Tag Archive | Civil War

Object: Bullet Mold

I-0192b (2)
Bullet Mold
United States
Materials: Metal

This object is a single cavity bullet mold for a .58 minié ball muzzle-loading rifle. According to the donor this mold was used during the American Civil War by a man named John Jacob Thomas. According to family tradition, Thomas immigrated from Switzerland and served with the Refugio Home Guard, and also served as a Refugio County constable in 1864.

In the spring of 1861 the first shots of the American Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter. Although, Texas had worked hard to join the Union in 1845 they were concerned by the election of Abraham Lincoln and believed he was a threat to slavery. Texans tried to get Sam Houston to call a convention but Houston was devoted to both the Union and Texas and refused to take any steps that would aid secession. A convention was eventually held and Texas seceded from the Union in March 1861. The war would last until 1865 and result in more 600,000 casualties, making it the bloodiest war ever fought by the United States.


Various types of Minié balls. The four on the right are provided with Tamisier ball grooves for aerodynamic stability. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Bullets like the ones made from this mold were called minié balls and were one of the reasons why the causality number was so high. The minié ball was one of many technological innovations during this time period. The minié ball was invented by a Frenchman named Claude-Etienne Minié. However, the French never adopted the bullet design. It was James Burton a man from Harper’s Ferry, Virginia who perfected the bullet in the United States. “Burton simplified the design…and developed a hollow-based, .58-caliber lead projectile that could be cheaply mass produced.” One person could manufacture about 3,000 bullets an hour. Different from a regular musket ball the minié ball was cylindrical in shape with a hollow base that expanded when fired. “By the mid-1850s, the fully evolved minié bullet made it possible to build an infantry weapon as easy to load as the old smoothbore musket but with the accuracy and range of a rifle. The term rifle-musket was used to show the weapon’s lethal combination. A soldier using one could fire up to six shots a minute, and with more time to aim could hit a four square-foot target at 500 yards. The minié ball was used by both the North and South.


Amputation kit, ca. 1870. Image from U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Although, the minié ball was a new ground-breaking invention, musket fire was responsible for a large amount of the casualties. Because of the relative softness of the bullets, they would flatten and deform on impact, creating a larger wound and more severe injuries. With a regular musket ball the entrance wound was usually the same size as the exit wound. However, with the minié ball the exit wound was much larger. Minié ball bullets were also more likely to break and splinter bone than a traditional musket ball, and in turn cause more damage to muscle and tissue. Almost all direct hits from a minié ball were deadly, though some soldiers did survive.

The soldiers who survived being hit by one of these bullets would be taken to army surgeons, typically encamped near the battlefield. Cleaning contaminated wounds was time consuming and sometimes did not work. In a battle environment and a mounting number of injured men, amputation was sometimes the only option. An amputation was more successful if done before the wound became infected. With the poor sanitation available at the front, infection was a common problem during the war and caused twice as many deaths as the battle wounds themselves. One reason rate of infection was so high was because it was not yet common practice to sterilize medical equipment prior to surgery, and the concept of germ theory had not been completely accepted. Even though Civil War surgeons saved more lives than not, they had a bad reputation amongst the soldiers and were often called butchers. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

The following video shows how soldiers made paper cartridges for the .58 minié ball muzzle-loading rifle.

Additional Sources:

Davis, William C., and Russ A. Pritchard. The Fighting Men of the Civil War. New York: Gallery Books, 1989.

Dew, Charles B. 2001. Apostles of disunion: southern secession commissioners and the causes of the Civil War. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Howey, A. W. (1999, 10). The widow-maker. Civil War Times Iillustrated, 38, 46-51+.

Rutkow, Ira M. 2005. Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War surgery and the evolution of American medicine. New York: Random House.

Wooster, Ralph A. 1999. Civil War Texas: a history and a guide. [Austin]: Texas State Historical Association. 

Object: Drumstick holder

I-0098a front

Holder, drumstick
Date: 1863 – 1898
Material: Bronze

I-0098a backAccording to the donor, this drumstick holder was the property of John Lincoln Clem, the Drummer Boy of Chickamauga, who fought in the Civil War.  The drumstick holder is made of bronze and can hold two drumsticks.  It is inscribed on the back: “Johnnie Clem, the Drummer boy of Chickamauga with the regards of W.S. Rosencrans, Gen’l Comm.”


Photo via: Samuel Sohm, civilwartalk.com

John Lincoln Clem was born as John Joseph Klem and was born in Newark, Ohio on August 3, 1851.  Clem attempted to join the Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, however, the Third Ohio, and many other units rejected Clem because of how young he was; Clem was not even ten years old yet.  Clem joined the Twenty-Second Michigan Infantry Regiment when it marched through Newark. Since Johnny Clem was too young to join the army officially, officers of the Twenty-Second Michigan contributed money to pay him a monthly wage. Soldiers provided him with a gun and uniform and trained him to be a drummer boy. Clem was finally allowed to enlist in the United States Army in May 1863, when he was only twelve.  It was during the Battle of Chickamauga that Clem gained a reputation.  The Battle of Chickamuagua was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, second only to Gettysburg.   The Battle of Chickamauga took place from September 18 to September 20, 1863.  General William Rosecrans of Ohio was commanding the Union’s Army of the Cumberland with General Braxton Bragg commanding the Confederate’s Army of Tennessee. The Union army numbered approximately sixty thousand men, while the Confederates had forty-three thousand soldiers.  Confederate forces were able to drive General William Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland from the field.  A popular legend claims that during the retreat, a Confederate Colonel ordered Clem to surrender; instead Clem raised his rifle and killed the Colonel.

The following video documentary discusses the Battle of Chickamauga in greater detail.

Clem was discharged from the military at the age of 13. In 1870 Clem attempted to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point, but failed the entrance exam.  President Ulysses S. Grant then appointed him second lieutenant in the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry.  Clem graduated from artillery school at Fort Monroe in 1875 and then transferred to the quartermaster department in 1882.  Clem spent a number of his army years in Texas.  From 1906 to 1911 he was chief quartermaster at Fort Sam Houston.  After retirement he remained in Washington for a few years and then returned to San Antonio.  Clem continued to serve in the United States Army until he retired in 1915 at the rank of Brigadier General; he was the last Civil War veteran to retire form active service.  One year after retirement an act of Congress promoted Clem to the rank of Major GeneralClem died on May 13, 1937 in San Antonio, TX and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery [Jennifer McPhail, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud].

Additional Resources:

Casamer, Douglas M., and Linda S. Champion. 2006. The history of the Michigan 22nd Infantry Regiment and the men who served. United States: s.n.].

Garrison, Webb B. 1988. A Treasury of Civil War Tales. Nashville, Tenn: Rutledge Hill Press.

Lamers, William M. 1961. The Edge of Glory; a Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, U.S.A. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Sifakis, Stewart. 1988. “Clem, John Lincoln (1851-1937)”. Who Was Who in the Civil War.

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