This question arises from an 1845 newspaper article about the "Ballinhassig Slaughter" which was a confrontation between civilians and police that ended with the police shooting dead between 8 and 11 people. The following was said during the coroner's inquest:

Now, I know that with modern firearms, the exit wound is generally bigger than the entry wounds Further, it would appear this holds true for Civil War muskets; however, that same article makes it clear that the newer Minié ball created much more devastating wounds. I can't find anything specifically about pre-Civil War muskets c. 1845.

If an exact weapon is needed, my first guess is that it was the Baker Rifle with my second guess being the Brunswick Rifle. Now, I imagine the same thing holds true and these surgeons are correct in their assessment that entry wounds are smaller than exit wounds; however, I wanted to be sure, because if this rule of thumb, for some reason, changes for lower-velocity balls, it would render the surgeons' conclusions reverse. I appreciate any help you can provide.

  • If you want to find more about pre-Civil War muskets, I'm sure the folks at History.SE can help.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 4:09

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure that there is any situation, outside of a projectile designed to stay inside the body or ablate (if such a thing is possible), that there would ever be a situation where the exit wound was smaller than the entry. For a round designed to fragment and stay inside the body (e.g. "dumdum" rounds), then there would be massive internal damage from the cavitation and shrapnel by the momentum change of the round. If the round were something like a shotgun, which has lots of small projectiles in one shot. For these, the loss of momentum from each results in extensive bruising and tissue destruction over a wide area, but not to great depth as each individual shot has a relatively small momentum.

At a minimium, given maintenance of the projectile shape, the exit wound should be at least the same size as the entry wound (i.e. can't be smaller because the bullet is the same size as when it went in), or larger through cavitation from the pressue that expands through the tissue and can exit the body. There are some images of the resulting wounds from projectiles here. There's also the case where a projectile deforms and/or tumbles in passage through a target. This would result in a larger exit hole again.

  • 1
    I believe this is the correct answer based on my understanding of gunshot wound physics. I think "cavitation" is the word you were looking for when you said "pressure induction." Projectiles make larger wound channels in flesh than the projectile's diameter due to cavitation, and the higher the velocity, the larger the channel and therefore the exit wound, but there is no lower velocity where that becomes untrue. If it's got enough momentum to pass through the body, the exit wound is always going to be larger.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 0:37
  • 2
    @CareyGregory that's the word exactly. I'll edit to change
    – bob1
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 0:55

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