• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

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Glossary of Weapons Terminology

Army: When used to designate a pistol, it means that is a .44 caliber.

Artillery: Commonly called cannons. Large bore guns that are mounted on a carriage or platform that is fired by a crew of soldiers.

Barrel: The part of a gun or rifle that is shaped like a tube where the bullet travels through on the way out of the weapon.

Black Powder: An explosive mixture of potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur used as a propellant in early firearms.

Breech: The rear of the barrel.

Breech Loader: A black powder firearm that loads from the rear of the barrel.

Bore: The inside of the barrel where the bullet goes.

Bullet: The projectile that is shot from a firearm.

Caliber: The size of bullet.

Carbine: a short lightweight rifle that is intended for use on horseback.

Cavalry: A type of soldier that fights on horseback.

Cone: The part of a gun where the percussion cap is placed to fire the weapon.

Cylinder: The round part of a revolver which sits in the frame that holds the bullets.

Dragoon: Originally, dragoons were soldiers who moved around on horseback but fought on foot like infantry. By the 1840s, United States Dragoons were evolving into cavalry with guns and swords they could use on horseback. When the word dragoon is used to designate a type of revolver, it refers the powerful pistols meant to be carried on a saddle rather than on a man's belt.

Double Action: An action is the way a weapon is fired. A double action means that the weapon can be fired two ways. For example, the hammer can be cocked by hand and then the trigger pulled to fire it or the trigger can be pulled which will cock the hammer and fire the weapon.

Double Barrel: A fire arm that has two barrels.

Ejecting Rod: The part of a metallic cartridge firearm that is used to remove a spent round so it can be reloaded.

Flint: A type of rock that creates sparks well.

Flintlock: A type of lock that uses flint to hit a piece of steel to create a spark which ignites the black powder in the pan. (A picture of the lock with the names of the parts would be beneficial here)

Forearm: The wood part of a rifle or shotgun that is under the barrel. It helps protect the hand from the heat of the barrel when firing.

Frame: The central part of a revolver that holds the barrel, cylinder, and handle together. On a repeating rifle or shotgun, it is the part that the loading gate is in and holds that barrel and stock together.

Friction Primers: This is the ignition system for a piece of artillery during the Civil War. A friction primer is a brass tube filled with fulminated mercury. I twisted brass wire in placed inside the tube with a looped end hanging out. A string with a hook called a lanyard is placed in the loop and the wire is yanked out causing friction which creates the explosion necessary for ignition.

Fulminated Mercury: in 1800 Edward Charles Howard created fulminated mercury. This is prepared by dissolving mercury in nitric acid and adding ethanol to the solution. The solution was commonly used in caps and friction primers during the 1800s.

Hammer: The part of a firearm that is pulled back then released with the trigger to impact a primer or percussion cap.

Lead: A type of soft metal and heavy that is used for bullets. Because it is soft, it does not damage a firearm the way harder metals would.

Lever Action: An action is the way a weapon is fired. A lever action uses a lever to eject a spent cartridge and reload a new one. In most cases, it also cocks the hammer.

Loading Gate: The place where cartridges are inserted to load a firearm.

Lock: The mechanical part of a firearm that makes it shoot.

Metallic Cartridge: A brass or copper container that holds a primer, powder, and bullet.

Minnie Ball: The minié ball is a conical shaped lead bullet that normally has a hollow base. It is slightly smaller than the firearms barrel's bore, making it easier to push it down the barrel with the ramrod. It has exterior grease-filled grooves to assist in loading the weapon. The bullet was created by Claude Etienne Minié, hence the name minié ball This type of bullet first saw use in the Crimean War and saw its most extensive use in the Civil War.

Musket: A musket is a long barreled smoothbore firearms used by the infantry.

Muzzle: The open end of a firearm's barrel.

Muzzleloader: A firearm the loads from the the muzzle of a barrel.

Navy: When used to designate a pistol it means that it is .36 caliber.

Paper Cartridge: Before metallic cartridges were invented the fastest way to load a firearm was with a paper tube filled with black powder and a bullet. The paper had to be torn open with the teeth then some of the powder would be poured into the pan if it was a flintlock. The remaining amount would be poured into the barrel and then the bullet pushed down with the ramrod. The paper would be the wadding that prevented it all from falling out.

Percussion Cap: A cylinder shaped piece of brass or copper that is filled with fulminated mercury. When hit by a hammer it explodes, forcing flame into the barrel, causing ignition. The first US army weapon to use this ignition system was the 1819 Hall.

Pinfire: The pinfire cartridge was invented Casimir Lefaucheux in 1828. It consists of a rimless casing that is filled with black powder with a percussion cap on the inside. A pin sticks out of the side of the casing and when the hammer hits it the pin is driven into the cap, causing ignition of the powder.

Pistol: A firearm intended to be fired with one hand. This is often referred to as a handgun.

Primer: A part of a weapons firing system that ignites powder to discharge the firearm.

Projectile: Anything that comes out of a barrel at high speed. Some examples of projectiles are cannon balls, bullets, and shot.

Propellant: Both smokeless and black powder are propellants. It is a chemical substance that explodes and creates pressure in an enclosed space such as a barrel to force out a projectile at high speed.

Ramrod: The part of a muzzle loading firearm used to push the bullet down the barrel. It is stored under the barrel so it can be easily removed to reload the weapon.

Repeater: A type of firearm that has one barrel that holds several cartridges so that is can be fired quickly.

Rifle: A firearm that has twisted grooves inside the barrel. These grooves make the bulletspin like a well thrown football making the weapon fire further and more accurately.

Rifling: The grooves inside of a barrel.

Rifled Musket: A rifled musket is type of weapon made in the mid-19th century. Originally rifled muskets only referred firearms that had a smoothbore barrel that had rifling added latter. Later, this term designated rifles that were of the same design as a smoothbore musket.

Rimfire: A type of metallic cartridge that has the fulminated mercury added to the entire outer base of the round. The hammer can hit any part of the rear of the bullet and it will fire. .22 caliber cartridges still use this type of technology.

Round: A cartridge.

Trapdoor: The breech loading mechanism of a single shot military rifle.

Trigger: A small strait piece of metal that is squeezed the make a weapon fire.

Single Action: An action is the way a weapon is fired. A single action can only be fired one way. In most cases it means that a hammer must be cocked manually to make it ready to fire. Later, weapons were made with the hammers covered that only fired by squeezing the trigger. These are also single action.

Shot: A projectile that a shotgun fires. It consists several small lead or steel balls that fires out of a shotgun at once.

Shotgun: A smoothbore firearm the fires shot. These are the preferred tool for hunting birds and small game.

Smoothbore: A barrel that is completely smooth on the inside.

Stock: During the 1800s it was the wood part of a rifle, musket, shotgun, or carbine that holds all the parts of the weapon together and gave a place to put on the shoulder of a shooter.

Did You Know?

Portrait of Anna Dawes

A woman was responsible for the building of a modern federal jail at Fort Smith, AR, in 1888. Anna Dawes, daughter of Sen. Dawes of MA, visited the "Hell on the Border" jail in 1885 and wrote an article describing its conditions. When read in Congress, money was quickly approved for a new jail.