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: MiniƩ 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 MiniƩ 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.


Jenn said...

Hey there this week on Collectors' Quest I am featuring people who collect all kinds of militaria. One guy has a huge collection of civil war soldier portraits and another has a whole WWII room. Check it out! http://www.collectorsquest.com/featured-week/Militaria.html

brandon.samuels@timelines.com said...

Hello Jim,

Excellent blog and really interesting post. My name is Brandon Samuels and I am glad that I came across your blog. I thought that you might want to know about a new web site, timelines.com. The idea is to create an interactive historical record of anything and everything, based on specific events that combine to form timelines. We're trying to achieve a sort of user-created multimedia history, in which no event is too big or too small to record. Feel free to create events using excerpts and/or links from your blog. You will generate traffic and awareness of your blog, and you will be contributing to the recording of history.

With your interest in the American Civil War, you should check out this timeline. So far it is a work in progress and we would definitely love for more people to contribute. http://timelines.com/topics/american-civil-war.

Give us a try and let me know your thoughts.

Brandon Samuels