Talk:Spencer repeating rifle

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Revisions Needed[edit]

Several posts in this article are in need of citation and are likely not factually accurate. I have notated them, and I am adding in additional information regarding the factual errors in this discussion page. I am not editing the front page, because I believe it to be important that people see that an attempt is being made to police the overwhelmingly great number of factually inaccurate firearms pages on Wikipedia.

In order:

1) Source? Although it was widely used by the Union Army, the weapon adopted after the M1841/M1842 rifle was the M1868 "Trapdoor" rifle.

I'm almost certain that the Spencer did not replace the Springfield as the standard issue rifle of the U.S. I'm removing that sentence. 17:20, 18 December 2006 (UTC)

2) Cite? Considering that centerfire cartridges didn't appear commercially for about a decade after the introduction of the Spencer and other rifles which utilized rimfire cartridges, this statement as it appears can hardly be accurate.

3) Source? This may or may not be true, but a statement such as this- attesting to the intention of a large group of people- must be cited.

4) Cite? The Spencer utilized a cartridge firing a 350-grain bullet at nearly 1200 feet per second velocity. This is nearly comparable to the ballistics of a great number of firearms used by professional buffalo hunters of the day.

Note: Corrected spelling of "Blakeslee".

5) This statement could be more correct. The overwhelming number of such boxes were the 7-tube type. The 6-, 8-, and 10-tube varities were much rarer.

6) Specify: Made until "about 1867"?

7) It is exceptionally likely that an original Spencer is in working order after 130+ years. It is far more likely that the ammunition sold by Cabela's was fired from modern reproductions of the Spencer carbine.

Roundeyesamurai 00:26, 11 November 2006 (UTC)

User "" made an edit which made the line edited that much more vague and innacurate. The edit now says "...replaced the Springfield rifle", which then links to a list of article links for every rifle called a "Springfield rifle". The problem is this: "Springfield" doesn't refer to the model of rifle, but to the Springfield Armory who designed and manufactured several different models of rifles, all of which were issued. The Spencer, likewise, wasn't the single standard issue rifle, but was issued to *some* units. Roundeyesamurai 16:02, 2 December 2006 (UTC)

Scarecrow Repair 18:06, 21 August 2007 (UTC)

I have just finished reding a fairly new (2006) book, A Revolution In Arms: A History of the First Repeating Rifles, Joseph G. Bilby, Westholme Publishing, Yardley PA, ISBN 1-59416-017-1. Pages 118-119 discuss Lincoln shooting a couple of Spencers which failed, then Spencer himself going to Washington to give a personal demonstration which was successful. But this did not result in Lincoln ordering purchases, and in fact the contract had already been signed. He mentions in two footnotes how this myth began. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Scarecrow Repair (talkcontribs).

I'm reading a book right now called "Manhunt: The 12-day Chase for Lincoln's Killer" by James L. Swanson. The book mentions that one of the guns that Booth left Washington with after the assassination was a Spencer carbine. TerryKK6T (talk) 18:15, 23 July 2008 (UTC)

Ballistics Discussion[edit]

(I am separating this into it's own section, just for the sake of clarity.) Roundeyesamurai 16:01, 2 December 2006 (UTC)

Thanks for the effort at getting clarity and citations in the article. I did a little research and found a surprising disparity in the stated muzzle velocities and muzzle energies on various places around the web.
I did find your 350-grain, 1,200 feet-per-second referenced at, but also found some others as shown on the table below:
Muzzle Velocities for the Spencer Rifle, .52 caliber
Powder Load Slug Weight Muzzle Velocity Muzzle Energy Reference
35 grains 380 grains 957 ft/sec 773 ft-lb*
40 grains 380 grains 1,017 ft/sec 873 ft-lb*
45 grains 350 grains 1,200 ft/sec 1,125 ft-lb
48 grains 285 grains no data no data
The starred values in the Muzzle Energy column were calculated at For reference, the calculated value for the third data above was 1,119 foot-pounds: quite close to the presented value.
Now, that last data point in the table strikes me as very fishy. To test this, I took the muzzle energy value and divided by the stated grains of powder. The range of the results was 21.8 to 24.9. I applied the mean (23 foot-pounds per grain) and solved for velocity on the last data point. It resulted in a muzzle velocity of 1,319 feet per second. Hmm.
Perhaps the 285 was a typo and the real value should have been 385. Then the muzzle velocity comes out to 1,134 feet per second.
I freely admit to substantial ignorance about firearms and the variables involved in their performance. As such, I do not know how to reconcile the above data, nor to compare it with the Spencer's hunting weapon contemporaries. I hope it is useful to someone more knowledegable than I.
Mmccalpin 19:15, 11 November 2006 (UTC)

