Minié ball

The Minié ball, or Minni ball, is a type of muzzle-loading spin-stabilized bullet for rifled muskets named after its co-developer, Claude-Étienne Minié, inventor of the French Minié rifle. It came to prominence in the Crimean and American Civil War.

Rifling — the addition of spiral grooves inside a gun barrel — imparts a spin to a bullet, greatly increasing the range and accuracy of a gun. Prior to the Minié ball, balls had to be jammed down the rifle barrel, sometimes with a mallet, and after a relatively small number of shots, gunpowder residue built up in the spiral grooves, which then had to be cleaned out.[1] The development of the Minié ball was significant, because it was the first projectile that was small enough to be easily put down the barrel of a rifled long gun. Both the American Springfield Model 1861 and the British Pattern 1853 Enfield rifled muskets, the most common weapons used during the American Civil War, used the Minié ball.[2]

Minie Balls
Various types of Minié balls. The four on the right are provided with Tamisier ball grooves for aerodynamic stability.
Minie ball design harpers ferry burton
James H. Burton's 1855 Minié ball design from the Harpers Ferry Armory


The Minié ball is a conical bullet with three exterior grease-filled grooves and a conical hollow in its base. The bullet was designed by Minié with a small iron plug and a lead skirting. Its intended purpose was to expand under the pressure of the powder deflagration, pressing the skirt out to grip the rifling, and secondarily to obturate the barrel and increase muzzle velocity.

The precursor to the Minié ball was created in 1848 by the French Army captains Montgomery and Henri-Gustave Delvigne. Their design was made to allow rapid muzzle loading of rifles, an innovation that brought about the widespread use of the rifle rather than the smoothbore musket as a mass battlefield weapon. Delvigne had invented a ball that could expand upon ramming to fit the grooves of a rifle in 1826.[3] The design of the ball had been proposed in 1832 as the cylindro-conoidal bullet by Captain John Norton,[4] but had not been adopted.

Captain James H. Burton, an armorer at the Harpers Ferry Armory, developed an improvement on Minié's design when he added a deep cavity at the base of the ball, which filled up with gas and expanded the bullet's rim upon firing. The result was not only better range, but also a cheaper bullet, which was used in the Crimean War and then the American Civil War.[1] Burton's version of the ball weighed two ounces.[5]


The bullet could be quickly removed from the paper cartridge with the gunpowder poured down the barrel and the bullet pressed past the muzzle rifling and any detritus from prior shots. It was then rammed down the barrel with the ramrod, which ensured that the charge was packed and the hollow base was filled with powder. When the rifle was fired, the expanding gas pushed forcibly on the base of the bullet, deforming the skirt to engage the rifling. This provided spin for accuracy, a better seal for consistent velocity and longer range, and cleaning of barrel detritus.


Wounds inflicted by the conical Minié ball were different from those caused by the round balls from smoothbore muskets, since the conical ball had a higher muzzle velocity and greater mass, and easily penetrated the human body.[5] Round balls tended to remain lodged in the flesh, and they were often observed to take a winding path through the body. Flexed muscles and tendons, as well as bone, could cause the round ball to deviate from a straight path. The Minié ball tended to cut a straight path and usually went all the way through the injured part; the ball seldom remained lodged in the body. If a Minié ball struck a bone, it usually caused the bone to shatter.[6] The damage to bones and resulting compound fractures were usually severe enough to necessitate amputation.[6][7] The entire point of the minie ball was to damage the bones. A hit on a major blood vessel could also have serious and often lethal consequences.[5]

One of the more famous documented cases involving Minié ball injuries concerned a Confederate soldier wounded during Jubal Early's raid on Washington, D.C. on July 12, 1864. The soldier, a private in the 53rd North Carolina Infantry, was hit in the side of the head by a .58 caliber Minié ball, which shattered his skull and lodged in the right hemisphere of the brain. He went into convulsions and became paralyzed on one side of his body, but started recovering within eight days of being hospitalized. However, within three more days, his condition deteriorated and he eventually lost consciousness and died, having survived with his wound for 16 days. An autopsy of the soldier found that the right hemisphere of the brain was extensively damaged and large areas of it had necrosed. The brain was removed, preserved in formaldehyde and donated to the Army Museum in Washington. The primary cause of death had been infection caused by both the initial injury and subsequent necrosis of brain tissue.[8] With 21st-century medical treatment, the soldier might well have survived with some degree of physical disability.

