Ferguson rifle

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Ferguson Rifle
Ferguson Rifle
British Army manual for the Ferguson rifle
Type Rifle
Place of origin  Great Britain
Service history
In service British Army 1776
Used by United Kingdom
Wars American Revolutionary War
Production history
Designed 1770
Produced 1776-1778
Number built 100 only were produced
Variants ?
Specifications
Weight 7.5 lbs, 3.5 kg
Length various: 48 to 60in.
Barrel length ?

Cartridge .615 in
Caliber .650 in
Action See Text
Rate of fire 7 rounds a minute[citation needed]
Muzzle velocity Variable
Effective firing range 200 and 300 yard sights on the Ordnance Rifle
Feed system Breech loaded

The Ferguson rifle was one of the first breech loading rifles to be widely tested by the British military. Other breech loaders were experimented with in various commands, including earlier versions of the Ordnance rifle by Patrick Ferguson when he was in the "Fever Islands" (Caribbean). It was often misreported by historians to be a .65 (.648 true) caliber rifle. It actually used a standard British carbine ball of .615 caliber. The use of an oversized ball contributed to some of the erroneous claims of fouling and inaccuracy. The Ferguson Ordnance Rifle was used by the British Army in the American Revolutionary War at the Battle of Saratoga (1777).

It may also have been used at the Siege of Charleston in 1780 (Ref: Life of Washington, W. Irving, Vol. IV, Ch. 5, 1857). Its superior firepower was unappreciated at the time because it was too expensive, the Crown treasury was too low, the short-land pattern of the King's Musket, aka the Brown Bess musket, had just been approved and was beginning production, and so was too new (only 10 years into its 50-year lifespan) and the gunsmiths of England could not produce them fast enough for mass deployment during the American War.

As such, Ferguson only ordered 1000 rifles to be made. The combined gunsmiths of England could produce 500 muskets a month, but the 4 gunsmiths making Ferguson's Ordnance Rifle could not make 100 in 6 months at 4 times the cost per arm of a musket.

Details[edit]

The breech of the weapon is closed by 11 starting threads on a tapered screw, and the trigger guard serves as the crank to rotate it. One complete turn dropped the screw low enough to drop a round ball into the exposed breech followed by a slight overcharge of powder which was then sheared to the proper charge by the screw as it closed the breech. Since the weapon was loaded from the breech, rather than from the muzzle, it had an amazingly high rate of fire for its day, and in capable hands fired six to ten rounds per minute.

The action was adapted from the earlier 1720 Isaac de la Chaumette design by Major Patrick Ferguson (1744-1780), who redesigned it around 1770. He received an English patent in December of 1776 (number 1139) on details of the design.

Roughly one hundred of the Ordnance rifles were manufactured by four British gun firms, Durs Egg being the most notable, and issued to Ferguson's unit when its members were drawn from numerous light infantry units in General Howe's army. The largest battle in which the rifles were used was the Battle of Brandywine, in which Ferguson was wounded. While he recuperated, his Experimental Rifle Corps was subsequently disbanded. This was in no way due to "excessive losses" or any political machinations. The unit was an experiment; the men were always slated to return to their original units.

If the unit was a failure as reported by some historians[who?], why was Ferguson successful in getting General Clinton to agree to double the size of his experimental corps? Sadly, once Ferguson took a musket ball in the right elbow his chances of surviving, let alone returning to the field, did not look good, and the experiment of the charismatic young officer was ended.

Ferguson's men went back to the light infantry units they had originally come from, and his rifles were eventually replaced with the standard Short Land Pattern musket. Some historians[who?] report the surviving rifles were apparently put in storage in New York. But as most surviving Ferguson Ordnance Rifles known to exist in the U.S. today were war booty taken North during the American Civil War, questions remain as to any possible deployment of Ferguson Rifles in the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution. To support this a number of ferguson rifles were brought north by the North Carolina Militia during the War of 1812. At least two actions are displayed at the Fort Meigs museum near Perrysburg Ohio. They were said to be booty from Kings Mountain.

The two main reasons that Ferguson rifles were not used by the rest of the army:

  • The gun was difficult and expensive to produce using the small, decentralized gunsmith and subcontractor system in use to supply the Ordnance in early-Industrial Revolution Britain.
  • The guns broke down easily in combat, especially in the wood of the stock around the lock mortise. The lock mechanism and breech were larger than the stock could withstand with rough use. All surviving military Fergusons feature a horseshoe-shaped iron repair under the lock to hold the stock together where it repeatedly broke around the weak, over-drilled out mortise.

However, despite an unsubstantiated claim that one of the actions was found at the battle site of Kings Mountain, North Carolina, where Ferguson was killed in action, the only piece of a Ferguson ever found in America from a gun used in action is a trigger guard found in excavations of a British army camp in New York City. The only association the Ferguson rifle has with the Battle of King's Mountain is that Patrick Ferguson was there.

Experience with early modern replicas, made before the proper screw and thread pitch of the breechblock were rediscovered, seemed to indicate that while reloading was rapid, it seemed to be necessary to first lubricate the breech screw (originally with a mixture of beeswax and tallow) or else the (replica) rifle would foul so much that it needed cleaning after three or four shots. However, through the research efforts of DeWitt Bailey and others, the properly made reproduction Ferguson rifle, made according to Patrick Ferguson's specifications of the 1770s, can fire beyond sixty shots.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Ferguson Rifle is a book by Louis L'Amour. It's not about the rifle specifically, but instead a historical fiction story about someone going out west who was given one of the rifles by Ferguson.
  • The rifle was used by Dewey Lambdin for his character Alan Lewrie who picked one up at Yorktown.
  • The Video Game "Empire: Total War" has a unit of "Ferguson Riflemen" which use the Ferguson rifle and are only recruitable by the British.
  • In the video game "Gun" a Ferguson rifle is the final rifle acquired in the game.
  • In the book On Basilisk Station, an alien firearm is compared to a Ferguson rifle
  • the rifle is mentioned several times in the book of Geoffrey Watson "Nelson's fighting cocks"
  • In the book "Like A Mighty Army, 7th book in David Weber's "Safehold" series, a weapons designer for the antagonist, the established church, invents a Ferguson rifle.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • The Age of Firearms: A Pictorial History: Held, Robert ISBN 978-0-517-24666-5
  • The American Rifleman: NRA Publications August & September 1971
  • “The American Rifle: At the Battle of Kings Mountain" C. P. Russell, Supervisor of Interpretation, Washington The Regional Review, National Park Service, Region One, Richmond, Va., Vol. V, No. 1, July 1940, pp. 15-21
  • An Essay on Shooting: John Acton ISBN 978-1-104-02246-4
  • British Military Flintlock Rifles, 1740-1840: Bruce N. Canfield, Robert L. Lamoreaux, Edward R. Johnson, De Witt Bailey ISBN 978-1-931464-03-1
  • Ferguson-A Man and his Rifle” Layton Hillyer Guns and Ammo June 1960
  • “Testing the Ferguson Rifle: Modern Marksman Attains High Precision With Arm of 1776*” Dr. Alfred F. Hopkins, formerly Field Curator, Museum Division, Washington. The Regional Review, National Park Service, Region One, Richmond, Va., Vol. VI, Nos. 1 and 2.
  • Patrick Ferguson “A man of some genius” : M M Gilchrist ISBN 1-901663-74-4
  • Scythmore Wedderburn papers: Scottish National Archives
  • Every Insult and Indignity: The Life, Genius and Legacy of Major Patrick Ferguson

External links[edit]