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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