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Top 5 Military Weapons of the 19th Century (1800-1900)

Updated on March 26, 2012

During the 19th Century many changes around the globe sparked the imagination of inventors. One area in particular, weaponry and tools of war, saw significant strides in technological advancement. During these times of significant change, the industrial revolution allowed for better and more effective weapons to be built. The soldiers and warriors of this day saw things on the battlefield that didn't exist in the wars long past. In addition to seeing improvements in older weaponry, they experienced the creation and the use of many new technologies including explosives, revolvers, and automatic machine guns.

Model 1860 Cavalry Saber

This dutiful blade was forged to be a weapon of choice of for both the Union and Confederate armies during the American Civil War. This sword had an overall length of 42 inches with a blade length of about 33 and 3/4 inches. This weapon was balanced and weighed only 2.25 pounds. The sword and beautiful scabbard only weighed slightly more than 3 and a half pounds all together. Another feature that made this a weapon of choice was the blade's nice, sweeping curvature. The handle also featured a knuckle guard to protect the welder's hands from enemy slices. The characteristics of this weapon made it the superior choice when it came to close quarters combat.


Congreve Rockets

The Congreve rocket was a military weapon invented by Sir Walter Congreve of the British Royal Army in 1804. The weapon was first used in 1807 when the town of Copenhagen was set ablaze by a hailstorm of over 14,000 rockets (about 300 were Congreve rockets). These rockets saw their first successful campaign during the war of 1812 at the battle of Bladenberg where Washington D.C. was burned.

These rockets were originally constructed with a 3 to 24 pound warhead attached to a black powder filled iron casing for propulsion. The rocket was attached to wooden post or rod that allowed it to be launched from a frame that allowed the soldier to set the firing angle. For its time, this weapon had great potential but was eventually discontinued because they were extremely expensive to build, difficult to construct properly, and were highly inaccurate when fired. In addition to this, these rockets had a firing range of only two miles and often detonated before they hit their target. Congreve rockets paved the way for newer and better rockets in the future.

The Colt Revolver

In 1836 a man named Samuel Colt invented the world's first revolving pistol. Although it was invented in 1836, the weapon didn't see much popularity until the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War. However, when its time came, this gun literally revolutionized the battlefield. It quickly began to replace swords and muskets as the weapon of choice for military men because it was so easy to use. The single most important advantage that this weapon offered a soldier was the fact that you could fire off 6 shots without reloading. Older muskets and single shot weapons took more than 20 seconds to reload after each shot. This weapon was clearly a game changer.


The Gatling Gun

The Gatling gun was the first weapon that was able fire multiple rounds automatically. This ferocious weapon was invented in 1861 by Richard Gatling. His original gun had 6 barrels mounted on a double wheeled carriage and could fire at an amazing rate of 200 rounds per minute. This weapon was operated by rotating a crank about a central cylinder. Versions of the Gatling gun could fire rounds ranging from 0.45 inches to 1 inch in diameter. By 1876, the latest Gatling gun was capable of firing at a rate of more than 1,200 rounds per minute. The Gatling gun first saw action on the battlefield during the American Civil War but was hardly used at this time. America utilized this weapon again during the Spanish-American War where it helped America win several battles. By the end of the 19th century, the M1895 Colt-Browning machine gun began to replace the Gatling gun because it was lighter, more accurate, and easier to operate.

Explosives (TNT and Dynamite)

TNT (trinitrotoluene) and dynamite were both invented during the 19th century. Explosives such as these played a major role in the railroad and mining industries, but they did see their fair share of military action. Combat engineers began using explosives to destroy enemy buildings and camps in the mid to late 1800s. However, due to the dangers and unreliable nature of these explosives, their use in warfare was secondary to other available weaponry and military tactics.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      this helped me with my paper. thank you

    • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Wanamaker 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      Marquis - I will check your list out. It was difficult to decide on only 5 and those weapons would definitely be on a Top 10 list.

    • Marquis profile image


      7 years ago from Ann Arbor, MI

      What, no cannon, or submarine? You need to see my list.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good hub, but about the cavalry saber, most cavalry in the American Civil War chose not to use their sabers and instead caried multiple revolvers. It was rare for cavalry to get into a hand to hand battle on horse back with other cavalry in the Civil War. Cavalry charges on horse back were also rare. Most cavalry were used as a screening, skirmishing force, and scouting force, not as a charging shock force to break infantry like how they were used back in the Napoleonic Wars. Many cavalry soldiers threw their sabers away for these reasons and personally bought more pistols, shotguns, and repeater carbines.

    • rjsadowski profile image


      8 years ago

      Good hub. People forget just how many inventions changed the course of history.

    • CWanamaker profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Wanamaker 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      ata1515 - Thank you! This was a fun one to write. It was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I learned a lot too.

    • ata1515 profile image


      8 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Great hub bringing together some of the best military inventions of the 19th century!


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