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Monday, September 5, 2011

Coping with shortages during the Civil War

In my Civil War novel, A Fine Likeness, both protagonists struggle with problems of military supply. Jimmy Rawlins spends much of the early part of the novel worrying about how he's going to get percussion caps for his bushwhacker band. Being a bunch of teenagers armed to the teeth, they go through a lot! Captain Richard Addison is similarly preoccupied with getting better weapons for his Union militia.

This was a common problem in the real war. An anecdote from the first year of the Civil War in Missouri shows how one Confederate artillery battery dealt with the problem. Lieutenant Barstow, a Confederate artillery officer in Henry Guibor's battery, had helped defeat General Sigel at the Battle of Carthage on 5 July 1861. They'd used up most of their munitions in the fight and were faced with a dire shortage. Barstow relates,

"One of Sigel's captured wagons furnished a few loose round shot. With these for a beginning, Guibor established an 'arsenal of construction.' A turning lathe in Carthage supplied sabots; the owner of a tin shop contributed straps and canisters; iron rods which a blacksmith gave and cut into small pieces made good slugs for the canisters; and a bolt of flannel, with needles and thread, freely donated by a dry goods man, provided us with material for cartridge bags.

A bayonet provided a good candlestick and at night the men went to work making cartridges, strapping shots to the sabots, and filling the bags from a barrel of powder placed some distance from the candle. My first cartridge resembled a turnip, rather than the trim cylinders from the Confederate arsenals, and would not take a gun on any terms. But we soon learned the trick, and at the close range at which our next battle was fought, our homemade ammunition proved as effective as the best."

Source: Jasper County, Missouri, in the Civil War by Ward Schrantz. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

For more on Civil War Artillery, check this link in this sentence.

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