In 1849, an officer in the French Army named Claude Etienne Minié developed this simple projectile and subsequently changed warfare forever. In what would become notorious for its battlefield brutality, this conical, hollow-bottomed lead bullet aptly named the Minié (pronounced min-yay) ball was first used sparingly among French soldiers in the Crimea, but the American Civil War saw its first use on a large scale. Before this time, rifles unlike smoothbore muskets were highly accurate and superiorly powerful but took time to load. To achieve its proper spin while in flight, the bullet had to be forcefully rammed over and through the barrel’s rifling – a series of spiral grooves within the barrel. A smoothbore’s barrel, which as the name suggests was smooth on the inside, was usually preferred because of its speed (a soldier could load and fire one approximately three times per minute). Of course, this speed sacrificed accuracy so smoothbores were generally en masse and at close range. Minié’s little bullet changed all of that combining the speed loading of a smoothbore with the accuracy and power of a rifle. Like a smoothbore musket ball, the Minié ball was cast from lead at a diameter slightly smaller than the gun barrel. This of course allowed it to fall freely down the barrel upon loading. It was when the gun fired, however, that the true genius of Minié’s invention materializes: the rapid expansion of powder gas underneath the Minié ball’s hollow base forced its soft lead apron outward thus tightening its fit and engaging the rifling as it traveled. A trained soldier could still fire off his three shots per minute just like he could with a smoothbore, but now he is able to pinpoint targets at a much greater range.
Note: The pronunciation of the Minié Ball (i.e. mini-ball) is actually an American corruption of what should have been pronounced as a “min-yay” ball - named for its creator and not to be confused with a mini (or miniature) ball.
Weaponry Wednesday: Each Wednesday we post an object (or group of objects) from the Charleston Museum’s diverse weapons collection. Many Weaponry Wednesday items may be on permanent exhibit in our armory or elsewhere in the museum, but some pieces rarely see exhibition, temporary or permanent, but are well worth sharing. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on WEAPONRY WEDNESDAY! Also, we always want to learn more about our collection - if you have some insights on a piece, please feel free to share! #WeaponryWednes