Wasting Bullets

Abraham Lincoln, who himself was the only U.S. President to hold a patent for an invention, was a champion of new technologies on the battlefield. He was determined to equip the Union troops with breechloading rifles to replace their outdated muskets, and was especially enamored of the new repeating rifles, many of which he test-fired himself. The chief of army ordinance General James W. Ripley opposed him in this, convinced that the older muzzleloaders encouraged troops to conserve ammunition and make every shot count. Additionally, the cartridges required for breechloaders were more expensive than musket balls, and Ripley did not have the distribution network in place to keep the soldiers supplied with the new ammunition. Lincoln attempted to go around Ripley, even ordered him to purchase the new rifles, but Ripley obstinately dragged his feet.

In 1898, this obstinate concern for conservation of ordinance was still very much ingrained in the U.S. military, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt was about to find out. Roosevelt would leave his position in Washington to organize a volunteer cavalry, the “Rough Riders,” then join the war effort in Cuba. There his soldiers, equipped with Springfield repeating rifles, faced Spanish with more advanced clip-loaded Mausers that could fire eight bullets to the Springfield’s one. The American troops would triumph, but with heavy casualties.

U.S. Army Ordinance and Conservation