Westholme Publishing
The Civil War Invention That Changed How Wars Are Fought


A Revolution in Arms
A History of the First Repeating Rifles
Joseph G. Bilby

$26.00 Hardback

  • 256 pages
  • 6 x 9
  • 60 b/w illus.
  • Military History

$22.50 Paperback

  • 280 pages
  • 6 x 9
  • 77 b/w illus
  • Military History

About this Book

"This is an outstanding book — accurate, judicious, highly readable."—North & South

"A Revolution in Arms, is written in such a good, readable way that the reader simply won't get tired of reading this highly detailed account of such a very historic time in the history of firearms."—Rifle Magazine

"Clearly written in a vivid compelling style, A Revolution in Arms is among a handful of works to provide both a comprehensive history of the development of an emerging weapons technology and how this was ultimately employed during America's great internecine struggle. With this effort, Joseph G. Bilby is among the front runners of a new school of the study of Civil War military history that is both more encyclopedic and ecumenical in scope and treatment than has been previously available."Brent Nosworthy, author of the Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War


Historians often call the American Civil War the first modern war, pointing to the use of observation balloons, the telegraph, trains, mines, ironclad ships, and other innovations. Although recent scholarship has challenged some of these "firsts," the war did witness the introduction of the first repeating rifles. Prior to the Civil War, muzzle-loading arms, limited to at most three shots a minute, regulated the rules of engagement and pace of battle. Rapid fire small arms introduced new and more deadly tactical possibilities, and no other innovation of the turbulent 1860s would have a greater effect on the future of warfare. In A Revolution in Arms: A History of the First Repeating Rifles, historian Joseph G. Bilby unfolds the fascinating story of how two New England inventors, Benjamin Henry and Christopher Spencer, each combined generations of cartridge and rifle technology to develop reliable repeating rifles. In a stroke, the Henry rifle and Spencer rifle and carbine changed warfare forever, accelerating the abandonment of the formal battle line tactics of previous generations. As graphically demonstrated at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, firepower could cause heavy casualties in an opposing force and, properly applied, alter the course of a battle.

Although slow to enter service, the repeating rifle soon became a sought after weapon by both Union and Confederate troops. Oliver Winchester purchased the rights to the Henry and transformed it into "the gun that won the West." The Spencer, the most famous of all Civil War small arms, was the weapon of choice for Federal cavalrymen. The revolutionary technology represented by repeating arms used in the American Civil War, including self-contained metallic cartridges, large capacity magazines, and innovative cartridge feeding systems, was copied or adapted by arms manufacturers around the world, and these features remain with us today.

"Mr. Bilby takes us through Gettysburg, among other places, showing how the Spencer and Henry rifle played a decisive role." —Wall Street Journal

"A valuable study.... his research is balanced and thorough, his writing is lively and clear.... his approach gives the book broad appeal." —Journal of Military History

"This is an outstanding book—accurate, judicious, highly readable." —North & South

"Well written and researched." —Civil War Times

Joseph G. Bilby is a columnist for Civil War News and author of many works on Civil War history, including Civil War Firearms, recipient of the LSU Civil War Center's Award of Excellence, and Remember Fontenoy: The 69th New York and the Irish Brigade in the Civil War.


  • North and South
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • Rifle Magazine
  • Civil War Times
  • Military History



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