Pedersoli Pedersoli
Black powder
The 19th century concal bullet revolution

I really love the military history of the 19th century. This is the most advanced age of the muzzleloaders, with great ideas, and some crazy designs. Here is the short story of the last of the military stlye muzzleloadinmg bullets.


One of the most important military questions of the first decades of the 19th century was how to speed up the loading of rifled long arms. Rifles were in service since the 18th century in many European armies, but loading them with patched round ball slowed down the process. By those times a well trained soldier had to load and fire his musket 3 times per minute. (This is not an easy job, I can tell you. Tried it, but was not able to reach it.). The smooth bore was quick to load, but inaccurate, the rifle was accurate but slow to load. Many good minds tried to solve this paradox. Everybody knew that the rifle is the future, and the smooth bore is obsolete. Delvigne designed a chamber in the breech and the round ball was deformed by the ramrod on the shoulder of this chamber. The bullet was small – it could be loaded easily – but it was upset into the rifling. However the deformed ball lost the stability easily. Thouvenin improved the system with a pillar in the breech. He used a conical bullet, that was deformed by the ramrod also. The result was better, but the breech was hard to clean and the pillar was damaged by the burning gases quickly. There came captain Claude-Etienne Minié with his skirted bullet. His grease groove bullet had a deep cavity in the base. He closed the cavity with an iron cup, helping the symmetric expansion of the skirt when fired. There was no need to upset the bullet into the rifling by the ramrod, the gases did the job. The French rifle musket caliber was .708” - a heavy bullet required a heavy charge, resulting a heavy recoil. The British improved the system: copied the bullet, but reduced the caliber to .577”, resulting a lighter bullet, flatter trajectory. The British bullet was heavily undersized, did not have grease grooves but was fired with greased paper patching.

In the meantime the Hapsburg monarchy was searching for another solution. Vincenz Augustin perfected the Delvigne design with rounded chamber shoulders in 1842, and was one of the first to start using cylindro-conical bullets in 1847. In 1853 Joseph Lorenz designed his first compression type bullet for the 1849 M Kammerbüchse. The .71” Kammerbüchse rifling was not designed originally for such bullet, so he had to redesign the rifle. He reduced the caliber to 13,9 mm (.547”). The new bullet had two deep compression grooves. The 13,7 mm bullet was fired with greased paper patching, like the British Pritchett bullet.

In the meantime Jefferson Davis, US secretary of war of the Pierce administration sent military observers to Europe to collect info for modernizing the US Army as well. The American choice in 1855 was the mix of the French and British solution: near copy of the British caliber (.58”) and rifling, with the French grease groove bullet (without the iron plug). 

It is out of question that the most sophisticated muzzleloading bullets of the mid 19th century were the Minié and the Lorenz. But which one was better? First of all, they were both accurate and they were both capable of killing a human within the rifle range of the contemporary tactics. However the Lorenz had clearly some advantages. First its muzzle velocity was faster, as the design utilized the energy from the black powder much better. Its weight was less, resulting lower recoil. The trajectory was flatter: the Lorenz bullet left the bore with 375 m/s, while the Minié started its journey with 280-290 m/s. The Lorenz's penetration at longer distances was also better, because of the better ballistic coefficient, higher velocity, and smaller diameter.


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