See also



  1. ^ a b McPherson, James M. (1988) Battle Cry of Freedon: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press. p.474 ISBN 0-19-503863-0
  2. ^ Keegan, John (2009) The American Civil War: A Military History New York; Knopf. p.55 ISBN 978-0-307-26343-8
  3. ^ Fadala, Sam (2006). The Complete Black Powder Handbook: The Latest Guns and Gear (5th ed.). Gun Digest Books. p. 144. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  4. ^ O'Connelll, Robert L. (1990). Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression. Oxford University Press US. p. 191. Retrieved 2010-05-14.
  5. ^ a b c Keegan, John (2009) The American Civil War: A Military History New York; Knopf. pp.314-15 ISBN 978-0-307-26343-8
  6. ^ a b Manring, M. M.; Hawk, Alan; Calhoun, Jason H.; Andersen, Romney C. (14 February 2009). "Treatment of War Wounds: A Historical Review". Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. 467 (8): 2168–2191. doi:10.1007/s11999-009-0738-5. PMC 2706344. PMID 19219516.
  7. ^ Chisolm, Julian (1864). A manual of military surgery, for the use of surgeons in the Confederate States army; with explanatory plates of all useful operations. Columbia: Evans and Cogswell. p. 119.
  8. ^ "Medical and Surgical Reporter", 1865 Vol XIII


  • Brent Nosworthy (2003). The Bloody Crucible of Courage, Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War. Carroll and Graf Publishers. ISBN 0-7867-1147-7.
  • "The lead minie ball". CivilWar@Smithsonian.

External links

Buck and ball

Buck and ball was a common load for muzzle-loading muskets, and was frequently used in the American Revolutionary War and into the early days of the American Civil War. The load usually consisted of a .50 to .75 caliber round lead musket ball (.69 caliber for the "Brown Bess" musket) that was combined with three to six buckshot pellets.


A bullet is a kinetic projectile and the component of firearm ammunition that is expelled from the gun barrel during shooting. The term is from Middle French and originated as the diminutive of the word boulle (boullet), which means "small ball". Bullets are made of a variety of materials such as copper, lead, steel, polymer, rubber and even wax. They are available either singly as in muzzleloading and cap and ball firearms or as a component of paper cartridges, but much more commonly in the form of metallic cartridges. Bullets are made in a large number of shapes and constructions depending on the intended applications, including specialized functions such as hunting, target shooting, training and combat.

Though the word "bullet" is often used incorrectly in colloquial language to refer to a cartridge round, a bullet is not a cartridge but rather a component of one. A round of ammunition cartridge is a combination package of the bullet (which is the projectile), the case (which holds everything together), the propellant (which provide majority of the energy to launch the projectile) and the primer (which ignites the propellant). This use of the term "bullet" when intending to describe a cartridge often leads to confusion when the components of a cartridge are specifically referred to.

Bullet sizes are expressed by their weights and diameters (referred to as "calibers") in both imperial and metric measurement systems. For example: 55 grain .223 caliber bullets are of the same weight and caliber as 3.56 gram 5.56mm caliber bullets.

The bullets used in many cartridges are fired at muzzle velocities faster than the speed of sound — about 343 metres per second (1,130 ft/s) in dry air at 20 °C (68 °F) — and thus can travel a substantial distance to a target before a nearby observer hears the sound of the shot. The sound of gunfire (i.e. the muzzle report) is often accompanied with a loud bullwhip-like crack as the supersonic bullet pierces through the air creating a sonic boom. Bullet speeds at various stages of flight depend on intrinsic factors such as its sectional density, aerodynamic profile and ballistic coefficient, and extrinsic factors such as barometric pressure, humidity, air temperature and wind speed. Subsonic cartridges fire bullets slower than the speed of sound so there is no sonic boom. This means that a subsonic cartridge, such as .45 ACP, can be substantially quieter than a supersonic cartridge such as the .223 Remington, even without the use of a suppressor.Bullets do not normally contain explosives, but damage the intended target by transferring kinetic energy upon impact and penetration (see terminal ballistics).

