Guns and Accoutrements

percussion musket
Percussion musket used by Frederick Ziegler in the Civil War. MCHS object 1983-021-0001.

This percussion musket is a Lorenz Model 1854 rifle-musket. Over 300,000 Civil War soldiers — both Union and Confederate — carried a Lorenz. Only the American-made Springfield rifle and the British Enfield were more widely used. The 30-year-old German-born owner of this particular example, Frederich Ziegler, joined Company I of the 2nd Regiment of Missouri Light Artillery in 1861. He returned to Madison County after the war, got married, and raised a family. This gun was donated to the Madison County Historical Society by Frederich’s great-grandson, Hilbert Klenke.

Samuel Hughes
Photograph of Samuel Hughes, taken by J. Fortin. MCHS photograph 1986-138-0003.
repeating rifle
Repeating rifle used by Samuel Hughes in the Civil War. MCHS object 1967-044-0003.

Revolving carbines, like the Colt Model 1855 shown above, combined the repeating action of a handgun with a shortened rifle barrel. Mounted soldiers found the carbine form easier to load and handle while on horseback compared to single-shot long rifles. This example belonged to Samuel Hughes (pictured above). Samuel joined up as a private with Company I of the 9th Illinois Infantry in 1861. He finished his military career in 1865 as a colonel. Samuel returned to Madison County after the war but died in 1873 at age 34 from chronic peritonitis, a complication of the abdominal wound he sustained at the Battle of Mud Creek.

Powder horn and bullet

powder horn
Powder horn used by James Luttrell during the Civil War. The metal cover and funnel point are missing. MCHS object 1965-066-0001.
Civil War-era bullet found on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, MCHS object 1929-002-0503.

Although Civil War troops commonly received paper cartridges, in some cases a soldier had to load his gun the old-fashioned way. The first step: pouring a specific measure of black powder into the gun chamber. The soldier carried the powder in a powder horn like the one shown above, fitted with a point at the small end to funnel the powder into the gun. James Luttrell, the owner of this powder horn, joined Company K of the 10th Illinois Infantry as an 18-year-old in 1864. The horn was donated to the Madison County Historical Society by James’s great-granddaughter, Virginia Dowling.

James may have heard stories about the Battle of Lookout Mountain (where the bullet above was found) from his 30-year-old Company K comrade James Waters. A description of the Battle of Lookout Mountain appears in Joel Waters’s letter dated December 21, 1863 (p. 37).

Leather and brass pouches

leather cartridge box
Leather cartridge box with brass fastener, MCHS object 1957-017-0011.
cap box
Leather cap box with brass fastener, MCHS object 1957-017-0009.

Paper cartridges saved time and eliminated the need for a powder horn. Each cartridge consisted of a pre-measured quantity of powder and a ball or bullet packaged together in a thin roll of paper. The leather box shown above for holding cartridges has belt loops on the back, to keep it within reach. The soldier grabbed a cartridge from the cartridge box, tore open the base of the cartridge with his teeth, and poured the powder into the gun chamber. Then he unwrapped the ball or bullet from the paper and pressed it into the chamber. In the last step to ready his firearm for use, the soldier reached into his cap box (also shown above), pulled out a tiny ignition cap, and placed it over the nipple of the chamber.

These cartridge and cap boxes belonged to William Chapin of Alton, who served with Company F of the 10th Illinois Cavalry. William joined up at age 29 as a first lieutenant. He was promoted to major before he resigned in April of 1865.

William also used the soft leather bags shown below. Judging from their size and shape, these bags might be examples of military “possibles” bags. Originally used to describe the soft bags mountain men used for carrying sundry miscellaneous items, the term “possibles bag” was appropriated to describe bags soldiers used for carrying gun-related accessories. The contents of a soldier’s possibles bag might include a nipple wrench, a nipple pin, a capping tool, and a powder charge measure.

The origin of the brass cartridge box shown below is unknown. It probably carried .44 caliber rimfire cartridge ammunition for a Frank Wesson carbine or a Henry rifle. Rimfire cartridges have a built-in cap around the edge of the base. The cap is crushed upon firing, igniting the built-in powder.

possibles bags
Soft leather bags, also belonging to William Chapin, that may have been used as “possibles bags,” for carrying gun-related accessories. MCHS objects 1957-017-0001 (left) and 1957-017-0002 (right).
brass cartridge box
Brass cartridge box for carrying rimfire cartridges, marked “B.KITTREDGE & Co. CIN. O., PATENTED JAN. 27. 1863, REISSUED APL. 14. 63.” The box has metal straps on the back for slipping it onto a belt. MCHS object 2011-306-0008-FIC.

Ideas for Teachers (or anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into these artifacts)

Some relevant essential questions for students to explore:

  • Why was the Union successful in the war?
  • What effects can a war have on a nation?

Possible classroom activities:

  • The guns and accoutrements shown here belonged to Union soldiers. Research the equipment differences between the North and South and discuss how these differences affected the outcome of the war.
  • Identify technological advances developed for the war effort and any post-war applications.

Sources for this article include United States federal decennial census records and the following additional sources: