WARNING: Many Images- be patient
Springfield's Search for Firepower
The brief period following the Civil War saw unparalleled innovation as
the U.S. military made the transition from muzzle loading muskets to metallic-cartridge
This is just one of the many
educational displays presented by UGCA members.
Part of the pleasure of gun collecting is learning about the historical, technical, and artistic features associated with firearms. Gun shows provide members, and the general public, a chance to appreciate these aspects. Click here for date and location of our upcoming UGCA shows
Copyright 2000 by John Spangler Professions Services, LC. All rights reserved. Box 711282, Salt Lake City, UT 84171
These were the first breech-loading
rifles made at Springfield and issued to troops. For many
years these were erroneously considered to be conversions, and several
of the best books on Civil War arms* omit mention of them entirely.
The simple and reliable Joslyn action had been used on about 16,500 cavalry carbines purchased during the Civil War. In late 1864 the Ordnance Department bought 3,007 Joslyn actions to be used in rifles that otherwise resembled the Model 1863 .58 caliber rifle muskets.
The special .50 caliber rimfire cartridge used in the Joslyn was slightly more powerful than the .56-50 Spencer. However, the exterior diameter of the barrel was kept the same as on the .58 caliber muskets, possibly for manufacturing considerations, although about 3 inches shorter.
While the standard Model 1855 bayonet will fit, 3000 bayonets were made with blade 2 inches longer, so that the overall “reach” would be about the same as the standard musket/bayonet combination.
A few Joslyn rifles may have been issued late in the Civil War, but none saw combat.
About half of the Joslyn rifles were converted from .50 rimfire to .50-70 centerfire and sold to France in 1870, making surviving examples in rimfire somewhat hard to find.
*Robert M. Reilly U.S. Military Small Arms 1816-1865
Frederick P. Todd, et al, American Military equipage 1851-1872
William B. Edwards, Civil War Guns
Model 1865 “First Allin” Conversion
Springfield Armory 1865-66
Total made 5,005
Erskine S. Allin was Master Armorer at
Springfield Armory from 1853 until his death in 1879. Allin’s position
at with Springfield gave his designs a certain “home field advantage” over
This, his first attempt at what was to become a long series of :trapdoor” rifles, had several mechanical weaknesses. Using .58 caliber rimfire ammunition was vastly superior to the muzzleloaders with their paper cartridge and percussion cap, but the ballistics were greatly inferior to the smaller, lighter .50 caliber centerfire cartridge being developed in 1865-66, now known as the .50-70.
All of Allin’s designs used many parts salvaged from the huge stockpiles of obsolete muskets, reducing production costs. Only the hammer and breech mechanism were newly made, everything else was salvaged from Model 1861 .58 caliber rifle muskets.
Eighteen of these rifles were issued to Company A, 18th Infantry at Fort Casper, Wyoming Territory, and a few to the 21st Infantry in Virginia. Only the 12th Infantry stationed in Washington, DC was entirely armed with these.
Model 1866 “Second Allin” Conversion
Springfield Armory 1867-69
Total made 52,300
The greatly simplified “trapdoor” mechanism
and the much better .50-70 centerfire cartridge made these far superior
to the Model 1865 “First Allin” conversions.
The .58 caliber barrels were bored out to .64 caliber and a rifled liner inserted to reduce the bore to .50 caliber. (See sectioned barrel). The breech mechanism was attached with a hinge soldered and screwed to the top of the barrel. Model 1863 Type II rifle muskets were the basis for these conversions.
Shortly after these Model 1866
rifles were issued to troops in Wyoming a huge band of Indians attacked
a small group of soldiers. Much to the Indians’ surprise, the “wagon
box fight” turned out to be a victory for the troops due to the rapid fire
from their breechloaders. Model 1866 rifles were quickly issued to troops
scattered at frontier posts throughout the west, and in the occupied (former)
First issued in 1867, by 1871 most Model 1866 rifles were withdrawn from service. Many were refurbished and sold to France for use during the Franco-Prussian war.
.50 caliber centerfire
Springfield Armory 1867-72
Total made about 33,000 rifles, 5,300 carbines and 500 cadet rifles
The Remington “Rolling block” action
was very simple and strong, and was used by many nations from 1865 until
World War I for pistols, carbine and rifles.
