You are on page 1of 5

MILITARY MEDICINE, 174, 4:403, 2009

Wound Ballistics: Minié Ball vs. Full Metal
Jacketed Bullets—A Comparison of Civil War and
Spanish-American War Firearms
Paul Joseph Dougherty, MD*; MAJ Herbert Collins Eidt, MC USA†

ABSTRACT 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 < 0.001). Bullet weights were also significantly larger,
totaling 29.7 grams (± 1.3) for the musket vs. 14.18 grams (± 0.01) for the rifle ( p < 0.01). Using grains, bullet weights
were 458.3 grains (±20 grains; range 435.2–486.1) vs. 218.8 grains (± 0.15; range 218.7–219). Muzzle velocities of the
musket were significantly less when compared with the rifle, averaging 944 fps (± 116) vs. 1852 fps (± 22.5), respectively
( p < 0.001). 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.

INTRODUCTION
The late nineteenth century saw the development of a “full
metal jacketed bullet” as a means to improve military firearms
by increasing the range and accuracy over solid lead bullets.
The changes in bullet design were also thought to have an
effect on the types of wounds seen with battle casualties. When
comparing casualties from the American Civil War to the
Spanish-American War, observers noted less severe wounds.
Borden also noted a decreased reported mortality among hospitalized patients with extremity wounds: from 13.8% to 1.6%
(lower extremity) and 6.5% to 0.2% (upper extremity) when
comparing casualty statistics of the Civil War to those of the
Spanish-American War.1
Bullet development occurred rapidly in the nineteenth
century compared to any other time period. Early nineteenth
century weapons were usually smoothbore muskets that
fired round lead balls of about 0.50 to 0.75 inches in diameter. Smoothbore muskets were not accurate beyond about
50 yards. Although accuracy could be improved with the use
of a rifled barrel, the fit of the bullet/barrel needed to be tight
to impart a spin on the projectile. This made reloading too
slow for the standard military arm. In the mid 1840s a bullet was developed by Captain Claude E. Minié of France that
allowed for practical use of a rifled barrel for the standard
military arm. The bullet was cone shaped and had a hollow
base that expanded when fired, thus engaging the rifling of
a barrel to impart a spin on the bullet to stabilize it in flight.
*Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Michigan, Ann
Arbor, MI 48109.
†Winn Army Community Hospital, 1061 Harmon Ave., Fort Stewart,
GA 31314.
This manuscript was received for review in June 2007. The revised
manuscript was accepted for publication in November 2008.

This allowed the bullet to be easily loaded from the muzzle,
yet created a tight fit to engage rifling when the weapon was
fired. The conoid bullets varied in size and weight, but were
generally between 0.54 and 0.58 inches and weighed approximately 29.1–35 grams (450–540 grains).2,3 Use of the conoid
bullets, or Minié balls, changed the tactics of mid-nineteenth
century wars, including the American Civil War. Surgeons
also noticed there was increased wounding sometimes seen
with Minié balls.4,5 Otis described the increased destructiveness of the Minié ball when comparing wounds made with
Minié balls compared with the older musket ball.5
In 1881 a full metal jacketed bullet was developed and
combined with a bottlenecked cartridge and smokeless powder by Major Rubin, a Swiss Army Ordnance officer. The
full metal jacketed bullet of smaller diameter was fired at an
increased velocity, allowing it to be more accurate over longer ranges.
The wounding effects of the newer full metal jacketed bullets were controversial at the time. Some felt the newer full
metal jacketed bullets would cause increased tissue disruption
and more severe wounds,6,7 whereas others felt the wounds
would be less severe.1,8–14
A method of reliably predicting the effects of the projectile-tissue interaction was developed in the 1980s at Letterman
Army Institute of Research by using ordnance gelatin.15,16 This
study uses the wound-profile method to compare the wounding effects of two standard infantry shoulder-fired weapons
used during the Civil War (Replica Colt 1861 rifled musket
firing 0.58-inch Minié balls) and the Spanish-American War
(Krag-Jorgenson rifle firing 0.30-inch full metal jacketed bullets). To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study that
compares representative arms from the two conflicts to document the differences seen.

