Realistic .58 Caliber Ball Ammunition
living history interpreters, our main goal is to sustain
an illusion while at an event. However, all this work
in not made for the spectators' sake. Rather, it is for
our benefit. The more realistic an environment we create
around our camp and on the field, the better experience
we will have. If we succeed in this task, the spectators
will also be well served, as they will see the most realistic
possible portrayal of the daily life of a Confederate
illusion includes historically accurate clothing, accouterments,
personal items and weapons. Many of us go to great lengths
to insure our uniforms and personal items are indistinguishable
from the genuine article. Unfortunately, this is less
true of the "business end" of being a soldier
-- our weapons and ammunition. None of us would be caught
dead wearing a farby uniform. Why should we be less concerned
about our arms and ammunition?
is the first installment of several articles I plan to
write on the subject of Civil War small arms and ammunition.
In particular, this article will describe the procedure
for making realistic .58 caliber federal-style musket
cartridges. I will also discuss how to package the cartridges
(with percussion caps) in 10 round ordnance depot packs.
articles will discuss how more elaborate ammunition may
be realistically produced, such as .69 caliber ball and
"buck & ball" cartridges, imported Enfield
cartridges, as well as the Gardner cartridge, a type commonly
produced by Confederate laboratories.
most complete description of cartridge making technique
I have found is in the U.S. Army Ordnance Manual of 1856.
That manual gives exact dimensions and composition for
the cartridge papers for both .58 and .69 caliber arms.
I am in search of a Confederate equivalent but as of yet
have had no luck.
technique described uses three seperate papers: a small
piece of card stock to make a stiff tube containing the
powder charge; an inner wrapper over the card stock tube
to close it off near the bullet base and protect the powder
from contamination by lubricant; and an outer wrapper
which encloses the powder cylinder and bullet. The outer
wrapper is tied at the top (at the rounded end of the
ball) and is crimped over into a flap at the powder end.
This flap is then folded over along the side of the cartridge.
technique I will describe is much simpler and produces
a round which looks identical to one made by the Ordnance
Manual technique containing a real ball.
you'll need a paper cutter for making the cartridge papers,
papers for the caps, and the package wrappers. You can get
a cheap one for about $15-$20 at an office supply store.
Next comes the paper. The best (most realistic) paper to
use is a 30lb unbleached newsprint. Get this at an art supply
store in pads of 9" x 12" sheets. One pad of 50
sheets costs about $30 and is sufficient to make 200 rounds
including paper for the caps and package wrappers. Get a
bunch of glue sticks (the Ordnance Manual says to use glue
-- it doesn't say what kind.) You will need string to tie
the cartridges and the packs. I use cotton crochet thread
which you can get at a fabric supply. It's heavy three-stranded
thread and is identical to the stuff used on examples I've
seen in museums. You will also need something to fill the
space the bullet would occupy in the cartridge. The best
thing for this is Charmin Ultra toilet paper -- one sheet
occupies the same volume as a 500 grain Minie ball.
for the hard part. You need a .575" wooden dowel,
about 10" long, for rolling the wrappers. A 9/16"
dowel is pretty close (.5625") if you can find one.
If not, take a 5/8" dowel and turn it or sand it
down until it's the right size. The advantage of getting
a true .575" dowel is that you can use it to make
real rounds if you want to shoot live. Make sure the dowel
is sanded smooth.
of sand one end of the dowel into the ogive shape of a
minie ball -- use a real ball for comparison. Smooth off
the other (flat end) of the dowel slightly with sandpaper.
final thing: you have to make two marks on the dowel --
one for tying the paper tube and one for ramming the "ball"
into the tube. Put one mark 3.75" from the rounded
end and one 3" from the flat end.
final pieces of equipment you will need are some loading
blocks and a crimping block. To make the loading blocks,
use nice, flat pieces of 2x4 or 2x6 and drill 5/8"
holes at regular intervals all the way through the block.
The more you make the better. The crimping block is used
to create the "tab" at the powder end of the
cartridge. Use a single 6" length of 2x4 and drill
a single 5/8" hole in the middle. glue a 1/2"
x 1/2" x 4" strip of wood on each side so that
when you stand the block on a table its top is 2.25"
high off the table. You'll see why this is important in
the Step 4 on finishing the rounds.
