Liege shotgun

In the 1840s and 1850s, companies in Liege, Belgium, produced thousands of double-barreled percussion shotguns. These imported 12-gauge models were popular among American hunters. At the onset of the Civil War, there is no evidence that state or national entities purchased these weapons in any significant number, but many merchants would for private sale.

While most of these imports did not have many markings on them, some did bear the popular Liege stamp, and a few had information linking them to American dealers inscribed on their barrels. Markings were typically located on the gun’s lock. Some, however, displayed markings on the barrel rib, the piece connecting the two barrels.

When they enlisted, many mounted Southerners brought their personal shotguns with them. The 52-inch length allowed a cavalryman to reload easily while riding, and the two barrels delivered heavy damage at close range. They could also be reloaded quicker than the 20 seconds it usually would take to load a rifled musket.

Southern blockade runners continued importing inexpensive Belgian shotguns throughout the war, as verified by the presence of several cases among many U.S. naval vessels’ prizes-of-war lists. Some of these captured shipments show markings of the Confederate gun companies to which they were being shipped, put there by an agent who had inspected the weapons for his company before it was shipped from a European port.

At the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Mo., in August 1861, and during the 1862 New Mexico Campaign, close combat favored Confederates armed with shotguns against Union troops carrying rifled weapons.

The Trans-Mississippi Theater was not the only place shotguns were used, however. In June 1864, a makeshift force of about 350 Virginia State Troops, and about 125 disabled factory workers and locals, accounted well for themselves in defending the Staunton River Bridge during the Wilson-Kautz cavalry raid in southwestern Virginia. Nearby Danville was a major Confederate supply hub, and the determined militia held off the attacking Federals until reinforcements could arrive, inflicting heavy casualties with their double- barreled shotguns.

This article first appeared in America’s Civil War magazine

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