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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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sporting rifle conversion of a Spencer Civil War carbine in the Sam Hawken style.


When the Civil War came to a close in May of 1865, the U.S. military had hundreds of thousands of firearms of various makes and designs in the arsenals. Many were now outdated and sold as surplus, and even some of the more advanced arms like the Spencer repeaters were not all retained. 



J. P. Gemmer, who took over the Hawken brothers' shop in St. Louis in the early 1860s, and other firearms dealers converted surplus carbines and rifles into sporting rifles for settlers headed to the West. Many by Gemmer and Meacham retained the style of the classic plains rifle.
This rifle appears, or was made to appear, to have been one which was altered by Gemmer as, "ST. LOUIS" is stamped ahead of the rear sight dovetail, "S. HAWKEN" behind the dovetail under the rear sight. 
Regardless of who did what and when they did it, I like it. I have always liked the Hawken styling and I’m intrigued by the design of the Spencer.
It is a Spencer with an octagon barrel, custom elongated trigger guard/lever with spur, and double set triggers, a poured pewter forend cap and a wooden ramrod. The best of two worlds.


.56-.56 Sprncer
   

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Shawk & McLanahan Navy Revolver



This revolver’s history varies from one arms historian/collector to another. It has little, if any, real documentation. Collectors argue the who, what and where about these revolvers and even suggest that some of these revolvers may have seen Civil War duty, although that is not documented. Any revolver made in the late 1850’s era would likely have seen service in the war. 


The following information has been gleamed from bits and pieces of several sources and I’ll pass it along as hearsay.
Regardless of who knows what, the Shawk & McLanahan revolver has to be considered one of the rarest American percussion revolvers made.



The Shawk & McLanahan shop was located in Carondelet, on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri in the late 1850s. It is thought that Abel Shawk and J.K. Mc Lanahan financed the operation and Charles Rigdon provided the engineering and the majority of the machinery. (Rigdon of later Leech & Ridgon Co.)
The first few revolvers were basically handmade by a German immigrant gunsmith named William Tegethoff and so marked with his name. (Tegethoff is said to have been previously employed by Samuel Hawken) The later revolvers bare the Shawk & McLanahan name. 


Estimates of how many of these revolvers were produced run from 9 to 100.
The company suddenly went out of business about the time the Civil War erupted, the sudden dissolution appears to have been owed to the divided North/South loyalties of the three pardners.

As you can see, by the following pictures, there were two known variations of this brass frame revolver. Both of which bare slight resemblance to the Whitney and Spiller & Burr revolvers. They had 7-1/2” to 8” barrels and were .36 caliber.



















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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Jesse Butterfield of Philadelphia received a patent for his revolver and pellet or "wafer-primer" mechanism design on December 11, 1855.




In 1861, Butterfield received a contract to produce just under 2,300 of the guns for the Ira Harris Guards of New York state, the contract was cancelled for some unknown reason and Butterfield only produced an estimated 640 of the revolvers.





The Ira Harris Guards were eventually re-designated as the 5th & 6th New York Volunteer infantry regiments. It is unclear whether any of the guns were actually issued to them, but there is some evidence that at least some members of the 5th NY purchased the revolvers privately. There is also evidence that some of the guns were sold in 1861 in the Carolinas, so potential Confederate usage cannot be ruled out. Either way, the revolver has always been considered, by collectors, as a secondary martial revolver of the Civil War era. The majority of the limited production run of these guns were marked on the brass top-strap with the Butterfield patent information and address, as well as with serial numbers on nearly all of the components, both internal and external. The last 50 or so produced were completely unmarked and all were produced before the spring of 1862.


None of these revolvers are known to be stamped with U. S. proofs or inspector marks, however it is assumed that many were in service during the Civil War.



