Sunday, August 20, 2017

Following the Civil War, the federal government was experimenting with adopting some form of breech loading rifle based on the experiences of the war.



Erskine Allin was the master armorer at Springfield, and he developed this conversion design based on utilizing the 1863 percussion rifles left over from the Civil War.

The conversion was designed to take advantage of the sizable quantity of muzzle loading Model 1863 Springfields that were stockpiled following the Civil War. The overall design and philosophy of the conversion (remove a section of the breech, mill a chamber into the barrel, install a hinged breech block) remained consistent through all produced versions of Allin's system.

The first models (left and above) retained the 58 caliber bore, a mechanically ingenious spring loaded extractor/ejector assembly; opening the breech extends a cam-driven extractor, while retracting an ejector pin mounted in the bottom of the cutout, and when the breech is fully opened the extractor snaps back and the pin strikes the extracted cartridge, ejecting it from the weapon.

The second model, 1865 (below), had a simplified and improved extractor and the barrels being relined and rifled to .50 caliber and chambered for the powerful centerfire .50-70 Government cartridge.




The conversions were significant and key to martial rifle development as it ushered in the trapdoor rifle series and actually brought the US military solidly into the breech loading era. 

Both conversions amounted to approximately 25,000 Springfield Model 1863 rifled muskets that were converted by Springfield Armory for use by U.S. troops.

Wm. Cody with a 2nd Model in his lap


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Trenton Locomotive and Machine Company Model 1861 rifle-musket.



The U.S. Model 1861 Springfield rifle musket was the primary infantry weapon of Federal Forces at the start of the Civil War. 
Springfield Armory could not keep up with the demand for muskets at the start of the war, and sub-contracted to a number of private manufacturers. 

On December 26, 1861, James T. Hodge and Addison M. Burt each received separate contracts calling for 50,000 Model 1861 rifle-muskets at $20.00 each. 
Shortly thereafter Burt approached Hodge with the suggestion of joining their respective arms-making venture, but without forming an actual partnership or corporation which would have voided their contracts. Both felt that a combined effort would prove highly beneficial. 

In mid-January of 1862, Burt and Hodge leased the extensive facilities of the well known Trenton Locomotive and Machine Company, Trenton, New Jersey, at which place they planned to fabricate the rifle-muskets of their respective contracts.

In the following May, Hodge and Burt requested that their contracts be reduced from 50,000 to 25,000 each. This request was approved and so ordered by P.V. Hagner of the U.S. Ordnance Department. 
In spite of the complete and extensive machinery and equipment at their disposal, neither contractor was able to deliver more than about half of their already reduced contracts. Mr. Burt delivered 11,495 rifle-muskets, and Mr. Hodge, 10,500. All were typical Model 1861's in all respects.

The 'Trenton' marked rifle-muskets are excellent examples of a wartime product manufactured through the facilities of what had been a successful peacetime operation, and exemplified the ability of Northern industry to retool for war production." - Reilly

"...many Trenton marked muskets were delivered to the State of New Jersey and perhaps to other states. In 1863 the legislature and governor of the State of New Jersey decided to purchase 10,000 stands of the Springfield rifled musket." - Hartzler, Yantz, Whisker.




Sources & References:
Springfield Armory Museum
Hartzler, Daniel D., Larry W. Yantz & James Biser Whisker. THE U.S. MODEL 1861 RIFLE-MUSKET. Tom Rowe Publications. 2000.
Reilly, Robert. U.S. MILITARY SMALL ARMS 1816-1865. The Eagle Press. Baton Rouge, La. 1970.


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Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Whitney Model 1861 "Plymouth" Rifle


February 7th, 1856, Commander John Dahlgren requested permission from the acting Chief of Bureau of Ordnance to develop a rifled musket, for Naval use, also to hold trials in order to determine the proper design for Naval service. The "Plymouth" rifle, named after the U.S.S. Plymouth, came into being, after several years of Dahlgren’s persistent efforts.

10,000 of these "Plymouth" rifles were manufactured between 1861 and at the 1864 Whitneyville Armory and Whitney Arms Company under contract with the U.S. Navy.


Dahlgren believed that the short 34” barrel and the .69 caliber was best suited for the Navy’s requirements than the standard 40’ barreled .54 caliber adopted by the Army. The short barrel was better for climbing in and out of small boats, climbing up masts to the ships fighting tops and for boarding and landing actions. The large .69 heavy ball could deal with a ship’s wooden bulwarks plus the larger bore was more amenable to buckshot. He felt buckshot would be better suited for close quarter fighting that sailors would likely be confronted with.