Claude-Étienne Minié

Claude-Etienne Minié (13 February 1804 – 14 December 1879) was a French Army officer famous for solving the problem of designing a reliable muzzle-loading rifle by inventing the Minié ball in 1846, and the Minié rifle in 1849. He succeeded the pioneering work of Henri-Gustave Delvigne and Louis-Étienne de Thouvenin. Minié was born and died in Paris.

Minié served in a number of African campaigns with the Chasseurs, after which he was eventually promoted to captain. In 1846 he designed the Minié ball, a cylindrical bullet with a conical hollow in the base which expanded when fired. This projectile, combined with his rifle, resulted in a major improvement in firearm accuracy.

The French government rewarded Minié with some 20,000 francs and installed him as a member of the staff at the Vincennes military school. In 1858 he retired from the French Army with the rank of colonel and later served as a military instructor for the khedive of Egypt and as a manager at the Remington Arms Company in the United States. His rifling technology proved critical to the increase in firearms accuracy seen during the American Civil War.

Cylindro-conoidal bullet

The cylindro-conoidal bullet was invented by Captain John Norton of the British 34th Regiment in 1832. It had a hollow base, so that, when fired, the bullet would expand and seal the bore. The origin of his idea is an interesting one: when in southern India, he examined the blow pipe arrows used by the natives and found that their base was formed of elastic locus pith, which by its expansion against the inner surface of the blow pipe prevented the escape of air past it.In 1836, Mr. W. Greener, a London gunsmith, improved on Norton's bullet by inserting a conoidal wooden plug into its base. Although both inventions were rejected by the British Ordnance Department, the idea was taken up in France, and in 1849 C. Minié adopted Greener's design and produced the "Minié ball."

Joel Stratton

Joel Augustus Stratton (1837–1920) was a Union Army Captain who served as commander of Company C, 53rd Massachusetts Volunteers during the American Civil War. He fought in the Battles of Fort Bisland and Port Hudson. While leading a reconnaissance team of 10 men at Port Hudson, a minié ball from a Confederate sniper hit his left eye and exited out the back of his ear. Miraculously, he survived the battle and retired when the 53rd was mustered out of service on September 2, 1863.

List of weapons in the American Civil War

The American Civil War, fought between the Union and Confederate forces, took place from 1861 to 1865. During the war, a variety of weapons were used on both sides. These weapons include edged weapons such as knives and swords, firearms such as, rifled-muskets, breech loaders and repeating weapons, various field guns such as artillery, and new weapons such as the early grenade and machine gun.The Civil War is often to referred as the first "modern" war in history as it included the most advanced technology and innovations of warfare available at the time. Some of the innovations and advances of the Civil War included mass production of war materiel, rifling of gun barrels and the use of the Minié ball, the advent of repeating firearms and metallic cartridges, ironclad warships, advances in medicine, communication (especially the telegraph), and transportation (railroads), and the gradual decline of tactics from previous centuries.

Long rifle

The long rifle, also known as longrifle, Kentucky rifle, or Pennsylvania rifle, was one of the first commonly used rifles for hunting and warfare. It is characterized by an unusually long barrel, a development in American rifles that was uncommon in European rifles of the same period.

The longrifle is an early example of a firearm using rifling (spiral grooves in the bore), which caused the projectile (commonly a round lead ball) to spin around the axis of its motion. This increased the stability of its trajectory and dramatically improved accuracy over contemporary smooth bore muskets, which were cheaper and more common. Rifled firearms saw their first major combat use in the American colonies during the French and Indian War, and later the American Revolution in the eighteenth century.

Until the development of the Minié ball in the middle of the 19th century, the main disadvantages of a rifle compared to a musket were a slower reload time due to the use of a tighter fitting lead ball and greater susceptibility to the fouling of the bore after prolonged use - such fouling would eventually prevent loading altogether, rendering the weapon useless until thoroughly cleaned. The adoption of the Minié ball essentially nullified these disadvantages and allowed the rifle to completely replace the musket.

