6 Crazy Civil War Weapons

The Civil War (1861-1865) in America took place during an era of the Industrial Revolution. This happens to be the span of time when the world saw some of the craziest inventions ever made. In addition to that, wars have a way of forcing creativity to come up with new and sneaky ways to kill the enemy.

During the Civil War, we saw lots of insane ideas when it came to creating new weapons. We have listed below 6 crazy Civil War weapons. Understand that this is only a sampling of the many ideas that were attempted and considered.

Winans Steam Gun

winans steam gun

This gun was supposedly capable of blasting 300 rounds of ammo per minute out of its steam-powered revolving drum which could reach 100 yards. This centrifugal gun actually became prominent during the Baltimore Riots in 1861. Even though it was erroneously connected to the industrialist Ross Winans, this 5-ton gun was actually created, invented, and built by Charles S. Dickenson, who brought this working model to Baltimore, Maryland to provide a working demo to their City Council.

When riots and violence later developed in Baltimore between the US government and secessionists, the city became afraid of an invasion by federal forces. This prompted the local police to commandeered the gun.

Coffee Mill Gun

coffee mill gun

Everyone has heard about the Gatling gun. However, the “devil’s coffee mill,” “coffee grinder” gun is not as well known. It actually operated in a very similar fashion as a Gatling gun as it was also hand-cranked and fired .58 caliber cartridges at a rate of 120 rounds per minute. After seeing a demonstration in 1861, President Lincoln supposedly became very enamored with this weapon. The US War Department then acquired 60 of these coffee mill guns.

However, commanders on the battlefield felt that these guns wasted far too much ammunition. The single barrel would overheat too quickly, and the ammo hopper jammed too often, which made the gun impractical. Because of these problems, the guns didn’t see much action during the war. They were instead deployed to guard posts.

Double-Barrel Cannon

double barrell canon

It was believed that when two separate cannon barrels were joined together, they could blast out two cannonballs that were joined by a chain, creating more devastation. At least, that was the idea when this weapon was created in 1862.

The idea was that both of these barrels would fire off simultaneously, and send the chain-shot into enemy combatants. Sadly, the very first field test of this prototype was a total disaster. The barrels didn’t fire off at the same time, which caused the chain shot to go off target wildly.

Regardless, this gun was retained by the city of Athens, GA for use as a defensive weapon throughout the war, but it never saw action.

Armored Railroad Car

Armored Railroad Car

To protect railway bridges from saboteurs and Confederate attacks, the US government requested that experimental armored railroad cars take on this task. These armored cars were actually boxcars or baggage cars that had been fitted with thick sheets of iron on their sides and the top and sides and were then hooked behind and to the front of a locomotive.

Portholes were drilled in the sides, rear, and front of the car thus allowing some 50 armed men inside the car to return fire or even use small cannons on the enemy. There were a few different models made, including one version that was a flat car and an iron dome placed over it. In 1864, a Confederate cannon shot demolished one of these armored railroad cars. Another one got destroyed in 1865. Some of these cars were even captured by the Confederates.

Coal Torpedo

coal torpedo

During the 19th century, the term “torpedo” referred to any kind of bomb, so the “coal torpedo” which was created by Thomas Courtenay in the year 1864 was exactly that. It was a bomb that used gunpowder and was disguised by genuine pieces of coal. It was used as a weapon of sabotage by the Secret Service Corps of the Confederacy against the steam-powered vessels of the Union.

These bombs were smuggled into the coal supplies on ships. As workers stoked the ship’s furnaces, these bombs would explode. Several ships were known to have received damage by these coal torpedo detonations.

USS Alligator

uss alligator

In the year 1862, the US Navy commissioned its first submarine, which was the 47 foot long USS Alligator. This vessel was designed by a French inventor named Brutus de Villeroi, whose own government refused to build his underwater machine. The Alligator was referred to as a “submersible warship” and even used the cutting edge technology of its time, which included an air purifier, and an airlock chamber that allowed it to deploy a diver from the submerged vessel.

The US government treated this as a top-secret project because they intended to deploy it against the Confederate ironclads. The Alligator’s very first mission was on the Appomattox River, and it was a total failure because the waters weren’t deep enough. It eventually wound up at the bottom of the Graveyard of Ships off Cape Hatteras while it was being towed during a storm.


As we can see, ingenuity is at its greatest during wartime. The Civil War definitely saw its fair share of new ideas and inventions of weapons. We hope you enjoyed this list of 6 crazy Civil War weapons. It is interesting to note that many of these ideas were refined and improved, and eventually led to many war weapons we have today.

The publisher earns affiliate commissions from Amazon for qualifying purchases. The opinions expressed about the independently selected products mentioned in this content are those of the publisher, not Amazon.