The Butterfield Army revolver was a single action, five shot, .41 caliber pistol is 13.75-inches in length; octagonal barrel is 7-inches and the cylinder is 1-11/16-inches long. It weighs 2 pounds, 10 ounces. The revolver had a unique automatic priming system built into it. Butterfield’s patented priming pellets were inserted into a spring loaded feeding tube that screwed into the bottom of the frame of the revolver, just in front of the trigger guard. The tube would push a primer up against a feeder bar that would push a primer out onto the percussion cone each time the hammer was released by the trigger. This kept the primers safely inside the frame of the pistol until the trigger was pulled. The mechanism was quite similar to the sliding primer bar system that feeds primers into a progressive reloading press today. The intent of the design is to save time whereas one did not have to manually put percussion caps on the nipples or remove them after firing.








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Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Kerr rifle is another one of those limited issue Confederate weapons.























The rifle was designed and registered in May 1861 by James Kerr, who at that time was serving as the superintendent of the London Armoury Company, The small bore, .451 rifle had a 6 groove, 37” barrel that was slightly recessed at the muzzle to protect the rifling and to facilitate the loading of the paper cartridge. It had no provision to mount a bayonet. 

All of the guns were produced by the London Armoury Company, and it is believed that only about 800 of the rifles were manufactured between 1861 and the cessation of London Armoury Company operations in 1866.

For all practical purposes, the gun was a standard London Armoury P-1853 Enfield Rifle Musket, with an upgraded barrel. The rifle was one of the most accurate designs available during the early 1860s.

The extreme accuracy of the rifles, their reasonable price (when compared to Whitworth Rifles) and the strong relationship between the London Armoury Company and the Confederacy would suggest that a large number of these special rifles would have been acquired by the South for use by sharpshooters. While the Confederacy did, in fact acquire some of these special rifles, it seems unlikely that they obtained more than 60 to 80 of them, and documents suggest that only about half that number ever made it into the field. The only confirmed purchase of Kerr Rifles by the Confederate central government was an order placed with Sinclair, Hamilton & Company in July of 1862 by Caleb Huse. It is important to remember that Archibald Hamilton, the principle in Sinclair, Hamilton & Company was also the Managing Director of the London Armoury Company. The order specifies:
“20 small bore Rifles, best cheq’d stocks, brass mountings”
The 20 Kerr Rifles from this order apparently ran the blockade sometime between the fall of 1862 and the fall of 1863, and were eventually delivered to the Richmond Arsenal, where they remained in store until November of 1863. It is not clear when the rifles were delivered, nor when they left England and when they arrived in the South.




On November 16, 1863 Colonel Gorgas of the Confederate Ordnance Department informed Lt. Colonel Hypolite Oladowski, Chief Ordnance Officer of the Army of Tennessee, that he had ordered the Richmond Arsenal to send 20 Kerr Rifles, complete with ammunition to the Army of Tennessee for the use of their sharpshooters. Oladowski subsequently transferred 10 of these Kerr rifles to General Patrick R. Cleburne’s Division (Hardee’s Corps) at Tunnel Hill, Georgia on December 23, 1863 at the request of Captain Charles S. Hill, Ordnance Officer. Captain Hill officially confirmed the receipt of these rifles on December 24, 1863, and included a personal note wishing Oladowski “Merry Christmas & Happy New Year”. No further documents have been uncovered relating to the field use of the remaining 10 brass mounted Kerr rifles, although it seems unlikely that these very important rifles would languish in the Richmond Arsenal unnecessarily, when they certainly could have been put to use in the field.

An additional group of iron mounted Kerr Rifles has been documented in Confederate service, and these guns also saw service in the Western Theater with the Army of Tennessee. The group of 11 guns were a gift to General John Breckenridge from an unidentified “English Friend”. Breckenridge had formerly commanded the Kentucky “Orphan Brigade”, and he passed the guns directly to his old brigade. In April of 1864 a shooting contest was held by the brigade in Dalton, GA, and the two best shots from the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 9th Kentucky Infantry were issued these special rifles, with the 11th gun going to Lieutenant George Hector Burton who was placed in command of this elite sharpshooting unit. The Orphan Brigade was officially the 4th Brigade, First Division of General Hardee’s Corps at that time, so all documented issues of Kerr Rifles were to elements of Hardee’s Command. 



























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