The longrifle was made popular by German gunsmiths who immigrated to America, bringing with them the technology of rifling from where it originated. The accuracy achieved by the longrifle made it an ideal tool for hunting wildlife for food in colonial America.

The American Longrifle, more commonly, but less correctly, known as the 'Kentucky rifle', was described by Captain John G. W. Dillin in the dedication to his seminal 1924 book, The Kentucky Rifle:

From a flat bar of soft iron, hand forged into a gun barrel; laboriously bored and rifled with crude tools; fitted with a stock hewn from a maple tree in the neighboring forest; and supplied with a lock hammered to shape on the anvil; an unknown smith, in a shop long since silent, fashioned a rifle which changed the whole course of world history; made possible the settlement of a continent; and ultimately freed our country of foreign domination.

Light in weight; graceful in line; economical in consumption of powder and lead; fatally precise; distinctly American; it sprang into immediate popularity; and for a hundred years was a model often slightly varied but never radically changed.

M1752 Musket

The Spanish M1752 Musket was a muzzle-loading firearm invented in 1752 and used by the Spanish Army from then until it was widely replaced by the much more effective Minié rifles during the mid-19th century. The M1752 was the first standardized long gun utilized by the Spanish Army and was deployed in the Spanish American Colonies, where it saw action during the British invasion of Cuba. Spain also provided around 10,000 up to 12,000 muskets to the American rebels during their struggle against the British.Proving typically conventional for the period, the weapon maintained a long service life under the Spanish crown and was deployed to its various frontline forces across the various Spanish holdings. The Model 1752 was in widespread circulation up until the middle of the 1850s by which time more and more fighting forces were adopting more modern Minié ball-long guns (categorized as "rifled muskets").

The M1752 saw some later modifications in 1755 and 1757.

The Model 1752 Musket featured design qualities associated with this period of land-based warfare (in general line infantry)—these were long, heavy guns made primarily with a single-piece wooden stock housing the steel barrel and works of the gun lock. As muzzle-loading weapons, they were loaded down the muzzle end of the gun which necessitated use of a ramrod held in a channel in the stock under the barrel. The stock was affixed to the barrel at multiple points, usually two brass barrel bands and a cap [nose cap] at front and which had a ramrod pipe cast to it. The firing mechanism was of the flintlock method requiring a piece of flint to be seated in a vice and cocked rearwards prior to firing. Additional steps included the loading of black powder in the frizzen (pan) as well as gunpowder down the barrel prior to inserting the rest of the ball ammunition consisting of both projectile(s) and cartridge case and which also doubled as wadding. The wooden stock incorporated a straight grip handle that was slightly angled downwards and extended to become the shoulder support (or shoulder stock) which had a butt plate. The Sighting was through fixtures along the top of the weapon. The trigger was set within an oblong ring (trigger guard) under the action as normal. The lock was unique, known as the "Miquelet lock", which reworked some of the accepted design practices of the flintlock—mainly at the mainspring and hammer (or cock).


Minié or Minie may refer to:

Claude-Étienne Minié (1804-1879), French Army officer and weapons designer

Minié rifle, designed by Claude-Étienne Minié

Minié ball, a rifle bullet designed by Claude-Étienne Minié

Minie Brinkhoff (born 1952), retired Dutch cyclist

Minié rifle

The Minié rifle was an important infantry rifle of the mid-19th century. A version was adopted in 1849 following the invention of the Minié ball in 1847 by the French Army captain Claude-Étienne Minié of the Chasseurs d'Orléans and Henri-Gustave Delvigne. The bullet was designed to allow rapid muzzle loading of rifles, and was an innovation that brought about the widespread use of the rifle as the main battlefield weapon for individual soldiers. The French adopted it following difficulties encountered by the French army in Northern Africa, where their muskets were outranged by long-barreled weapons which were handcrafted by their Algerian opponents. The Minié rifle belonged to the category of rifled muskets.

Model 1822 Musket

The Springfield Model 1822 Musket is a .69 caliber, flintlock musket manufactured by the Springfield Armory and Harper's Ferry Armory

The Model 1822 was an improvement to the Model 1816 Musket. Some documents refer to the Model 1822 as its own separate model, but other documents refer to it as a variant of the Model 1816.