About 5,000 carbines in .50-45 centerfire were made for the U.S. Navy in 1868-1869. Students disagree if these were made entirely by Remington, or were assembled at Springfield on Remington made actions with all other parts made at Springfield.
Springfield manufactured 498 U.S. Navy Cadet rifles in 1868 using Springfield parts other than the Remington supplied actions.
In 1869 the U.S.Navy adopted the Remington system following competitive trials. Springfield manufactured 10,000 rifles in .50-70 centerfire. Upon delivery in 1870, the Navy rejected these, ostensibly for the rear sight location being unsuitable, and immediately sold them to France for use in the Franco-Prussian War. Using the money from that sale, Springfield make 12,000 new rifles with “properly” located sights.
In 1870-71 Springfield made 1,008 rifles and 314 carbines on Remington actions for Army trials.
After minor modifications, Springfiled made the rifle shown in 1872 as one of 10,001 Model 1871 Army rifles in .50-70 centerfire that closely followed the design of the Model 1870 “Trapdoor” rifle except for the action.
Model 1868 “Trapdoor” Rifle
Springfield Armory 1869-71
Total made 52,145
The first Springfield rifles to have
Complaints about the length of the Model 1866 rifles prompted a shorter design in 1868. These also featured a separate receiver allowing a stronger hinge and better extractor. Costs were still kept low by using left-over Civil War musket parts including locks, stock furniture (buttplate, trigger guard, etc) and possibly some barrels with bores lined to .50 caliber.
This specimen is serial number 27171, probably made in early 1870. These were first issued in 1870 and by 1871 had replaced the Model 1866 rifles in nearly all regular Army units.
In addition to the regular infantry model rifle shown here, Springfield made 3,401 Model 1869 Cadet Rifles with identical actions but slightly shorter barrels and lighter stocks.
Model 1870 “Trapdoor” Rifle
Springfield Armory 1870-73
Total made 11,531 rifles and 362 carbines
The most visible change from the Model
1868 is the reduced length of the receiver nose, but there are various
minor mechanical improvements in this model.
Production of this model was halted when the .45-70 cartridge and model 1873 rifle were adopted.
Infantry Rifle Conversion of Sharps Carbine
Springfield Armory 1871
Total converted about 1,300 rifles and 308 carbines
The respected Sharps action was the basis
for many cartridge arms. This rifle is one of about 1,000 made using surplus
.54 caliber percussion carbines. They were converted to fire the .50-70
centerfire cartridge, and used with barrels and stocks closely matching
the Model 1870 “trapdoor” rifles.
An additional 300 rifles were made using new cartridge actions purchased from Sharps. The 308 carbines were converted by Springfield from percussion carbines to use the .50-70 cartridge and fitted with Springfield style butt stocks.
Infantry Rifle Conversion of Spencer Carbine
Springfield Armory 1871
Total converted 1,009
The first magazine-fed repeating rifles
made by Springfield.
Spencer Cavalry carbines from surplus Civil War assets were modified by Springfield to closely match the Model 1870 “trapdoor” rifles. The Spencer’s seven shot tubular magazine could be held in reserve with the “Stabler cut-off” allowing use as a single shot.
Despite the advantage of being magazine fed, this rifle was very heavy. The .56-50 rimfire cartridge was adequate for use in a cavalry carbine but it was underpowered for longer ranges in a full size infantry rifle.
The conversion cost $6.63 per rifle.
Bolt Action Rifle
Springfield Armory 1871
Total made 1,011 rifles and 316 carbines
The first bolt action rifle made at
Springfield, these are a simple single shot design, not magazine-fed
repeaters. Other than the action, these followed the design of the
Model 1870 “trapdoor” very closely. The Ward-Burton was “not enthusiastically
received by the troops” during the field trials.
Springfield did not make another Bolt action rifle until 1884 when a 753 Chaffee-Reece rifles were manufactured for trials. It was not until 1892 the .30-40 Krag rifle was adopted as the first standard issue bolt action rifle, and its production was delayed for two years while patriotic politicians tried to reverse the selection of a foreign design instead of a U.S. invention.
Ammunition design and issue changed as rapidly as rifle designs. Rimfire cartridges with copper cases were replaced by centerfire cartridges. At first the primers were “internal” and the cases looked like rimfires. Later cases used the familiar external primer. Eventually the copper cases were replaced by stronger brass.
