Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Minie Ball

I've sent some time reading about weapons and weaponry. One of the things that I have wondered about was the Minie Ball. Now, I know what a Minie ball is....but why was it shaped the way it was, why did it do the damage that it did, what was the purpose of this bullet? And so many other questions. So I did a little research. So many questions.....

Well, I hit the Internet....what a wonderful (and awful) tool. And I learned some interesting things about Minie Balls. First, here is a picture of what they look like.
It's important to know what they look like in order to understand why they did what they did.

This bullet was a conical shaped projectile with a hollowed out base. The bullet and the gunpowder were placed in a paper "cartridge" which made loading the gun easy. When the gun was fired, the gases from the gunpowder got captured in the hollow section and caused the bullet to expand. When it expanded, the bullet was forced to touch the sides of the barrel of the gun. This barrel was rifled (had circular lines on the side which helped spin the bullet on its way out of the gun) and by expanding, the bullet was forced to spin. Think on terms of a football....when you throw it without a spin, you have no control of it. When you spin it, you can throw it more accurately. Once the bullet left the barrel of the gun, it was spinning, giving the gun more accuracy and a longer range with which to hit. The Union minie balls had three grooves on the bottom of the exterior of the bullet and the Confederate minie balls had two bands of grooves. This was the basic rule of thumb for a minie ball.

Now that we know what a minie ball is and how it works, let take a little look into the background of this particular bullet. This was co-designed by Capt. Claude Etienne Minie of the French army. He built on the design of Henri-Gustave Delvigne. Delvigne had designed an early version of the minie ball but it was larger and just didn't work as well. So, Minie got ahold of his design and tweaked it, made it smaller, used soft lead and was able to come up with a bullet that did just what they wanted it to do....shot long, fast, and deadly.

The minie ball was notorious for destroying bone. When the bullet hit bone, the bone usually disintegrated. Here is a photo of a bone that I found that shows a minie ball hit. When a bone was destroyed by one of these bullets, there was very little that a doctor could do for the patient....just amputate. This is usually when infection set in and people died.
Overall, the minie ball seemed like a good idea....and it probably was. It was dangerous....but what bullet isn't? After reading up on this, now I get a much better idea of just what a minie ball is, what it did, the history, and results.


  1. I was brought to your blog when I Googled "minie ball." My great-grandfather, Patrick Lynch, who was a Private in the Union Army (Company E, 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery) was hit with a minie ball June 1, 1864 at Cold Harbor, VA and it "fractured" his humerus bone as it passed through his arm. So many had arms and legs amputated because of this minie ball, and subsequently died of infection. He was lucky and was able to keep his arm but the wound took over a year to heal. He was discharged in May 1865 with disablilty.

    I have read your posts on Cold Harbor and will re-read them again and again to absorb all you have given us with your research. And I do not plan to limit myself to just Cold Harbor! Thanks. Tom