Wheellocks, Fergusons, and Sharps

by Fred Ray on March 11, 2017 · 0 comments

As part of our continuing look at old weapons, we go back some 500 years to the beginning of the modern era and the first really practical firearms. Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons does the honors, and first up is the wheellock, which dates back at least to the early 1500s and probably before then. It was an expensive and complicated gun to make, with a watch-like mechanism to ignite the charge. They were, for the day, quite reliable, and Ian shoots a reproduction to show how it worked.

Next is the Ferguson rifle, invented by Maj. Patrick Ferguson of the British Army and used against us in the American Revolution. What set the Ferguson apart was that it was a breech loader, and the first such to be used in war. The idea had been around for a while, but Ferguson was the first one to make a practical design. Unfortunately the conservative British military establishment failed to see its value and it was never adopted.

Seventy-five years later American Christian Sharps designed another breech loader, a practical design that saw a good deal of use in the US Civil War. Wielded extensively by Union cavalry in carbine form, the Sharps also saw service with Berdan’s Sharpshooters, and Confederate sharpshooter Eugene Blackford also carried one. Ian shows how the paper cartridge worked and some of the problems with gas sealing, which was pretty well fixed in the 1859 model.



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