Like the Model 1816, the Model 1822 was a .69 caliber smoothbore flintlock, with a 42-inch (107 cm) barrel and an overall length of 58 inches (147 cm). One of the most noticeable differences in the Model 1822 is the attachment of the lower sling swivel. The forward part of the trigger bow was provided with an enlargement which was drilled to receive the sling swivel rivet. Previously, the sling swivel had been affixed to a stud in front of the trigger bow.

In addition to the Harper's Ferry and Springfield Armories, the Model 1822 was produced by numerous other contractors. It was eventually replaced by the Springfield Model 1835, which is also considered by many to be a continuation of the Model 1816.

Like other flintlocks, many of the Model 1822 were converted to percussion lock systems in the 1840s and 1850s, as percussion caps were more reliable and weather resistant than flintlocks. Some also had their barrels rifled so that they could fire the newly developed Minié ball. However, during the City Mexico City Campaign, General Winfield Scott insisted on his army being equipped with flintlock muskets because flints were easy to make or procure, important in a hostile country where supply lines were vulnerable.

The Model 1822 was used in both the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War. During the latter, .69 caliber muskets (mostly percussion, but some flintlocks as well) were common in the early part of the war (either in their original form or converted to rifling). They had totally disappeared from the Army of the Potomac by the second half of 1862 (aside from the Irish Brigade, which carried Model 1842 muskets until 1864), but the less-well equipped Confederates used them for longer, and the Army of Northern Virginia's ordnance chief claimed that Gettysburg was the first battle in which the army was completely free of smoothbore muskets. In the West, the situation was worse for both sides and smoothbores remained in use in the Union armies into 1863. Some Confederate regiments were still carrying .69 caliber muskets at the Battle of Franklin in November 1864.


A musket is a muzzle-loaded long gun that appeared as a smoothbore weapon in early 16th-century Europe, at first as a heavier variant of the arquebus, capable of penetrating heavy armor. By the mid-16th century, this type of musket went out of use as heavy armor declined, but as the matchlock became standard, the term musket continued as the name given for any long gun with a flintlock, and then its successors, all the way through the mid-1800s. This style of musket was retired in the 19th century when rifled muskets (simply called rifles in modern terminology) became common as a result of cartridged breech-loading firearms introduced by Casimir Lefaucheux in 1835, the invention of the Minié ball by Claude-Étienne Minié in 1849, and the first reliable repeating rifle produced by Volcanic Repeating Arms in 1854. By the time that repeating rifles became common, they were known as simply "rifles", ending the era of the musket.

Rifled musket

A rifled musket is a type of firearm made in the mid-19th century. The term referred only to muskets that had been produced as a smoothbore weapon and later had their barrels rifled. The term 'rifle musket' refers to musket length firearms that were manufactured with rifled barrels. The two terms are frequently confused.


A smoothbore weapon is one that has a barrel without rifling. Smoothbores range from handheld firearms to powerful tank guns and large artillery mortars. The majority of shotguns are smoothbores and the term can be synonymous.

Springfield Model 1842

The US Model 1842 Musket was a .69 caliber musket manufactured and used in the United States during the 19th Century. It is a continuation of the Model 1816 line of muskets but is generally referred to as its own model number rather than just a variant of the Model 1816.

The Model 1842 was the last U.S. smoothbore musket. Many features that had been retrofitted into the Model 1840 were standard on the Model 1842. The Model 1842 was the second U.S. musket to be produced with a percussion lock (after the model 1841 "Mississippi" rifle), though most of the Model 1840 flintlocks ended up being converted to percussion locks before reaching the field. The percussion cap system was vastly superior to the flintlock, being much more reliable and much more resistant to weather.

Like all Model 1816 derivatives, the Model 1842 has a .69 caliber smoothbore barrel that was 42 inches (110 cm) in length. The Model 1842 had an overall length of 58 inches (150 cm) and a weight of ten pounds (4,5 kg).

