EARLY BREECHLOADER RIFLES IN AMERICA – an overview

Breechloader rifles existed on the American continent even before the United States of America could establish itself. The British Major Patrick Ferguson developed a breechloader flintlock rifle in 1776, based on the French Chaumett construction of the 1720s.

When first deployed in a British corps against American revolutionaries, Patrick-Fergusson was seriously wounded, later killed at the Battle of Kings Mountain, his gun, patented in 1776, was forgotten.

John Harris Hall, born 1781 in Portland/Maine, patented the concept for a breechloader rifle in 1811 – also still in the muzzle loading age – which was finally introduced by the US Army as “Model 1819”, even if only in comparatively small numbers.

Technically this “Hall Rifle” was not a very big success, but its importance should not be underestimated. After all, it was the first technical object in the history of mankind that was produced in series in such a way that all parts could be exchanged between the individual specimens at will without any reworking.

Really famous became the Sharps-Rifle, developed and patented by Christian Sharps, born in 1810. Around 1853, the first of these single-shot breech loaders, designed for a paper cartridge, were produced. During the American Civil War this excellent weapon was used by the snipers of Colonel Hiram Berdan after they rejected Samuel Colt’s revolver rifle model 1855.

Shortly before the American Civil War, the first multi-shot breechloader rifles for metal cartridges were developed, such as the Henry rifle, derived from the Volcanic Rifle, which later became famous as the “Winchester”, – or the Spencer Rifle. Due to the comparatively weak ammunition, both were initially only able to assert themselves to a limited extent, and were conceivably unsuitable as hunting weapons.

However, single-shot breechloaders for metal cartridges gained fame as both sporting and hunting weapons. In addition to the Sharps rifle converted for metal cartridges from 1874 onwards, the Remington Rolling Block rifle deserves special mention. But of course also the Springfield Trapdoor rifle developed by Erskin S. Allin, which was to become the standard rifle of the US Army for 30 years.

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