MILITARY MEDICINE, Vol. 174, April 2009
Downloaded from publications.amsus.org: AMSUS - Association of Military Surgeons of the U.S. IP: 097.123.014.030 on Nov 10, 2014.
Copyright (c) Association of Military Surgeons of the U.S. All rights reserved.

403

was measured using an Oehler 33 series chronograph (Oehler Instruments. This technique is done by firing shots into 10% ordnance gelatin from a distance of 3 meters. Action for the Krag-Jorgenson rifle. Projectiles for the rifled musket were original 3-ring Minié balls (Fig.S. which were loaded with 60 grains by volume Pyrodex powder (Pyrodex.Association of Military Surgeons of the U.030 on Nov 10.014. 1) and an original 1895 Krag-Jorgenson rifle (Springfield.58 caliber musket bullets.15–17 The mixture was heated to 39°C. Firearms used were a replica Colt (Hartford. a 0. . 2014. Type 250A ordnance gelatin (Knox and Kind. Permanent cavity was calibrated by measuring the diameter of the projectiles’ path in gelatin. Shawnee Mission. cartridge case.org: AMSUS . representative of those used in the American Civil War and the Spanish-American War. 2). Lock for the rifled musket. Temporary cavity is calculated MILITARY MEDICINE. All rights reserved. Connecticut) 1861 rifled musket (0.58 caliber) (Fig. Muzzle velocity. Original 0. FIGURE 4. Full-Metal Jacketed Bullets MATERIALS AND METHODS Two shoulder-fired weapons. The ordnance gelatin used in this technique approximates damage seen in soft tissue. Austin. 3). were compared using the wound-profile method. 0. Hodgen Powder Company. Sioux City. To calibrate blocks of gelatin. while the recovered 0. A minimum space of 3 meters is necessary to provide space for the chronograph switches. Pennsylvania) (Fig. Texas). poured into 20 × 20 × 50 cm molds. Copyright (c) Association of Military Surgeons of the U. The calibration was away from the planned shot line and did not interfere with the results. Iowa) was made by adding powder to cold water for a 10% by weight solution.30-caliber projectiles were weighed.31 gram BB was fired into one corner of the gelatin at 575–605 feet per second. 404 after pouring. Kansas).S. Unfired (left) and fired 0. FIGURE 2. and cooled to 4°C. The BB should penetrate 7–10 centimeters to assure consistency.amsus. Five shots from each weapon were fired into the calibrated ordnance gelatin blocks. The gel was ready to use at 36 hours FIGURE 3. and recovered bullet. The gelatin was allowed to sit and then was removed from the mold.123.30–40 caliber ammunition (1901 Frankfort Arsenal. End points measured were permanent and temporary cavity along the bullets’ path in ordnance gelatin. 174.Wound Ballistics: Minié Ball vs.30 caliber cartridge. IP: 097. FIGURE 1. Vol. in feet per second (fps). Projectiles of the musket were weighed before and after the shots. usually outlined by lubricant or powder as the projectile passes through the gelatin. showing the magazine feed for cartridges. The projectile tissue interaction in the gelatin was examined over likely depth of penetration for a thigh (15 cm) to represent a worst-case scenario for an extremity wound. 4) was used for the Krag-Jorgenson rifle. April 2009 Downloaded from publications. Massachusetts) (Fig.

