Alan C. Downs
No credible study of the campaigns and battles of the American Civil War could even be contemplated without at least some prior knowledge of the weapons used by the Union and Confederate armies. To understand the strategy and tactics employed by both sides, one must be familiar with the capabilities and limitations of their available weaponry. Yet unlike most other Civil War topics that are the focus of research and scholarship, the academic community has generally avoided the study of ordnance over the past several decades, leaving the field in the hands of nonacademic historians and Civil War enthusiasts.
The limited number of monographs written by professional historians is not indicative of a lack of quality in the extant material. Most of the available books and articles are well researched and well written. It does mean, however, that the quantity of sources may be limited, and researchers may have difficulty obtaining certain monographs (in print or out) published by small presses. In general, the literature cited in this chapter should be available at larger libraries or through interlibrary loan. A few of the classics are more difficult to access.
Whether or not one considers the Civil War to be the first modern war in American history, it nevertheless is hard to deny that it was a transitional war in terms of the evolution of weaponry. The standardization of rifling, the large- scale introduction of breech-loading and repeating small arms, and the increase in the size and power of artillery are some of the characteristics of this change. Owing to the fact that this evolution occurred while the war was underway,