

But not all soldiers had these weapons because the army bureaucracy, although the soldiers, fired their ammunition too quickly and put the artillery department under tremendous pressure. The South could not use these weapons either because they did not have the brass to make the cartridges.

Thus, in general, almost all soldiers of both armies had musket rifles in the middle of the war.

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Powder and ammunition of the armies of the South and the North

Southern weapons were not at a disadvantage in terms of the quantity of powder and ammunition. However, the powder quality for its artillery ammunition (not infantry ammunition) was much lower than that of the Northern Army.

Most Civil War artillery shells had fuses designed to explode in midair. They had to estimate the distance, cut the fuse and shoot the bullet to explode in the right spot and hit the area. It was something the Confederates couldn’t do properly. Their cartridges exploded too soon or did not explode at all. The gunners in the south therefore did not know if their shell would explode or where it would explode. In contrast, Union artillery ammunition was much more reliable.

Civil War Union soldiers surrounding the Dictator, a 13 inch siege mortar cannon.
In the south, the Confederates founded church bells to make cannons. (Image: Everett Collection / Shutterstock)

To make cannons, the Confederates melted church bells. To get copper, they would melt stills, which was difficult for many people to see their stills melted. They had a huge powder mill in Augusta, Georgia, which was the largest in North America. There were arsenals and forges in Selma, Alabama, Richmond and Charleston.

The North had no problem with artillery. They already had the industry, which only needed retooling. The North had access to artillery in great quantity and of great quality.

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Food and clothing for Confederation and Union soldiers

The North also had an advantage in terms of stewardship. The South did not have access to food because of the breakdown of the rail system. Food growing areas were lost to the armies of the North, and food grown in other areas could not be transported to other places. Thus, they did not have enough food to feed their soldiers and their calorie intake was quite low.

The soldiers of the North had much better food and better clothes. The Confederates often did not have enough shoes, but the conditions were not as severe as those described in the literature. Again, the northern soldiers had better shoes than the Confederate soldiers.

Therefore, in comparison, the Union soldiers had better weapons, better food, and better clothing than the Confederate army. The South has never lost a battle due to a shortage of weapons or gunpowder or food and clothing. But we could say that a better quality and better supply of these things was an important factor that led to the victory of the Union army.

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Common questions about the Civil War: maintaining the military forces of the Confederation and the Union

Q: Did the Army of the North have better weapons than the Army of the South?

The The southern army was not short of weapons. They got their muskets from different sources. But the quality of their weapons was inferior to that of the weapons of the North. They couldn’t use more technologically advanced weapons like repeating weapons and breech-loading weapons.

Q: Were the soldiers from the South undernourished during the Civil War?

The The South had more limited access to food due to the breakdown of the rail system. The North had captured the food producing areas, and they could not deliver food from other places that produced food. Thus, they faced food shortages.

Q: Did the South have ammunition?

They had a huge powder mill in Augusta, Georgia, which was the largest in North America. There were arsenals and forges in Selma, Alabama, Richmond and Charleston. They also melted stills to obtain copper.

Q: Were muskets used during the Civil War?

Yes. Muskets were the last weapons of the time. The armies of the South and the North used muskets. The most accurate imported rifles, popular in both North and South, were Enfield muskets made in England.

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