He had little concern about the extra weight of the .69 caliber rifle and ammunition since sailors acting as naval infantry would not normally be called on to make long marches.
Dahlgren also wanted to employ more precise sights suitable for ship to ship sniping. Last but by no means least was the Collins & Company saber type bayonets used only on this model.

The rifles saw use on various U.S Navy warships during the war and were highly sought after. A commanding officer reportedly requested Plymouth rifles in exchange for the Spencer rifles his crew was issued because the harder hitting Plymouth with its distinctive saber bayonet was more useful than the Spencer's rapid fire at close range hand to hand fighting.
Variations are found throughout the Plymouth rifle contract due to Whitney's penchant for using leftover parts from other weapon production runs.







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Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Winchester Model 1866 Infantry Rifle
























The iconic Winchester Model 1866 went into production in 1867 and over the next 30+ years some 160,000 M-1866s would be produced, in rifle, carbine and musket variants. While most images of the M-1866 center on the American “Old West”, and involve the saddle ring carbine or the rifle, the musket was an important part of the Winchester product line because Oliver Winchester was always hoping to secure military contracts for his arms.

Winchester actually termed these Model 1866s as "Infantry Rifles" because the term "Musket" evoked visions of the unwieldy long barrel, large bore rifles that were produced during the Civil War era.

Even though the musket variant of the M-1866 did not go into production until late 1869 or early 1870, in the series known to collectors as “Third Model” 1866s, they had a major influence on military rifle design, especially in Europe. A large number of M-1866 muskets and a smaller number of carbines were acquired by the Turkish military and used to great effect during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, where their rapid-fire capability decimated the Russian forces during the Siege of Plevna. Although the Turks eventually lost the war, the firepower of the repeating Winchester resulted in many European countries developing tubular magazine fed repeating rifles.

The military musket had a 27” round barrel, with the 24” magazine tube allowing the rifle to have a full 17 round capacity.

It had 3 barrel bands, sling swivels and could mount either a socket bayonet (standard) or a saber bayonet, 1,000 or less, were equipped to accept a saber bayonet. Today 1866 muskets that are equipped for the saber bayonet are highly sought after by Winchester collectors.

Most estimates place the production of 1866 Muskets at somewhere around 14,000 units.



A limited number of the rifles were nickle plated, possibility for naval use? 










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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Over 30,000 Smith Carbines saw service during the American Civil War.





















The Smith Carbine was patented by Dr. Gilbert Smith on June 23, 1857 and successfully completed the Military Trials of the late 1850s. The carbines were built by Massachusetts Arms Company of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts; the American Machine Works in Springfield, Massachusetts; or the American Arms Company in Chicopee Falls. The name of the distributor for the manufacturer, Poultney & Trimble of Baltimore, Maryland, is often stamped on the carbine's receivers. 



The carbine was the first breech-loading firearm that was compact enough for cavalry use and available in significant numbers at the onset of the Civil War. Though it remained in service throughout the conflict and was the fourth most-purchased firearm of its kind, the arrival of easier-loading, better-performing Spencer and Sharps carbines caused the Smith's production to cease in 1865. 



Over 30,000 plus carbines were consumed by U.S. government contracts, with limited numbers going to the civilian market. It was second to the Sharps as the most issued carbine during the Civil War.



Early versions are often known to modern collectors as Artillery models, but all Smiths were issued to cavalry units.


The carbines were considered to be accurate and reliable weapons. It was unique in that it used rubber cartridges which sealed the gases in the breech. The downside was that these cartridges were sometimes difficult to remove.














The .50 caliber carbine was loaded by opening the breech with a depression latch located forward of the trigger inside the trigger guard. Pressing the latch released the breech lock causing the barrel and forend to drop forward, exposing the breech.



Latch extension


It measures 39½” long overall and weighs seven pounds and eight ounces. Two-piece black walnut stock is made up of a 9” forearm held by a single barrel band. 


Units known to have received the Smith carbine include:
3rd West Virginia Volunteer Regiment, 7th Illinois, 11th Illinois, 1st Connecticut, 7th Pennsylvania, 17th Pennsylvania, 6th Ohio, 9th Ohio, 1st Massachusetts and 10th New York Volunteer. 

Reproductions are made by Pietta and sold by Dixie Gun Works.



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Sunday, July 16, 2017

One of the rarest and most sophisticated of small arms to be imported by the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
























The Wilson Patent Breech Loading Rifle.
Thomas Wilson was an engineer and inventor and held no less than 25 British firearms patents, which he registered between 1855 and 1868.
For a percussion ignition, breech-loading rifle, it was ingeniously simple and extremely sturdy. 