.50-60 Joslyn ammunition was hastily adopted in 1865 while the rifles were being produced, and packing details are unknown.
.58 Rimfire ammunition packing details are unknown, but probably were the same paper packet as used with the early .50-70 cartridges below.
.50-70 ammunition was first packed in paper wrapped packets of five rounds. These were then packed in a larger package of 40 rounds, the traditional load carried in an infantry cartridge box. One very scarce original packet of ammunition is shown here, along with a reproduction of the larger 40 round package. Cardboard boxes holding 20 rounds became the standard packing method used by Frankford Arsenal. Commercial manufacturers continued to make ammunition for these rifles for later civilian owners for another 75 years or more.
.56-50 Spencer ammunition was issued in seven round boxes, enough to fill the magazine once. These were packed in larger boxes holding a total of 42 rounds.
In another cost-cutting measure, wooden block drilled for the .50-70 cartridge were made to take the place of the tin boxes in surplus Civil War cartridge boxes.
Most of the
arms shown here used the same Model 1855 bayonet as the .58 caliber muskets
(available at no cost from surplus stocks).
About 3,000 special bayonets with 20 inch blades but otherwise identical to the Model 1855 were made for the Joslyn rifle in 1865.
The Model 1870 Rolling Block rifles made for the Navy used a fancy sword bayonet with a brass handle having a fish scale pattern and the symbol of the Bureau of Naval Ordnance.
Tools and Appendages for Springfield Rifles 1864-1872
Troops in the field and at remote posts had to maintain their own weapons. These basic tools and appendages were issued:
Mainspring Vise (top left)- used to compress the mainspring inside the lock so it could be taken apart for cleaning or repairs. Issued on the basis of one per 20 rifles.
Bandspring and Tumbler Punch (lower left)- Used to remove pins holding stock fittings in place and also to separate the hammer from the tumbler when taking the lock apart. One version has a screwdriver blade added in 1866.
Screwdrivers (above and right)- All but one are alterations of
surplus Civil War tools.. Many variations exist. (from
left to right)
? Models 1868 (Dorsey 88)
? M1870 Springfield-Spencer conversion (Dorsey 92)
? M1870 Springfield- Sharps and Remington (Dorsey 165)- Made new, not a conversion.
? M1866 with spanner blade for removal of firing pin (Dorsey 164)
? M1870 Springfield retaining nipple wrench, but now used on the mainspring (Dorsey 167)
Breechplug Wrench (lower right)- for removing the breech screw from the back of the receiver. This was mainly a depot level tool, not issued to the field. ( It is likely that these are modern tools, not a period design)
Instruction Manuals- provided detailed descriptions of all parts or the arms and their care. (The examples here are all reprints)
Used for shipment and storage.
Each chest held 20 rifles, 20 bayonets, and various tools, appendages and
This chest was made specifically for use in the 1868-1870 period. The new shorter rifles were shipped out with the packing blocks in one location, but the chest was made long enough to be used for shipping the longer M1855-1866 rifles by simply moving the packing blocks.
These weighed about 225 pounds when full.
Internal packing pieces are reproductions
Armory Visitor’s Pass- July 19, 1865
Did this person appreciate the significance of the changes taking place during his visit? The Joslyn rifles were finished, the Model 1865’s started and the Model 1866 under development.
Captain James F. Grimes’ personal copies
of his 1868-1870 ordnance records have survived to provide a sample of
the soldier’s encounter with Springfield’s search for firepower.
His records document the receipt, transfer, use, or even loss of items
similar to those displayed here, including various models of rifles, bayonets,
tools, ammunition, and even arms chests.
Detailed records were required to hold every officer and enlisted man accountable for government property in their possession, and charge them for missing items. Unfortunately, such records seldom mentioned serial numbers, and after financial accountability was resolved, the records were eventually destroyed.
These records from the 26th and 10th U.S. Infantry in Brownsville, Texas, show that Model 1866 Rifles were received May 20, 1868, replacing .58 caliber muskets. On February 9, 1870 they received an arms chest with 10 Model 1868 Springfield Rifles and 10 Remington Breechloading rifles, with tools and spare parts.
By the end of the following month, his Company “A” had expended 250 rounds of ammunition in practice firing. And, three soldiers had their pay docked a total of $1.12 for loss of various tools or appendages.
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