1: Making the Tubes
make 6 tubes, cut a sheet of paper into 4" x 4.5"
rectangles. Stack up the resulting six pieces and make a
cut to make a trapezoid. Using the glue stick, glue the
diagonally cut edge of the paper. You can glue all 6 papers
at once if you lay them out in a staggered fashion on top
of each other. Then, starting from the edge opposite the
glued edge, roll the wrapper around the dowel to form a
tight tube. Set aside to dry and glue some more tubes. Make
all your tubes before proceeding to the next step.
2: Tying the Tubes
that you have a bunch of tubes, you are ready to tie them.
Cut the crochet thread into 5" lengths, enough to
tie all the tubes you have made. Slide a tube down onto
the rounded end of the stick to the mark you made, making
sure the end of the tube with more paper hangs over the
rounded end of the stick.
the paper with your fingers over the top of the rounded
end. Then, tie the tube off tightly right where the stick
comes to a point. Cut off excess string and paper, leaving
about 1/4". Do the rest of the tubes this way until
they are all tied off. Your work will go faster if you
do the steps one at a time to all the rounds.
3: Making the "Ball"
a sheet of toilet paper and fold in half twice, until
it is a square of half the original size. Fold one edge
over one third of the way then roll it up lengthwise into
a tight roll.
the "ball" into a tube, small end first and
ram with the flat end of the dowel to the mark. Repeat
for all the other tubes and place round end down in the
blocks. This is a time consuming step but becomes much
quicker with practice.
4: Finishing the Rounds
each tube with 65 grains (that's what the manual says)
of FF black powder. The final step is making the "tab"
which you tear when using the cartridge. This is difficult
at first but will become easier with practice. Make sure
you have at least one empty loading block for this step.
Set your crimping block on the table, flat side up. Place
a charged cartridge, "bullet" side down, in
the block. Here's where it is important that the block
be exactly 2.25" above the table. If you've done
everything correctly to this point the powder charge will
be flush with the top of the block. This gives a nice
the thumb and forefinger of both hands, flatten the protruding
hollow tube. Fold the flat tube squarely away from you
so that the paper lies flat on the block. Fold the "wings"
of the flattened paper inward in thirds to form the tab.
Fold the tab back toward you over the bottom of the cartridge.
Remove the cartridge from the block, put a little glue
on the tab, fold it aginst the side of the cartridge and
place it in the block to dry. Repeat this step for the
rest of the rounds until the block is full. Let dry for
5 - 10 min. and empty the completed rounds into a container.
5: Packaging the Rounds
you want to package caps with your rounds (hey -- you've
gone this far already -- why be farby now?) you need to
make more small tubes to put them in. For this you can
just use tubes you have made for rounds. Flatten, crimp
and glue one end of the tube. When dry, fill with 12 primers
(this is the Federal standard -- Confederate laboratories
typically packaged 13 primers due to their lower reliability)
and seal the other end.
some 9" x 4" pieces of paper. Glue one oend
of the paper. Wrap 10 rounds in the paper, five "bullet"
side up and five down. Seal one end like you would a Christmas
package. Place the package of caps in the open end, fold
it over and seal it.
a good idea to glue a label on the package. If you have
access to good labels, let me know. I'm working on obtaining
/ reproducing stamps to make realistic labels for various
Federal and Confederate arsenals. Some Confederate packages
are labeled with a stamp on the wrapper rather than a
you have a label on the package, tie it, package-style,
with a 15" length of the crochet thread and cut off
the excess. Of the Confederate arsenals, Selma, Augusta
and Macon were known to put the label under the string;
Charleston tied the package then glued the label over
the string; Columbus did not use string but relied on
the glue of the label to hold the package closed, and
Richmond stamped the package rather than labeling it.
Consistency is not known.
the time you've made a few packages of rounds, you'll no
doubt be ready to quit. Don't worry -- this takes patience
like anything else worth doing. It took me a while to figure
this out but I'm at the point where I can make about 30
rounds per hour including packaging.
dimensions for the cartridge tubes.
.69 Caliber Ammunition Packs (10 Cartridges and 13 Caps)