Arming the Union through Innovation, Genius, and Agency
Men, Machine, & the Carbine
The Union Carbines
The study of the Gwyn & Campbell allows one to see the changing preferences for firearms used in the Civil War as carbine and ammunition advancements come to the ordnance and military officers' attention and approval.
In response to the initial call for troops in April 1861, Hamilton volunteers armed themselves with Cosmopolitan carbines. Those volunteers then became the 6th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, but it is unknown how long the troops kept those arms.1
Major Benjamin Henry Grierson led 1,700 men of the 6th Illinois Cavalry, some of whom would have been armed with the Cosmopolitan, on his successful raid into Mississippi to disrupt Confederate supply lines from April 17, 1863 to May 2, 1863.2 Grierson reported that “they destroyed 60 miles of railroad, captured 3,000 arms, took an ‘immense’ amount of supplies, captured 1,000 horses and mules, killed and wounded about 100 of the “enemy,” captured and paroled over 500 men, including many officers, and he estimated they drew approximately 38,000 troops away from Vicksburg.”3 Although Grierson may have exaggerated some of the numbers as officers in the Civil War sometimes tended to do, the raid was an important step in the war, and helped Grant in the Battle of Vicksburg.3 Although the Union Carbine was not the preferred weapon, many troops seemed to be thankful to have a breech-loading carbine, and it sufficed until better carbines came available.
The Fifth Illinois demonstrated much of the same pattern, with the “Cosmopolitan” Carbines being slowly replaced by Sharps. In the fourth quarter of 1862, the regiment was issued 306 Cosmopolitans, then that number peaked in the second quarter of 1863, and finally slowly declined. From the second quarter of 1864 to that year’s third quarter, the number of Cosmopolitans dropped from 247 to 3.4 The trend in these regiments demonstrated how the advancing technology and increased durability of arms slowly took precedent in military ordnance once supply was able to catch up to a degree with demand. Although the Union carbine played a significant role, its advancements accompanied by its flaws were no match for the innovative Sharps and especially the Spencer. When new arms were available, the Union carbines were replaced.
The Gwyn and Campbell carbines were also used to arm men in the defense of Ohio cities against Morgan’s raid in the summer of 1863.5 In that raid, Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan led his troops across Southern Ohio. Although some men were armed with these carbines, it is unknown if any were used against Morgan and his soldiers.
The 8th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry were issued the “Union” carbine in 1864. While serving in the Shenandoah Valley, the troops fought in the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864 where some soldiers used their Gwyn & Campbells (most likely Type I, Long Sight Model). Before the Battle, in August 1864, several companies (C, H, K, and A) were raided; captured and paroled; and their arms, including the Gwyn & Campbell, were confiscated. Over 150 Gwyn & Campbells ended up in Confederate hands at that time. In January 1865, the 8th OVC was once again raided and most likely Confederates took more of the Union carbines.6
1James Timothy Brenner, “The Politics of Civil War Weapons Procurement: The Ordnance Department and Two Ohio Carbines” (MA thesis, Ohio State University, 1977), 43.
2 Thomas B. Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War: A Definitive Illustrated History of Two Rare and Unusual Civil War Cavalry Carbines and Their Use in the Field (Lincoln: Andrew Mowbray Publishers, 2000), 36
3 Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War, 38.
4 Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War, 41.
5 Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War, 42.
6 Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War, 43-44.