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Civil War armies were made up of soldiers who fought on foot (Infantry) and those who fought on horseback (Cavalry).


At the outset of the civil war, infantry regiments of foot soldiers were made up of one third pikemen and two thirds musketeers, but as the war progressed armies relied increasingly on the firepower of musketeers.



Photo of man in civil war costume aiming a musket towards the camera
Civil War Musketeer

Matchlock muskets were cheap and heavy with a four-foot-long barrel and a killing range of around 100 yards. Muskets were loaded with individual charges of gunpowder that hung in wooden bottles from a belt worn across the body.

Musketeers carried a smouldering piece of rope or ‘match’ to ignite the gun’s charge.

Lead bullets were either made commercially or by soldiers themselves, using moulds and nippers. Lack of standardisation meant bullets might need shaving or even gnawing to fit the gun’s barrel. These weapons were unreliable, inaccurate and slow to reload but, with practice, musketeers firing together in successive ranks could create an effective shock and keep up constant fire. Short swords were also carried, although the heavy club end of a musket provided a useful close-range weapon, powerful enough to knock a soldier from his horse.


Photo of man dressed in civil war breastplate and helmet and holding a wooden pike
Civil War Pikeman

Varying from 16 to 18 feet in length, pikes could be presented in a terrifying array of angled steel spikes to provide an effective defence against charging cavalry. Steel plates at the end of the long ash poles protected their points from being cut off during battlefield manoeuvres. Heavy armour, including leg guards (tassets), gradually fell out of use.


Civil war pikeman's armour displayed on a wooden stand
Civil War Pikeman's Armour



Metal helmet worn by Civil War cavalry soldiers displayed on a metal stand
Civil War Cavalry Helmet

High speed cavalry tactics meant heavy armour had fallen out of use and, at most, cavalry soldiers wore a back and breast plate and helmet. A thick leather ‘buffcoat’, worn under armour, offered further protection and comfort. Cavalry guns, either a carbine strapped across the body or pistols in holsters or tied to the wrist, had a flintlock mechanism more suited to use on horseback. Pistols were short-range weapons, not accurate beyond around 7 yards and ideally discharged at point blank range against the body.

Cavalry soldiers were better paid than the infantry but were expected to feed and stable horses at their own expense.


Named after a gun called a ‘dragon’ but now carrying a flintlock musket, dragoons were mobile infantry soldiers who generally dismounted to fight. They had a special role on the battlefield, sent ahead to secure bridges for instance or hide behind hedges to ambush the enemy.