WEAPONS

History of firearms: Captain Minié ball

3 January
An invention that played a vital role in the Crimean and American Civil wars

The Minié ball significantly revolutionised infantry tactics in the middle of the 19th century; it was the product of the joint efforts of Claude-Etienne Minié, a French Army captain, and Henri-Gustave Delvigne, an armourer. In 1847, Minié improved the design of Delvigne's conical ball, which had been created for muzzle-loading rifles. At first glance, this improvement was quite simple: it included a conical hollow in the ball base, with a metal cap inserted into it. However, it helped achieve particularly impressive results. Old round bullets and cylindro-conoidal bullets were loaded into the barrel with a considerable effort and got deformed in grooves. Gunpowder residue and lead traces from bullets built up in the barrel, making the loading difficult after only a few shots, and the rifle barrel had to be cleaned out. The hollow part of the Minié balls was expanded by powder gases when shooting, so that the skirt pressed into the grooves. This meant that the diameter of the bullet could be slightly less than the diameter of the barrel along the bottom of the grooves. It made the loading easier and faster with less lead built up in the barrel. In addition, the skirt pressing into the grooves improved obturation, reducing powder gases along the bottom of the grooves and thereby improving the burning of the powder charge.

balle minie.jpg

France adopted a rifle designed for Minié balls in 1851 and the British adopted a similar system two years later. In 1861, the US Army accepted for service the Springfield M1861 with Minié balls, which was a muzzle-loading rifle that used a percussion cap to fire.

Minie Rifle.jpg

Minié balls were widely used in two major conflicts: the Crimean war from 1853 to 1856 and the American Civil War. The Russian Army struggled during the Crimean War against the long range rifles used by the French and the British Armies, which were considerably more precise. The range of the Russian army's smoothbore rifles was up to 300 steps, while rifled guns with Minié balls could shoot up to one thousand steps. English and French enemy troops could strike when approaching the battleground, defeating even distanced reserve forces. The Russian weapons were unsuccessful in all the Crimean campaign battles at Alma, Inkerman, and Chernaya rivers. The negative experience of this campaign prompted the Russian Army to rearm with new weapon systems with rifled barrels.

Enfield P1853.jpg

The features of Minié-type balls differed slightly depending on the country and the time. For example, the Pattern 1853 Enfield used by the British during the Crimean campaign was a 0.577 inch (15 mm) calibre. Weighing about 34 grammes and with a gunpowder charge of 4.5 grammes, a ball could travel up to 270 m/s. As conical bullets maintained their velocity on a trajectory better than round balls used in the smooth-bored muskets, Minié balls caused much more damage.

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