The two sides did not use the same quality materials in their ammunition, weapons, clothes, and food. The Union army were in a better condition compared to their Southern enemy. Most of the literature covering the Civil War gives an exaggerated account of these differences, depicting South and North as David and Goliath. Was the Confederate army at a total disadvantage against their northern enemy?
Confederacy and Union Arms and Weapons
By the middle of the war, nearly all Confederate soldiers were armed with rifle-muskets, which were the latest pieces of weaponry at that time. Of course, there were still many soldiers who had old smoothbores. For example, the unit that injured Stonewall Jackson or some of the most significant Confederate units at Gettysburg had smoothbores.
The South had produced 250,000 of those muskets and had captured 100,000 of them from Northern soldiers. Six hundred thousand of those weapons were imported from Europe. The most accurate imported rifle-muskets popular both in the North and the South were Enfield muskets produced in England.
The Southern army was equipped with rifle-muskets not much later than the Union army, who also produced their own weapons. Repeating arms and breech-loading arms, which the North produced, could not be produced in the South. The repeating arms were a significant technological advancement compared to the rifle-musket because it could fire seven shots without stopping to reload.
But not all soldiers had these weapons because the army bureaucracy though soldiers would shoot up their ammunition too quickly and put the ordnance department under enormous pressure. The South couldn’t use these weapons either because they didn’t have the brass to make the cartridges.
So, generally speaking, almost all soldiers in both armies had the rifle-musket by the middle of the war.
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South and North Armies’ Powder and Ammunition
The Southern arms were not at a disadvantage in terms of quantity of powder and ammunition. However, the quality of the powder for its artillery ammunition (not the infantry ammunition) was a lot lower than that of the Northern army.
Most of the Civil War artillery rounds had fuses designed to explode in the air. They had to estimate the distance, cut the fuse, and fire the round so that it would explode at the right place and hit the area. It was something the confederates couldn’t do properly. Their rounds either exploded too soon or didn’t explode at all. So Southern gunners were not sure if their round would explode or where it would explode. On the other hand, the Union artillery ammunition was much more reliable.
To make cannons, the Confederates would melt down church bells. To obtain copper, they would melt down stills, which was difficult for many people to see their still melted. They had a huge powder mill at Augusta, Georgia, which was the largest in North America. There were arsenals and ironworks in Selma, Alabama, Richmond, and Charleston.
The North didn’t have any problems regarding ordnance. They already had the industry, which only needed retooling. The North had access to artillery in large quantities and of high quality.
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Food and Clothing for Confederacy and Union Soldiers
The North had an advantage in terms of commissary, too. The South didn’t have access to food because of the breakdown of the railroad system. Food-growing areas were lost to the Northern armies, and the food grown in other regions could not be transported to other places. So, they didn’t have enough food to feed their soldiers, and their calorie intake was quite low.
Northern soldiers had a much better diet and clothing. Confederates often didn’t have enough shoes, but the conditions were not so severe, as portrayed in the literature. Here again, Northern soldiers had better shoes compared to confederate soldiers.
Therefore, in comparison, Union soldiers had better weapons, better food, and better clothes than the Confederate army. The South never lost a battle due to a shortage of weapons or powder or food and clothing. But we could say that better quality and supply of these things was a significant factor that led to the victory of the Union army.
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Common Questions about the American Civil War: Maintaining Confederacy and Union Military Forces
The Southern army didn’t have a shortage of weapons. They obtained their muskets from different sources. But the quality of their weapons was lower than that of Northern arms. They couldn’t use more technologically advanced arms like repeating arms and breech-loading arms.
The South had more limited access to food due to the breakdown of the railway system. The North had captured the food-producing areas, and they couldn’t deliver food from other places that produced food. So, they faced food shortages.
They had a huge powder mill at Augusta, Georgia, which was the largest in North America. There were arsenals and ironworks in Selma, Alabama, Richmond, and Charleston. They also melted down stills to obtain copper.
Yes. Muskets were the latest weapons in those days. Both the South and North armies used muskets. The most accurate imported rifle-muskets popular both in the North and the South were Enfield muskets produced in England.