Hi Mmccalpin,

I actually got the figure from a reprinted Sears and Roebuck catalogue (the 1901 edition, which I no longer have, though I still have an 1897 edition). It appears Hackman-Adams did as well. It should be noted that the "1200 fps" figure was actually not muzzle velocity, but velocity at 30 feet, which was how velocity was measured in those days (before chronographs). At the muzzle would have been around 1225-1240.

As far as your load data goes: Is it for 56-56 (which was actually .52 caliber) or 56-52 (which was also .52 caliber)? It's obviously correct for .52 caliber, since none of those loads match the .50-caliber 56-50 Union arsenal round (285 grains ball and 40 grains powder). I am only familiar with 56-56 being loaded in one loading (the one I described), but there could be others that I am not aware of.

To resolve your question regarding the last load data: Yes, that is a bit odd. The only thing I can account for it, is that the bullet may very well be lighter enough that it is propelled out of the barrel fast enough to reduce the amount of powder burned prior to discharge. This paradox of bullet weight and velocity is one of the reasons why almost all cartridges have a specified minimum and maximum bullet weight, because it is possible to propel the bullet fast enough that the powder doesn't have adequate time to fully combust before discharge from the barrel. You'll find a similar disparity if you run the data for, for instance, saboted 55-grain bullets in .308 or .30-'06 cartridges (but the disparity will obviously be much more dramatic than this one).

I doubt it's a typo, since a 385-grain ball and 48 grains of powder seems like it would generate unsafe chamber pressure for a firearm of that period (one of the reasons why the powder charges are small in all of the Spencer loadings).

As far as a comparison of the Spencer to a modern cartridge, let's evaluate all of the Spencer load data (we'll use 56-56, since I am most familiar with it):

Mass: 350 grain (4/5 ounce) Muzzle Velocity: ~1225 fps (22" barrel) Muzzle Energy: 1163 fpe (based on 1225 fps MV) Sectional Density: .185 Ballistic Coefficient: ~.186

I estimated the BC using the BC for a .52 musket ball, which is .136, and compensated for the difference in ogive and in the fact that the Spencer bullet has a hell base which, like a boattail, will greatly improve BC.

Now, the data for a typical 16-gauge shotgun slug, for comparison:

Mass: 350 grain (4/5 ounce) Muzzle Velocity: 1270 fps (22" barrel) Muzzle Energy: 1253 fpe Sectional Density: .112 Ballistic Coefficient: .131

The manufacturer will give you a velocity of 1600 fps, and a corresponding muzzle energy; however, these are from a 28" test barrel. To figure for a 22" barrel (same length as a Spencer carbine barrel), deduct +/-55fps for each inch of barrel length reduced (for a shotgun bore reduced to a length of 16" or more).

As you can see, 56-56 Spencer and a 16-guage slug are virtually identical. The difference of 90 fpe muzzle energy is essentially academic. Note also that the Spencer round has much greater sectional density- which means it will penetrate much deeper- and greater ballistic coefficient, which means it will fly straighter (and penetrate deeper).

To put all of this in perspective: Professional hunting guides frequently use shotgun slugs to defend their clients from attack from dangerous animals (such as bear). Admittedly these are 12-gauge slugs, but 16-gauge slug performance is substantially similar.