3.4.12.58-caliber musket (top) and 0. All rights reserved. The clinical effects of the new full metal jacketed bullet were controversial at the time they were introduced.30-caliber rifle (bottom). despite a near doubling of muzzle velocity seen with the rifle.2–31. the Krag-Jorgenson bullet averaged 918 mm (range 865–930 mm) total penetration.030 on Nov 10. 5). The permanent cavity represents the area touched by the projectile as it passes through. Vol. with relatively minimal disruption of gelatin occurring in the first 30 cm. The maximum temporary cavity averaged 123 mm (range 115–135 mm). 9.5–15). the effects of the temporary cavity may have been exaggerated.2– 486. Elastic tissue. tested the new rifle by firing 24 shots into human cadavers at various ranges.11 He felt that the newer bullet was more humane in that it would account for fewer amputations than the older rifle. 2014. range 14. the amount of tissue damage is proportional to the size of the projectile.3 mm (±2.S. this is the first study to document the differences between arms of the Civil War and Spanish-American War to correlate the surgeons’ findings of both conflicts. 7.01). averaging 121 mm (±5. The temporary cavity is a transient lateral displacement of tissue. 174.17–14.2 mm (±3. Using the entire path through the gelatin.4 gram (500 grain) bullets of the model 1873 Springfield rifle) and found that the new projectile deformed less. Using grains. 30–53) ( p < 0.18 grams (±0.10. totaling 29.13 The Springfield rifle LaGarde tested was the standard infantry rifle from 1873 until the adoption of the Krag-Jorgenson rifle and was different from the rifle used in our study.005). the musket’s bullet traveled an average maximum distance of 685 mm (range 500–780 mm) through the gelatin. Comparison of data between the Krag-Jorgenson rifle and the rifled musket was made by using the Student’s t-test. and appeared less destructive than the older rifle. Full-Metal Jacketed Bullets by measuring radial splits from the bullet path in the ordnance gelatin. range. range. This occurred at an average penetration of 485 mm (range 446–510 mm). Griffiths. Captain Louis A. may be pushed aside and bruised. Tissue in this area should heal up uneventfully.45 caliber.S. In contrast. 405 . averaging 944 fps (±116. 115–130) vs. outside of the average thickness of a torso. the Minié ball caused more disruption of ordnance gelatin with both permanent and temporary cavity over the depth of penetration associated with a thigh and torso. 38. 14. Wound profile of the 0. range 218. Griffiths did not fire comparative shots using Minié balls nor did he comment on the differences between live tissue and cadaveric tissue.S.amsus. Army Medical Department in the 1890s. range.8 grains (±0. may become fractured by this mechanism. Maximum temporary cavities within the first 15 cm of gelatin were also significantly larger.014.2. to complete this study in 1892.001). as opposed to the first 15 cm as listed in the previous paragraph (Fig. 218.5) vs.30 caliber.7 grams (±1. such as skeletal muscle. To the FIGURE 5. In the present study. such as bone or liver. range. For soft tissue with an intact vascular supply. LaGarde was sent to Frankfort Arsenal. 1820–1878). with an average maximum temporary gelatin cavity of 128 mm (range 110–157mm).8 The U.7–219). respectively ( p < 0. 1852 fps (± 22. 809–1085) vs. authors’ knowledge. 14.3 gram (220 grain) prototype Krag-Jorgenson bullets and 37 of the standard 0.org: AMSUS . Thus. Cadaveric tissue is relatively inelastic and stiff when compared to live tissue. His observations in treating war wounded confirmed his earlier findings on the effects of the newer bullets. range 28.8. a prominent surgeon in the U. The maximum temporary cavity for the Krag-Jorgenson rifle occurred at almost 50 cm. Both the permanent and temporary cavity measurements were significantly larger through the first 30 cm with the Minié balls when compared to the rifle.Wound Ballistics: Minié Ball vs. The clinical material used in LaGarde’s book Gunshot Injuries drew heavily from the experience of the American Civil War (and Minié balls) for comparison to the Spanish-American War (and both the MILITARY MEDICINE. April 2009 Downloaded from publications.6mm (± 8.Association of Military Surgeons of the U.7. range.1) vs.6. bullet weights were 458. LaGarde then served as a major in the Spanish-American War at a base hospital in Cuba. Maximum permanent tract diameters in the first 15 cm of the musket wound track were significantly greater than the rifle. RESULTS Muzzle velocities of the rifled musket were significantly less when compared with the Krag-Jorgenson rifle.5. penetrated farther.01. He fired shots into human cadavers (52 of a 0. Inelastic tissue.15. Copyright (c) Association of Military Surgeons of the U.001). averaging 16. respectively ( p = 0. Army Surgeon General’s Office sponsored studies to determine just what effect the newer bullets would have compared to the old. DISCUSSION The wound-profile method is a standard technique used to predict soft tissue wounds and its use has been accepted to predict the wounding potential of a variety of small arms. He concluded that the newer full metal jacketed bullet was more destructive than the Minié balls and would cause an increased proportion of dead or wounded. 32. range 435. IP: 097. range. The maximum temporary cavity was achieved at an average of 118 mm (range 100–150 mm) depth.S.123.3 grains (±20 grains.19) ( p < 0. 14–20) vs. Bullet weights were also significantly larger. Pennsylvania.

