Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Civil War Reenacting: Enfield Rifle Musket

By Matthew Pizzolato

When the War began, both sides used .69 caliber rifles converted from the old smooth-bore muskets.  A smooth-bore was only accurate at ranges of less than one hundred yards, but with the advent of rifled barrels, accuracy increased to five hundred yards. 

The Model 1861 Springfield in .58 caliber was the most common for the Union forces, while the Confederacy relied on the British made 1853 Enfield. The Enfield became the second mostly widely used weapon of the War. It's estimated that around 900,000 of them were imported between 1861 and 1865.

Enfield Pattern 1853 Rifle Musket

The key benefit that the Enfield provided to the Confederate troops was the ability to use the same size ammunition as the Springfield. They could use captured ammunition as well as what they were issued, which sometimes ran short because of limited industry in the South. 

Minie Balls recovered from Civil War battlefields.
The one on the left is unfired,
while the other has been fired.
Unloaded, the weapon weighs 9.5 pounds and has an overall length of 55 inches. It gets quite bulky and cumbersome when you consider the soldiers had to carry with them everywhere they went. 

The Enfield is a three-band, single-shot muzzle loader. The cartridges contained 68 grains of black powder and fired a 530 grain Minie ball.

The number of bands is significant because it determined how the weapon was placed when fired and it holds true even in reenacting.

The soldier in the rear rank placed front rank soldier's head between the second and third bands, the one closest to the hammer, when firing because otherwise, the explosion from the percussion cap would blast ear drum of the soldier in front. Also, the discharge of the weapon would do likewise if the weapon was held too far behind the soldier.

A good soldier could load and fire three times a minute. I don't see how they did it that fast because it's quite a complicated process. First, the stock of the gun was placed on the ground.  Then a cartridge taken from the satchel, the end torn off, usually with the teeth before pouring the powder down the barrel. Then the bullet could be inserted.

Next, the ramrod had to be removed from the underside of the barrel, reversed and inserted down the barrel, ramming the bullet all the way down. Then the ramrod had to be removed and replaced on the bottom of the barrel. Once that was completed, the gun had to be primed by placing a percussion cap on the nipple of the gun. Only then could it be fired.

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He is a 
member of Western Fictioneers and his work can be found in the Wolf Creek series as well as his own publications, THE WANTED MAN, OUTLAW and TWO OF A KIND. 

He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western. He can be contacted through Twitter @mattpizzolato or via his website: 


  1. Matthew,

    Given the changing technology and the fact that it was so complicated to load and fire those long rifles, it seems so strange that they didn't change to Spencer's and later to Henry rifles.

    Perhaps it was the antiquated notion of the generals that hand to hand fighting was the ultimate goal? My studies show Irish Union soldiers were still given smooth bores and expected to march forward in waves until they confronted the enemy with bayonets.

    It seemed a terrible sad way to wage a war.


  2. Not as familiar with rifles this was very educational. How anyone could load and fire rapidly boggles the mind, but I suppose with practice and circumstances you would learn. Doris

  3. In the movie "Last of the Mohicans" the script called for Natty Bumpo to load and fire a long rifle while on the run. They didn't think it could be done, but at last they found a local reenactor who could. He trained Daniel Day-Lewis and you can see in one of the final scenes that it's possible.

  4. Actually firing two or three times a minute is not difficult. I can with my caplock and my AMM partner can with his flintlock with very good accuracy. The use of a block holding patches and balls is helpful.