Discussion Repeaters Versus Muzzleloaders

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
But that's not what you're saying at all.

You're saying that Repeaters were significantly more reliable. That means that in loading and firing, say, a complete complement of ammunition carried (~70 rounds) then significantly more people would have weapons disabled by serious problems with muzzle loaders than with repeaters.
Provide the data that led you to this conclusion.
Number of repeaters disabled by misfires, inability to load due to fouling, powder flashes, 2nd degree burns due to both hot barrel & flash, ramrod piercings, eye damage, powder made useless do to moisture from routine usage is zero. I think a reasonable person should be able to make a conclusion based on that evidence. Perhaps you would like to support your skepticism with a set of data of your own.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Number of repeaters disabled by misfires, inability to load due to fouling, powder flashes, 2nd degree burns due to both hot barrel & flash, ramrod piercings, eye damage, powder made useless do to moisture from routine usage is zero. I think a reasonable person should be able to make a conclusion based on that evidence.
Not really, because of the cartridge feed mechanism. We know that when Lincoln decided to test out the Spencer, for example, both of the ones he tested suffered serious problems in the cartridge feed mechanism and one of them required dismantling the entire weapon to fix; the other was even harder to fix (because that's not the one they tried to fix).


His curiosity sparked by the general’s inquiry, Lincoln requested a Spencer rifle from the Navy to evaluate it for himself. Unfortunately, the first gun he received had problems, and so did the second.

The president found that the initial rifle’s “[magazine] tube was wound so tight in place that I could not get it out.” That was just the beginning. The second rifle had a functioning magazine tube, but when the lever was worked to chamber a cartridge, two jumped forward, jamming the gun so thoroughly that it took 15 minutes to disassemble and clear it.



You can't just look at the problems X has that Y doesn't and conclude that Y is better without also considering whether there are any problems Y has that X doesn't.

Absent any rigourous data, we should assume both are equally reliable.

ED: also, the hot barrel would be a problem for a BL weapon as well as a ML weapon. Arguably more of one because it's being asked to dissipate the energy of more shots per minute.
 
Last edited:

CowCavalry

Corporal
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
Number of repeaters disabled by misfires, inability to load due to fouling, powder flashes, 2nd degree burns due to both hot barrel & flash, ramrod piercings, eye damage, powder made useless do to moisture from routine usage is zero. I think a reasonable person should be able to make a conclusion based on that evidence. Perhaps you would like to support your skepticism with a set of data of your own.
You do realize that the repeating arms cartridges contained black powder ? These weapons fouled rather quickly as well and could make the actions difficult if not impossible to operate until cleaned. There are enthusiasts today that state they can shoot their Enfield rifles 50-60+ rounds using the period correct British ammunition and never have difficulty loading.
 
Last edited:

wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Evidently it depended as much on their training as the armament. Major James Kidd of the 5th Michigan Cav. of what had been Custer's Brigade stated in his memoirs that two of the regiments had been trained extensively in dismounted or skirmish-type tactics using their Spencer rifles - not carbines, while the other two "specialized" in mounted drills, the difference between the two being denominated as either "skirmish" or "saber" regiments. Obviously, they were each capable of performing either duty, but two were better at skirmishing while the other two were better typical cavalrymen.
Fascinating thread. For untrained and inexperienced soldiers, the muzzle loader was the most practical weapon. While the US was fighting what was thought to be a short war, it was sufficient.
But experienced soldiers, in the west, and Wilder's people illustrate the trend, began to upgrade their weapons especially by 1863. A good weapon in the hands of an inexperienced soldier was not much of improvement. But the war itself rapidly sorted out the units that knew how to shoot and were willing to kill.
In a rational system, the best weapons would be matched the most experienced soldiers who were the most mobile. The US was moving that direction, with some mistakes involved.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
You do realize that the repeating arms cartridges contained black powder ? These weapons fouled rather quickly as well and could make the actions difficult if not impossible to operate until cleaned. There are enthusiasts today that state they can shoot their Enfield rifles 50-60+ rounds using the period correct British ammunition and never have difficulty loading.
I believe the argument is that since these weapons loaded from the breech, that the fouling of the barrel was less of a problem. This is of course true. However, the other working parts can become fouled, by by residue and debris. With the dropping block Spencer, this latter is a serious consideration when firing prone - dust and debris can be carried up into the mechanism.

