|Place of origin||France|
|Used by||France, Prussia, Austria, United Kingdom, United States, Confederate States, Japan, Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Empire of Brazil|
|Wars||Crimean War, Indian Rebellion of 1857, Taiping Rebellion, Second Italian War of Independence, French intervention in Mexico, Austro-Prussian War, American Civil War, Boshin war, War of the Pacific, Paraguayan War|
|Unit cost||$20 (1861)|
|Mass||4 kilograms (8.8 lb)|
|Barrel length||958 millimetres (37.7 in)|
|Cartridge||18mm rimmed bullet|
|Caliber||18 millimetres (0.71 in)|
|Rate of fire||2-3 shots per minute|
The Minié rifle was an important infantry rifle of the mid-19th century. A version was adopted in 1849 following the invention of the Minié ball in 1847 by the French Army captain Claude-Étienne Minié of the Chasseurs d'Orléans and Henri-Gustave Delvigne. The bullet was designed to allow rapid muzzle loading of rifles, and was an innovation that brought about the widespread use of the rifle as the main battlefield weapon for individual soldiers. The French adopted it following difficulties encountered by the French army in Northern Africa, where their muskets were outranged by long-barreled weapons which were handcrafted by their Algerian opponents. The Minié rifle belonged to the category of rifled muskets.
The rifle used a conical-cylindrical soft lead bullet, slightly smaller than the barrel bore, with three exterior grease-filled grooves and a conical hollow in its base. When fired, the expanding gas forcibly pushed on the base of the bullet, deforming it to engage the rifling. This provided spin for accuracy, a better seal for consistent velocity and longer range, and cleaning of barrel detritus.
Before this innovation, the smoothbore musket commonly using the buck and ball was the only practical field weapon. Rifled muskets had been in use since the Renaissance, but they required hammering projectiles with a ramrod and mallet into the bore of the barrel, and also created considerable cleaning problems. The short-lived "carabine à tige" system used a pin at the bottom of the barrel which deformed the bullet against the wall of the barrel when the bullet was pushed to the bottom. This system was very problematic for cleaning, especially with the black powders of the period.
The Minié rifle used a percussion lock and weighed 10 lb 9 oz (4.8 kg). Having a reasonable accuracy up to 600 yards (550 metres), it was equipped with sights for effective aiming. The hollow-based bullet was of .702 inch (17.8 mm) calibre, and weighed 500 grains (32.4 g). It could penetrate 4 inches (10 cm) of soft pine at 1,000 yards (918 m).
A test in Vincennes in 1849 demonstrated that at 15 yards the bullet was able to penetrate two boards of poplar wood, each two-thirds of an inch thick and separated by 20 inches. Soldiers of the time spread rumors that at 1,200 yards the bullet could penetrate a soldier and his knapsack and still kill anyone standing behind him, even killing every person in a line of 15.
The Minié rifle saw limited distribution in the Crimean War and similar rifles using Minié bullets (such as the Pattern 1853 Enfield, the Springfield Model 1861 and the Lorenz rifle) were the dominant infantry weapons in the American Civil War. The large-caliber, easily deformed conical lead bullets, ranging in diameter from .54 to .58 inches (14-18mm), combined with the high-speed spin from the rifling, created terrible wounds.
The Pattern 1851 Minié rifle was in use by the British Army from 1851 to 1855. The Minié system was also used extensively by various manufacturers, such as Springfield (the Springfield Model 1861) and Enfield (the Pattern 1853 Enfield).
Minié rifles were also used extensively in the Boshin War (1868-1869) in Japan, where they had an important role in tipping the balance against the Tokugawa forces in encounters such as the Battle of Toba-Fushimi.
The muzzle-loading Minié rifle became obsolete in 1866 following the defeat of the Austrians, equipped with this type of rifle, against the Prussians, who had the innovative bolt-action Dreyse rifles. In France, the existing Minié rifles were then retooled to accommodate a breech-loading mechanism reminiscent of a snuff box, and became known as Tabatière (snuff-box) rifles. Soon after, the breech-loading Chassepot system was adopted by the French army.