Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mid-19th-century wars

Although the combatants in the American Civil War bought arms from Great Britain, such as the Whitworth .451, they also had stocks of their own weapons, such as the Model 1842 percussion musket and the Model 1865 Spencer carbine. However, it was the bullet designed by Frenchman Claude Etienne Minie that would play a major part in the war. Meanwhile in France, his fellow national Antoine Alphonse Chassepot had produced the innovative Modele 1866 breech-loading rifle.

The Model 1842 rifled musket
The Harpers Ferry and Springfield Armories produced large numbers of the robust US Model 1842 rifled Percussion musket between 1844 and 1855. The Model 1842 was the last .69 calibre musket, but in addition it was the first weapon made at both the Harpers Ferry and Springfield Armory that had entirely interchangeable parts — an invaluable feature in the field. Harpers Ferry produced 103,000, while Springfield produced 172,000. As many of the muskets had been delivered to militias in the late 1850s, they were prominent in the early years of the American Civil War. About 14,000 were upgraded between 1856 and 1859 with rifling and around 10,000 were then fitted with rear sights.
Private Thomas Taylor of the 8th Louisiana Infantry holds his Model 1842 musket. Taylor is well equipped with pack, canteen, ammunition pouches and a Bowie knife tucked into his belt.

The Ml855 rifle and rifle-musket produced by the Union was copied by the Confederates at their Fayetteville Armory in North Carolina. The British even produced a version for export to the Union. Designated the P1856, it had a 33-inch long barrel and only two bands to secure the barrel to the stock. The rifles came with a sword rather than a spike bayonet; however as the blockade on the Confederacy began to bite, the factory at Fayetteville abandoned the sword bayonet in favour of the spike - a design that harked back to the Napoleonic Wars. The angled spike would survive into the 20th century with the Russian Mosin-Nagant rifle and be revived in a slightly different form with the British Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifle. However, soldiers preferred the sword bayonet, which was a practical tool rather than a weapon, handy for prising open tins and preparing food.
The British Whitworth short rifle enjoyed a reputation for considerable long-range accuracy and was one of the first sniper weapons to be developed fitted with a telescopic sight.

The Whitworth .451 short rifle
In 1863 the British Whitworth .451in short rifle was produced and bought by the Confederate government. It was an unusual weapon with a hexagonal barrel that fired a special hexagonal bullet. This made it more accurate than many modern sniper rifles, with a maximum reported range of around l,830m/2,000yd. The Whitworth was equipped with a British-made mounted Davidson telescopic sight.

The Model 1865 Spencer carbine
In the Union, Christopher Spencer, noted as one of the leading engineers in the machine-tool industry, produced in 1860 a seven-round carbine that was accurate over long ranges. Spencer asserted that the seven rounds in his percussion carbine models could be loaded and capped and fired in less time than any other rifle. His carbine could fire faster than a revolver and be reloaded in a tenth of the time it would take to reload a Colt revolver. In 1865, Spencer modified and corrected the design flaws in the original weapon and produced the Model 1865 Spencer carbine.

Chassepot Modele 1866
The "Chassepot", officially known as Fusil Modele 1866, was the breech-loading rifle with which French forces were equipped in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870—71. It took its name from its inventor, Antoine Alphonse Chassepot (1833-1905), who, from 1857 onwards, had designed and developed various experimental forms of breech loader. The Modele 1866 became the French service weapon in 1866. At the battlefield at Mentana, Italy on 3 November 1867, soldiers using the Chassepot inflicted severe losses upon the forces of the Italian nationalist leader, Giuseppe Garibaldi. This action fought during the Risorgimento (Italian unification) involved Garibaldi's forces, which had invaded the papal territory, facing the papal army and a French expeditionary force. Napoleon's empress Eugenie was keen on defending the papacy against the Republican threat.
The cavalry version of the French Chassepot rifle of Fusil Modele 1866. The Chassepot had a higher muzzle velocity and longer range than the Prussian needle gun.

In the Franco-Prussian War the Chassepot proved greatly superior to the Prussian Dreyse needle gun, although it had a smaller calibre of 11mm. The French rifle used more propellant and had a 33 per cent higher muzzle velocity; it also had a longer barrel and thus produced a longer range. The effective range was about 595m/650yd.

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