Skip to main content

The Rifled Musket

The Rifled Musket, adopted by the U.S. Army in 1858, represented a significant departure from previous weapons technology. In contrast to the notoriously inaccurate and short‐ranged smoothbore musket, the rifled musket featured helical grooves running the length of the barrel that caused a bullet to spin as it left the muzzle. The spinning projectile was less susceptible to air resistance and drop, and hence had a longer, flatter trajectory. Integral to the rifled musket's design was a conoidal‐cylindrical bullet, invented by French infantry captain Claude Minié (hence the Americanized name, minie ball). When fired, the exploding powder in the rifle's breech caused a shallow concavity in the bullet's butt end to expand, grip the rifling, and create spin.

During the Civil War, both sides used rifles with close order infantry tactics designed around smoothbores, which emphasized volume of fire rather than accuracy or distance. Rifles, however, greatly increased the range at which an opponent could be brought under effective fire, and magnified the length of time spent under that fire. Consequently, casualties—and the natural power of the defense—increased dramatically. Some Civil War generals recognized the problem and began experimenting with disordered attack formations that spread soldiers out in a more open, less vulnerable configuration. Most commanders, however, persisted in traditional tactics, and disordered attacks were not accepted as official army doctrine until after the war. The rifled musket itself was the last evolutionary step in muzzle‐loaded small arms, and was quickly superseded by breech‐loading rifles that fired jacketed, metal cartridge bullets.
[See also Army, U.S.: 1866–99; Tactics, Fundamentals.]


Robert M. Reilly , United States Military Small Arms, 1816–1865: the Federal Firearms of the Civil War, 1970.

T. R. Brereton

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"The Rifled Musket." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . 19 Feb. 2019 <>.

"The Rifled Musket." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . (February 19, 2019).

"The Rifled Musket." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved February 19, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.