Lieutenant Colonel James H. Burton was born on August 17, 1823 and learned the machinist trade in Baltimore, Maryland.
He obtained a job at Harpers Ferry Armory, where within 10 years he became Master Armorer. While holding the earlier position of Assistant Master Armorer in 1849, he perfected the American version of the famous Minie ball.
His improvement changed the design so that the iron cup in the base cavity could be eliminated, thus making the bullet easier and cheaper to manufacture. The United States adopted Burton's bullet and introduced a series of arms designed to fire it during 1855.
His bullet was the principal small arms projectile of the Civil War. When the Civil War broke out, Burton accepted a commission as a lieutenant colonel of Ordnance in the Confederate Army. In this position, he expedited the production of arms, undertook a mission to Europe, and designed a projectile for rifled cannon. Lieutenant Colonel Burton died on October 18, 1894 at Winchester, Virginia.