Southern Historical Research and Recovery Association
THE EXPLODING GARDINER BULLET - by: David Bond
The Exploding Gardiner Bullet
By: David Bond - 8/10/2016
*Note to Reader: Don’t confuse this round with the Confederate manufactured Gardner bullet that was invented by Frederate J. Gardner. The Exploding Gardiner was manufactured strictly by the US Government, and was invented by a Mr. Samuel Gardiner Jr.
Samuel Gardiner presented his patented exploding bullet to the Union Army during the civil war. He made several prototypes to be used for experimentation in the field early on. The US Army issued the order of 100,000 of the .58 Caliber (at $36/1,000), and 18,000-20,000 in .52 Caliber. The 52 caliber was designed to be shot out of Sharps/Carbine Rifles and were issued to officers. These were manufactured at Harpers Ferry. The bullet however, was met with much controversy amongst US officers, soldiers, & the public. It is said that one of President Lincoln’s officers made the following statement, “Isn’t it enough to shoot a man with a bullet, now we have to shoot and explode him with one?”
The Explosive Gardiner was made out of a Lead/Pewter allow. Inside the center of the bullet was a small acorn shaped copper core that held a small explosive charge. The base of the bullet featured a centrally located cylindrical opening and a tube that extended from the base up into the copper core. A 1.5 second timed Fulminate fuse was inserted into the tube at the base. Upon firing, the fulminate fuse was designed to ignite inside the barrel and would ignite the inner charge 1.5 seconds after exiting the rifle.
According to the Federal War Department archives, the Union Army issued 33,350 of these rounds to be used in the battle of Chancellorsville & Gettysburg. It was documented that appx. 10,000 of these rounds were seized by Confederate forces at Chancellorsville, so both sides had their hands on these rounds. After the Battle of Gettysburg, U.S. officers reported their dislike of the Exploding musket shell due to its fiendish and barbaric nature. There are also stories of soldiers dumping the bullets out of their pouches in fear of their cartridge pouch being struck by an enemy bullet (Boom). Stories exist of that happening to a soldier at Gettysburg.
It was decided at the Convention of St. Petersburg, in 1868 to ban Gardiner’s exploding bullet. There they declared against explosive missiles less than 14 oz. in weight. So, in March of 1869 they were declared obsolete. Afterwards, the Federal Government ordered all remaining rounds held in arsenals to be destroyed, making this one of the rarest civil war bullets to acquire for a collector.
I am not sure yet of how many were destroyed, but according to records only 33,350 of the 118,000+/- (in both calibers) were issued for use in battle. I would only assume, if I may, that around 80,000 (in both calibers) were destroyed following the conclusion of the war. Please allow me to repeat myself for facts sake; I have found no source detailing how many were destroyed. That number is only my assumption. Many of the .58 caliber have been dug over the years by metal detectorists, but I have heard very few accounts of the .52’s being found. I myself have looked far and wide to purchase a 52cal without any luck. Some of the biggest collectors I know did not have one, but only knew of a few that sold over the years.
I found the following to be an interesting read. In Horace Edwin Hayden’s (H.E.H.) article written in BROWNSVILLE, PA., September 1, 1879…. *Taken from the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VIII, Richmond, Va., January, 1880 pages 18-28… Mr. Edwin accounts the false accusations on how the Confederate states manufactured these bullets. From the stories I’ve read, neither side really went on record admitting to the issuing of these. During that era that is. Horace notes a letter from Jeff Davis that reads…..
“BEAUVOIR, MISS., 28th June, 1879.
My Dear Sir ... In reply to your inquiries as to the use of explosive or poisoned balls by the troops of the Confederate States, I state as positively as one may in such a case that the charge has no foundation in truth. Our Government certainly did not manufacture or import such balls, and if any were captured from the enemy, they could probably only have been used in the captured arms for which they were suited. I heard occasionally that the enemy did use explosive balls, and others prepared so as to leave a copper ring in the wound, but it was always spoken of as an atrocity beneath knighthood and abhorrent to civilization. The slander is only one of many instances in which our enemy have committed or attempted crimes of which our people and their Government were incapable, and then magnified the guilt by accusing us of the offenses they had committed.
Believe me, ever faithfully yours,
In conclusion, H.E.H. writes, “It is earnestly to be hoped that the facts presented in this paper will forever set at rest the malicious slander so often repeated against the Confederates, by many who are so willing to believe anything against them, of having authorized the use in military warfare of such atrocious and barbarous missiles as "explosive and poisoned" musket or rifle balls.” I recommend you read Horace’s article…
The intriguing part is, upon Jeff Davis’ Capture, he allegedly had a few .70 cal Devisme Explosive Percussion Cartridges in his briefcase. These were designed to be fired out of a Devisme 16 gauge rifle named after it’s French gun maker. Devisme designed these cartridges and spear cartridges that were used by sailers to kill Whales! If Jeff Davis did have these in his briefcase, I wonder what his intent was. Was he going on a Whaling Venture? LOL… Obviously further research is needed on that story!