A simple “bolt” was located at the breech end of the barrel, which was secured by a transverse wedge, similar to an extremely oversized Colt pistol wedge. To load the gun, the wedge was drawn outward, away from the lock plate. When pulled out sufficiently, the wedge freed the simple bolt to be drawn backwards and exposed the chamber for loading. The bolt had a pivoting, fishtail shaped, checkered piece at its rear that gave the operator a firm grasping area for opening the bolt and a large target to slam the bolt closed with, when using the palm of his hand. A combustible cartridge was inserted in the chamber and the bolt slammed home to seat the cartridge. A greased felt wad in the bottom of the cartridge insured the chamber sealed completely and did not leak gas. The locking wedge was then pushed back into the bolt, securing it. At this point the hammer could be placed on half cock, and a percussion cap placed upon the cone (nipple). The rifle was then fired like any traditional cap lock. The placement and design of the wedge insured safety, as the hammer had to be in the fired position for the wedge to be moved. When the wedge was withdrawn (or not completely seated into the bolt), the hammer could not be moved at all and was blocked into fired position. This eliminated the potential for an accidental discharge while loading the rifle, or the firing of the gun without having the bolt completely in battery.

























"While no official Confederate order for Wilson rifles has yet been discovered, correspondence and other period documents indicate that at least a few of the rifles were purchased and delivered to the Confederacy. According a sworn statement, made by Archibald McLaurin, agent for the firm of J. Scholefield, Sons & Goodman in New Orleans, on July 10, 1862, the blockade runner Bamberg was carrying a sample Wilson’s breechloading rifle, destined for that firm’s showroom.
The Federal Blockading Squadron may well have captured the rifle after it finally left Havana.
Additional documentation comes from an April 23, 1863 letter from CSN Commander James North to G.B. Tennent of Courtney, Tennent & Company of Charleston. In the letter, North complains about the tight fit of the bayonet on sample Wilson rifle that he had examined. North goes on to say “If I have not ordered 200 rounds of ball cartridges to each rifle, you will please do so for me. Get me the form for making them, also the receipt for lubricating the wads.”
This suggests that at least some Wilson rifles were in use by the Confederate Navy as they not only needed ammunition for the rifles, but also the forms for making the cartridges in the south, and the formula for the wad lubricant. It would not make sense for the Confederate Ordnance Department to go to the trouble of obtaining the material to produce patent cartridges that could only be used in Wilson rifles, if there were not a number of the guns in service.

The seminal work“Firearms of the Confederacy” by Fuller & Steuart note that some Wilson rifles saw service in the defenses of Charleston. This seems possible, as Courtney & Tennent of Charleston appear to have delivered at least some of the rifles."

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Peabody action was developed by Henry O. Peabody from Boston, Massachusetts, and was first patented on July 22, 1862 and tested in 1864.






















While the Peabody was not perfected in time for the American Civil War, a few were entered in the trials of 1864 with favorable reports. Peabody carbines and rifles were made by the Providence Tool Company, Providence, Rhode Island from 1866–1871. 



Rifles and carbines entered production after the end of the war. The total production was, 112,000 for all models.

The majority of Peabody's production was for foreign contracts, they were adopted by the militaries of Canada, Switzerland, France, Romania, Mexico and Spain during the later 1860s. In the US some state militia purchased the weapon, Connecticut 2000 rifles, Massachusetts 2,941 rifles and South Carolina 350 carbines

Available calibers were: .45 Peabody rimfire; .45-70 Government; .50 rimfire; 50-70; .433 Spanish; 10.4 mm rimfire Swiss.
Barrel length carbine 20", rifle 33". Finish: Receiver case hardened, barrel blued, iron mountings, walnut stock.

His basic design was based upon a pivoting breechblock, the front of which pivoted down on a transverse pin fixed through both the upper rear of the breechblock and the upper rear of the box-like receiver. As the breechblock was lowered, it exposed the barrel chamber and permitted the insertion of a cartridge. The rifle was fired by means of a musket-style outside hammer whose lockwork was inletted into the buttstock behind the receiver.


In operation, the hammer was set on halfcock, and the loading lever/trigger guard was pulled down to expose the chamber so that a cartridge could be slid down the grooved top of the breechblock into the chamber. As the lever was pulled up, an upward extension of the lever pushed the breechblock into battery and acted as a prop to keep it closed. After firing when the breechblock was lowered, it activated an extractor that pulled the spent cartridge case from the chamber, throwing it clear of the receiver.



All in all, it was a strong, simple, rugged, and foolproof design well suited for military service. 







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Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Colt Model 1855 was the most widely produced revolving rifle of the era. It was available in .36, .44 and .56 caliber and barrel lengths of 15, 18, 21 and 24 inches were available.


























