A Couple of Civil War Guns

by Fred Ray on August 30, 2013 · 0 comments

American Rifleman takes a look at two Civil War cavalry long guns.

The Model 1847 Cavalry Musketoon:

Adopted in 1847, the percussion Cavalry Musketoon was actually an attenuated version of the excellent U.S. Model 1842 Musket. Manufactured at Springfield Armory, the 1847 was handsome and made to high manufacturing standards. All steel parts were polished bright, and the furniture was brass. The round, .69-cal. barrel measured 26-inches long—as opposed to the 1842’s 42-inch tube—and overall length was 41 inches. It weighed 7.4 pounds, about a pound less than the Model 1843 Hall.

The excellent Spencer repeater, which was a game-changer for the cavalry and gave the Federal cavalry a decided advantage in the last two years of the war.

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By September 1864, 9,000 Spencer carbines were in field service for the Union, and they were highly regarded. The field reports from 10 officers of the Fourth U.S. Cavalry rated the Spencer carbine the best arm in cavalry service. Brevet Maj. Gen. James Wilson felt that the Spencers were the best firearms ever put into the hands of the soldier. He stated that the Spencer “excels all others in use in durability, rapidity of fire, and general effectiveness.”

UPDATE: Joe Bilby also has a nice article on “The Guns of Gettysburg.”

Historical myth has long held that Buford’s troopers were armed with seven-shot repeating Spencer carbines on July 1, and credits the firepower of the Spencers with delaying the Confederate advance. In reality, the fighting that morning was between loosely deployed skirmish lines on both sides. The cavalry presence forced the Confederates, who did not know where the Union infantry was, to deploy into line of battle, which took up the time needed for Union infantry to arrive. Casualties were light on both sides. One cavalryman reportedly fired only a dozen rounds from his carbine all morning.

Spencer repeating rifles (not carbines, which would not be produced until October 1863) firing rimfire cartridges were indeed used in combat at Gettysburg, but not until the July 3 cavalry fight. General Gregg’s division included Brig. Gen. George A. Custer’s Michigan Brigade. The 5th and part of the 6th Michigan Cavalry had recently been issued Spencers, and the 6th had used them for the first time in the eastern theater of war in a skirmish at Hanover, Pa., on June 30.


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