Federal troopsand later Confederatesused advanced weapons: rifled muskets that fired spinning, cone-shaped minié balls; rapid-fire, breech-loading rifles; and rifled artillery. But both sides employed these weapons in traditional short-range fire between massed lines of soldiers, with deadly results.
The Minié Ball
Named for a French Army officer, minié balls were conical-shaped bullets with hollow bases. Exploding powder expanded the lead into the barrels rifling, giving the balls spin and making them fly farther and straighter.
Casualties of War
Neither the Union Army nor the Confederate Army was prepared to handle the staggering onslaught of battlefield wounded.
Many of the wars earliest casualties were left on the field for days before they died or were removed to hospitals. But both armies soon developed litter corps and ambulance services. They established mobile operating tables and field hospitals, and recruited more doctors.
Surgeons amputated shattered limbs, probed wounds to extract bullets with their bare fingers, and stitched bowels together. They neglected to wash their hands or sterilize instruments. Thousands of soldiers died from subsequent infections; but thousands survivedmaimed, but alive.
Spotsylvania Tree Stump
Until May 12, 1864, this shattered stump was a large oak tree in a meadow outside Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia. That morning, 1,200 entrenched Confederates, the front line of Robert E. Lees Army of Northern Virginia, awaited the assault of 5,000 Union troops from the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Twenty hours later, the once-peaceful meadow had acquired a new name, the Bloody Angle. The same fury of rifle bullets that cut down 2,000 combatants tore away all but twenty-two inches of the trees trunk.