Measuring, Identifying and Collecting Dug Civil War Bullets

Measuring, Identifying and Collecting Dug Civil War Bullets

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Until you have some practice, this can be quite confusing.  The bullets in the M&M book are separated by base type (flat, cavity, rebated etc), then by number of rings.  There is also an addendum in the back of the book with some random bullets, so check there if you can’t find it elsewhere.

After you find the pages with the bullets that have the similar base and number of rings, you will see they are sort of sorted by diameter, so try to find the bullets closest to your diameter/caliber.

The tolerances of bullets varied during manufacture, and many bullets were cast by hand out in the field.   Also, your bullet has been in the ground 150+ years and may have been fired, carved on, etc.  Therefore it makes sense that your bullet will almost never be right on with the measurements or weight in the book.   That is why it is best to also have the weight to help see if you’ve got the right bullet.   Your bullet should look like the one in the photo, and have measurements and weight that are close.

Fortunately the photos of bullets in the M&M book are actual-sized, so you can put your bullet right on top of it or side by side to compare appearance.  Often small things like the ring/groove types and their spacing apart are important.

Some bullets are pretty easy to ID.  Others can be a lot of work.  I try the books first, then the web, then get some help from experts on Facebook if all else fails or I am unsure of my ID.


Army of Tennessee Bullets:  Several good sites are available, mostly dealers, where you can see all types of unusual bullets with great photos.  Army of Tennessee is my favorite.    They have a ton of different great bullets with M&M numbers and great photos.

Sgt. Riker:  The Sarge is awesome.  Note he also provides riker cases and mats for displaying your rarer bullets.

eBay:  While eBay is more prone to mis-identification, it can be a big help on getting in the right direction for hard to find bullets.

Facebook:  Post your bullet in your favorite metal detecting forum and usually someone will be glad to quickly help.   ID ME and Civil War/Indian Wars Relic Identification are some really good resources with a lot of knowledgeable people


Dropped or Fired:   A dropped bullet will look awesome and is more valuable and desired by collectors.  It will not have a circle around the tip where it was hit by a ramrod, and it won’t be beat up or mangled too much.   A fired bullet will show ramrod marks, may show rifling marks, may be warped, or even distorted or pancaked due to impact.   While dropped bullets are more collectible, fired bullets represent the Civil War better as most often they were actually used in the fighting.

Pulled:  A pulled bullet was unloaded from a gun with a special attachment on the ramrod.   Some drill a hole in the bullet, and some grab it and pull it out.   Pulled bullets are fairly unusual to find, and I like them a lot.   Seems like you’ll find them in groups when you do find them!


Great diagram showing pulled bullets from the War Between the States Collectors Page on Facebook

Carved:  Soldiers would carve bullets out of boredom.   While some detectorists find amazing works of arts, the ones I find are usually just “carved on”.  These pieces of “trench art” are desirable by collectors and a wonderful addition to any dug collection.

An Enfield bullet "carved on" by a soldier with no artistic talent LOL

An Enfield bullet “carved on” by a soldier with no artistic talent LOL

Other unusual and interesting bullets are chewed by animals, chewed for pain or boredom, and bullets that have been extracted from a soldier’s body.

READ MORE:  Determining Bullet Value & Display…>

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There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Jim E. Thomas at 2:17 pm

    Great idea for a page and good content. Just a few comments.

    Under section “MEASURING THE BULLET — Diameter/Width”, I would add that you need to take an average of several measurements since very few bullets are perfectly round.

    In reference, not all M&M photos are to scale.

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