Spencer repeating rifle
|Spencer Repeating Rifle|
Spencer repeating rifle
|Type||Manually cocked Lever Action Rifle|
|Place of origin||United States|
|Used by||United States Army
United States Navy
Confederate States of America
Empire of Brazil
|Wars||American Civil War
|Manufacturer||Spencer company, Burnside Rifle Co, Winchester|
|Number built||200,000 approx.|
|Length||47 inches (1,200 mm) rifle with 30 inch barrel
39.25 inches (997 mm) carbine with 22 inch barrel
|Barrel length||30 inches (760 mm)
22 inches (560 mm)
20 inches (510 mm)
|Cartridge||.56-56 Spencer rimfire|
|Caliber||.52 inches (13 mm)|
|Action||Manually cocked hammer, lever action|
|Rate of fire||14 or 20 rounds per minute|
|Muzzle velocity||931 to 1,033 ft/s (284 to 315 m/s)|
|Effective firing range||500 yards|
|Feed system||7 round tube magazine|
The Spencer repeating rifle was a manually operated lever-action, repeating rifle fed from a tube magazine with cartridges. It was adopted by the Union Army, especially by the cavalry, during the American Civil War, but did not replace the standard issue muzzle-loading rifled muskets in use at the time. The Spencer carbine was a shorter and lighter version.
The design was completed by Christopher Spencer in 1860, and was for a magazine-fed, lever-operated rifle chambered for the .56-56 Spencer rimfire cartridge. Unlike later cartridge designations, the first number referred to the diameter of the case ahead of the rim, while the second number referred to the diameter at the mouth; the actual bullet diameter was .52 inches. Cartridges were loaded with 45 grains (2.9 g) of black powder.
To use the Spencer, a lever had to be worked to extract the used case and feed a new cartridge from the tube. Like the Springfield Model 1873 Trapdoor Rifle, the hammer had to be manually cocked in a separate action. The weapon used copper rimfire cartridges based on the 1854 Smith & Wesson patent. These were stored in a seven-round tube magazine. A spring in the tube enabled the rounds to be fired one after another. When empty, the tube could be rapidly loaded either by dropping in fresh cartridges individually or from a device called the Blakeslee Cartridge Box, which contained up to thirteen (also six and ten) tubes with seven cartridges each, which could be emptied into the magazine tube in the buttstock.
There were .56-52, .56-50, and even a few .56-46 versions of the cartridge created, which were necked down versions of the original .56-56. Cartridge length was limited by the action size to about 1.75 inches, and the later calibers used a smaller diameter, lighter bullet and larger powder charge to increase the power and range over the original .56-56 cartridge, which, while about as powerful as the .58 caliber rifled musket of the time, was underpowered by the standards of other early cartridges such as the .50–70 and .45-70.
At first, conservatism from the Department of War delayed its introduction to service, on the grounds that soldiers would waste ammunition by firing too rapidly. However, Christopher Spencer was eventually able to gain an audience with President Abraham Lincoln, who subsequently invited him to a shooting match and demonstration of the weapon. Lincoln was impressed with the weapon, and ordered that it be adopted for production.
The Spencer repeating rifle was first adopted by the United States Navy, and subsequently adopted by the United States Army and used during the American Civil War where it was a popular weapon. The South occasionally captured some of these weapons and ammunition, but, as they were unable to manufacture the cartridges because of shortages of copper, their ability to take advantage of the weapons was limited. Notable early instances of use included the Battle of Hoover's Gap (where Col. John T. Wilder's "Lightning Brigade" effectively demonstrated the firepower of repeaters), and the Gettysburg Campaign, where two regiments of the Michigan Brigade (under Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer) carried them at the Battle of Hanover and at East Cavalry Field. As the war progressed, Spencers were carried by a number of Union cavalry and mounted infantry regiments and provided the Union army with additional firepower versus their Confederate counterparts. President Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth was armed with a Spencer carbine at the time he was captured and killed.
The Spencer showed itself to be very reliable under combat conditions, with a sustainable rate-of-fire in excess of 20 rounds per minute. Compared to standard muzzle-loaders, with a rate of fire of 2–3 rounds per minute, this represented a significant tactical advantage. However, effective tactics had yet to be developed to take advantage of the higher rate of fire. Similarly, the supply chain was not equipped to carry the extra ammunition. Detractors would also complain that the amount of smoke produced was such that it was hard to see the enemy.
One of the advantages of the Spencer was that its ammunition was waterproof and hardy, and could stand the constant jostling of long storage on the march, such as Wilson's Raid. The story goes that every round of paper and linen Sharps ammunition carried in the supply wagons was found useless after long storage in supply wagons. Spencer ammunition had no such problem.
In the late 1860s, the Spencer company was sold to the Fogerty Rifle Company and ultimately to Winchester. Many Spencer carbines were later sold as surplus to France where they were used during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.
Even though the Spencer company went out of business in 1869, ammunition was manufactured in the United States into the 1920s. Later, many rifles and carbines were converted to centerfire, which could fire cartridges made from the centerfire .50-70 brass. Production ammunition can still be obtained on the specialty market.
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- List of individual weapons of the U.S. Armed Forces
- Walter, John (2006). The Rifle Story. Greenhill Books. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-85367-690-1.
- The M-1863 version
- The M-1865 version
- Walter, John (2006). The Rifle Story. Greenhill Books. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-1-85367-690-1. "The fire-rate of the Spencer was usually reckoned as fourteen shots per minute. The Spencer rifle with a Blakeslee quickloader could easily fire twenty aimed shots a minute"
- "The Spencer Repeater and other breechloading rifles of the Civil War". Retrieved 2011-02-23.
- "Blakeslee Cartridge Box". National Museum of American History. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
- Davis, Burke (1982). The civil war: strange & fascinating facts (1st ed.). New York, NY: Fairfax Press. p. 135. ISBN 0517371510.
- "Spencer Carbine". CivilWar@Smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 9 September 2010.
- Rummel III, George, Cavalry of the Roads to Gettysburg: Kilpatrick at Hanover and Hunterstown, White Mane Publishing Company, 2000, ISBN 1-57249-174-4.
- Steers, Edward (12 September 2010). The Trial: The Assassination of President Lincoln and the Trial of the Conspirators. University Press of Kentucky. p. 93. ISBN 0-8131-2724-6.
- "The Spencer Repeater". aotc.net Army of the Cumberland. Retrieved 9 September 2010.
- "More on Spencer's Seven Shot Repeater". Hackman-Adams. Retrieved 9 September 2010.
- Pritchard, Russ A. (1 August 2003). Civil War Weapons and Equipment. Globe Pequot Press. pp. 49–41. ISBN 978-1-58574-493-0.
- Houze, Herb (28 February 2011). Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books. pp. 69–70. ISBN 1-4402-2725-X.
- Tucker, Spencer (21 November 2012). Almanac of American Military History. ABC-CLIO. p. 1028. ISBN 978-1-59884-530-3.
- Flatnes, Oyvind (30 November 2013). From Musket to Metallic Cartridge: A Practical History of Black Powder Firearms. Crowood Press, Limited. p. 410. ISBN 978-1-84797-594-2.
- Chris Kyle and William Doyle, "American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms".
- Earl J. Coates and Dean S. Thomas, An Introduction to Civil War Small Arms.
- Ian V. Hogg, Weapons of the Civil War.
- Barnes, Cartridges of the World.
- Marcot, Roy A. Spencer Repeating Firearms 1995.
- Sherman, William T. Memoirs Volume 2 - contains an account of the success of the Spencer on combat (pp. 187–8) and reflections on the role of the repeating rifle in warfare (pp. 394–5).