Friday, January 22, 2010

The Minie Ball

If you read about the Civil War, what's striking is how terrible the gunshot wounds were. While other wars had horrific carnage (mostly from industrial-scale killing technology like machine guns, artillery, and bombing), we don't get the repeated, shocked descriptions of the result of small arms fire.

They were so terrible, in fact, that bullets like the Minié ball were banned by the Hague Conventions in 1899. The reason for the destructive impact, and for the ban is understandable if you consider this ammunition to essentially be a .58 caliber (15mm) hollow point round.


You can see the hollow base of most of these, which was one of the key parts of the design. The thin lead walls at the base of bullet were forced outwards by the force of the burning charge. This was the part of the bullet that grabbed the rifling of the barrel, imparting spin to the bullet. The bullet wasn't jacketed, so that the lead could (and did) massively deform under pressure, both at the point of ignition and the point of impact.

Instead of a clean .3 inch exit hole, the wound may have been an inch or more in diameter.

This video compares the results of the Minié ball to modern .30-06 FMJ. The results are illuminating and - if you use some imagination to cast yourself back to Pickett's Charge - horrifying.

7 comments:

Whit Spurzon said...

While my sample is not large enough to be conclusive, anecdotal evidence gathered from my own hunting experience suggests a big slow bullet kills better than a fast skinny one.

Three Bears w/45-70 = no tracking, complete penetration and large straight permanent wound channels.

Two Elk fell into their shadows when struck through the vitals with a big slow 45-70 bullet traveling at less than 1400 fps. As far as we know, the bullets are still going...

Two Elk, one 7mm Mag and 300 Win Mag, seem to absorb the shots, required tracking with minimal blood and finishing shots were needed. Neither shot exited nor traveled straight. Permanent wound channel was minimal, bloodshot meat extensive.

30-06 bear. Long track, minimal blood, did not recover...

DirtCrashr said...

It's like the .45ACP vs. 9mm all over again! :-)

Squeaky Wheel said...

So, one of my relatives totally invented the Minie ball. :-) I'm proud of it. Especially now that I've seen what it can do!

TrueBlueSam said...

I have used a .58 cal musket to take a deer, with 70 gr of FFG powder, and that load will thoroughly trash the boiler room of a deer. One thing I learned about Minie balls is that the musket needs a couple of fouling shots to shoot right, then your groups will be very consistent.

ASM826 said...

And you can just buy one. It's not a firearm according to federal law. (Who know what weird laws Massachusetts or the other People's Republics have). Anyway, down here, you mail order one like this http://www.cabelas.com/cabelas/en/templates/pod/horizontal-pod.jsp?_DARGS=/cabelas/en/common/catalog/pod-link.jsp_A&_DAV=MainCatcat602007-cat601141&rid=&indexId=cat601141&navAction=push&masterpathid=&navCount=6&parentType=index&parentId=cat601141&id=0006567 and they send it to the door.

Red Crow said...

Many people believe old guns are ineffective. Heavy? yes. Slow rate of fire? true. But there is nothing like a .58 musket (or.60 Belgian carbine in my case)if you want to be absolutely sure you kill whatever you're shooting at.

sanjeev said...

This conical lead bullet had two or three grooves and a conical cavity in its base. The gases, formed by the burning of powder once the firearm was fired, expanded the base of the bullet so that it engaged the rifling in the barrel. Thus, rifles could be loaded quickly and yet fired accurately.

These two minie balls from opposing sides met head-on during fierce fighting at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862.



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