Copyright (c) Association of Military Surgeons of the U.030 on Nov 10. which may bias the killed-to-wounded ratio cited by Borden. Dougherty. IP: 097. MILITARY MEDICINE. . preservation of a limb with an open fracture gradually became the accepted technique during the later stages of the Civil War in certain cases. Proc Assoc Mil Surg 1895. were less aerodynamically shaped. 7. which was the purpose of this article. 172: 153–60. Wounds to the soft tissue only were also treated nonoperatively.10 Various factors are involved with gunshot wounds. All rights reserved. 1893. The muzzle velocity of the KragJorgenson rifle was nearly double that of the rifled musket shots (average 1852 fps vs. Castle. Surg Gynecol Obstet 1991. We limited this variable by using a standardized tissue simulant that approximates wounds seen in skeletal muscle. Proc Assoc Mil Surg 1894.org: AMSUS . 11. CONCLUSION In the present study. carbolic acid. Report to the Surgeon General for the Secretary of War. Finally. Boulder. Dougherty PJ: Theodor Kocher and the scientific foundation of wound ballistics. Vol. LaGarde L: Gunshot Injuries. 1996. yet is associated with less destructive wounds in both the present study and historical data. less disruption of soft tissue occurred with the use of full metal jacketed bullets than Minié balls. 1982. Borden WC: Military Surgery. Government Printing Office. and composition are all factors. 7: 505–20. we were able to control for variations in tissue type. Surgical techniques had changed in the management of extremity wounds from the Civil War to the SpanishAmerican War. ACKNOWLEDGMENT The authors would like to thank Paul M. and by some authors the most important factor. 2. Griffith JD: Some effects of bullets. 1990. Edwards WB: Civil War Guns. 4: 382–400. shape. The results cited by Borden from the Civil War are casualties reported to the Army Medical Museum and do not necessarily reflect all patients who were killed outright (killed in action). Coates EJ. Government Printing Office. For this reason. Washington.123. but the transition from Minié balls to full metal jacketed bullets may have also played a role. April 2009 Downloaded from publications. The two projectiles used in this study were different in all bullet variables.S. 174.18 Casualties from the Spanish-American War were accounted for more accurately than the volunteer reports of the Civil War made to the Army Medical Museum.Association of Military Surgeons of the U. for the 1861 rifled musket. Rather than amputation. Published10 muzzle velocities for this weapon were slightly higher (2000 and 1965 fps) than reported in our series (average 1852 fps). Griffith JD: Experiments with the new United States (Krag-Jorgenson) Army rifle-protection of the soldier. 5: 221–33. wounded (wounded in action). Westview Press. Full-Metal Jacketed Bullets Krag-Jorgenson and Spanish 7-mm Mauser). were also treated by amputation. NJ. Additionally. Thomas Publications. New York. There are some important findings for those who study gunshot wounds today.14 One limitation of this study is comparing the results of combat casualty statistics from the Civil War to the SpanishAmerican War. Thomas DS: An Introduction to Civil War Small Arms.19 However.014. By using ordnance gelatin as a tissue stimulant. During the Spanish-American War.Wound Ballistics: Minié Ball vs. the type of tissue struck influences the type of injury seen and the patient’s outcome. Bethesda. William Wood. 1901.S. AMSUS. For extremity wounds. 1883. Less severely wounded soldiers may be more represented in Spanish-American war figures. Huntington GC: Medical and Surgical History of the Rebellion. with only dressing changes as a treatment until the wound had healed. also treated injured soldiers from the SpanishAmerican War and found that the wounds to soft tissue were less severe when the newer bullets were used. William Borden. 2014.1 This allowed for wounds through the soft tissue only to be treated nonoperativley in more cases than had occurred during the Civil War.18. pp 73–95. Fiscal Year. treatment of extensive soft tissue wounds. Otis GA. The projectile diameter. Washington. CO. This decreased mortality is usually attributed to improvements in medical care during this period. Hutchinson JF: Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross. The bullets used with the Civil War rifled musket weighed on average twice as much. JD for providing comments on the protocol and his technical support during this study.amsus. The authors attempted to reproduce the conditions in the nineteenth century as closely as possible. 10. probably because of the effects of aging on the bullet powder. Increased velocity is often cited as a factor. PA. 944 fps). Vol III. we used battlefield pick up bullets to minimize differences in modern and Civil War metallurgy. we used a standardized technique that approximates injury of soft tissues. and those who died after hospital admission (died of wounds). Nicholas Senn. He also noted that improved surgical techniques of asepsis or antisepsis contributed to the improved results. 8. Army surgeon. 1916. 5. LaGarde LA: Report of a Series of Experiments Conducted at Franfort Arsenal. Secaucus. antisepsis and the germ theory influenced surgical technique. a surgeon on active duty from Chicago University. Gloves.S. our findings only apply to soft tissue wounds. Fackler ML. and were made entirely of soft lead. 6. noted that the wounding effects in soft tissue of the full metal jacketed bullet were less when compared to older Minié balls. LaGarde did not directly test the Minié ball/rifled musket to the full metal jacketed bullet used in the Krag-Jorgenson. Gettysburg. 9.18.19 By the Spanish-American War. weight. We used original ammunition in an original Krag-Jorgenson rifle. but it was probably on the order of 900–1000 fps. MD. and improved anesthesia made surgical treatment safer than during the Civil War. 4. Chapter XII “Shot Wounds” pp 687–709. Ed 2. It is unclear just what the average muzzle 406 velocity was for the rifled musket during the Civil War. Proc Assoc Mil Surg 1897. causing increased wounding. REFERENCES 1. such as those caused by gun shot. a U. MD. Girard AC: The latest experiments on the effect of small calibre rifles. In: Connection with the Ordnance Department of the US Army. 3. Part II.

