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A Strange Requirement of the Civil War Infantry

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When students are asked what physical attributes were needed by Civil War infantry soldiers, they often forget one important but not so obvious item. They can always come up with trigger finger, at least one good eye, and the like. They often forget that very important item –teeth. The requirement of a Civil War infantry soldier was at least two teeth, one up and one down, and pretty much aligned in the same area.

Why in the world did a Civil War soldier need teeth? Because his bullets were wrapped in paper requiring them to be torn open before loading the power and bullet into their firearm. One of the steps of loading their gun was placing the paper cartridge in their mouth and tearing the cartridge open. The powder was then poured down the barrel, followed by the bullet.

Women at the arsenals wrapped the bullets and powder together in pre-cut paper, tied one end and folded the other. Women could wrap up to 800 cartridges in a single shift of work. The cartridges were packed in boxes and sent by the quartermaster to the troops. A certain amount of cartridges were doled out to each soldier for the impending battle.

If the soldier ran out of ammunition during an engagement, he could often “borrow” ammunition from a fallen comrade who was not using his.

So, if you had no teeth, you couldn’t fire your gun.

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