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 When the wedge was withdrawn (or not completely seated into the bolt), the hammer could not be moved at all and was blocked into fired position.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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