Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Full Metal Jackets and the Civil War
No, not the film. Rather, an interesting new article in the medical literature that examines the differences in wounds created by the Civil War Minie projectile and the full metal jacketed bullet of the Spanish-American War: "Wound ballistics: Minié ball vs. full metal jacketed bullets--a comparison of Civil War and Spanish-American War firearms," Military Medicine, April 2009, Vol. 174 (4):403-7 by PJ Dougherty (Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Michigan) and HC Eidt (Winn Army Community Hospital, Fort Stewart, GA).
The abstract describes the experiment and summarizes the conclusions:
OBJECTIVE: The advent of the full metal jacketed bullet in the late nineteenth century was thought to cause less severe battlefield wounds. This study compares the wounding characteristics of a reproduction rifle from the American Civil War to one of the Spanish-American War using the wound profile method.
METHODS: A 0.58 caliber rifled musket using Minié balls and a 0.30 caliber Krag-Jorgenson rifle using full metal jacketed bullets were fired into calibrated 10% ordnance gelatin blocks at a distance of 3 meters. Measured parameters included maximum temporary cavity, muzzle velocity, and the permanent track.
RESULTS: Maximum temporary cavities were significantly larger using the musket, averaging 121 mm (+/- 5.4) vs. 38.6 mm (+/- 8.8) (p <>
CONCLUSIONS: The rifled musket produced more severe wounds when compared to the Krag-Jorgenson rifle, as was clinically apparent to observers at the time of the Spanish-American War.
The article is interesting on a number of levels:
1) it includes a brief description of the evolution of the Minie and Krag-Jorgenson projectiles and the debate as to whether the full metal jacketed bullet would actually produce more or less severe wounds.
2) an interesting experiment that used battlefield dropped Minie bullets (to minimize metallurgical differences in reproductions) and an authentic Krag-Jorgenson rifle.
3) an excellent bibliography with references to period (Civil War and Spanish-American War) reports on wound ballistics. One of the most interesting is Griffith's 1890s experiments with human cadavers (rather than gelatin used in modern experiments) to examine wound ballistics.
I am contacting Drs. Dougherty and Eidt with hopes I can arrange an interview for my "Medical Department" column in The Civil War News. Stay tuned.