Indeed, there are accounts of Spencers jamming in action, so the idea that it had "zero stoppages" is obviously wrong.

For example, see this mud test:

 

Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
You do realize that the repeating arms cartridges contained black powder ? These weapons fouled rather quickly as well and could make the actions difficult if not impossible to operate until cleaned. There are enthusiasts today that state they can shoot their Enfield rifles 50-60+ rounds using the period correct British ammunition and never have difficulty loading.
I own & shoot black powder muzzle loading rifles & cannons. I also own a reproduction Spencer rifle & have shot it. So I am familiar with handling period weaponry. For decades, I have participated in an annual program at Stones River NB about Wilder's Lightening Brigade's at Hoover's Gap on the first day of the Tullahoma Campaign 24 June 1863. Our programs routinely include our 1841 six pounders standing in for Lilly's jackass mountain howitzers. Our friends from other NP battlefields provide the 3" ordinance rifles. A group of mounted reenactors do a demo of both Henry & Spencer repeaters.

We have had a long list of historians & experts on Civil War weaponry speak on the topic of the Spencer repeater. I have written a short lecture for explaining the Spencer to visitors at the park. A comrade who does Spencer & Henry repeater programs for parks, CW Roundtables, etc, loaded black powder cartridges just to see what firing 50 rounds would be like. Other than the stinking black mess you would expect from cleaning any black powder weapon, he encountered no problems.

I have, on two occasions, been Ed Bearss "local guy" who scouted the route he intended to take his bus tour. The existing section of the historic Hoover's Gap road is a toe curling experience from the front seat of a tour bus. His word picture of the Hoover's Gap action vividly brought the first time, men armed with Spencers confronted men armed with muzzleloaders to life for me.

The dozens of first person accounts that I have on file from Wilder's Brigade veterans all contain at least one reference to how reliable the Spencer was. 1v1, 1v3, 1v4 it didn't matter, they always believed they could achieve fire superiority in any situation. My opinion of the effectiveness of repeaters in the Civil War is based entirely on their experiences.

So, the short answer is, 'Yes, I do realize that repeating arms cartridges contained black powder because I have decades of hands on historic weapons experience & have been taught by scholars who generously shared their hard earned expertise with me.'
 
Last edited:

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
So, the short answer is, 'Yes, I do realize that repeating arms cartridges contained black powder because I have decades of hands on historic weapons experience & have been taught by scholars who generously shared their hard earned expertise with me.'
Okay, then.

Do you then understand why going on about the problematic properties of black powder in a muzzle loading rifle, and then contrasting that with a breech loading rifle, might be confusing to people when the BLR also contains black powder?
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I believe the argument is that since these weapons loaded from the breech, that the fouling of the barrel was less of a problem. This is of course true. However, the other working parts can become fouled, by by residue and debris. With the dropping block Spencer, this latter is a serious consideration when firing prone - dust and debris can be carried up into the mechanism.

Indeed, there are accounts of Spencers jamming in action, so the idea that it had "zero stoppages" is obviously wrong.

For example, see this mud test:

The first lesson on any weapon includes the admonition that it has to be kept clean, the Spencer is no exception.
 

Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Okay, then.

Do you then understand why going on about the problematic properties of black powder in a muzzle loading rifle, and then contrasting that with a breech loading rifle, might be confusing to people when the BLR also contains black powder?
At this point, I just have to conclude that repeating the obvious on this topic serves no useful purpose.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The first lesson on any weapon includes the admonition that it has to be kept clean, the Spencer is no exception.
I'm sorry, but this indicates that you don't understand how people evaluate weapons in terms of actual usefulness.

