Johnston & Dow Patented Combustible Waterproof Cartridge


Item: Johnston & Dow Patented Combustible Waterproof Cartridge 
Caliber: .58
Construction: Coated combustible paper and lead projectile.
Condition: Good, excavated. The ball (bullet) has a white patina with mild ground action on its surface. The paper cartridge case is complete with the exception of a 2 x 5 mm hole just below the base of the bullet. The edges of the hole do not appear to be the result of a puncture or tear, but more likely the result of shrinkage or possibly a manufacturing flaw. The paper case has a nice round shape with the exception of one side. The seal of the paper to the bullet is tight and, the above mentioned hole, makes visible the 150 year old gun powder. Overall the paper case is in sound shape with no major damage or repairs. 
Recovered: Fair Oaks, VA.
Approximate size: 1.9 inch length.
Reference:  Similar examples can be found in the following Civil War relic reference books:

  • "A Handbook of Civil War Bullets and Cartridges" by James E. Thomas and Dean S. Thomas on page 39, #150B.
  • "Round Ball to Rimfire, Part One by Dean S. Thomas p. 175, #244.

A scan of these pages are included in the additional images.

Comments: According to "A Handbook of Civil War Bullets and Cartridges" on page 10, #47 regarding the construction of the Johnston and Dow cartridge, "Using paper or fabric that was treated  to make it combustible, the cartridge case was made and pasted to the bullet in the usual manner. The case was then covered with collodion to make it waterproof. A final coat of collodion made the cartridge waterproof." The fact that complete cartridges are still recovered is a testament to the inventor's claim of them being impervious to the weather.

On page 168 of "Round Ball to Rimfire, Part One, Dean S. Thomas notes the following:

"Pursuant to Special Orders No. 327 dated December 13, 1861, by command of Major General George B. McClellan, a Board of Officers convened at the Washington Arsenal on December 26, 1861. The Board was charged "to examine and try such arms and projectiles as may be submitted to it." Among the items "examined and tried" were Johnston and Dow's Combustible and Waterproof Cartridges."

This Cartridge is made of combustible paper, with a coating that protects it from moisture. Its range and penetration are equal to those of the ordinary service cartridge. This cartridge is very strong and neatly made, and is not liable to break or become damaged. Several of these Cartridges were submerged in water for six hours, and were afterwards fired without difficulty. The combustion of the paper of which these cartridges were made in the discharge is complete.

It was further the opinion of the Board:

Johnston and Dow's Combustible and Waterproof Cartridge stood all the tests applied to it in the most satisfactory manner, and the Board recommended its general use in the service.

The first order for .58 cal. rifle musket cartridges placed with a company or firm calling themselves "Johnston and Dow" was issued on March 24, 1862, and over the next eleven weeks a total of 1,369,200 Springfield/Enfield rifle musket cartridges were ordered."

This excavated cartridge will be an excellent addition to any Civil War cartridge, bullet, or general relic collection.

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