Percussion cap history


I am giving a talk about the New Almaden mercury mine and I could use info about the manufacture of percussion caps during the Am Civil War. It is my suspicion that all caps used in the war were made in US and used mercury from California mines only, both North and South. Do you know of any pertinent records of manufacture, sale or shipment, etc. for such a specific time period and item? What about world wide manufacture of caps during the 1860s? - - - Thanks, Bill Noyes

The above is the question I submitted on-line, and was invited to try asking in this forum. Even a small reference piece would be helpful, a title, name or site. My sense is that world manufacture of caps was taken up by other large armies converting to percussion arms, modernizing, and so both sides in the CW were on their own making their own caps and obtaining supplies. Importing may have been the norm, however.

Thanks for any ideas. - - - BN at


Beginning in 1849 for for several years there after Crittenden and Tibbals was the major manufacturer of percussion caps in the US. There is a book published on the history of C&T and the CTM later business. I have not read it but you might be able to find a copy or at least ask someone if there is information in it about the source they used. I have one of only 2 known C&T cap boxes. They made millions of caps which were used in the CW and sold to the various gun makers of the era to sell with their guns.


Frank Krasnickas’ book “Cartridges of South Coventry” provides a fairly comprehensive history of Crittenden & Tiballs, and indeed the company started life in 1849 as a manufacturer of percussion caps, their first order being from Sam Colt. It is also stated that in 1860 C&T made 80 million percussion caps (sizes unstated). Even though there is a listing of C&Ts contracts with the government, those shown were all for cartridges, and percussion caps were not listed. However, that does not mean C&T did not manufacture caps for the government, and indeed they could hardly have avoided manufacturing them for the government during the Civil War. There is no technical information provided regarding C&T’s percussion cap and/or primer composition manufacturing procedures (but there is quite a bit regarding metallic cartridge manufacturing technology). At least in the South, I’d expect that most percussion caps came from England.


I didn’t buy Frank’s book but I am happy to see that someone did. If he left out the govt. part that is a shame. The big reason that CTM was sold was to sell large amounts of ordnance to the Union.

Dr. J.R.Crittenden Schmitt


Bill: I found your question provocative, and while I have no answers I do have an opinion or two to offer. I found an online source for a fairly extensive text containing correspondence and reports produced by J.W. Mallet, the officer in charge of the large Confederate laboratory in Macon, Georgia. This was, I believe, the largest maker of small arms ammunition in the South during the war. It was interesting to me that while Mallet repeatedly mentioned shortages of copper and lead I could find no mention of a shortage of mercury to produce fulminate. I’d guess then that that wasn’t his greatest worry. As to source, it seems to me that Macon’s priming and fuze compound was probably locally produced from imported elemental mercury. I would imagine Spain would have been from Mallet’s viewpoint a less troubled source than California, though no piece of cake itself. I would be very interested to hear what you can turn up on this question. Jack