A great emphasis was placed on manufacturing processes for the Model 1842. It was the first small arm produced in the U.S. with fully interchangeable (machine-made) parts. Approximately 275,000 Model 1842 muskets were produced at manufactured at the Springfield and Harper's Ferry armories between 1844 and 1855. Model 1842 muskets were also made by private contractors. However, these were few in number. Some were made by A.H. Waters and B. Flagg & Co, both of Millbury, Massachusetts. These were distinguished by having brass furniture instead of iron. A.H. Waters went out of business due to a death of contracts in New England, and Flagg entered into a partnership with William Glaze of South Carolina. They relocated the machinery to the Palmetto Armory in Columbia, South Carolina. Instead of "V" over "P" over the eagle's head, these guns were usually stamped "P" over "V" over the palmetto tree. Most of the output of the Palmetto Armory went to the state militia of South Carolina. There were only 6,020 1842 type muskets produced on that contract and none were made there after 1853.

Like the earlier Model 1840, the Model 1842 was produced with an intentionally thicker barrel than necessary, with the assumption that it would likely be rifled later. As the designers anticipated, many of the Model 1842 muskets had their barrels rifled later so that they could fire the newly developed Minié ball. Tests conducted by the U.S. Army showed that the .69 caliber musket was not as accurate as the smaller bore rifled muskets. Also, the Minié Ball, being conical and longer than it was broad, had much more mass than a round ball of the same caliber. A smaller caliber Minié ball could be used to provide as much mass on target as the larger .69 caliber round ball. For these reasons, the Model 1842 was the last .69 caliber musket. The Army later standardized on the .58 caliber Minié Ball, as used in the Springfield Model 1855 and Springfield Model 1861.

Both the original smoothbore version and the modified rifled version of the Model 1842 were used in the American Civil War. The smoothbore version was produced without sights (except for a cast one on the barrel band). When Model 1842 muskets were modified to have rifled barrels, sights were usually added at the same time as the rifling.

The 1842 musket was effectively used during the American Civil War.

Springfield Model 1855

The Springfield Model 1855 was a rifle musket widely used in the American Civil War. It exploited the advantages of the new conical Minié ball, which could be deadly at over 1,000 yards. About 60,000 of these rifles were made, and it was a standard infantry weapon for Union and Confederates alike, until the Model 1861 supplanted it, obviating the use of the insufficiently waterproof Maynard tape primer.

Springfield Model 1861

The Springfield Model 1861 was a Minié-type rifled musket shoulder-arm used by the United States Army and Marine Corps during the American Civil War. Commonly referred to as the "Springfield" (after its original place of production, Springfield, Massachusetts), it was the most widely used U.S. Army weapon during the Civil War, favored for its range, accuracy, and reliability.


François Tamisier (French: [tamizje]; 22 January 1809, Lons-le-Saunier, Jura – 20 May 1880, Paris) was a French artillery captain of the 19th century. He invented various methods to improve the rifled gun, particularly ball grooves (not to be confused with the Minié ball).

William Greener

William Greener (1806–1869) was an English inventor and gunmaker. He developed a self-expanding bullet in 1835, an electric lamp in 1846 (patent specification 11076 of that year) some 33 years before Thomas Edison's patent in 1879. William Greener also invented the percussion system for firing cannon, made improvements to the miner's safety lamp and won a prize for designing a mechanical device by which four gates at railway/road level crossings could be opened or closed simultaneously. He also invented a self-righting lifeboat, which was exhibited with a rocket gun and several of his famous percussion muzzle-loading shotguns and rifles at the Great Exhibition of 1851, where he was awarded a gold medal.

The Greener bullet had a hollow base which was fitted with a plug which forced the base of the bullet to expand and catch the rifling. This allowed the bullet to fit easily into the muzzle of the rifle so that it could be easily loaded, but then expand upon firing so that as little of the explosion as possible leaked out the muzzle. Thus the bullet's velocity was not damped. Tests proved that Greener's bullet was extremely effective but it was rejected because, being two parts, it was judged too complicated to produce. The Minié ball, developed in 1847 by Claude-Étienne Minié, was based on Greener's ideas.

Greener was born in Felling, Northumberland, England. He died in 1869. His son, William Wellington Greener (1834-1921) trained under his father but later left to set up an independent firm, which took over most of Greener's business after his death.

French weapons of the 19th century
Small arms
Machine guns

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