Sharps Conversions

The Sharps rifles and carbines used during the Civil War used a soft combustible case of paper or linen that burned when the weapon fired. The Sharps used a falling block breech that sealed off the combustion gasses during firing, at least most of the time. Occasionally the system got out of order and gasses flashed back past the breech toward the user.

The soft cartridge, however, was rather delicate for military use. It was sensitive to moisture and prone to coming apart in the cartridge box, particularly if bounced around on horseback.

The new standard was the metallic cartridge such as that used in the Spencer, which was immune to moisture (it could actually be submerged) and much more robust for mounted use.

Sharps introduced its own metallic cartridge rifle in 1866. It used the same falling block breech mechanism, which was easily adapted and quite capable of handling heavy loads. This became the basis of the famous “buffalo guns” in .45-70, .45-90, .45-100 and the shoulder bruising .45-120 (the second number refers to the length of the case and hence the amount of powder it would hold). The Sharps soon attracted a enthusiastic following of hunters and sportsmen who valued its long range hitting power and accuracy.

The Sharps factory also did a brisk business in rebarreling and reworking their older rifles to handle metallic cartridges. Some of these were for the military, and had the war continued for another year or two we probably would have seen them in wide use in the there, although in the smaller postwar army they were eventually displaced by the “trapdoor” Springfield.

There are a couple of nice examples on Gunbroker, including one that started out as an 1863 carbine and ended up as a .45-70 with a 28″ octagon barrel and double set triggers. The seller even has a factory letter describing the conversion (and more photos as well).

There are a couple of other examples such as a .50-.70 conversion (which the Army adopted in 1866 before switching to the .45-70) and even an unusual .40-70 conversion.

(Full disclosure: other than having bought and sold a few items on Gunbroker I have no connection with the site or any of the sellers of these rifles.)






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