Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Spencer M-1860 Rifle

Probably no one weapon of the US Civil War is more representative of the overwhelming force of industry and technology brought to bear by the North against the South than the US M-1860 series of rifles & carbines affectionately called "the horizontal shot tower", known more commonly as the Spencer.

At first, the view by the Department of War Ordnance Department was that soldiers would waste ammunition by firing too rapidly with repeating rifles, and thus denied a government contract for all such weapons.  More accurately, they feared that the armies logistics train would be unable to provide enough ammunition for the soldiers in the field, as they already had grave difficulty bringing up enough ammunition to sustain armies of tens of thousands of men over distances of hundreds of miles. A weapon able to fire several times as fast would require a vastly expanded logistics train and place great strain on the already overburdened railroads and tens of thousands of more mules, wagons, and wagon train guard detachments. The fact that several Springfield rifle-muskets could be purchased for the cost of a single Spencer carbine also influenced thinking.

However, the Spencer rifle along with other makes were eventually adopted by the Union and saw service during the American Civil War. By war’s end some 11,470 of the Spencer military rifles were delivered to the US military between 1863 and 1865, and nearly five times that many carbines saw service as well.  


Pictured is a pristine Model 1860 Spencer Repeater Army issue rifle, produced in the 1863-1864 time frame. The .52 caliber rifle weighs ten pounds and used the 56-56 Spencer rimfire cartridge. Rifle measures 47” overall with a 30” round barrel. This particular rifle was manufactured in 1864.



Developed by Erastus Blakeslee, a Colonel with the 1st Connecticut Volunteer Cavalry, the Blakeslee cartridge boxes carried soldered iron tubes loaded with seven cartridges for the Spencer Repeater, This model carries 10 tubes, which allowed for rapid reloading. Only 10,000 of these cartridge boxes were manufactured.