Loading a Spencer underwater

Kurt G

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 23, 2018
A friend is reading "Last Train from Atlanta" by A.A. Hoeling and sent me along this story. It is an account by Captain Joseph G. Vale of the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry and I had never heard of this before . It's about his troopers coming under heavy fire while trying to cross the Chattahoochee . "The brigade , in fact the whole division, was armed with the Spencer repeating rifle and carbine, using a metallic waterproof cartridge. The river was very rocky , and in many places channels between the rocks were found to be overhead in depth . As the Rebel bullets began to splash around pretty thick , the boys sought to keep in this deep water with only the head exposed ; they soon discovered that they could throw cartridges from the magazine into the chamber of the piece , by working the lever as well underwater as in the air; hence all along the line you could see men bring their guns up , let the water run from the muzzle a moment , then taking aim , fire his piece and pop down again with only his head exposed .Now , the Rebels had never seen anything of this kind before , nor , for that matter , had we , and their astonishment knew no bounds ."
 

ucvrelics

Colonel
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Shiloh 2020
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
A friend is reading "Last Train from Atlanta" by A.A. Hoeling and sent me along this story. It is an account by Captain Joseph G. Vale of the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry and I had never heard of this before . It's about his troopers coming under heavy fire while trying to cross the Chattahoochee . "The brigade , in fact the whole division, was armed with the Spencer repeating rifle and carbine, using a metallic waterproof cartridge. The river was very rocky , and in many places channels between the rocks were found to be overhead in depth . As the Rebel bullets began to splash around pretty thick , the boys sought to keep in this deep water with only the head exposed ; they soon discovered that they could throw cartridges from the magazine into the chamber of the piece , by working the lever as well underwater as in the air; hence all along the line you could see men bring their guns up , let the water run from the muzzle a moment , then taking aim , fire his piece and pop down again with only his head exposed .Now , the Rebels had never seen anything of this kind before , nor , for that matter , had we , and their astonishment knew no bounds ."
Interesting story, but I would have to see this in official accounts. Just sayin.
 

Kurt G

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 23, 2018
Interesting story, but I would have to see this in official accounts. Just sayin.
Understood . That's why I posted this . It seemed so unusual and I had never heard of it before . I was hoping some one was familiar with this and could further comment on it .
 

Waterloo50

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 7, 2015
Location
England
According to the author Joseph W. McKinney, in his book ‘Trevilian Station’, Brigadier General Wilson wrote to the Chief of Ordnance stating that ‘the cartridges were impervious to water, they could be reliably loaded and fired in driving rain or immediately after being immersed in a river’. The author finishes with the sentence, ‘soldiers need not worry about keeping their powder dry.
 
Last edited:

Story

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Location
SE PA
This is an obvious clarion call for a 2021 proof-of-concept range test,
although a swimming pool would probably suffice for the aforementioned water course.
Who shall volunteer?
image001.jpg
 

Waterloo50

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 7, 2015
Location
England
Is the round as lethal when it’s travelling in water, I remember the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan, the soldiers were being hit by rounds whilst they were submerged but I’m sure that I read somewhere that the scene was a bit of a myth!
 

Waterloo50

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 7, 2015
Location
England
This is an obvious clarion call for a 2021 proof-of-concept range test,
although a swimming pool would probably suffice for the aforementioned water course.
Who shall volunteer?
View attachment 409569
Sorry, couldn’t help myself…
The Navy Diver is not a fighting man, he is a salvage expert. If it is lost underwater, he finds it. If it's sunk, he brings it up. If it's in the way, he moves it.

This poor soul looks more like a slinky.
 

Story

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Location
SE PA
Sorry, couldn’t help myself…
The Navy Diver is not a fighting man, he is a salvage expert. If it is lost underwater, he finds it. If it's sunk, he brings it up. If it's in the way, he moves it.

Tell that to Ray Milland, pal.
26979c2b071f851e824fcabf39f5eb90.jpg


(It's appropriately funny because the movie is set in the 1840s)
 

rob63

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 13, 2012
Location
PA, but still a Hoosier
Is the round as lethal when it’s travelling in water, I remember the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan, the soldiers were being hit by rounds whilst they were submerged but I’m sure that I read somewhere that the scene was a bit of a myth!
I don't remember all of the specifics, but I know I have read about a military study done during WWII that found that if someone was in the water and they were strafed by an aircraft, they would only need to dive a few feet to be safe. The water stopped even a .50 BMG round very quickly. Considering how slow a Spencer round would be in comparison, I can't imagine it would go very far.
 

limberbox

Private
Joined
Apr 25, 2020
According to the author Joseph W. McKinney, in his book ‘Trevilian Station’, Brigadier General Wilson wrote to the Chief of Ordnance stating that ‘the cartridges were impervious to water, they could be reliably loaded and fired in driving rain or immediately after being immersed in a river’. The author finishes with the sentence, ‘soldiers need not worry about keeping their powder dry.
Along a similar line, Roy Marcot, in his book "Spencer Repeating Firearms", at p. 79, reprints in full the February 18, 1965 "Memoranda Report of Arms" made by William N. Gamble, Col. of the 8th Illinois Cavalry and commander of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Gamble says the Spencer cartridges are "not affected by dampness". He then gives a fuller description under the heading "Ammunition":

"AMMUNITION

It would be an immense saving to the Government, and greatly increase the effectiveness of troops in the field, if metallic percussion ammunition could be used with all breech-loading arms. My knowledge of this is wholly practical, having been in the field nearly all the time since this wa[r] began. I could not urge this matter too strongly, because I have seen its necessity so often in many a warm place!

Metallic ammunition warrants a shot every time, without caps; is not injured by dampness and can be carried in a cartridge box on horseback for a year without being injured, while two-thirds of the other cartridges are actually a clean dead loss, either fall to pieces, or get injured by dampness."

Gamble also includes among others in his report the following assessments from the 5th Division and from the 4th U.S. Cavalry:

"Remarks -- 5th Division

We left White's Station, Tennessee on September 30, 1864 and marched 400 miles. The weather had been very wet for 4 or 5 days and the ammunition was carried mostly on pack mules. Upon inspection, it was found that the Spencer ammunition was not injured by the weather, or the wear from carrying in saddlebags. 75,000 rounds of Sharps and 12,000 rounds of Colt's rifle were spoilt or broken up, so as to be entirely worthless.

Remarks -- 4th U.S. Cavalry

Two boxes of Spencer ammunition (1008 rounds each) were sunk in the Duck River for nearly two days, and the ammunition upon being taken out was only partially injured. It is seldom that a Spencer round ever misfires.

Respecting the merits of the different arms, there can be no two opinions concerning the superiority of the Spencer repeating carbine. In the hands of a reliable man, it is fully adequate to perform the work of 4 ordinary breechloading carbines. Rainy weather is no deterrent to its efficiency."

Marcot found the report in Nat'l Archives Record Group 156, Entry 201: Record of Experiments.
 
Top