Artillery, Arms & Ammunition

    Spencer Carbine  "Most Famous Civil War Firearm"

Reporting to the Union army's chief of ordnance, Gen. James H. Wilson wrote: "There is no doubt that the Spencer carbine is the best firearm yet put into the hands of the soldier, both for economy of ammunition and maximum effect, physical and moral." Indeed the .52 caliber Spencer carbine had a terribly demoralizing effect on the Confederate soldiers and became the most famous of all Civil War small arms.

At an overall length of 39 inches and a weight of 8 pounds 4 ounces, the carbine was 8 inches shorter and 1 pound 12 ounces lighter than the Spencer rifle. It could fire a magazine of seven copper rimfire cartridges in 30 seconds. The tubular magazine was fed into the end of the butt stock and extended its entire length to feed cartridges into the breech by means of a coil spring. Lowering the operating lever dropped the breech block and extracted the spent cartridge. The same motion caused the magazine automatically to feed another round into the chamber; closing the breech seated the cartridge. Thus, all the soldier had to do was cock, aim, and pull the trigger. With the production of the Blakeslee Cartridge Box late in the war, the Spencer-carrying soldier had 10 to 13 extra loaded magazine tubes at his disposal, giving him extremely formidable and rapid firepower.

The Union soldiers who carried the remarkable lever-action, breech-loading repeaters must have felt themselves invincible when in combat against Confederates carrying their slow-firing muzzleloaders. Much of the South's ordnance was captured from Union soldiers over the course of the war, but since the Confederacy could not produce the rimfire cartridges for the Yankees' repeaters, the captured weapons were useless to the Rebels.

The first Spencers used by Union soldiers, which had been bought privately or by individual units, may have appeared on battlefields as early as late spring 1862. The first government-bought Spencers were delivered to the troops in October 1863. By the end of the war, 200,000 Spencer carbines had been put into service.

Fascinating Fact:  Out of the 200,000 Spencers in use by the end of the war, only 94,196 were purchased by the U.S. government; the rest were purchased privately or by individual units.


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