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On the left is a minie ball flattened by impact. You can clearly see its hollow base and how its ragged shape could damage a human body. In the center is an unfired minie ball. On the right is a round ball for a smooth-bore musket.

Riflemen on both sides during the Civil War targeted and often killed the enemy’s flag bearers.

Francis M. Poore at times served as a flag bearer for the 13th Mississippi Infantry and was wounded at least once while doing so.

Flag bearers wore a harness with a metal base or cup where the base of the flagstaffHarpers Weekly rested. One of these may have saved Francis’ life. A Yankee bullet hit this base a glancing below and then the bullet went into Francis’ side. Because the cup deflected the bullet, the wound was not deadly.

He suffered other wounds during the war to his hand, foot and possibly to one shoulder. His survival seems something of a miracle.

Civil War riflemen used a .58-caliber lead bullet called a minie ball. The name was a corruption of Minié (say “min-YAY”), the name of the French Army officer Claude-Étienne Minié who designed the projectile. Union and rebel soldiers alike just called it a “minnie ball.” And it wasn’t even a ball, but a a cylindrical bullet with a conical point.


Bullets and a quarter for size comparison.

When a soldier fired his rifle, the base of the minie bullet expanded. As the soft lead expanded it gripped the spiral grooves inside the rifle barrel. This gave the bullet a spin that increased its range and accuracy over smooth-bore guns. It also inflicted serious damage on the human body that was more likely to result in death.

A solid round shot could pass through a soldier’s body in one piece. The exit wound wouldn’t be much bigger than the entry wound.

But the soft lead minie ball flattened and deformed on impact. It shattered bones and shredded tissue and internal organs. The ragged, tumbling bullet tore out an exit wound several times the size of the entry wound.

This is why Civil War surgeons often had no choice other than to amputate wounded arms and legs. They couldn’t repair the shattered limbs. Gunshot wounds to the head, chest or gut usually meant death.

Did your Civil War ancestor suffer from a serious gunshot wound? Did it leave him without an arm or leg?