17. 259: 2730–6. 1900. LaGarde LA: Remote effects of gunshot wounds by jacketed projectiles. 13. 19. 1877. Part II. Proc Assoc Mil Surg.123. American Medical Association Press. Government Printing Office. 16. Kussman and Maj Gen Anderson present the Ray E.S. RADM Galson and AMSUS Executive Director. All rights reserved. 1899. Floyd VADM Adam Robinson and Maj Gen Anderson present the Outstanding Federal Healthcare Excellence Award to RADM Nancy J. 9: 218–9. Vol II. Malinowski JA: The wound profile: a visual method for quantifying gunshot wound components.Association of Military Surgeons of the U. Fackler ML: Wound ballistics.amsus. pp 55–1023. IP: 097. 8: 141–7. USPHS (Ret. LaGarde LA: Remarks upon the gunshot wounds of the reduced caliber rifles in the Santiago Campaign. 14. A review of common misconceptions. J Trauma 1985.030 on Nov 10. Lescavage MILITARY MEDICINE. Malinowski JA: Ordnance gelatin for ballistic studies. Vol III: pp 1–639. Fackler ML.Wound Ballistics: Minié Ball vs. Otis GA: Medical and Surgical History of the Rebellion. 1883. 1900. Vol. Fackler ML. 18. Brown Award to James R. Full-Metal Jacketed Bullets 12. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 1988.S. Maj Gen George Anderson present the Joel T. Washington. Otis GA. Chicago. Washington. 15. JAMA 1988. 407 . Government Printing Office. Senn N: Medico-Surgical Aspects of the Spanish-American War. pp 97– 104. Huntington GC: Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. Boone Award to CAPT Gary Blair. April 2009 Downloaded from publications.) for many years of outstanding service to AMSUS Dr. 2014. Proc Assoc Mil Surg. Copyright (c) Association of Military Surgeons of the U.org: AMSUS . 174. 9: 232–41.014. Part II. 25: 522–9.