Just about all weapons perform well when clean on the firing range, but the extent to which a weapon can still function despite field conditions (including, yes, dirt) is a major factor in determining how useful they are on actual campaign.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
If you have access to the internet, you should be able to do that yourself.
This doesn't wash. You've repeatedly made claims without backing them up; the least you could do when challenged is either point someone in the direction of a reference or back off from the claim.

Your claim suggests that it was more likely for someone to have teeth inside a wound than a bullet, despite bullets being the thing they were having shot at them.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Re Rorke's Drift:

In excerpt from private journal of Lieutenant Colonel John North Crealock, Crealock states "351 dead were found and 500 wounded" (in the context of Zulus found on the battlefield).

This means that the lower bound for the number of Zulus who were not "walking wounded" able to get away off their own bat is 851. Since 350 dead for 500 seriously wounded is "off ratio" compared to what we would expect from Minie ball injuries (assuming that 20% of those struck died and 67% of the survivors were seriously wounded), this suggests that indeed some of the wounded were killed on the field.

If for every 100 struck we get 20 killed and (80*2/3) = 53 seriously wounded, we would expect that for every 100 struck there should be 73 left on the field.
Thus for every 3 left on the field we get roughly 1 walking wounded.
This would mean at Rorke's Drift we would get

290 killed
560 seriously wounded
280 with slight wounds
For 1130 total struck and a hit rate of about 1 in 15 (actually 14.5) as against 1 in 18 at Inkerman.


The more we would expect killed for the same number struck, then the more accurate the numbers become at Inkerman and the less accurate at Rorke's Drift. The cross over point is at 1 dead for every 3.25 struck, where in both cases the hit rate is 1 in 15.

If we assume that every single Zulu struck was left on the field then the calculation comes out as a 1 in 20 hit rate. This is still enough greater than the Gettysburg results that it should be considered indicative.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I own & shoot black powder muzzle loading rifles & cannons. I also own a reproduction Spencer rifle & have shot it. So I am familiar with handling period weaponry. For decades, I have participated in an annual program at Stones River NB about Wilder's Lightening Brigade's at Hoover's Gap on the first day of the Tullahoma Campaign 24 June 1863. Our programs routinely include our 1841 six pounders standing in for Lilly's jackass mountain howitzers. Our friends from other NP battlefields provide the 3" ordinance rifles. A group of mounted reenactors do a demo of both Henry & Spencer repeaters.

We have had a long list of historians & experts on Civil War weaponry speak on the topic of the Spencer repeater. I have written a short lecture for explaining the Spencer to visitors at the park. A comrade who does Spencer & Henry repeater programs for parks, CW Roundtables, etc, loaded black powder cartridges just to see what firing 50 rounds would be like. Other than the stinking black mess you would expect from cleaning any black powder weapon, he encountered no problems.

I have, on two occasions, been Ed Bearss "local guy" who scouted the route he intended to take his bus tour. The existing section of the historic Hoover's Gap road is a toe curling experience from the front seat of a tour bus. His word picture of the Hoover's Gap action vividly brought the first time, men armed with Spencers confronted men armed with muzzleloaders to life for me.

The dozens of first person accounts that I have on file from Wilder's Brigade veterans all contain at least one reference to how reliable the Spencer was. 1v1, 1v3, 1v4 it didn't matter, they always believed they could achieve fire superiority in any situation. My opinion of the effectiveness of repeaters in the Civil War is based entirely on their experiences.