In 1855 Colt introduced a spur-trigger revolver with a top strap that featured a fully enclosed cylinder. These handguns were officially named Sidehammer revolvers, but they also were known as "Root" revolvers after Elisha K. Root, who at that time was employed as Colt's factory superintendent and Chief Engineer.

Based on the Sidehammer design, Colt produced the Sidehammer Model 1855 rifles and carbines for military and sporting use, as well as a revolving shotgun. In 1855 it became the first repeating rifle to be adopted for service by the U.S. Military, but problems with the design prevented its use until 1857. The principal problem was that gunpowder would sometimes leak from the paper cartridges in field conditions, lodging in various recesses around the firing cylinder. Hot gas leaking from the gap between the firing cylinder and the barrel would ignite this powder, which would in turn, ignite all of the powder in the chambers waiting to be fired, known as a chainfire. A distrust in the weapon developed as a result. 

Field Commanders attempted to get around the problem in a number of ways. 
The rifle had to be properly and thoroughly cleaned, since sloppy cleaning would leave residue behind that would increase the risk of a chain fire. 
Some commanders instructed their men to fire the weapon only while supporting it directly in front of the trigger guard or by holding the lowered loading lever, which moved their left hand out of the path of danger during a chainfire. 

Other commanders instructed their men to load only a single chamber, preventing any chain fires from occurring. Loading a single chamber at a time also reduced the weapon to a single shot weapon, and effectively defeated the entire purpose of having a repeating rifle.

The U.S. government had purchased 765 Colt revolving carbines and rifles prior to the Civil War. Many of these were shipped to southern locations and ended up being used by the Confederacy. After the war began, the Union purchased many more rifles and carbines. Sources disagree over the exact number purchased, but approximately 4,400 to 4,800 were purchased in total over the length of the war.

The weapon performed superbly in combat, seeing action with the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The volume of fire from this weapon proved to be so useful that the Confederate forces were convinced that they were attacking an entire division, not just a single regiment, but still, the Ohioans ran out of ammunition, and surrendered. The rifle's faults would prove fatal for the weapon. A board of officers evaluated the evidence and decided to discontinue its use. 













 Colt produced the Sidehammer Model 1855 rifles and carbines for military and sporting use, as well as a revolving shotgun.



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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Greene Breech Loading Underhammer rifle.




















The rifle was the brainchild of U.S. Army Lt. Col. J. Durrell Greene and patented on November 17, 1857. These unusual rifles of underhammer design and unusual .53 caliber oval-shaped Lancaster type bore, were manufactured just before the Civil War by A. H. Waters Armory in Millbury, Massachusetts. Waters used machinery, purchased by Greene from Charles Lancaster, to manufacture the barrels. 

Only 1,500 were manufactured for the U.S. and another 3,000 were produced for a Russian contract. 900 of the rifles were purchased by the Ordnance Department and delivered in March of 1863, it is felt that very few were actually used. The remaining 600 were sold on the open market, including an unknown number sold through William Read & Sons in Boston to state militias. One has to assume some of these saw service in the Civil War, however I have not personally seen firm documentation of such.

The rifle has the distinction of being considered the first bolt action rifle purchased for the U.S. Army. However, technically, the bolt mechanism is simply a loading feature, instead of having a firing pin in the bolt it employs a pusher rod to seat the paper cartridge and two locking lugs to secure the breech. The action itself operates via the manually cocked ring hammer ahead of the trigger guard.




The rifles have 36 inch barrels that use a oval bore with a very shallow rifling method developed by Lancaster, a London gunmaker. The Lancaster rifling was considered the most effective for black powder shooting, as it would spin the bullet/ball sufficiently to provide good accuracy, but not so deep that it caused a lot of powder fouling.


“Now here's where it gets really interesting. The Greene system required loading two bullets per shot. One of the bullets served as a projectile and one served as a gas seal. In the initial loading sequence, a bullet was inserted into the chamber, followed by a powder charge, then a second bullet was inserted behind the powder charge. No doubt the powder charge was contained in a combustible nitrated-paper cartridge. Don’t know that for certain, but just a logical guess. At least, that’s the way I would have done it”.

“The first bullet left the muzzle when the rifle was discharged, while the second remained in the breech to prevent propellant gasses from escaping past the bolt, thus sealing the chamber and breech. When the rifle was re-loaded, the former rear bullet was pushed forward into the bore, followed by another powder charge and a new "gas seal" bullet. The process would be continually repeated. Thus each bullet saw dual use - both as a breech gas seal, and as the projectile of the subsequent shot”. (Underhammers.blogspot) 





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