With a hard-cast lead bullet, 56-56 would be a very deep penetrator (deeper than any shotgun slug, in fact, due to the greater SD), sufficient for virtually any game on the North American continent. With a soft-cast bullet, it would mushroom considerably and deliver virtually all of its energy to the target, resulting in very impressive tissue disruption (comparable to a hollowpoint shotgun slug). The combination of carbine and cartridge may only be accurate and effective to 250 yards or so, but this is a non-issue for a general-purpose hunting round (and is twice the effective/accurate range of a modern shotgun slug, and three times that of a period musket ball).

Roundeyesamurai 03:43, 12 November 2006 (UTC)

Replaced Link[edit]

I replaced the link to the Dreyse Needle Gun with a link to the Springfield Trapdoor rifle. Reason: Dreyses have no hammer.--hmaag (talk) 11:29, 22 June 2009 (UTC)

Underpowered - Standards[edit]

The statement using those words in "underpowered by the standards of ... 45-70" are a little bit misleading, comparing cartridges in their infancy (Model 1860-1865 Spencers) of the rimfire type to first/second generation centerfire cartridges of a decade or more later (1873). A better comparison might be with cartridges contemporary of the civil war, and with those used in repeating rifles, such as Henry 44 caliber rimfires. Another comparison could be with current contemporary cartridges which 56 caliber rimfires might be close or almost equal to? (talk) 23:04, 9 September 2010 (UTC)

If you have reliable sources that discuss this comparison please point them out so we can update the article. Also note that the .50-70 mentioned in the same sentence was adopted in the same time-frame. Thanks. AliveFreeHappy (talk) 23:09, 9 September 2010 (UTC)

MFGR: Winchester![edit]

Winchester bought the company to obtain the Patent Rights, and Sold all the Machinery, and did not produce Spencer rifles, (why - when it could sell Winchester 1865 rifles instead). There was another manufacturer of Spencer M1860/65 rifles - does the name of Union Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside ring a bell? (talk) 23:18, 9 September 2010 (UTC)

So if you're saying the article is incorrect, just point us to a reliable source or based on that source, update the article yourself. AliveFreeHappy (talk) 23:20, 9 September 2010 (UTC)
Ok, I found a ref for Burnside. I don't have any ref that says Winchester didn't build any yet. AliveFreeHappy (talk) 23:40, 9 September 2010 (UTC)

In the "American Rifle" by Alexander Rose (born in U.S.), depicts the Spencer action on page 178, and goes on to explain the fate of the "Spencer Repeating Rifle Company" and the Winchester takeover...still looking for reference that Winchester actually manufactured one (1) Spencer. A gun broker website shows a Spencer M1865 carbine claimed to be "a Brazilian M1873/76 military contract carbine, as indicated by Brazilian arsenal cartouche stamped on the right side of the buttstock, "Fabrica d'Armas na Conceicao, AGC" (Arsenal de Guerra da Corte). Spencer M1865 repeating carbine replaced Minie carbine as a primarily Brazilian cavalry weapon during the Paraguayan War. It was the first repeating long gun issued to Brazilian military forces. Brazilian Spencers were purchased from Belgium. This carbine was manufactured by Union Armuriére Belge in Liege, Belgium, as indicated by marking on the upper part of the receiver. The left side of the receiver displays "Crown over E (in a circle)". The Liege house proof marks are stamped on the receiver and barrel. Several other Belgian maker's marks and proofs are stamped on various parts of the carbine." — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:16, 2 May 2013 (UTC)

Overall length[edit]

The article states the length of the Spencer repeating rifle as 30 inches, which can't possibly be true since the shoulder stock and action of any rifle/carbine of that type is at least 20 inches, plus whatever the barrel length is. So what is the correct length of the Spencer? Allan Akbar (talk) 16:17, 11 December 2011 (UTC)

I found the info on the 'Net and added it to the article, with a reference. Allan Akbar (talk) 16:25, 11 December 2011 (UTC)