So, the short answer is, 'Yes, I do realize that repeating arms cartridges contained black powder because I have decades of hands on historic weapons experience & have been taught by scholars who generously shared their hard earned expertise with me.'
And from Hoover's Gap on, veteran Confederate infantrymen began to shy away from advancing on US positions suspected of having repeating weapons. They did it, but at a terrific cost in lives and moral.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Did units the obtained repeating weapons exchange them for muzzle loaders? I think the Colt revolving rifles were abandoned, but most units retained their Spencers once they got them.
I'm not sure of the import of this question?

For troops with the level of training seen in the ACW, the repeater was a superior weapon to have. More to the point, since people rarely blame their own shortcomings when they can blame the shortcomings of their weapon, it's likely that most in the Civil War thought they could use whatever weapon they had to the limits of its' abilities.

And from Hoover's Gap on, veteran Confederate infantrymen began to shy away from advancing on US positions suspected of having repeating weapons. They did it, but at a terrific cost in lives and moral.
Is there an example of this you have? A period anecdote would be fine.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

CowCavalry

Corporal
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
I own & shoot black powder muzzle loading rifles & cannons. I also own a reproduction Spencer rifle & have shot it. So I am familiar with handling period weaponry. For decades, I have participated in an annual program at Stones River NB about Wilder's Lightening Brigade's at Hoover's Gap on the first day of the Tullahoma Campaign 24 June 1863. Our programs routinely include our 1841 six pounders standing in for Lilly's jackass mountain howitzers. Our friends from other NP battlefields provide the 3" ordinance rifles. A group of mounted reenactors do a demo of both Henry & Spencer repeaters.

We have had a long list of historians & experts on Civil War weaponry speak on the topic of the Spencer repeater. I have written a short lecture for explaining the Spencer to visitors at the park. A comrade who does Spencer & Henry repeater programs for parks, CW Roundtables, etc, loaded black powder cartridges just to see what firing 50 rounds would be like. Other than the stinking black mess you would expect from cleaning any black powder weapon, he encountered no problems.

I have, on two occasions, been Ed Bearss "local guy" who scouted the route he intended to take his bus tour. The existing section of the historic Hoover's Gap road is a toe curling experience from the front seat of a tour bus. His word picture of the Hoover's Gap action vividly brought the first time, men armed with Spencers confronted men armed with muzzleloaders to life for me.

The dozens of first person accounts that I have on file from Wilder's Brigade veterans all contain at least one reference to how reliable the Spencer was. 1v1, 1v3, 1v4 it didn't matter, they always believed they could achieve fire superiority in any situation. My opinion of the effectiveness of repeaters in the Civil War is based entirely on their experiences.

So, the short answer is, 'Yes, I do realize that repeating arms cartridges contained black powder because I have decades of hands on historic weapons experience & have been taught by scholars who generously shared their hard earned expertise with me.'
No one has questioned the advantages of repeating arms using self contained metallic cartridges here in so much as I can tell. What they are disputing is the inferred claim that if the US armed forces would have dumped the head of the ordnance dept, James Ripley and had a more progressive officer placed there, the US soldier would have somehow been armed with state of the art shoulder arms and the war shortened by some years. Others in this thread have pointed to the realities of the situation and have made a good case why this wasn't going to happen (couldn't happen) during the war.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I should perhaps make something clear, perhaps for the first time if I haven't stated it properly yet.


The argument has never been that repeaters are a downgrade or even a sidegrade compared to the weapons used by the Union army in the Civil War.

The argument is:

- Repeaters have disadvantages as well as advantages.
- There is no feasible way to get enough repeaters to equip the Union Army (or even one army thereof; you could probably equip a corps but that's about it) even by the end of the war.
- If you compare a repeater to a rifle musket used by someone properly trained in how to use it, then which weapon is superior depends on the engagement range.
- If you wanted to upgrade the Union Army's fighting capabilities enormously, it would be cheaper and much more possible to train them to properly use the weapons they already had.


Of course, if you were able to both rifle train the army and equip them all with repeaters, it would be better than doing either by itself (at least at defeating the Confederate army).
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top